PBS/BBC’s Masterpiece drama Sanditon just hasn’t grabbed me. Based on an unfinished Jane Austen novel, it actually seems like a phlegmatic version of one of Austen’s masterpieces. The cast features Charlotte, a bright heroine who to me seems like a cross between Lizzy Bennett and her drab sister Mary with a mix of her friend Lydia. There’s an arrogant hero, who I expect will change after learning from the heroine. There’s a strict, rich widow and a fop or two. The only new character is a woman from Antigua who’s Black. There’s a possible injection of orignality, but like the others this character doesn’t do much for me.

The story starts with a couple getting stranded by Charlotte’s house and when this real estate developer invites Charlotte to his seaside development for an unknown period of time, her parents agree even though Charlotte’s father is wary of the wild ways of seaside villages. I couldn’t believe that even if it was the norm to let your young daughter go off with strangers, that this father wouldn’t have. Of course, money’s a big issue and the developer’s out of cash and his business is in peril.

The woman from Antigua, though an heiress, is treated with prejudice by all the social set she encounters. Her family has died and she’s under the supervision on her guardian, but she has a fierce desire to return home.

All in all, I think the story is predictable and I miss Austen’s perfect wit. To me the show doesn’t measure up to Poldark, Victoria, Mr. Selfridge, or The Paradise. I wish they’d add a season to either of those shows than mess around with an unfinished Austen novel.

The Wickham’s


Building on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, The Wickham’s: Pemberley at Christmas is a cute, clever play. Impetuous, silly Lydia is still head over heels for her her heel of a husband George Wickham, who’s still philandering and gambling, though she doesn’t see it. She believes her husband really is away working hard to earn a fortune for her.

Ha! Wake up, Lydia.

Set in the kitchen of Pemberly, Darcy’s family estate, the story revolves around poor Lydia’s awful marriage with a subplot about a new kitchen maid and her old friend, Brian who aspires to be an inventor. Modern themes of women working and innovation flavor the story.

Elizabeth is in a tizzy because her silly relatives may spoil a well-ordered Christmas, which has been the norm at Pemberly. Things take a turn for the worse when George Wickham, cad extraordinaire surprises  the family when he shows up drunk and disorderly after a bar brawl. The housekeeper, staff and Elizabeth try in vain to keep him under wrap, which never works out in a holiday tale.

What’s worse is minutes later the maid discovers an incriminating letter in Wickham’s pocket. Secrets are revealed and scandal must be avoided — if it can.

This play is the second in a trilogy, but you can follow the plot if you missed the first one and perhaps if you haven’t read or seen Pride and Prejudice, but if you haven’t read Pride and Prejudice, you certainly should. It’s a favorite of mine.

The costumes and setting were spot on. The acting was good, though Wickham and Darcy seemed too stiff. Jane Austen’s wit is perfect and I can’t say the writing measured up to Austen, but it was fun. The characters were modernized to appeal to current playgoers, which I didn’t need. Still the show as clever and charmed me.

Sepia Saturday

Sepia Saturday 402 Header : 20 January 2018

This week’s prompt takes us to cemeteries or graveyards. I really don’t visit ancestors graves. I do visit graves in other countries, but never those of relatives as I don’t believe that’s where they are. I have no problem with others visiting them.

So this week I’ll find some photos I’ve found of noted writers’ tombstones.

Jane Austen

Jane Austen’s gravestone

Shakespeare grave

Shakespeare’s tombstone



Poets’ Corner

To see more interpretations of this week’s theme, click here.

William Butler Yeats’ epitaph is my favorite. Do you have a favorite epitaph?

Downton Abbey Background, Part 2

So much of the drama of Downton Abbey rests on the entail. If you’ve read Jane Austen or To Kill a Mockingbird, you’ve heard about these mysterious legal arrangements. Last night at the local library, I learned for once and for all what an entail is and what their history was.

Any Downton Abbey fan knows that Lord Grantham can’t leave his estate to his daughter because of the entail. It must go to the oldest male heir and that heir died on the Titanic. A distant cousin, Matthew will inherit the massive house, all its furnishings and grounds. That information can suffice, but as we’ve go to wait till January for our next Downton Abbey fix and since the library had a historian speak on Downton Abbey background, and since I’m geeky enough to dash off to such an event, I can now illuminate this entail business.

Get out some No Doze and here we go!

Way back when in England everyone who helped out the powerful got parcels of land and the poor could work as farm hands and use the commons for pastures. The problem that soon surfaced was that as the father died all the sons would get a divided parcel of land. Well, that would mean in a few generations people would be living on like one acre. That’s no good. Land meant wealth, power and status.

So when the Normans invaded they were bright enough to be careful that the parcels of land they confiscated and doled out remained intact. So land was passed down by primogenator, i.e. to the eldest living son. This method gave the British aristocracy a lot of power. In fact, by the 18th century the aristocracy in England had more power than the monarch. (That wasn’t the case in France so I guess they did things differently over there.)

Women’s property and money was subsumed by the husband upon marriage.

Entails (Sometimes In tails)

According to LexisNexis, an entail means:

To settle property upon a person with limitations in respect of the succession. Precisely, to create an estate in tail, that is, a fee tail, in conveying or devising real property. To involve, e. g., the trial of a law suit “involves” much preparation.

