Billie Piper (on the left as Fanny Price in ITV Mansfield Park, 2007) returns to BBC One to star as Betty, a young wife and mother who falls deeply in love with a Polish neighbour with disastrous consequences, in Kay Mellor's A Passionate Woman.

A Passionate Woman is made by Rollem Productions and is adapted from Mellor's worldwide smash hit stage play.
Filming starts in Leeds this month and the drama will screen on BBC One next year.


Set in Leeds in the Fifties Cold War period, Billie Piper stars as Betty, a young wife and mother who reluctantly falls passionately and hopelessly in love with her charismatic Polish neighbour, Alex Crazenovski, played by Theo James (new Woody Allen film, as yet untitled).
But little does Betty know that some 30 years later, in Eighties Thatcherite Britain, her affair will implode on her beloved son Mark's wedding day.


Mark as an adult is played by Andrew Lee Potts (Primeval).

Sue Johnston (The Turn Of The Screw, Waking The Dead), stars as Betty in the Eighties opposite Alun Armstrong (New Tricks) who plays her devoted, if dull, husband, Donald.

The younger Donald is played by Alun Armstrong's real-life son Joe Armstrong (on the left, Allan-a-Dale in Robin Hood), in his first on-screen appearance with his father.

Frances Barber (The Street) plays Betty's sister, Margaret, who is always there for her sibling through thick and thin, and in her younger years aided and abetted Betty's affair. Rachel Leskovac (Coronation Street, Holby City) plays Margaret in the Fifties.

Kay Mellor, one of Britain's leading TV writers, has penned numerous hit dramas including The Chase, Fat Friends, Playing The Field and the seminal Band Of Gold. She was awarded on OBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours list in June 2009.

Kay Mellor says: "Mum and I were washing-up one day when she confided in me she'd had an affair before I was born, when she and my dad lived in the poorer area of Leeds. The affair ended when her lover was suddenly killed. I realised she'd kept this secret for 30 years and that she still loved this man. Years later, my younger brother was getting married and I saw that same pain on her face. I knew these two periods of mum's life were intrinsically linked and I was compelled to write the play A Passionate Woman for the West Yorkshire Playhouse. (...) Three years ago mum died and I suppose the film is a way of bringing her back for me."
Polly Hill, BBC Commissioning Editor, Independent drama, England, adds:
"We are delighted that the script has attracted such a wonderful cast led by Billie Piper and Sue Johnston and we are sure it will prove a real treat for the audience."



No, don't worry, I'm not going to review those Austen inspired novels mixing Jane's world with vampires and monsters. I've never read one of those . I was just ordering the notes and slides I used these days in some of my lessons, thought that I could share them because some of you might be interested and decided to post about them.

I noticed that several of the blogs I regularly visit and read are involved in the so-called R.I.V. Challenge, that is Readers Imbibing Peril.

For instance
-Heather at Gofita's Pages

They are reading and blog posting about Mystery, Suspense, Thriller, Dark Fantasy, Horror Books. I’m not taking part in the Challenge but I’m full immersed in reading and teaching about the roots of all those modern genres. Today’s ghost and horror novels, as well as mystery stories or thrillers, which are so keenly read all over the world, come from the 18th century GOTHIC NOVEL. My lessons to my eldest students are focused on this genre these days.

The adjective Gothic was first applied to architecture long before it connoted literature. HORACE WALPOLE (1717 – 1797) was the first to link the two: his obsession with his beloved miniature castle at Strawberry Hill inspired him for THE CASTLE OF OTRANTO (1764) and the book subtitle, A GOTHIC TALE. This was the first time the term was used in a literary context. Would you be scared by such melodramatic, simpering rather naive prose?

(from H. Walpole, The Castle of Otranto, ch. 1, pp.1-2)
Manfred, Prince of Otranto, had one son and one daughter: the latter, a most beautiful virgin, aged eighteen, was called Matilda. Conrad, the son, was three years younger, a homely youth, sickly, and of no promising disposition; yet he was the darling of his father, who never showed any symptoms of affection to Matilda. Manfred had contracted a marriage for his son with the Marquis of Vicenza’s daughter, Isabella; and she had already been delivered by her guardians into the hands of Manfred, that he might celebrate the wedding as soon as Conrad’s infirm state of health would permit.
Manfred’s impatience for this ceremonial was remarked by his family and neighbours. The former, indeed, apprehending the severity of their Prince’s disposition, did not dare to utter their surmises on this precipitation. Hippolita, his wife, an amiable lady, did sometimes venture to represent the danger of marrying their only son so early, considering his great youth, and greater infirmities; but she never received any other answer than reflections on her own sterility, who had given him but one heir. His tenants and subjects were less cautious in their discourses. They attributed this hasty wedding to the Prince’s dread of seeing accomplished an ancient prophecy, which was said to have pronounced that the castle and lordship of Otranto “should pass from the present family, whenever the real owner should be grown too large to inhabit it.” It was difficult to make any sense of this prophecy; and still less easy to conceive what it had to do with the marriage in question. Yet these mysteries, or contradictions, did not make the populace adhere the less to their opinion.Young Conrad’s birthday was fixed for his espousals. The company was assembled in the chapel of the Castle, and everything ready for beginning the divine office, when Conrad himself was missing. Manfred, impatient of the least delay, and who had not observed his son retire, despatched one of his attendants to summon the young Prince. The servant, who had not stayed long enough to have crossed the court to Conrad’s apartment, came running back breathless, in a frantic manner, his eyes staring, and foaming at the month. He said nothing, but pointed to the court.
The company were struck with terror and amazement. The Princess Hippolita, without knowing what was the matter, but anxious for her son, swooned away. Manfred, less apprehensive than enraged at the procrastination of the nuptials, and at the folly of his domestic, asked imperiously what was the matter? The fellow made no answer, but continued pointing towards the courtyard; and at last, after repeated questions put to him, cried out, “Oh! the helmet! the helmet!”
In the meantime, some of the company had run into the court, from whence was heard a confused noise of shrieks, horror, and surprise. Manfred, who began to be alarmed at not seeing his son, went himself to get information of what occasioned this strange confusion. Matilda remained endeavouring to assist her mother, and Isabella stayed for the same purpose, and to avoid showing any impatience for the bridegroom, for whom, in truth, she had conceived little affection.
The first thing that struck Manfred’s eyes was a group of his servants endeavouring to raise something that appeared to him a mountain of sable plumes. He gazed without believing his sight.
“What are ye doing?” cried Manfred, wrathfully; “where is my son?”
A volley of voices replied, “Oh! my Lord! the Prince! the Prince! the helmet! the helmet!”
Shocked with these lamentable sounds, and dreading he knew not what, he advanced hastily,—but what a sight for a father’s eyes!— he beheld his child dashed to pieces, and almost buried under an enormous helmet, an hundred times more large than any casque ever made for human being, and shaded with a proportionable quantity of black feathers.
The horror of the spectacle, the ignorance of all around how this misfortune had happened, and above all, the tremendous phenomenon before him, took away the Prince’s speech. Yet his silence lasted longer than even grief could occasion. He fixed his eyes on what he wished in vain to believe a vision; and seemed less attentive to his loss, than buried in meditation on the stupendous object that had occasioned it. He touched, he examined the fatal casque; nor could even the bleeding mangled remains of the young Prince divert the eyes of Manfred from the portent before him.
All who had known his partial fondness for young Conrad, were as much surprised at their Prince’s insensibility, as thunderstruck themselves at the miracle of the helmet. They conveyed the disfigured corpse into the hall, without receiving the least direction from Manfred. As little was he attentive to the ladies who remained in the chapel”.

