JANE AUSTEN’S ENGLAND (L)


Here is the twelfth, and final, illustrated essay in this series which describes some of the houses and places associated with Jane Austen, and her novels, as well as the film and TV adaptations, although it does not claim to be a comprehensive gazetteer.

L. FILM AND TV LOCATIONS – “NORTHANGER ABBEY” (1818) AND “PERSUASION” (1817)

“NORTHANGER ABBEY”

“Northanger Abbey” was one of Jane Austen’s earlier novels, but it was not published until 1818, the year after her death. It seems to have been the subject of continual revision, and changes of title, but the name, “Northanger Abbey” was the decision of her brother, Henry, who arranged publication. This was a good choice because it has more immediate impact in grabbing the attention of readers than some of Jane’s more muted and neutral ideas for a suitable title, like, “Catherine” or “Susan”.

The novel is a glorious pastiche of the craze for “Gothic” literary romances beginning, in the mid eighteenth century. It has to be remembered that this craze was the equivalent of the modern sensational films or TV serials, well over a hundred years before these modern media began to emerge slowly. It would be unreasonable to judge Jane’s gentle pastiche, without carefully setting aside all the “Gothic” fiction which developed long after her death. It has proved to be a very popular literary genre and has continued, in various other forms, down to our present day.


(i) The “Gothic” Novel

The definition of “Gothic” fiction given in Reference B can hardly be bettered and part of it is quoted here. “Gothic fiction, which is largely known by the subgenre of Gothic horror, is a genre or mode of literature and film that combines fiction and horror, death, and at times romance. Its origin is attributed to English author Horace Walpole, with his 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto, subtitled (in its second edition) ‘A Gothic Story’ (2).

The effect of Gothic fiction feeds on a pleasing sort of terror, an extension of Romantic literary pleasures that were relatively new at the time of Walpole’s novel. It originated in England in the second half of the 18th century and had much success in the 19th, as witnessed by Mary Shelley‘s Frankenstein and the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Another well known novel in this genre, dating from the late Victorian era, is Bram Stoker‘s Dracula. The name Gothic refers to the (pseudo)-medieval buildings, emulating Gothic architecture, in which many of these stories take place.” (Ref B)

Gothic novels often have a southern European setting, like Italy, or Spain, and later Transylvania, (“across the Forest” in modern Romania), because at the time, few middle-class English people had travelled abroad, and these books gave them a feeling for exotic and exciting places. The best that could be managed in the England of the early nineteenth century was to visit real places with dramatic settings.

Littledean Hall, (1) a largely Jacobean, or early seventeenth century house is typical of this. It occupies a site in the Forest of Dean, close to the lower course of the River Severn in Gloucestershire. “The mansion has a Roman ruin within its foundations, and its large cellars date from Saxon times. The current owner discovered one of Britain’s largest Roman temples in the grounds.” (Ref A)


The author goes on to describe the “dark corridors, and dimly-lit panelled Jacobean rooms (3) rich in atmosphere”. He explains that supernatural manifestations are experienced almost daily, and that this may be one of the most haunted houses in Britain. Today, the grounds and parts of the house are open to the public.

(ii) Catherine Morland in “Northanger Abbey”

Littledean Hall is just the kind of house that would have appealed to Catherine Morland, the seventeen-year-old heroine of “Northanger Abbey”. She is “one of ten children of a country clergyman. Although a tomboy in her childhood, she is now ‘in training for a heroine’ and is excessively fond of reading Gothic novels, among which, Ann Radcliffe‘s Mysteries of Udolpho is a favourite.” It is asserted that she “thinks life
is like a Gothic novel, but her real experiences bring her

down to earth as an ordinary young woman.
(Ref C)

In illustration of this, Catherine visits Bath with friends, and is quickly enamoured of the handsome, Henry Tilney. Later, “the Tilneys invite Catherine to stay with them for a few weeks at their home, Northanger Abbey. Catherine, in accordance with her novel reading, expects the Abbey to be exotic and frightening. Henry teases her about this, as it turns out that Northanger Abbey is pleasant and decidedly not Gothic.” (Ref C)

(iii)
1986 BBC film version
of “Northanger Abbey”

Reference C, records two stage adaptations, (1998 and 2009) and two film versions for television (1986 and 2007). The 1986 BBC film version is briefly described in Reference D, but no details of locations are given. The screenplay was written by Maggie Wadey, and it was directed by Giles Foster, starring Katharine Schlesinger as Catherine Morland, and Peter Firth as Henry Tilney.


(iv) 2006 film version for television

Some thirty years later another film version for television was made in 2006, directed by Jon Jones, from a screenplay by Andrew Davies, and starring Felicity Jones as Catherine Morland and JJ Feild as Henry Tilney. Readers might consult Reference C which gives a very detailed discussion of this production. The location filming was done exclusively in the Republic of Ireland, “largely thanks to the generous tax incentives offered by the republic’s government.” The Dublin streets doubled for nineteenth century Bath.