But we figured that. Entails made this even more secure, power more consolidated. The land the nobles got in the Henry’s era weren’t all that big compared to what the Crawleys have.  Why?


Small fields and forests got taken by a few families

Because of the Privatization and Enclosure Acts, which began in the 1600s, allowed people to petition Parliament to consolidate plots disenfranchising small farmers. Before you knew it 4 million acres in Britain were owned by 12 individuals (Ye Olde 1%). Enclosures allowed the rich to become richer. They also made farming more efficient for a time. Yet the small farmer sure got squeezed out.

Common Recovery document

An entail could be “smashed” as Violet periodically urges and even by Jane Austen’s time they were becoming unpopular. One way to break an entail was this loop hole – when the legal son turned 21 he could turn the property over to fee simple (i.e. owning a land with a deed) that way the new owner could do with it as he pleased, will it to anyone, split it up, sell off parts.

There was also something called a Common Recovery whereby an owner could break an entail by creating this legal mess whereby the landowner transfers the land to an agent or lawyer and then some bogus chap John Doe, Richard Row, Moses Mill or such seems to take the land and sell it all so the owner can do what he wants with it. It’s all quite confusing and I have no idea why the owner could sell to an agent but not to someone else, but then these property laws are all about power and injustice when you start reading through some of these articles.

The Fines and Recoveries Act of 1833 put an end to this charade and allowed that a lease could trump and entail.

So it seems that Robert Crawley could have signed away his entail at age 21, but if he was a serious sort who liked tradition, he wouldn’t have felt the need to. Most 21 year olds probably figure they’ll have at least one son. He still could . . . we’ll have to see what happens in January.

Commoners try to keep the commons

Nora Ephron

I hope l look like this at 71

I was saddened when I learned of Nora Ephron‘s death. Witty, perceptive and smart, she was a humorist and writer that I loved. I am always ready to see a new film she’s written or directed. You’ve Got Mail and When Harry Met Sally are two of my favorite films. They’re timeless. Like Jane Austen, she’s a writer I hope to emulate, whose work I re-examine for clues for characterization and style.

I’m quite sad that there weren’t be more films by Ephron, though after considering her life’s work and reading some reflections on her life, I do want to rewatch Heartburn and Silkwood, which I haven’t seen for years.

When a woman with such success dies, there are sure to be homages and reflections. Here are a few that I’ve found trenchant:

From the Columbia Journalism Review:

Before she felt bad about her neck, Nora Ephron felt bad about her breasts. When she was a 19-year-old virgin, her boyfriend’s mother offered a suggestion: “Always make sure you’re on top of him so you won’t seem so small.”

At first, as Ephron wrote in her column in Esquire, she thought her beau had put the woman up to it, but she later decided, “The mother was acting on her own, I think: that was her way of being cruel and competitive under the guise of being helpful and maternal. You have small breasts, she was saying; therefore you will never make him as happy as I have. Or you have small breasts; therefore you will doubtless have sexual problems. Or you have small breasts; therefore you are less woman than I am.”

At the time, these words blew past all sorts of taboos and felt thrilling and brave. There were lots of feminists discussing body image in the 1970s, but Ephron was the first to do so with squirm-inducing, self-deprecating humor.

When the news broke yesterday that Ephron had died, I happened to be in the company of women who’d known and admired her, and the tributes began. More.

From The New York Times‘:

Nora Ephron’s Hollywood Ending

In “You’ve Got Mail,” Meg Ryan asks Tom Hanks why it is that men quote “The Godfather” all the time. Tom Hanks explainsthat “The Godfather” is the I Ching. “ ‘The Godfather’ is the sum of all wisdom,” he says. “ ‘The Godfather’ is the answer to any question. What should I pack for my summer vacation? ‘Leave the gun, take the cannoli.’ ”

That’s what “The Godfather” is for men. For women, Nora Ephronis the I Ching, the sum of all wisdom. And wit. And what to eat. Basically, anything worth saying about love, loss and, yes, what I wore, was said by Nora somewhere, be it “Heartburn,” “When Harry Met Sally,” “Julie & Julia” and every blog, book and recipe she ever published. 

So it was more than perfect that Nora married Nicholas Pileggi in 1987 and they lived so happily ever after. Theirs is an implausible yin-yang matchup — Nick, the author of “Wiseguy” and “Goodfellas,” is a Mafia movie; Nora is a romantic comedy.  More.

Sense & Sensibility

Thanks to Sheila being on the ball I got to see Sense and Sensibility at the Northlight Theater in Skokie. I’d never been to this theater and was impressed by the building. Yep, it’s a good professional level theater in the suburbs.

As for the play, it was a faithful adaptation with good acting, especially by the actors who played Marianne, Elinor and the mother Mrs. Henry Dashwood. The woman next to me kept saying that it was like watching paint dry. Far from it. I don’t think she appreciated the language, wit or era in which the story takes place. I found all delightful.

Now there were a few problems, but they were minor. There was no actress cast as Margaret and rather than just writing her out, they kept using exposition to explain where she was and she was always off stage involved in mischief. That just didn’t work. I liked the simple staging, but they were inconsistent about where the one door led to. Sometimes it led outside and sometimes it led to another part of a house.

I did wish that the teens in front of us had not used their cell phones to text each other during the play. They had no idea that people behind them could see the glow of the cells.

Still it was a good performance of a classic story.