Sunday, May 1, 2011

Jane Austen's Persuasion

Jane Austen's Persuasion

Believe it! Cover design matters. An old painting on a Penguin cover of Jane Austen's PERSUASION hooks my eye at Pages, our local used books store. It looks familiar. "Cobb Gate, Lyme Regis" the blurb explains. "Attributed to Reed, by permission of the Trustees of the Philpot Museum, Lyme Regis." (I am hoping, assuming, it's public domain as no amount of searching of Lyme Regis, Dorset, UK or the Philpot Museum has turned up any contact information.) The novel's an Austen I know I haven't read. So I buy it, and I do.
It is typical Austen--relationships, courtships, boy loses girl, man finds woman, etc. With the writer's amazing grasp of psychology. The telling details which reveal character. The injustice and waste of potential in "the system" which places so little value on females and their contribution. Best of all, the pivotal scene in the plot happens on The Cobb, Lyme Regis. I've been there, and I intend to return--for the several literary connections, and for the way that the location combines two of my passions--geology and literature. The last time I was there I inquired after writer John Fowles who has since left us. But Tracy Chevalier and Ian McEwan have taken up the mantles of Austen and Fowles. I've ordered their novels, and I've pulled out the maps, to plan for my dream return to Dorset and Somerset, to ancestral and cultural origins.

The Cobb, Lyme Regis





The Cobb, Lyme Regis

So I pull out my old photo album, looking for shots I haven't scanned, of Lyme Regis and The Cobb (a kind of manmade breakwater referred to in documents as far back as the 1200s.) One of my snapshots is a dead ringer, switching the colours from brown to blue, for the Reed painting on the Penguin Austen. The extra little dome in my shot is the Philpot Museum. The day I was there, a storm discouraged taking enough time to really focus. But it was still impressive--vulnerable humanity standing alone, at the mercy of wind and water, beneath a threatening sky. Just like Sarah Woodruff, Tragedy, in John Fowles' The French Lieutenant's Woman. Loved the book. Loved the film adaptation.

The French Lieutenant's Woman

The French Lieutenant's Woman




In The French Lieutenant's Woman, the intrusive modern narrator tells and retells a story of a "fallen" woman in Lyme in 1867. Concern for her becomes an obsession which causes a tragedy in the lives of a young gentleman, Charles Smithson, and his fiancee, Ernestina Freeman. The writer, using citations, asides, dialogue, narrative commentary, and plot twists, unfurls a theme familiar to both Austen and Thomas Hardy--the injustice experienced by women in Victorian society. In the end, Fowles offers readers a choice of endings, one comic, one tragic.

The French Lieutenant's Woman

The French Lieutenant's Woman


Now this becomes a study in serendipity. In waiting for the door to open. For me, it has always been "When the student is ready, the book appears." On a fruitless quest into Chilliwack (to No-Service Canada), I reward myself with a visit to The Bookman Used Books, a dangerous store at the best of times. And there, on the sale tables outside, an iconic image. Tragedy on The Cobb, where the sight of her first snagged Charles' attention. I would have paid $3 just for the cover, which I plan to print and frame. Bought it. Read it. How do you write a screenplay with two endings? Pinter figured out a way. Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons. Thirty years old and it still seems both modern and relevant. Is it just me? Are intelligent movies still being made?