Monday, April 7, 2008
The Victorian theme of elegance and grandiosity is prevalent throughout the fashion industry, with the current collections that are being seen around the world. More and more elegant, Victorian inspired outfits are being presented not only for women, but for men as well.
Like women’s Victorian fashion, there has been an evolution in the clothing warn by men throughout the years. Modern attire is for the most part comfortable clothing, which consists of jeans and t-shirts, but when it comes to dressing up for a formal occasion, the Victorian influence shines through.
Men’s Victorian attire consisted of long coattails, pocket watches, top hats, vests, high wasted pants and for some a walking stick. These things have all had a great influence on contemporary formal wear for men.
Formal wear has also been greatly influenced by the clothing warn by middle and upper class men of the Victorian era. The modern suit is a variation of what one would wear on an every day basis with slight changes made to accommodate the modern style.
Not only are we seeing Victorian inspired fashion in formal wear, more and more Victorian influence is seen in casual wear. Men are wearing dress shirts and vests with a some nice fitted jeans to create a modern Victorian look.
The elegance of the Victorian era shines through to contemporary society as famous designers such as Mark Jacobs, Roberto Cavalli and Burberry imitate the extravagant styles of the Victorian era in their current collections.
This was my second viewing of the 2002 cinematic adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest.” I was really more impressed this time, I think because I had not been lectured to on the subject by a professor of English. My biggest problems were the action scenes. I’m simply unimpressed with filmmakers who try to Americanise classic British works by adding chase scenes and Reese Witherspoon in a decidedly – what’s the word Gissing uses? – sluttish outfit. You may defend the costume design on the grounds that Wilde himself was none-too-concerned with the ways people thought of his dress and manner, but in that instance, I will point you to Hollywood’s continued retardation of North American culture for the purposes of homogeneity and profit flying in the face of anything resembling integrity or authenticity.
You may well defend Witherspoon’s costume on the grounds that Cecily herself is a country girl and not accustomed to the style of dress of the city, that she is, in fact, has no need to dress in such a manner. I will point out that certainly even if someone as earnest as Mr. Jack Worthing would allow it, the outfit would never be deemed acceptable to Lady Bracknell. No, the outfit is a blatant exposure of Witherspoon’s childish American frame for the purposes of tittilation and – once again – profit. To be perfectly frank – by which I mean earnest – she reminds me more of Fanny French of George Gissing’s In the Year of Jubilee than she does of anything resembling Cecily Cardew. Also, she is American. She doesn’t look in the slightest English.
There is much criticism, on the other hand, of Judy Dench’s interpretation of Lady Bracknell as understated. I think that overstated Lady Bracknells are impossible to take seriously – and therefore impossible to laugh at – and that Bracknells played by men simply undercut any chance of gender inversion depicted in the character. Dench, because she takes herself so seriously, is realistic to us. If we do not know someone who takes herself and her position this seriously, then we certainly are aware of the fact that there are those women (and men) who are so serious all the time that it is funny. Dench’s earnestness is in her softness, not in her loud and obnoxious manner. Leave that to Albee’s Martha.
My mother once made a comment about a singer in a musical that he was “too good looking to take seriously.” I must admit, I am still beleaguered by this idea. What exactly is it about a handsome face that makes it less believable. Having said that, I suggest that Rupert Everett’s face is just a touch too ruggedly handsome for the role of Algernon Moncrieff. His face is perfect; it detracts from his realism. It’s true, Wilde was constantly mocking the realist dramatists of the day you need to present the concept accurately in order to make fun of it. On the other hand, he delivers the nuances of the role so well, that the unrealistic beauty of his face is only barely noticeable.
Frances O’Connor as Gwendolen Fairfax is in fact my favourite casting choice. She’s got such a perfect poker face, always smiling just so, so that you can never quite tell whether or not she’s being insulting or genuine. I liked her costume, as well. It’s a little demonstrative without being, shall we say, American. And I like her tattoo. It’s cute.
Then there’s Colin Firth as Jack Worthing. Enough said.
