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Posts Tagged ‘John Newton Amazing Grace’

Romantic as they seem to us modern folk, stage coaches and sailing ships and horses weren’t the fastest or easiest way to travel the world–nor were they something that everyone in Jane Austen’s England could afford. Unless you were a sailor, a soldier, or a diplomat, you likely spent most of your life in The British Isles. Many never left the county or shire where they were born, and spent their lives with the people in their village. That’s why so much hubbub and excitement ensued when a new teacher, or minister, or peddler arrived in town–or when the gentlefolk from London came to stay at their country estates (we readers and watchers of period dramas could give you plenty of examples here!). Even if you were among the very privileged English youth who took the Grand Tour of Europe, you weren’t as likely to come into contact with non-Europeans. Many parts of the world were yet undiscovered by the West, or were shut away from outsiders, and so it wasn’t often that people saw–much less interacted with–people who looked different from themselves. It’s not like today, where most of us can freely explore almost every corner of our beautiful earth, and where we come in contact with people of different ethnicities and cultures almost every day–if not in real life, than on the Internet or TV.

The Cast of Sanditon

Sadly, the African slave trade was still in existence during Austen’s time, and it was this evil practice that brought many from the African continent into contact with Europeans. Much of this contact was in the Caribbean, where some British had plantations. In my post Jane Austen and Slavery I explored the abolitionists that Austen knew or admired, and the way she raised awareness of slavery in her book Mansfield Park (did you know there are three film adaptations?!). From Austen’s prayers, we can assume she held to the Christian faith–or at least held to the Christian belief that we are ALL descended from Adam and Eve, and therefore all created in the image of God. Not only did she point out the evils of slavery in Mansfield Park, in her unfinished book Sanditon, she went a step further by including a black character, Georgiana Lambe. Georgiana’s father was a plantation owner, and her mother was originally a slave. But now the young heiress has been taken from sunny Antigua and placed in England, in the care of Sidney Parker (heroine Charlotte Heywood’s love interest). In the mini series adaptation of Sanditon, Georgiana (Crystal Clarke) isn’t happy with her situation. But some good things do come from her stay in England–the friendship that forms between Georgiana and Charlotte (Rose Williams) . . . and a little romance, which Charlotte helps Georgiana keep secret from Sidney (Theo James).

Heiress Georgiana Lambe & Charlotte Heywood
Georgiana & sweetheart, Otis

Jane Austen sadly passed away before completing Sanditon, so we don’t know how the book would have been received at the time. But I couldn’t help but recognize the similarities between the fictional Georgiana and the real life woman, Dido Elizabeth Belle, whose story is told in the 2013 movie, Belle. I love searching for connections between fiction and real life! Could Austen have heard of–or even known someone who met–the real Dido Belle? Dido was the illegitimate daughter of a Royal Naval officer, John Lindsay, and a young black woman named Maria Bell, who was a slave on a Spanish ship that was captured by Lindsay. Their daughter, Dido, was eventually taken to England and put in the care of her great-uncle, William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, to be raised on his estate in north London. It’s been speculated that Jane Austen intentionally chose Mansfield as the name of the estate and title of her book, Mansfield Park, in which she addresses slavery. Perhaps with the way her character Georgiana’s life resembles Dido’s, Austen also intended to make connections between the two women.

Dido & Elizabeth, Belle (2013)

As a woman of mixed ethnicity, Dido (Belle), like the fictional Georgiana, faced challenges in English society. The film explores some of the coldness and even open hostility that Dido likely had to endure, even as the niece of a powerful and wealthy man. But she was raised with a cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray, and the two seem to have been best friends. One of the wonderful things left from this relationship is the painting we have of the two young women. Today, the painting hangs at Scone Palace in Scotland, which I visited many times when I lived there. If only I’d paid more attention!

Portrait of Dido & Elizabeth
Portrait of Dido & Elizabeth as portrayed in the movie

As Austen only wrote about 20,000 words of Sanditon, we don’t know exactly what she had planned for the life of Georgiana Lambe. Many have continued the work as they thought it should go, beginning with Jane’s niece, Anna LeFroy, who claimed to have discussed the novel with Austen (though Anna wrote quite a lot, she sadly didn’t finish the story). And of course producer Andrew Davies (Screenwriter for Pride & Prejudice, 1995) continued the story as he thought it should go in the 2019 miniseries, Sanditon. There, Sidney, who believes Otis is a no-good fortune hunter, seems to succeed in separating him from Georgiana. In the film, Belle, we also see Dido being pursued by fortune hunters.

Dido and suitor Oliver Ashford (James Norton)
Dido & John Davinier

While we don’t know Davies’ future plans for Sanditon Season 2, and the rest of Miss Lambe’s story, we do know that Dido fell in love and married a Mr. John Davinier, who–from what we can gather–truly cared for her. While the film portrays him as a minister and abolitionist, he was in fact a Steward for a wealthy employer. Dido was left with a modest inheritance from her father and uncle, and the two must have lived in relative comfort. They had 3 sons. Much like Jane Austen, Dido passed away in her early 40s. But for those years she had with her husband and children, I hope she was happy. I hope Andrew Davies will give Georgiana a happy ending, too. Jane Austen insisted that all her heroines have a happy ending, and so I really feel he must!

Have you seen the miniseries Sanditon or the film Belle? Did you notice any similarities between them? How do you think the story will end for Miss Lambe? Belle is the final film in my Countdown to Spring Weekend Movie Pick 🌷 – Find Happy Little Sigh on Facebook, Instagram, or MeWe for the complete list of 26 favorite period drama films!!!

Avonlea x

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Happy Little Sigh

Finding beauty in the everyday 

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Lockdowns and race riots. Isolation and old wounds. What on earth does Jane Austen have to do with it all? A lot, it turns out. An awful lot.