Gothic novels were extremely popular at the end of the 18th century and that taste or fashion involved all social classes. Most of those novels followed the same pattern with few alterations: great importance given to terror and horror – as two different ingredients, since the first was characterised by obscurity and uncertainty and the latter by evil and atrocity; ancient settings like isolated castles, dungeons, secret rooms, mysterious abbeys or convents; supernatural beings like vampires, ghosts, witches, monsters; a triad of main characters including an oversensitive persecuted heroine, a terrifying/ satanic male villain and a sensitive honourable hero. After Walpole’s “The Castle of Otranto” , very popular Gothic tales were Ann Radcliffe’s “The Mysteries of Udolpho” (1794) and “The Monk” by Matthew Lewis (1796) .
In the same years Miss Jane Austen dreamt of “living on her pen”, writing her first novels “of manners”. Between 1795-96 she had finished Elinore and Marianne, later on published as Sense and Sensibility, as well as First impressions then published as Pride and Prejudice. Was she interested in Gothic novels or did she attempt to write one? Since irony and satire were her favourite literary “weapons”, she preferred writing a parody of such sentimental fashionable genre. In 1798 she wrote Northanger Abbey, never published during her life for reasons left unknown, that is in fact an open mocking of the genre.

Young Catherine Morland’s story develops some of Jane Austen’s favourite themes, the initiation of a young woman into the complexities of adult social life and the danger of imagnation uncontrolled by reason and common sense. Catherine’s mistake is that she imposes the melodramatic values of the gothic novels she reads (i.e. “The mysteries of Udolpho” by A. Radcliffe) on the reality around her, making the boundaries between the real and the imaginary quite uncertain.
Here’s are two examples - from ITV 2007 adaptation of Northanger Abbey - of how Catherine is influenced by her reading gothic tales, which will create her "some troubles" once she is invited at Northanger Abbey (clip 1 0:00 /1:36; clip 2 0:00/2:52) by the Tilneys.






Jane Austen’s first Emma was not Miss Woodhouse but Miss Watson, Emma Watson.

“Emma Watson was not more than of the middle height- well made and plump, with an air of healthy vigour. Her skin was very brown, but clear, smooth and glowing; which with a lively eye, a sweet smile, and an open countenance, gave beauty to attract, and expression to make beauty umprove on acquaintance.”

She is the protagonist of the fragment THE WATSONS which Jane started writing in 1803 or a little later, probably encouraged by the acceptance for publication of "Susan". As she liked the name Emma, she evidently felt it would be a pity to abandon it along with the uncompleted tale, and so used it for a different heroine ten years later. The fragment – left untitled by Jane -was first published in 1871 in the Reverend James Edward Austen-Leigh’s "Memoir of Jane Austen", with the title THE WATSONS.


The Watsons are a large and rather unhappy family, living in the Surrey village of Stanton, which is on the outskirts of some small town. The Reverend Mr Watson, the head of the family, is a melancholic impoverished widower, barely able to fulfil his clerical duties and quite unable to exercise any control over his quarrelling unmarried daughters. The eldest son Robert, about 30, has become a money-grubbing attorney and lives in Croydon with his conceited wife and their spoilt daughter, Augusta. The youngest son, Sam, about 22, is a surgeon in Guilford, having just finished his apprenticeship there to Mr Curtis. Still at home is the eldest daughter, Elizabeth, aged 28, and so by contemporary standards verging on middle age. She is worn and weary with the difficulties of running the household on a very small income and always trying to keep the peace between her next two sisters, Penelope and Margaret -26 and 24 – and each becoming steadily more desperate to catch a husband. The Watson daughters are well aware that as soon as their father dies, they will have to leave the parsonage in favour of the next incumbent; without any private income for themselves, marriage is the only hope they have of acquiring their own homes and avoiding a rapid descent into poverty.