Well, the real value of the picture is its scenery and setting. The production values were extremely high for this picture and as a result you get a very authentic view of a dandified Victorian London, without all the shit and gore that it’s now apparently famous for. Certainly the filmmakers can’t have thought too much of the dialogue’s ability to tell the story at hand because it’s all cut up and edited. Also, in order to keep the audience’s interest, the scenes – which in the play are one act each – are split into several settings. This is necessary in modern film, as the audience needs to be reminded that there is more to the setting than one room in a house. In realist drama there isn’t, and so in Wilde there was not for the simple fact that he was satirising realism, as I’ve said above. The cinema cannot very well satirise realism because that is the principle upon which it is based. Well, Hollywood, anyway.
That would be something, wouldn’t it? I’d like to see an acidic adaptation of this play! Then we’d see some satirical realism. Oh, the fun we’d have! And it would be a propos of the style to which Wilde refers, though just a little updated.
Oh, I tried to watch Steamboy, that four-hour piece of crap. It’s good for about the first hour-and-a-half, until you realise they’re nowhere close to finished. Well, fine, you think, the ending’s going to be a little bit dry, but it’s been a good ride with lots of explosions and neat inventions and stuff. They extend the film by finding things to go wrong. Nothing works, which is a good point about modern technology, but if you can’t say “nothing works” in five minutes, how good a story teller can you be?
I mean, they’re trying, really trying, trying so hard to make you understand what’s wrong with technology and the way we invent technologies for war instead of peace and prosperity. Again, if you can’t do it in two-and-a-half hours, you run the risk of boring everyone. That’s why everyone cuts Hamlet to shreds. I don’t think it’s ever been performed in its entirety!
So, in short, this movie takes too long to encompass its themes and resolve them. The women are useless and the men are foolish children, running around like chickens without heads. It’s not a bad principle to build a dystopic narrative on, but by the time you’re up to three-and-a-half hours, all the humanity is worn out of these characters. You just don’t care. I wanted them to just all explode in a massive steam catastrophe, and take all of London with them. And by “them” I mean the film makers. It’s all well and good to set a dystopic novel about rampant techonological development in the Victorian age when everything was run by steam or run down, but for goodness’s sake: keep me interested! Using the same device over and over again is an insult to your audience’s intelligence. (See also: Speed.)
Actress Kemble triumphs in another Shakespeare reading.
February 14th, 1847
Fanny Kemble continues to amaze us with her craft onstage. In the words of an avid admirer who has been watching her perform for ten years, she is “like a firecracker, she constantly sparks with her ability to be the characters in the plays.” Yes, we can all look back at the time she made her first appearance as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. “You can tell she has grown.”
In an interview, Kemble has compared to her outlook on acting then to how it is now. “When I started out, I saw myself playing Juliet. But I had it all wrong. Now it’s all about being the character, slipping into her mind and adopting everything about her- her emotions, habits, and personality.” That wasn’t always easy; when one takes a look at the gentle, fair Kemble, one sees that she is far from Lady Macbeth. “I had an intense preparation for that role,” she points out. “VERY intense. I had myself cooped up at home with little light as possible and nothing to eat except a small portion of bread and water. The hunger in Lady Macbeth’s eyes was from my starvation; I used this hunger to wretch after power, just the thing she desired.”
This time she transported audiences into the magical world of Oberon and Titania and their fairy subjects in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Audiences noted her warbling vocals came into handy as she read for Titania’s train. “She was able to recreate the enchanted forest, just by being on a stage with the text in hand,” recalls an attendant. “We saw everything from the looming trees to the adorable little creatures out at play.” Everyone seems to agree Titania’s passage during the argument with Oberon was a highlight. The whole time she stood, poised and elegant, her back straight and chin up, capturing the unafraid attitude of the fairy queen, beginning with the line, “Set you heart at rest.” Her voice had accompanying thunder which captivated audiences.
Titania refuses to give Oberon the Indian Child. Fanny Kemble recited this very scene with a major difference- she was of course clothed!
Kemble’s performance is indeed elaborate, with no set, costumes, or other company. One thing is guaranteed- no one shall ever sleep through it!
William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet
Wednesday April 6th, 1829
Starring the ever so lovely Fanny Kemble in her stage debut
Wednesday April 6th, 1829
The Covent Garden is fortunate enough to have Ms. Kemble address you, the audience, within this program!
To the members of the audience,
First of all, I would like to say that it is my great pleasure to be performing for all of you tonight. All of us actors and crew have worked extremely hard for this production; it is something my family is very proud of. Seeing that this is my stage debut, it is obvious that my nerves are getting the best of me. My father, Charles Kemble, has told me not to worry since all actors endure this nerve-wracking experience. He certainly did, when he starred in King John.
