Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Metropolitan and Mansfield Park

Must be one of them “meme” things. Two articles in one season comparing Jane Austen to director Whit Stillman. First is a focal piece on Stillman in City Journal: “In fact, the spirit of Jane Austen, Audrey’s favorite novelist, animates Metropolitan. Austen understands profoundly that manners are a kind of morals. She extols conventions that make civilized society possible. Stillman adopts not just her estimation of society but also her novelistic conventions, even down to the plot device of handwritten letters. His characters speak with a wit and articulateness that echo Austen’s seamless irony” (Julia Magnet, “A Great Conservative Filmmaker,” City Journal, Winter 2004). Then comes a great piece on the seriously misunderstood Mansfield Park: “In Whit Stillman’s intriguingly Austenesque film, Metropolitan, Tom Townsend . . . is astonished when Audrey Rouget . . . reveals that she enjoys Mansfield Park. Everyone knows, Tom says, that Mansfield Park is the worst novel Jane Austen wrote, and nobody likes the book’s heroine, Fanny Price. Audrey, the moral center of the film and very much a Fanny Price character herself, protests simply, ‘I like Fanny Price.’” (Peter J. Leithart, “Jane Austen, Public Theologian,” First Things, January 2004). That probably explains why there’s a mixed reaction to Stillman. Too countercultural.

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