The youngest daughter of the family, Emma, now 19, was semi-adopted by a widowed aunt fourteen years ago and has lived with her in Shropshire; but her aunt has suddenly married again and her new husband doesn’t want Emma to go on living with them. She is a very pretty girl and Elizabeth, her elder sister, decides to drive her into the town one afternoon in mid-October, so that she can stay with the Edwards and attend the first assembly ball of the winter season and stand a chance of meeting an appropriate suitor.
The most important guests at the ball are the party from Osborne Castle which consists of the Dowager Lady Osborne, her son the present Lord Osborne, her daughter Miss Osborne, and the daughter’s friend Miss Carr, the Reverend Mr Howard, clergyman of the parish, and Tom Musgrave, a constant flirt, who attaches himself to the Castle party in his capacity of social – climbing. In the past ,
Musgrave amused himself flirting with all three of Emma’s elder sisters in turn, Elizabeth, Margaret and Penelope. Emma dances with Mr Howard and likes him but is annoyed by Lord Osborne’s oafish manners and Tom Musgrave’s impudent persistence in forcing his company to her.
In the days following the ball, Emma’s eldest brother Robert and his wife come to Stanton bringing Margaret with them. Once the novelty of Emma’s acquaintance has worn off, Margaret soon shows herself to be perverse and quarrelsome, and Robert and his wife are also in their different ways unattractive characters from whom Emma will obviously not receive any affection or sympathy. Penelope, the other sister is said to be busy husband-hunting in Chichester, and Sam has his professional obligations keeping him in Guilford. So at this stage of the story neither Emma nor we, the readers, meet these last two members of the family.

This fragment is less than 50 pages in my edition of Jane Austen’s MINOR WORKS (pp. 314 – 362). Like SANDITON it could have become another of Jane’s beloved novels, if she had decided to develop the story but … she did not and what we have is another short but brilliant evidence of her immense talent.
From the second edition (1871) of the Memoir, p.364: “When the author’s sister, Cassandra, showed the manuscript of this work to some of her nieces, she also told them something of the intended story; for with this dear sister – though, I believe , with no one else – Jane seems to have talked freely of any work that she might have in hand. Mr Watson was soon to die; Emma to become dependent for a home on her narrow-minded sister-in- law and brother. She was to decline an offer of marriage from Lord Osborne and much of interest of the tale was to arise from Lady Osborne’s love for Mr Howard, and his counter affection for Emma, whom he was finally to marry”.







I usually enjoy watching mystery or detective stories, especially if they are very smartly built around a murder case and not too bloody. I hate horror movies, in fact. So, when I bumped into a 2004 TV movie , starring Rupert Everett as a convincing Sherlock Holmes last night, I was caught up in its foggy intriguing atmosphere and forgot all I had to do. I remained there, sitting still till the end, trying to conjecture who the serial killer murdering teenage girls might be. It was broadcast on BBC PRIME, a satellite channel I sometimes watch because it proposes British programmes from BBC (old series of Spooks, Dr Who, The Vicar of Dibley, Doctors, Eastenders among others) .
I'm not a very good detective but I guess I could be an excellent helper, like Dr Watson (Ian Hart , below, in this version).
So, I tried to guess and infer from the clues ... I got the right culprit but I wasn't able to ... solve the case.The culprit had an alibi which had to be denied. Fortunately, Holmes was as brilliant as ever and saved, with the help of loyal Watson, the last chosen victim from the murderer. Just a second before it was too late, of course!


November 1903. Fresh from an opium den in London's East End, Sherlock Holmes relaxes with green tea and a book on beekeeping, paying no heed to Dr Watson's plea for help with a baffling case.
The corpse of a shabbily dressed young woman has been discovered in the mud flats of the Thames at low tide. Police assume she's a prostitute, but Dr Watson suspects something more and goes to his old friend Holmes, now retired and at very loose ends.
The original screenplay - not an adaptation from Conan Doyle - by Allan Cubitt re-unites an estranged Holmes and his friend Watson in a desperate bid to solve a case which threatens to overwhelm the privilege and tranquillity of Edwardian aristocratic society. The victims are in fact chosen among girls from ancient aristocratic families. The murderer uses the girls' silk stockings to torture and finally kill them.


P.S. There a new Sherlock Holmes coming out next Christmas time starring Robert Downey Jr as Holmes and Jude Law as Watson. Have you heard about it?




I've just read this article online on two different sites and just wanted to share. SPOOKS 8 is scheduled to be broadcast very soon, in October, on BBC1. Series 7 DVD will be released just in the same period, October 12th.
In this interview Richard Armitage reveals exciting details about Lucas, his character, in the new season: a love affair with a blonde American spy (do you want to see her? have a look at my slide "Filming Spooks 8" in the right column), dramatic flashbacks in his past captivity in a Russian prison, a new friendship at MI5 with an intelligent female colleague who is back after some time (do you remember Ruth?). I'm so keen on this series, you know. I haven't missed an episode since Matthew MacFadyen's time. Now, since "my one weakness", aka RA, has landed on my favourite modern drama series, I can't miss a second of it!
If you are a fan of SPOOKS or Richard Armitage and want to read this article try here
or here
or simply CLICK on the image above to see it larger.



This 1997 beautiful four-part adaptation was my first BBC drama experience in the original language. I saw it first time on a satellite channel several years ago. I got up very early in the morning to see it and they broadcast it with Italian subtitles. My Dvd collection started then, after watching OUR MUTUAL FRIEND for the first time. I loved this period drama so much, but I haven’t had time to re-watch it since then. I didn’t remember much, apart from the gist of the plot, also because this isn’t usually a work by Dickens I use in my classes.

The Period Drama Challenge has been the occasion to play this DVD . I thought it might work as a good opener for the section “Victorian Mist”. The story offers deep psychological insight with rich social analysis at the same time. The settings and costumes are accurately designed/realized and the script is by extraordinary Sandy Welch (North & South, Jane Eyre, Emma 2009).

Our Mutual Friend is Dickens’s last novel to be completed and one of the most complex ones. As usual in Dickens’s novels, we are involved in a multi-layered plot with a myriad of characters. Two completely different and distant worlds are brought together into the same mystery story: very poor people living along the river Thames , in the city slums, as well as snobbish, stiff upper-class pleople. Misty or nocturnal settings surround the misery and desperation of the first; daylight, big houses, luxurious gatherings characterize the representation of the latter. People from the two “nations” Queen Victoria ruled on meet and intermingle due to the mysterious death by drowning of young John Harmon, heir of a huge patrimony coming from dust (or better from rubbish). The inheritance, after his death, makes his father’s worker, Mr Boffin, immensely rich.