Wednesday April 6th, 1829
However, he has taught me one valuable lesson- an actor must place passion into every performance. Once he or she focuses primarily on that, there is nothing left to fear. The company has been honoured by the attendance of her Majesty Queen Victoria on opening night, Monday April 4th, 1829. In her words, the production was “one of the most magnificent works of art.” We pay thanks to her Majesty and hope you will share the same view! Please remember to keep all noise at a minimum. There will be a brief intermission where tea and cucumber sandwiches will be served. Enjoy the show!
Wednesday April 6th, 1829
Covent Garden is proud to present
Shakespeare readings by Fanny Kemble
July 19th, 1846
Miss Kemble will be reading for the character of Lady Macbeth
“Never have I seen such a haunting performance.”
“A true veteran of the theatre, Kemble has possessed the evil genius of the character.”
July 19th, 1846
“I was expecting to see her read for Lady Macbeth only, but she exceeded expectations, reading for the three witches as well! Kemble has the talent to play four characters at once.”
“She had us all chanting, ‘Fair is foul and foul is fair. Hover through the fog and filthy air.”
“Double, double toil and trouble. Fire burn, and cauldron bubble. My ears still ring with the cackles and shrieks of Kemble’s voice.”
Please be advised the reading is not suitable for young children for disturbing scenes. Coven Garden thanks you for your understanding.
July 19th, 1846
Frances Anne Kemble aka Fanny Kemble was born on November 29th, 1809 in London, England. In 1829, she began her theatrical career with her appearance in Romeo and Juliet, portraying Juliet. This established her icon status and she became a well known actress. The situation between Fanny and the theatre was interesting. Acting was not her true passion, yet she acted to support her family. According to audiences, she was magnificent onstage, being born into a family of actors known for their contributions to theatre. Not only an actress, Fanny was also a writer, a public reader, and a musician. Kemble performed throughout the United States in 1832. After attending one of her performances, a man named Pierce Butler repeatedly watched her. She was so amazing, he attended performance after performance. In June 1834 Fanny married Pierce and discontinued acting. Instead, she became a writer with her 1835 success of Journal of Frances Anne Butler, a controversial book particularly with Americans because of its views on the United States.
Pierce Mease Butler was born in 1806 in Philadelphia into a prosperous family. His grandfather, Major Pierce Butler, was in the Revolutionary War. Major Butler was the owner of two plantations, one rice plantation in Butler Island, the other in St. Simon’s Island. He resided in Philadelphia in a mansion and country home. In 1812, he held 638 slaves. All this was passed down to his grandson.
Pierce and Fanny’s marriage was troubled because both of them did not agree on the issue of slavery. Pierce wanted Fanny to agree with pro slavery, while Fanny had hoped he would follow her view of anti slavery. She tried to publish a treaty disallowing ownership of slaves, but this did not happen under Pierce’s authority. In March 1836, Pierce became the new owner of his grandfather’s plantations. Fanny longed to go to the plantations; however, her proposal was rejected by her husband. In December 1838, he gave way and he took his wife, two daughters, Sarah and Frances, and their governess Margery O’Brien on a journey consisting of nine days spent on train, stage, and steamboat. Fanny lived on the islands for four months, having numerous accounts of life there in letters. These writings became her Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation, which painted an accurate portrait of plantation slavery.
At the time of return to Philadelphia, Pierce and Fanny were no longer getting along. Fanny was neglected, abused, and imprisoned from her children. She tried to get her marriage back on track many times, but failed. Overwhelmed, she moved back to England where she continued in theatre, reading works of Shakespeare to the public. She was enjoying success when she was informed that Pierce was taking legal action against her for divorce. He claimed she left him and the family, deciding to walk out one day on September 11th, 1845. On April 7th, 1848, it was established the couple would be divorcing. Determined to clear her name, Fanny journeyed back to America to endure tedious, everlasting court sessions. The divorce was finalized in September 1849, granting Fanny custody of her children two months a summer and $1500 per year as alimony from Pierce.
