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Thinking about Jonathan Strange, Post #23 - Laura Wise

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June 25th, 2015

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10:22 am - Thinking about Jonathan Strange, Post #23
So yesterday I listened to a podcast on the blog Lawyers Guns and Money about the first episode of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell... or rather, I listened to 30 minutes and then clicked away, for it was clear that the podcast was only for a male audience.

How did I know? Because of the way the two men discussing the show talked about Jonathan Strange.

Their take was heavy on the Salieri-Mozart comparisons for Norrell and Strange, which is absolutely fair, but they also were unbelievably dismissive of Strange. Steven Attewell called him "schlubby" and deemed him unsympathetic, an "idiot." Scott Eric Kaufman mostly concurred, although he noted that Bertie Carvel's Strange is more of a "Hugh Grant... Jane Austen type."

Okay, so let's talk about Jonathan Strange's opening scenes, in which he is introduced riding (beautifully) a horse across English countryside, before his adorable comic peeping at Arabella through the church window (during a service which he is far too late to attend). The tropes here signal Regency hero, right down to his costuming, which includes boots, breeches, and Byronic curls. (I refer you to my Tweet on this topic.)

The scene then goes to this exchange with Arabella, the woman he loves, in which he demonstrates his focus on her. Besides Bertie Carvel's great voice and hair (seriously swoonworthy), the scene is notable for the importance of Arabella and his willingness to be instructed by her. This serves as contrast to Norrell, whose only contact with a woman in the first two episodes of the series is with Lady Pole, who is subject to a disastrous spell he tries: Norrell is, if not actively a misogynist in the series*, a man for whom women are unimportant. Jonathan, on the other hand, likes women and loves and respects Arabella. Yes, he's impulsive and emotionally driven, and yes, he's often thoughtless -- which is why a sensible person like Arabella is perfect for him -- and yes, the Regency hero will be deconstructed through the series. But as a woman, I know which character I'd rather know.

*I think one could make a pretty good case that Norrell is more of a misogynist in the book, but it's part of his Establishment nature.

What character would you like to know today? :) May you have pleasant musings!

(4 comments | Leave a comment)


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Date:June 25th, 2015 04:47 pm (UTC)
Jonathan and Arabella over a bottle of wine.
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Date:June 25th, 2015 07:22 pm (UTC)

Hugs and a happy day!
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Date:June 26th, 2015 02:03 am (UTC)
Oh, Strange, in a heartbeat. The only thing Strange needs is someone (like Arabella) to remind him that there's a world beyond the end of his nose! He's really a very wonderful person, just a little easily distracted. And I think Carvel's doing a bang-up job of portraying him!

I suppose in flat-out terms Norrell is definitely a misogynist, although I tend to forget it when I read the book because of the world he lives in - Regency England was pretty much misogynist by definition. But I tend to think of Norrell as not so much just misogynist, but completely misanthropic - he doesn't like ANYONE. It's not just women.

[User Picture]
Date:June 26th, 2015 11:57 am (UTC)
You're right about Norrell being the figure of an Establishment person, which means the misogyny is baked in, and Norrell does seem a bit misanthropic (although there's Childermass as companion, and he's certainly happy at first to have Strange around). I guess for me Jonathan is so *clearly* so much more open and accepting that the distinction is more marked.


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