(John & Bella by Heather - CLICK on the image above to see and read more)

There are two main love stories, quite unconventional ones, through which Dickens mocks the strict etiquette of the society of his time: Bella Wilfer (Anna Friel ) expects John Harmon (Steven Mackintosh) to come back after many years abroad , to inherit his father’s patrimony, in order to marry him - though she doesn’t love nor know him. She’s ready to a marriage of interest, for money and social position. Unfortunately, John Harmon is found drowned in the Thames. She’ll end up marrying poor John Rokesmith, Mr Boffin’s humble secretary, for love only to discover that the two Johns (Harmon/Rokesmith) are the same person in the end.

(Eugene and Lizzie by Heather - CLICK on the image above to see more)

Poor but noble Eugene Wrayburn ( Paul McGann) is passionately in love with Lizzie Hexam ( a very young Keeley Hawes), whose father, a boatman, gets a living rescuing corpses from the River Thames. They finally get married going against any expectation of good London society : both Bella and Rokesmith's and Eugene and Lizzie's marriages were not thought proper since they married outside their own class.

Just three brief points more :

· There are several sub-plots in this complicated portrayal of Victorian London. Brilliant actors give life to all these peculiar, odd creatures only Dickens’s pen could so vividly brought to life: Peter Vaughan as Mr Boffin, Pam Ferris as Mrs Boffin, Timothy Spall as Mr Venus, David Bradley as Rogue Riderhood, David Morrissey as Mr Headstone, Kenneth Cranham as Silas Wegg.

· Victorian London and The Thames are more like characters in the plot than features of its settings.

(London at Dickens's time)

· Dickens is great at mocking his own world: their gossiping hypocritical way of living based on strict class division, formalities ,void etiquette, material interest and selfishness is his main target.



BLEAK HOUSE (my review)

DAVID COPPERFIELD (my review of 2009 RAI Adaptation)


I have to bear my pain in silence: I can't take part in this fun event because I live in Italy! But if you live in the US, don't waste your time.

If you like Jane Austen and giveaways have a look at THE BOOK GIRL that is proposing JANE AUSTEN WEEK GRAND PRIZE.

There will be something you can win everyday.
All contests will be open until midnight on Saturday 9/25.
Comments from all posts will be gathered for the grand prize. Extra ways to earn entries are to post a facebook or blog post about the book girl’s Austen week, or tweet about the contest. Again: giveaways are US only. So, if you live in the States...




I started reading novels at 9 and used to be an obsessed reader as a teenager. I was always looking for new books to read. I read everything I could find from Dostoevski to Apuleius, from teenage dectective stories to Jane Austen, I forgot lunch and dinner times deeply involved as I was in my fantasy worlds. I was constantly scolded by my grand-grandmother who was convinced that it was not a proper passtime for an “accomplished” girl. Why didn’t I learn how to sew or embroider, instead of wasting my time like that? I’ve never learnt how to sew or embroider , while I went on and on reading and studying all my life. Has Granny Esther forgiven me from up there? I really hope so. Since I do love reading. This is why I’ve found out and immediately loved this meme about reading habits.
It was at Always Dreaming..... Thanks Sharry!

Do you snack while you read? If so, favorite reading snack?
I make great efforts and avoid eating though I’d love to have some (even more than some) crisps while reading. I substitute eating with drinking: cups and cups of long coffee.

Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?
Hands up!I did it! I always do that. I underline, scribble notes, draw arrows and little hearts and smilies. Is it so terrible?

How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears?
I love bookmarks! I’ve got plenty of them! More than one in each book. Lots from my or my friends’ journeys abroad.

Laying the book flat open?
Yes, usually. Not when I am at school, stealing some time from other more professional activities. I stand near the window, look outside from time to time, and with my book just opened as much as to peep at the words, I try to concentrate and go on with the story I’m involved in at that moment.

Fiction, Non-fiction, or both?
I prefer fiction. But I read many articles and essays for my teaching.

Hard copy or audiobooks?
I’ve just tried two audiobooks this summer for reasons I must have confessed somewhere in this blog. But ... I’m easily distracted while listening. I prefer reading a great deal more.

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of chapters, or are you able to put a book down at any point?
I must be ready to put my book down at any moment: sons needing me, water boiling it’s time to put the pasta into it, omg it’s so late I have to correct a pile of tests, husband’s coming back from work it’s time to fetch him at the bus stop, and so on.

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop to look it up right away?
Yeah, I hate feeling ignorant!

What are you currently reading?
· Jane Austen’s fragment THE WATSONS and articles or essays about it
· Muriel Barbery, “L’eleganza del riccio”
· Anything I can find about Gothic fiction, the Novel of Manners and the Historical Novel in the late 18th century/early 19th century.

What is the last book you bought?

Are you the type of person that only reads one book at a time or can you read more than one at a time?
I read one novel at a time but can study and take notes about many topics and issues at the same time. (i.e. I teach medieval literature, Romantic and Victorian literature at the same time to different classes)

Do you have a favorite time of day and/or place to read?
In the summer I like getting up early and read in the fresh air. I love reading in bed at night, too. But I can read anywhere any time. I CAN’T read while travelling by car, bus or underground.

Do you prefer series books or stand alone books?
Stand alones.

Is there a specific book or author that you find yourself recommending over and over?
I love Fahrenheit 451 by R. Bradbury and Brave New World by A. Huxley immensely , though I’m not fond of science fiction. Those are the first titles which come to my mind if someone asks me “What can I read?” .Then my great loves are Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell and the Brontes. Victorian novelists, in general .

How do you organize your books? (By genre, title, author’s last name, etc.?)
Organize books? I should do it. I promise myself to do it sooner or later. Instead, I carry on piling them anywhere I can find some space! How do I find one when I need it? I don’t know. It’s a miracle, but I manage.

