Their Almost Pornographic Obsession With the Vanished Protocol of Daily Life

Julie Leung, responding to Jay McCarthy's review and notes of Persuasion by Jane Austen: “I don't know where I do belong. I'm not sure I have words to describe what it is that's missing in society. I can't articulate why I ache. Sometimes I long for another era, for a resurrection of times past, but I wonder whether I am simply imagining a fantasy with rose-colored retro-lenses, painting a picture of a place in my mind that never existed in the world. Books and movies aren't reality. But reading Jay's review and then Michael's has confirmed to me that others may share my longings and imagination. They've also given me words to describe what I want to see in our society: class and happiness.”

Jay McCarthy, responding to the above: “Specifically related to Jane Austen, the courtship, sweet letters, and balls were certainly romantic and grand but accompanied with them is the practice of wearing your salary on your shirt, strict barriers between ranks (even within the elite,) and the cold responsibilities of the lady of the house for her lord.”

Danielle Crittenden, anticipating both: “The desire to be pursued and courted, to have sex with someone you love as opposed to just barely know, to be certain of a man's affection and loyalty—these are deep female cravings that did not vanish with the sexual revolution. ¶ Perhaps that explains the otherwise mysterious success of late-twentieth-century movies based on nineteenth-century novels of manners, such as The Age of Innocence, Pride andPrejudice, Emma, and Sense and Sensibility. What is striking about the modern film adaptions is their almost pornographic obsession with the vanished protocol of daily life: the constricting costumes that distinguished ladies and gentlemen from common folk; the engraved calling cards on silver trays; the elaborately choreographed minuets and waltzes; the stiff exchanges of bows and curtsies; and, above all, the excruciatingly polite restraint that governed every interaction between men and women, even passionate declarations of love. They are airbrushed, sentimental views of the past, to be sure, but it's the urge to airbrush that is the most arresting thing about them. It's hard to imagine that you could have made such films twenty years ago without underscoring the cold indifference of the upper classes toward the lower or the suppression of women. It's as if popular taste now wishes to recall the past only for its good points, and particularly that lost civility between men and women.”