Wednesday, 6 September 2006

Ranting Young Men

The illustrated editions of Mansfield Park I've been able to track down vary pretty widely in what scenes they choose to depict. But there are two or three themes that come up again and again (besides Balls and Drinking Tea, they all go in for those.)

One is the manoeuverings around Mary and Edmund each giving Fanny a necklace for her amber cross - these pictures almost all show Fanny looking in a mirror holding a necklace up to her bosom, sometimes with Mary looking on, sometimes with Edmund standing behind her. It almost looks like a forerunner of the Librarian Taking Off Her Glasses trope - kind of surprising to see the Makeover theme being so clearly and insistently underlined in the novel.

Another is the obvious delight illustrators took in the theatricals chapters, particularly the more Grand Guignol moments like this one in V2 ch1 just after Sir Thomas's dramatic return, after a two years absence, to find his house turned into a regular little Drury Lane. The family's absorption in something so frivolous when Sir Thomas has been journeying and in constant danger is a serious infringement, but Austen lets the funny side be seen, through the eyes of the eldest son Tom, who is not at all serious himself, and who observes Sir T's encounter with Tom's affected aristocrat friend Mr Yates, who fancies himself a tremendous good actor:
To the Theatre he went, and reached it just in time to witness the first meeting of his father and his friend. Sir Thomas had been a good deal surprized to find candles burning in his room; and on casting his eye round it, to see other symptoms of recent habitation, and a general air of confusion in the furniture. The removal of the book-case from before the billiard room door struck him especially, but he had scarcely more than time to feel astonished at all this, before there were sounds from the billiard room to astonish him still further. Some one was talking there in a very loud accent -- he did not know the voice -- more than talking -- almost hallooing. He stept to the door, rejoicing at that moment in having the means of immediate communication, and opening it, found himself on the stage of a theatre, and opposed to a ranting young man, who appeared likely to knock him down backwards. At the very moment of Yates perceiving Sir Thomas, and giving perhaps the very best start he had ever given in the whole course of his rehearsals, Tom Bertram entered at the other end of the room; and never had he found greater difficulty in keeping his countenance. His father’s looks of solemnity and amazement on this his first appearance on any stage, and the gradual metamorphosis of the impassioned Baron Wildenhaim into the well–bred and easy Mr. Yates, making his bow and apology to Sir Thomas Bertram, was such an exhibition, such a piece of true acting, as he would not have lost upon any account. It would be the last -- in all probability the last scene on that stage; but he was sure there could not be a finer. The house would close with the greatest eclat.

This appeared on the title page of the first illustrated MP. The edition was reviewed in the Spectator, and the reviewer felt the eyeglass held by Sir Thomas was a bit of a foppish accessory for such a dignified gentleman.

'Ranting' was the name for a recognised (though not universally admired) style of acting - it was the kind of bombastic thing a celebrity actor would do in a melodrama on the stage of a huge theatre so that his agonies and passions could be clearly heard and seen. Likewise, a 'start' is a technical term of sorts: see this famous picture of the actor Garrick as Hamlet, 'starting' in surprise at the sudden appearance of his father's Ghost. To do a good start was the sign of an ability to be natural on the stage, ie the opposite of ranting. Some illustrators have preferred the rant, some have opted for the start. Others seem not to notice the difference, collapsing both moments together.

This one is from the 1890s - Charles Brock. I rather like this one.

Early 20th century - the upperclass effeteness is winning out over the vigorousness of the rant (William Cooke.)

A Wallis Mills, c. 1922: the original is almost this dark and murky, and neither gentlemen seems at all surprised to see the other; the grotesque element is really drowning under the pervading intention to represent Austen as Genteel.

Maximilien Vox, 1934. The opposite in terms of tonality, but equally bland - weightless and not placed in a fully imagined space.


Fyodor said...


About feckin' time.

Also, the comment on ranting reminds me of Blackadder the Third's rather erudite pisstake on Georgian theatre, OTT acting ponces and stupid theatrical superstitions about Macbeth.

As you were.

P.S. Oh, one more thing: hate the decor - far too pastelly, with just the wrong hint of Delhi-Belly Diarrhoeac Orange.

Like the rabbit, but. Bring back the finger, I say.

lucy tartan said...

hmmm. Hate. Ok, I'll try to make it less D-B DO.

Fyodor said...

Ta - saucily salmony is much better.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Boys never like subtle. Pay him no mind. (Though I agree about the rabbit.)

The Austen illustrations are wonderful.

Fyodor said...

A tad harsh, Mme Pavlova - I think Mlle Tartan would concur that her new colour is more subtle than its startlingly nauseating predecessor.

The illustrations ARE wonderful. Shirley EngLit has "advanced" to the point now where it would be viable for an enterprisingly wastrelish PhiDler to write a book solely on the subject of book illustrations? You know, like that fabled coffee-table book about coffee-tables?

genevieve said...

J'aime l'orange.(Since when does an adult have orange diarrhoea anyway, Fyodor?)
This post reminds me of Oliver Goldsmith's quote from my Irish writers' calendar:
'On the stage he was natural, simple, affecting, 'twas only when he was off that he was acting.'

Fyodor said...


L'orange est d├ęgueulasse.

Here's the recipe for your very own live recreation:

- breakfast of tropical fruit (papaya, bananas, mangoes and pineapple)

- "lunch" of lap-lap (pork or chicken cooked with taro, kumala, manioc, bananas and coconut milk wrapped in banana leaves and baked in a ground rock-oven until the meat is only half-raw and the starchy tubers merge with the bananas and coconut milk in a greyish paste that is even less appealing than it sounds)

- afternoon sherbies comprising half-a-dozen cups of kava, a.k.a. muddy water with narcotic effects

Result: explosive diarrhoea of the particular shade in question

Prognosis: negative

genevieve said...

You, Fyodor - mon semblable, mon frere - must also have children. Let's leave Rabelais for another time - or as he also said, revenons a nos moutons.

Fyodor said...

Moutons? What's your boeuf with mutton?

And less Rabelaisian Baud'lairisation, s'il vous plait.