Before wishing you the best of nights, I just want to share with you this quiz I've found on line. It seems I'm a DEDICATED READER . What about you? Try the quiz and let me know! I'm sure there are so many other dedicated readers among you!

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Dedicated Reader

You are always trying to find the time to get back to your book. You are convinced that the world would be a much better place if only everyone read more.

Literate Good Citizen
Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm
Book Snob
Fad Reader
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz



BBC PRESS OFFICE has just released EMMA 2009 Press Pack with lots of details about the latest adaptation of Jane Austen' s novel (1816) which is part of Autumn 2009 Programme.

Adapted by BAFTA-winning writer Sandy Welch (Our Mutual Friend, Jane Eyre, North And South) this humorous and perceptive serial from BBC Drama Production provides a rich insight into one of Austen's most complex characters. This adaptation of Jane Austen's comic masterpiece Emma is described as fresh and witty.

Read the introduction HERE, Michael Gambon (Mr Woodhouse) on EMMA 2009 HERE and Romola Garai about her role HERE.


Waiting for the new Emma or the ambiguous pleasure of freedom



EMMA at austen.com



I remember I read this essay - HOW TO GROW OLD by Bertrand Russel - when I was 15 ,at school with my English teacher. It was an ironical text about how to grow old the right way keeping up strength, will and mental energy.
Why am I thinking about that now? Because it was my birthday some days ago - I know , I didn't tell you anything but I was not in the mood to celebrate, completely alone at home, husband and sons still at the seaside... I realized that every year more I wish to forget my birthday. There's something wrong in that: we must face reality, not escape it, that's something I'm sure of. And once we face it, we must try to handle it and finally accept it. Now, I know many women my age or even over, would think I'm mad because we are still "young", but it is really saddening to reflect on the passing of time. Then, don't tell me that turning forty-something is like turning 30-something! That's lying and you know.
This is why I decided to re-read some pages from that old book I had completely forgotten.
Do you want to read some lines with me?

"In spite of the title, this article will really be on how not to grow old, which, at my time of life, is a much more important subject. My first advice would be to choose your ancestors carefully. Although both my parents died young, I have done well in this respect as regards my other ancestors. My maternal grandfather, it is true, was cut off in the flower of his youth at the age of sixty-seven, but my other three grandparents all lived to be over eighty. Of remoter ancestors I can only discover one who did not live to a great age, and he died of a disease which is now rare, namely, having his head cut off. A great-grandmother of mine, who was a friend of Gibbon, lived to the age of ninety-two, and to her last day remained a terror to all her descendants. My maternal grandmother, after having nine children who survived, one who died in infancy, and many miscarriages, as soon as she became a widow devoted herself to women's higher education. She was one of the founders of Girton College, and worked hard at opening the medical profession to women. She used to tell of how she met in Italy an elderly gentleman who was looking very sad. She asked him why he was so melancholy and he said that he had just parted from his two grandchildren. 'Good gracious,' she exclaimed, 'I have seventy-two grandchildren, and if I were sad each time I parted from one of them, I should have a miserable existence!' 'Madre snaturale!,' he replied. But speaking as one of the seventy-two, I prefer her recipe. After the age of eighty she found she had some difficulty in getting to sleep, so she habitually spent the hours from midnight to 3 a.m. in reading popular science. I do not believe that she ever had time to notice that she was growing old. This, I think, is the proper recipe for remaining young. If you have wide and keen interests and activities in which you can still be effective, you will have no reason to think about the merely statistical fact of the number of years you have already lived, still less of the probable shortness of your future.
As regards health, I have nothing useful to say as I have little experience of illness. I eat and drink whatever I like, and sleep when I cannot keep awake. I never do anything whatever on the ground that it is good for health, though in actual fact the things I like doing are mostly wholesome.
Psychologically there are two dangers to be guarded against in old age. One of these is undue absorption in the past. It does not do to live in memories, in regrets for the good old days, or in sadness about friends who are dead. One's thoughts must be directed to the future, and to things about which there is something to be done. This is not always easy; one's own past is a gradually increasing weight. It is easy to think to oneself that one's emotions used to be more vivid than they are, and one's mind more keen. If this is true it should be forgotten, and if it is forgotten it will probably not be true". (...)

After Bertrand Russel's words, I'd like to share with you a very short poem by Nazim Hikmet, which one of my friends/colleagues used in her wishing card as a consolation for my sad thoughts about age and the passing of time. She is great! Once again -it's not the first time - she chose the most perfect words to cure my negativity:

The best sea has yet to be crossed.
The best child has yet to grow up.
Our best days have yet to be lived;
and the best word I wanted to say to you
is the word I have not yet said

(Nazim Hikmet 1902-1963)

Translation from the Turkish Richard McKane

I am there, like Frederick's romantic wanderer, standing high on a sea of fog, astonished at the sublime vastness of nature and life but also melancholic at the thought of how fast everything comes to its end... anyway confident that our best days have yet to be lived!



After watching BBC THE BUCCANEERS (1995) for my Period Drama Challenge, I absolutely wanted to read Edith Wharton’s works. I decided to start with THE AGE OF INNOCENCE (Winner of the 1921 Pulitzer Prize), and I was right: believe it or not, it has been the best read of this 2009, one my best ever. It grabbed me right away, it actually took me to another place and time and I loved Wharton's use of language.
The story of Newland Archer 's impossible love for the disgraced Madame Olenska is a perfectly wrought book about an era when upper-class culture in the USA was still a mixture of American and European extracts, and when "society" had rules as rigid as any in history.
I really related to the characters, I mean to the protagonists, Newland and Ellen, Mr Archer and Countess Olenska: I felt their passionate transport hardly controlled, their silent empathy and their desperation at being prisoners of the stiff cruel hypocritical rules of that decaying upper- class culture.
There are so many beautiful and masterfully written pages that I was tempted to read passages aloud just to hear them trip back to me somewhat physically. Anyhow, I didn’t do it, I just re-read them more than once silently.
The story is set, both with nostalgia and condemnation, in the cloistered world of Wharton’s youth, the 1870s-80s, a time when society people “dreaded scandal more than disease,” when style and etiquette dictated that every fork, every servant, and every piece of furniture needed to know their place and when the people that commanded them so well better knew their place. In love, an individual’s lack of freedom could turn his/her life to hell .