While I’ve read both Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility, and have watched the film adaptations more times than I care to admit (who else can join this club?), I never got the urge to snuggle up on the sofa with a blanket, a cup of tea, and Mansfield Park, Austen’s 3rd published novel. One viewing of the film adaptations was enough, and those never inspired me to read the book.

But one of my lockdown activities was to re-watch the 1999 and 2007 versions of Mansfield Park as well as give the 1983 version a chance. The 80s version had always looked too–well, slow. And slow it was–deliciously slow, if you’re hankering to see nearly all of the dialogue and scenes from Austen’s novel brought to the screen. Although the cinematography and soundtrack aren’t quite the delight to the senses that the later versions are (it was rather like watching a play), after seeing the 80s version, the others seemed horribly rushed. Entire scenes and characters from the novel had been cut out. Not only that, but Fanny herself–the dutiful, steady, almost timid character that Austen created–had been lost and turned into something more flashy and exciting. One review of the 1999 version was titled, “Please, Miramax, Don’t Call it Mansfield Park” (Rosenbaum) because of the films extreme alteration of Fanny Price.

Frances O’Conner & Johnny Lee Miller in Mansfield Park, 1999

I also realized something more significant that I so disliked about the 1999 version in particular–its inclusion of slavery. While tending her bedridden cousin, Tom, who has just returned from Antigua, Fanny discovers his sketchbook. It is full of horrifying depictions of the goings on at the family’s plantation. The pictures are upsetting, and the fact that slavery is presented, but not dealt with, didn’t sit well with me.

In the novel, Fanny and her cousin Edmund have a conversation–

“Did you not hear me ask him about the slave trade last night?”

“I Did – and was in hopes the question would be followed by others.  It would have pleased your uncle to be inquired of farther.”

“And I longed to do it – but there was such a dead silence!”

One wonders what was meant by this “dead silence.” Was the family disinterested or embarrassed by mention of the slave trade? Whatever the case, they were not eager to speak of it. I wondered what Austen herself, thought, and started digging . . .

Billie Piper & Blake Ritson, Mansfield Park, 2007

What did Austen think about slavery? Why did she mention it in her book? After all, Austen’s world is one where one can count on villains getting their comeuppance and all being put to right. I watch and read Austen to escape to a world of balls and empire waist dresses, where the biggest threat is a marriage proposal from the likes of Mr. Collins–not to be shown one of the world’s greatest evils, only to have it left unresolved. And though I still think Mansfield Park is in a different category because of the inclusion of this grave topic, on further examination I’ve realized it’s not as different from Austen’s other novels as I first thought.

Woven through her stories of romance and happy endings she included many social issues which concerned her, such as the custom of marrying for money and social status rather than suitability and love. She made many statements about morality through the repercussions her characters faced as a result of their choices. The outcomes of their lives are meant to make us consider our own. And though she could not erase slavery, she made a statement about this, too.

We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.

– Fanny Price, Mansfield Park

The most obvious statement is made with the title of the book–Mansfield Park. It is believed by many scholars that Austen chose this name because of Lord Mansfield, who presided over the case of James Somerset, a slave who escaped from his owner while on English soil.  Mansfield declared that a slave could not be forcibly removed from England against his will. By using the name of this well known judge, who declared slavery “odious” (White), Austen was most likely making her own views known.

Sylvestra Le Touzel & Nicholas Ferrell in Mansfield Park, 1983

Mansfield Park was completed in 1813, just five years after The Slave Trade Act of 1807 abolished slavery in the United Kingdom. Austen would have been very aware of the goings on in the Caribbean, both because of current events, and because of her own family’s involvement (her brother was in the navy and intercepted a Portuguese slave ship, her father was made the trustee of a plantation, while her cousins settled in the West Indies). This all would have given her insight into many of the ins and outs of the slave trade, and also most likely the horrors of the practice, which she would have known about when she wrote Mansfield Park.

As further evidence of her opinion on slavery, in one of her letters to her sister Cassandra, she writes of her “love” for the writing of prominent abolitionist, Thomas Clarkson (Davis). She was also fan of poet William Cowper, a fervent abolitionist, who wrote poems such as “The Negro’s Complaint” (Tomalin). It seems very likely from her writings, especially her prayers, that Jane Austen had a strong Christian faith, and the Christian worldview that all people are made in God’s image would certainly have affected her view of the slave trade (Haykin).

And speaking of abolitionists, my lockdown movie binge also led me back to the film Amazing Grace, 2006. This movie depicts the lives of William Wilberforce, British politician and leader in the movement to abolish slavery, and John Newton, former slave ship captain who penned the hymn, “Amazing Grace,” after God changed his heart and life. This was a great movie to share with my oldest boys, and brought up some important conversations. I was also delighted to see that Sylvestra Le Touzel & Nicholas Ferrell, who play Fanny and Edmund in the 1983 version of Mansfield Park, play Marianne and Henry Thornton, friends of Wilberforce. How wonderful that they were able to act in two films with such important messages.

Sylvestra Le Touzel & Nicholas Ferrell as Marianne & Henry Thornton, Amazing Grace, 2006

If you haven’t seen any of the above films–or indeed read Mansfield Park–they are wonderful ways to learn about some of the people from history who have stood against the mistreatment of others, particularly with regards to slavery. Lord Mansfield, John Newton, William Wilberforce, and even our own Jane Austen (now don’t we like her even more?).

More amazing things about Jane Austen & fun literary & movie connections coming soon…

Avonlea x

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Instagram @happylittlesigh or Facebook @happylittlesigh

Happy Little Sigh

Finding beauty in the everyday

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