(v) Locations in Ireland

Readers might wonder how modern Ireland could be used to represent late eighteenth century England. The difficulties stem from historical reasons. Ireland’s history is one of occupation by invaders: Vikings, then Normans, and finally English and Scottish settlers. The typical English village has a name dating from Saxon times, with a church in the centre, of medieval Catholic origins, now part of the Church of England’s properties. Around the church are stone built houses dating from the late medieval period to the eighteenth century. The outer village is composed of houses built in the 19 and 20 centuries.

In contrast, the typical village in Ireland has an Irish Gaelic name, modified into an anglicised version. (Kilkenny was originally “Cill Chainigh”) Ireland was a much poorer country than England, and most villagers lived in turf cabins. The English settlers lived in stone-built farms away from the villages, and the wealthy lived in grand houses, built in the architectural styles of the eighteenth or nineteenth century. A few aristocratic families continued to live in castles, originating in the medieval period.

After the Reformation, the medieval Catholic village churches were taken over by the Protestant Church of Ireland, and the Catholic villagers had to attend Mass in the open air. This is why, with increasing prosperity, the typical Irish village or small town (6) consists of relatively modern houses built in the 19 but mostly 20 centuries. The Catholic villagers attend Mass in a modern church building, and the medieval stone church is more sparsely filled by a Church of Ireland congregation. The large mansions and manor houses and some castles are still occupied by the “Anglo-Irish gentry”, the descendants of the English settlers.


(vi) Lismore Castle

“Lismore Castle in County Waterford was chosen as Northanger Abbey, home of the Tilney family. Higginsbrook House, near County Meath, served as the exterior to the Morland family’s home. Other shooting locations included Dublin Castle, Ardbraccan House and Charleville Castle.” (Ref E) The choice of Lismore Castle seems perverse as the actual building (7) was a mass of towers, battlements, crenellations, barbican gates and all the features of a medieval fortress, as the beautiful aerial photograph (7) shows. In the novel, Catherine is disappointed by her first sight of Northanger Abbey, because it so lacks anything of the Gothic, and had been brought up-to-date, architecturally.


(vii) A Theatrical Production

In reading Reference C, my eye was caught by one of the theatrical adaptations. Normally, theatre productions are omitted in this series of essays, because they are primarily associated with places and locations, for film and TV. However, this production was performed at the Royal Theatre, Northampton, in 1998. For many years this was my local theatre, being only twelve miles away, and a short drive home at the end of a stimulating evening. Northampton is fortunate for a provincial town in having two theatres, the Royal and the Derngate, side by side.

I guessed that I had seen the Northanger Abbey production, and as an inveterate saver of programmes, I managed to find my copy. It was an excellent piece of work with lots of illustrations and quotations from Jane Austen and other literary figures. The production was adapted and directed by Michael Napier Brown (8) and starred Nicola Fulljames as Catherine Morland and Peter Eastland as Henry Tilney.


“PERSUASION”

(i)
Film and TV adaptations of “Persuasion”

The novel is a complex history, concerning Anne Elliot, daughter of a baronet, aged 27 at the start of the story, and still unmarried. Her family fortunes are declining and everyone has to adjust to straightened circumstances. Seven years earlier, Anne was engaged to Frederick Wentworth, a young naval officer of no fortune, but with prospects for advancement. Anne was persuaded to break off the engagement, because of Frederick’s lack of means. He now returns from the naval victories of the Napoleonic wars, as a senior officer, having accrued some wealth during his career. The novel follows developments leading eventually to the marriage of Anne and Frederick.

Reference F is a long, thoughtful and very wide-ranging analysis of the novel, so there is no attempt to reproduce any of it here. It records four film/TV adaptations, as shown in the table below.

Table 1: Film/TV productions of “Persuasion”

YEAR

WRITER

DIRECTOR

ANNE ELLIOT

FREDERICK WENTWORTH

1960

unknown Campbell Logan Daphne Slater Paul Daneman

1971

unknown Howard Baker Anne Firbank Bryan Marshall

1995

Nick Dear Roger Michell Amanda Root Ciaran Hinds

2007

Simon Burke Adrian Shergold Sally Hawkins Rupert Penry-Jones

Ref G is very brief, on the 4-part BBC mini-series, mostly listing the cast and a few other details, but nothing on locations.

Ref H gives some details the 5-part ITV Granada mini-series, with a synopsis of the plot, and a cast list, but again nothing on locations.

Ref I is an altogether more useful account of the production, which was a joint effort by the BBC, the American company WGBH Boston, and the French company Millesime, giving a bigger budget for a more ambitious work. There is a description of the plot, a cast list, and an analytical discussion of the concepts involved in the direction. The notes give only the limited information on locations, that filming was done in, Lyme Regis, Bath (9) and the ship HMS “Victory” (10) in Portsmouth.


Ref J is not as extensive an account as Ref I but a good deal more useful than Ref G and Ref H. Details are provided on the plot, the concepts behind the production and direction, but there is no cast list, and the paragraph on “Casting” mentions only four actors. “Costumes” is given twice as much text as “Filming” and consequently there is no information on locations. The director, Adrian Shergold, was hired because he was known for working on “gritty” films, and his brief was to make the production “young”. Not surprisingly, the film had a mixed critical reception, and it was condemned by enthusiasts of Jane Austen’s novels.