The Plot (SPOILERS!)
Newland Archer, gentleman lawyer and heir to one of New York City's best families, is happily anticipating a highly desirable marriage to the sheltered and beautiful May Welland. Yet he finds reason to doubt his choice of bride after the appearance of Countess Ellen Olenska, May's exotic, beautiful thirty-year-old cousin, who has been living in Europe. Ellen has returned to New York after scandalously separating herself (per rumor) from a bad marriage to a Polish Count. At first, Ellen's arrival and its potential taint to his bride's family disturbs him, but he becomes intrigued by the worldly Ellen who flouts New York society's fastidious rules. As Newland's admiration for the countess grows, so does his doubt about marrying May, a perfect product of Old New York society; his match with May no longer seems the ideal fate he had imagined.
Ellen's decision to divorce Count Olenski is a social crisis for the other members of her family, who are terrified of scandal and disgrace. Living apart can be tolerated, but divorce is unacceptable. To save the Welland family's reputation, a law partner of Newland asks him to dissuade Countess Olenska from divorcing the Count. He succeeds, but in the process comes to care for her; afraid of falling in love with Ellen, Newland begs May to accelerate their wedding date; May refuses.
Newland tells Ellen he loves her; Ellen corresponds, but is horrified of their love's aggrieving May. She agrees to remain in America, separated but still married, only if they do not sexually consummate their love; NewNewport, Rhode Island. New land receives May's telegram agreeing to wed sooner.
Newland and May marry; he tries forgetting Ellen but fails. His society marriage is loveless, and the social life he once found absorbing has become empty and joyless. Though Ellen lives in Washington and has remained distant, he is unable to cease loving her. Their paths cross while he and May are in land discovers that Count Olenski wishes Ellen to return to him, and she has refused, despite her family pushing her to reconcile with her husband and return to Europe. Frustrated by her independence, the family cut off her money, as the Count had already done.
Newland desperately seeks a way to leave May and be with Ellen, obsessed with how to finally possess her. Despairing of ever making Ellen his wife, he attempts to have her agree to be his mistress. Then Ellen is recalled to New York City to care for her sick grandmother, who accepts her decision to remain separated and agrees to reinstate her allowance.Back in New York and under renewed pressure from Newland, Ellen relents and agrees to consummate their relationship. However, Newland then discovers that Ellen has decided to return to Europe. Newland makes up his mind to abandon May and follow Ellen to Europe when May announces that she and Newland are throwing a farewell party for Ellen. That night, after the party, Newland resolves to tell May he is leaving her for Ellen. She interrupts him to tell him that she is pregnant and that Ellen had been told of it two weeks before. Newland guesses that this is Ellen's reason for returning to Europe. Hopelessly trapped, Newland decides not to follow Ellen, surrendering his love for the sake of his children, remaining in a loveless marriage to May.
Twenty-five years later, after May's death, Newland and his son are in Paris. The son, learning that his mother's cousin lives there, has arranged to visit Ellen in her Paris apartment. Newland is stunned at the prospect of seeing Ellen again. On arriving outside the apartment building, Newland, still reeling emotionally, sends up his son alone to meet Ellen, while he waits outside, watching her apartment's balcony. Newland considers going up, but decides that his dream and memory of Ellen are more real than anything else in his life has been; he walks back to his hotel without meeting her.
(from Wikipedia)
How much I loved Newland’s choice in the end! I found it sad and poignant but so romantic. Have you noticed? I’ve been turning more and more sentimental lately. “Maybe I’m becoming soft in my old age” , quoting a line from a TV movie someone may recognize. Mind, I’m honest though, unlike the character who says that.
Let’s go back to our THE AGE OF INNOCENCE. I‘d like to share some excerpts I particularly liked with all of you.

1. One of the most passionate moments

(Newland Archer) "Don't be afraid of me: you needn't squeeze yourself back into your corner like that. A stolen kiss isn't whatI want. Look: I'm not even trying to touch the sleeve of your jacket. Don't suppose that I don't understand your reasons for not wanting to let this feeling between us dwindle into an ordinary hole-and-corner love-affair. I couldn't have spoken like this yesterday, because when we've been apart, and I'm looking forward to seeing you, every thought is burnt up in a great flame. But then you come; and you're so much more than I remembered, and what I want of you is so much more than an hour or two every now and then, with wastes of thirsty waiting between, that I can sit perfectly still beside you, like this, with that other vision in my mind,just quietly trusting to it to come true."
For a moment she made no reply; then she asked, hardly above a whisper: "What do you mean by trusting to it to come true?"
"Why--you know it will, don't you?"
"Your vision of you and me together?" She burst into a sudden hard laugh. "You choose your place well to put it to me!"
"Do you mean because we're in my wife's brougham? Shall we get out and walk, then? I don't suppose you mind a little snow?"
She laughed again, more gently. "No; I shan't get out and walk, because my business is to get to Granny's as quickly as I can. And you'll sit beside me, and we'll look, not at visions, but at realities."
"I don't know what you mean by realities. The only reality to me is this."
She met the words with a long silence, during which the carriage rolled down an obscure side-street andthen turned into the searching illumination of Fifth Avenue.
"Is it your idea, then, that I should live with you as your mistress--since I can't be your wife?" she asked.The crudeness of the question startled him: the word was one that women of his class fought shy of, evenwhen their talk flitted closest about the topic. He noticed that Madame Olenska pronounced it as if it had arecognised place in her vocabulary, and he wondered if it had been used familiarly in her presence in the horrible life she had fled from. Her question pulled him up with a jerk, and he floundered."
I want--I want somehow to get away with you into a world where words like that--categories like that--won't exist. Where we shall be simply two human beings who love each other, who are the whole of life to each other; and nothing else on earth will matter."( from chapt. 29)