Kemble progressed with her Shakespeare readings in America and Europe. Pierce, on the other hand, was far from progression. His inheritance was all lost on gambling and stock market speculation. In 1856, he was at the brink of having no money, and as a result, three trustees were placed in charge of looking after his finances. Under the trustees, the mansion as well as other possessions to pay off debts, but they still were not paid. The plantations were considered for sale. Slaves were sold to pay the remainder in February 1859. This selling of slaves later became America’s greatest sale of human beings in history, “the weeping time.”
The Civil War occurred in the United States in 1861. Fanny and her daughter Sarah were on the side of the North, Pierce and Frances were on the side of the South. In the beginning of 1861, Pierce and Frances were in Georgia. August was their journey back to Philadelphia where Pierce was jailed for treason. After the war Pierce and Frances lived on Butler Island where he retraced his former slaves and decided they would be his share-croppers. Taking care of the plantation proved to be hard work. Frances moved back to Philadelphia; Pierce did not listen to disease warnings and stayed on the island. In August 1867, Pierce Butler died from malaria. Frances was then placed in charge of the plantation.
Fanny was now living in Philadelphia. She dedicated the rest of her life to traveling, writing, and performing. Fanny Kemble died of natural causes on January 15th, 1893.
“Fanny Kemble and Pierce Butler.” PBS. 5 April 2008
Clinton, Catherine. “Fanny Kemble.” 22 Jan 2003. New Georgia Encyclopedia. 5
April 2008 http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/nge/Article.jsp?id=h-792
All images and excerpts from:
My obsession with period films lead me to find North and South as I was searching through www.Amazon.ca to add to my extensive period drama collection. After waiting patiently for a few days, my package finally arrived with the movies I had ordered. It was then time to sit down with a big bowl of popcorn and enjoy the show!
The 2004 BBC miniseries adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskells beloved novel North and South proves to be a timeless classic. North and South is Victorian novelist Elizabeth Gaskells love story of a middle class southerner, Margaret Hale, who moves to the northern town of Milton because her nonconformist fathers who is a minister makes a haste decision to leave the Church of England and take up a job as a tutor. Upon entering the fictional town of Milton, Margaret realizes that the north is far more pretentious then the down to earth south. Margaret and her family struggle to adjust to the customs of the industrialized town, especially after coming into contact with the mill owners, whose proud attitudes take the Hales by surprise. One of Mr. Hales pupils is mill owner John Thornton who gets off to a rocky start with Margaret hale after she witnesses him beating up a worker for smoking in the mill. Margaret sympathizes with the local mill workers and forms an alliance as she speaks out against the mill owners and does her best to help those in need. Through her determination to help the mill workers, Margaret meets and forms a close friendship with the Higgins, who are a working class family struggling to survive in industrial England.
I don’t want to reveal too much about the film, but I will say this; the story takes on many twists and turns with the introduction of dynamic characters such as Mrs. Thornton who creates many hardships for Margaret and John throughout the film. Also, like any good film there is a great love story holding it together. Like Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice, the love story between Margaret Hale and John Thornton is much the same. It starts out dry and ends up slowly but surely blossoming into a great ending full of passion and love.
What I liked most about Sandy Welch‘s adaptation of Gaskells novel is that it not only does it show a great love story, but more importantly it creates a realistic look into the harsh conditions in which working class people had to live in. The film is able to dig deep into the problems of everyday life and shows the real life issues between the mill owners and their workers. Most novelists of this time (excluding Dickens) fail to show the true conditions of the Victorian era, as they focus on creating an idealistic view of the Victorian life. Also, as the title suggests, North and South presents a contrast between the old agricultural lifestyle of the South of England and the new industrialists of the north. The film is also able to show the different mindsets people of that time had depending on whether they were from the south or the north. This adaptation of the film is able to get to the heart of the victorian problem and is able to communicate with viewers on not only the issues concerning the upper class people, but also those of the
On a final note. for those who are interested in learning more about the Victorian culture, then this movie is a great one to watch for a quick crash course in the middle class lifestyle. The movie adaptation is able to beautifully illustrate the Victorian lifestyle of the middle and lower class people of the time. Also, those who have also read Gaskells novel, will know that the film has done the book great justice and will be loved not only by myself, but by many Victoriana fans around the world. All I can do now is sing the movies praises and encourage everyone to check out this Victorian cool film!
Rating: 5 Stars *****
Victorian Cool: 10/10