(ii)
Exploring England

A natural development, from an enthusiasm for, and love of the novels of Jane Austen, is to explore the places in which she lived and wrote. This would take in villages like Steventon, and Chawton in Hampshire, or small towns like Sevenoaks in Kent, or Lyme Regis on the Dorset coast. There are also the historic cathedral cities like Winchester, Portsmouth, or Bath. Some of the great houses of Jane’s day are still in existence, like Goodnestone and Godmersham in Kent, or Blaise Castle in Gloucestershire, and Stoneleigh Abbey in Warwickshire.

One of the virtues of Jane’s novels is that the villages, and great houses, are imaginary, though enough description is provided to stir curiosity and imagination. This enables readers to explore England, with a view to discovering their own “Pemberley” or “Northanger Abbey”. In Part J the Derbyshire great house of Kedlestone Hall is put forward as my own choice for Mr Darcy’s residence, in “Pride and Prejudice”.


There are so many attractive small villages in England that everyone can find their own “Highbury” or “Meryton”. Any venerable Rectory can call to mind Jane’s home in Steventon, and the Ellingham church (13) in Jane’s home county of Hampshire could be any of the “livings” attached to clergy in her novels. On a grander scale, we can explore the varieties of English landscape, as Jane often specifies the counties of her characters. We learn that “Meryton” is in Hertfordshire, and “Pemberley” is in Derbyshire. She was distinctly proud of her own county of Hampshire. (14)

In the first of this series of essays, I repeated the modern adage, that “Tourists, (or any visitors) find the things that they go looking for.” So, you can find Jane Austen’s England, if you go looking for it. Good hunting!


THIS SERIES IS CONCLUDED

REFERENCES

A. “The Journal of a Ghosthunter” by Simon Marsden, Little, Brown, 1994

B. “Gothic fiction” (Wikipedia article)

C. “Northanger Abbey” (Wikipedia article)

D. “Northanger Abbey (1986 film)” (Wikipedia article)

E. “Northanger Abbey (2006 film)” (Wikipedia article)

F. “Persuasion (novel)” (Wikipedia article)

G. “Persuasion (1960 TV series)” (Wikipedia article)

H. “Persuasion (1971 TV series)” (Wikipedia article)

I. “Persuasion (1995 film)” (Wikipedia article)

J. “Persuasion (2007 film)” (Wikipedia article)

K. “English Country Churches”, by Derry Brabbs, Cassell, 1985

L. “Brian Cook’s Landscapes of Britain”, Batsford, 2012

ILLUSTRATIONS

1. Littledean Hall, a haunted house in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, a photograph by Simon Marsden (Ref A)

2. Still from “Otransky Zámek” (The Castle of Otranto) a 1977 film, by the Czech director, Jan Švankmajer (Google image)

3. Haunted bedroom in Littledean Hall, Gloucestershire (Alamy)

4. Katharine Schlesinger (Catherine Morland) and Peter Firth (Henry Tilney) in the 1986 film version of “Northanger Abbey” (BBC, Google image)

5. Felicity Jones (Catherine Morland) and JJ Feild (Henry Tilney) in the 2006 film version of “Northanger Abbey” (Google image)

6. The town of Castlemaine, County Kerry, Irish Republic (Google image)

7. Lismore Castle, County Waterford, Irish Republic (Google image)

8. Production of “Northanger Abbey” in 1998, Royal Theatre, Northampton (Programme – “John Good Holbrook”)

9. Bath Street, Bath, a location for the 1995 film “Persuasion” (Ref I)

10. Nelson’s flagship HMS “Victory” in Portsmouth (Ref I)

11. Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds as Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth, in the 1995 film version of “Persuasion” (Google image)

12. Cover of the 2007 film version of “Persuasion” with Sally Hawkins (Anne Elliot) and Rupert Penry-Jones (Frederick Wentworth) (Ref J)

13. The parish church of Ellingham, Hampshire (Ref K)

14. A view of rural Hampshire, from a painting by Brian Cook (Ref L)

SERIES SUMMARY

CODE

MAIN SUBJECT

OTHER THEMES

A Hampshire Childhood Introduction-Reminders of the Past
B Kent Country Houses “Improvements”, and Garden Design
C City Elegance History of Bath, Neo-Classical Architecture
D Coastal Scenes Sea Drinking and Sea Bathing
E The Bristol Avon
F The Warwickshire Avon and the Cotswolds Adlestrop
G Return to Hampshire Portsmouth Point
H Winchester Days Medicine in the Early Nineteenth Century
I Locations “Sense and Sensibility” The Regency Period
J Locations –”Pride and Prejudice” The Picturesque
K Locations – “Mansfield Park” and “Emma” The Ha-Ha Boundary, “Lovers’ Vows” play
L Locations-“Northanger Abbey” and “Persuasion” The Gothic Novel, Irish History
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