2. An example of Wharton’s condemnation of upper society’s hypocrisy

Are we only Pharisees after all?" he ( Archer) wondered, puzzled by the effort to reconcile his instinctivedisgust at human vileness with his equally instinctive pity for human frailty.For the first time he perceived how elementary his own principles had always been. He passed for a youngman who had not been afraid of risks, and he knew that his secret love-affair with poor silly Mrs. ThorleyRushworth had not been too secret to invest him with a becoming air of adventure. But Mrs. Rushworth was "that kind of woman"; foolish, vain, clandestine by nature, and far more attracted by the secrecy and perilof the affair than by such charms and qualities as he possessed. When the fact dawned on him it nearlybroke his heart, but now it seemed the redeeming feature of the case. The affair, in short, had been of thekind that most of the young men of his age had been through, and emerged from with calm consciences andan undisturbed belief in the abysmal distinction between the women one loved and respected and thoseone enjoyed--and pitied. In this view they were sedulously abetted by their mothers, aunts and other elderlyfemale relatives, who all shared Mrs. Archer's belief that when "such things happened" it was undoubtedlyfoolish of the man, but somehow always criminal of the woman. All the elderly ladies whom Archer knewregarded any woman who loved imprudently as necessarily unscrupulous and designing, and mere simple-minded man as powerless in her clutches. The only thing to do was to persuade him, as early as possible, tomarry a nice girl, and then trust to her to look after him.In the complicated old European communities, Archer began to guess, love-problems might be less simple andless easily classified. Rich and idle and ornamental societies must produce many more such situations; and there might even be one in which a woman naturally sensitive and aloof would yet, from the force ofcircumstances, from sheer defencelessness and loneliness, be drawn into a tie inexcusable by conventional standards." (chapt. 11)

From the book to the movie

As soon as I finished reading the last page of the novel, I started looking forward to seeing the 1993 film by Martin Scorsese I had carelessly watched on TV - never from the beginning to the end - many years ago. I have a DVD I’ve never watched so far , so I’ll put it in the player just now that I’ve finished writing this book review. (...)

Done it . I saw the movie. I told you I wanted to do it soon. I’m still so excited and moved …I don’ t want to write much. So ... this is the shortest and best review I found online. I agree with every single word.

"A sumptuous, achingly moving tale of love thwarted by duty and convention in turn-of-the-century New York. Camerawork, direction, costumes, set design, colour and, not least, the performances of Danny Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer and Winona Ryder are uniformly magnificent. Possibly Scorsese's finest achievement".

I only want to add that ...
- watching this movie was one of those very rare occasions when I saw exactly what I had already imagined. It was like reading the book a second time…or even better
- there were just few slight meaningless changes
- I was hooked by Danny Day-Lewis. His performance was touching in more than one scene
- I was just a bit confused at the beginning because May was a blonde blue-eyed beauty and Madame Olenska a dark one in the book. While in the film version May was Wynona Ryder and Ellen Olenska Michelle Pfeiffer!
- I especially appreciated the care to every detail: clothes, furniture, tapestry, props, hair-style, music, paintings, buildings, accessories, balls, carriages, hats
- It is a splendid period movie and .... this is my favourite scene (below)






A Soirée with Lady Susan : Journal of a Grand Event

It's time to wrap up at Austenprose. The winners have been announced, the schedule has been completed.
Austenprose, Laurel Ann’s wonderful blog, has hosted an exciting group reading experience named “A Soirée with Lady Susan”from September 1 to 14. Reading Jane Austen’s minor works was also part of my EVERYTHING AUSTEN CHALLENGE so I decided to read Lady Susan according to the schedule suggested by Laurel Ann and take part in the soirée. Among Austen's minor works, I have already read SANDITON, a fragment completed by Juliette Shapiro, and still have to read another fragment THE WATSONS.

Lady Susan

An “epistolary novel” written almost entirely in the form of letters sent between characters, Jane Austen’s Lady Susan has rarely been staged and never filmed, despite its audacious heroine and lively plot. Fascination and deception come naturally to the beautiful widowed Lady Susan who manages, “without the charm of youth,” to captivate every man who comes within her orbit. She schemes to marry the gentlemanly Reginald De Courcy while enjoying the attentions of the rakish Manwaring and consigning her sweetly intelligent daughter to dubious marital felicity with a vacuous dandy – all to the chagrin of her highly respectable former sister-in-law.
Jane Austen’sLady Susan has never received much attention in comparison to her other six major novels. It is only 70 pages and consists of forty-one letters and a conclusion. Scholars estimate that it was written between 1793-4 when the young author was in her late teens and represents her first attempts to write in the epistolary format popular with many authors of her time. In 1805, she transcribed a fair copy of the manuscript but did not publish it in her lifetime. Lady Susan begins to explore many of the themes of Austen’s later works, and amply demonstrates the wit that would become the author’s hallmark.
Although the themes, together with the focus on character study and moral issues, are close to Jane Austen's published work, its outlook is very different, and the heroine has few parallels in 19th-century literature. Lady Susan is a selfish, attractive woman, who tries to trap the best possible husband while maintaining a relationship with a married man. She subverts all the standards of the romantic novel: she has an active role, she's not only beautiful but intelligent and witty, and her suitors are significantly younger than she is (in contrast with Sense and Sensibility and Emma, which feature marriages of men who are old enough to be their wives' fathers). Although the ending includes a traditional reward for morality, Lady Susan herself is treated much more mildly than the adulteress, Mariah, in Mansfield Park, who is severely punished.

Was young Jane fascinated by her wicked creature? I actually think so. Lady Susan Vernon is a totally free woman who, unlike Austen's major heroines, isn't molded nor bent by conventions, formality and good manners but bends them at her own convenience.

My Journal of the Soirée

September 2nd - Letters I – XI

Lady Susan reveals herself surprisingly … unconventional. I thought Emma was the most “imperfect” – and for this reason the most human , realistic and likeable - among Austen’s heroines but reading the first eleven letters I’ve immediately realized Lady Susan was pleasantly … evil: vain, selfish, enterprising, free, cold, emotionless, deceitful. May I stop here? Despite all that, just like Mr Manwaring or Reginald De Courcy, one can but be charmed by “the most accomplished Coquette in England” because she indeed “possesses a degree of captivating deceit which” IS “pleasing to witness & detect”.
If I have to be utterly honest there is something I do NOT like in her: as a mother, I found incredibly disturbing her indifference, if not cruelty, to her daughter, Frederica. Her calculated subtle deceiving trick of faking an interest in her daughter’s education - but in a boarding school far from home and everybody the girl knew - in order to push her to marry Mr James ( a man Frederica deeply disliked) was awfully evil!

September 5th - Letters XII – XXII

- I’m enjoying this reading more and more. Twists and turns make this second part, letters XII – XXII , quite thrilling. For instance, the unexpected attempt to escape reveals Frederica’s personality and real situation to the reader who, so far, has known her only from her mother’s point of view - which is not very positive at all.
- Another satisfying turn involves the character of Reginald de Courcy who, after meeting Frederica, realizes he has been blinded by Lady Susan skillful charming art : she has manipulated him just like any other person around her. When that happened, I was a bit disappointed at seeing him take Lady Susan's bait, since I had had a different impression of him at the beginning ( Mr De Courcy to Mrs Vernon - IV).
- Now that Frederica asks HIM for help against the wicked plans of her mother everything seems to turn against wicked Lady Susan. But reading the last lines of letter XXII I expect new turns and twists due to her devilishly vindicative rage : “She –Frederica- shall not soon forget the occurrences of this day. She shall find that she has poured forth her tender Tale of Love in vain, & exposed herself forever to the contempt of the whole world, & the severest Resentment of her injured Mother”. She is terribly jelous, she had not expected to find a rival in her daughter! Reginald seems to prefer Frederica to her! I’m looking forward to discovering what is going to happen … I’m avoiding spoilers as much as I can and respecting the deadlines in our reading schedule!

September 9th – Letters XXIII - XXXIII

I’ve just closed my copy of Jane Austen’s Minor Works at page 304. I was SO tempted to go on reading but this forcing myself to respect the deadlines of our schedule is making the experience much more thrilling and , as I already wrote, great fun.
1. Reading and re-reading this third group of letters, I started reflecting on young Jane Austen being so masterful in the use of language. If she created an incredibly skillful heroine who could master people and the same course of the events with her ability in using words like Lady Susan, how good did she herself have to be with words? She was indeed an already wonderfully talented young writer though only in her teens!
2. I’ve been particularly charmed by evil characters recently. Especially well written or well acted ones. Not the stereotyped flat villains but those with a certain complexity and psychological insight. This Lady Susan is the result of a particularly free Austen. She is definitely and devilishly wicked. In the letters to her friend, Mrs Amelia Johnson, L.S. reveals the most evil of her feelings, her most unscrupulous soul, she confesses with no dismay all her worst thoughts. She is so confident in her skills and feels no sense of guilt at all nor any regret for what she does. Once her affair with Mr Manwaring is revealed to Reginald – who wants to marry her! – and to Mr Johnson by Mrs Manwaring herself Lady Susan is so bluntly sure of herself: “Reginald will be a little enraged at first, but by Tomorrow’s dinner, everything will be well again”. These evil soul are so fascinating! Don’t you think so?
3. I like Mrs Catherine Vernon ( Lady Susan sister-in-law) much. She is the only one who is not subjected to Lady Susan’s schemes and tricks. So, this means she must be quite intelligent and very sensitive. She is balanced and pragmatic, so different from Lady Susan. But she is her only real antagonist, the only one who can cope with her in a fair confrontation.
4. Last but not least, I hoped Reginald was the hero of this novel but it seems Jane Austen had not a very high esteem of men in that period of her life (What about the rest of her short life, I wonder?!?) if we have to judge from the men we meet here and so far! What disappointment! They are really at the mercy of the women around them! Look at poor Mr Johnson, dead Mr Vernon, Lady Susan’s brother , Mr Manwaring (soon found out by his wife!), young Reginald. Not a dashing bunch of heroes!

12 September - Letters XXXIV – XLI

Even the epilogue of this novella is rather unusual. Lady Susan is bad to the bone - forgive me for this not very Austenish expression - and she ends up happily married with a well-off younger man. She is not fully rewarded but not punished either. She does not fullfil all her plans but she is not beaten either. Incredible Jane Austen!

Boldness, impudence and brass prevail in Lady Susan’s behaviour till the end. Once her falsity and her secret affair with Mr Manwaring are revealed, she doesn’t show any discomfort nor regret. She plans her revenge on Reginald, who dared disert her, and on Mrs Manwaring, who ruined her affair . She will use fragile Frederica to get to her revenge: “… Frederica shall be Sir James’s wife … She may whimper & the Vernons may storm; I regard them not. I am tired of submittin my will to the Caprices of others – of resigning my own judgment in deference to those… (Letter 39 p. 308)
Is there any good in this woman? Not at all. She is one of the most wicked and unscrupulous heroines I’ve ever met in fiction. Never as a protagonist, anyhow, rarely as an antagonist.
What about the last sensational turn? When she apparently seems worried about her daughter’s health? No way. She is not changing, no motherly affection: she just wants to get rid of Frederica, leave her at her aunt’s and uncle’s, in order to enjoy her marriage to Sir James!
And how about my hero? Reginald . Again, I was quite disappointed. It took him 12 months to propose to Frederica! Was it because he had been pondering the fact that, so doing, he was going to make Lady Susan his mother-in -law? If so , his indecision can be forgiven.

"Adieu, my dearest Susan, I wish matters did not go so perversely. That unlucky visit to Langford! but I dare say you did all for the best, and there is no defying destiny". (Mrs. Johnson, Letter 38 )

Thanks Austenprose. Thanks Laurel Ann. Till next soirée. Adieu. Arrivederci.