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“Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall” by Regina Jeffers

Often in the visual representations of Jane Austen’s works, the media employs props or artifacts as visual cues to Austen’s themes of flawed impressions, misconceptions, and false interpretations. For example in Austen’s Emma, Harriet’s sketch serves as a means to reveal how the other characters feel about Emma’s friend. Mr. Elton flatters Emma’s representation of her subject rather than remark on Harriet. Mr. Woodhouse’s sensibility and his need for fires in all the hearths shows through when he says that Harriet has been subjected to the elements when she is portrayed without a shawl. Even Mr. Knightley gives the viewer a clue to how he feels about Emma’s efforts to raise Harriet up in Society. Upon observing the sketch, he says that Emma has made Harriet “too tall.”

The resetting of the miniature of Captain Benwick in Persuasion serves as a the perfect symbol for Captain Harville’s and Anne’s “debate” over the constancy of females and males in love. In Mansfield Park, the distorted and mistaken impressions of the characters plays out in theatricals. Edward Ferrars’ ring is a prime example. In Sense and Sensibility, Elinor Dashwood mistakenly believes that it is a lock of her hair that in encased within. In truth, the lock belongs to Lucy Steele.


These “mistaken interpretations” and many more of Austen’s subtle thematic layers appear in the film versions of Austen’s works in the form of a mirror. It is a bit of irony that Austen never uses the prop as part of her story lines (except in the case of Sir Walter Elliot in Persuasion). Yet, Hollywood loves a good prop, and a mirror can tell the viewer so many unspoken tales. The mirror is often used in film to double a shot’s space or to display a character’s feelings or even to take on metaphorical dimensions. Film history gives up multiple examples of the use of the mirror as important role (Orson Welles’s 1948 The Lady from Shanghai; Walt Disney’s 1939 Snow White, etc.).

A mirror in its stillness reflects a “fundamental absence,” as Christian Metz terms the prop’s use. It is a reflection within a reflection. Ariane Hudelet says in “Deciphering Appearances in Jane Austen’s Novels and Films” that “To look at a heroine looking at herself transforms the character into a self-spectacle, a motif we could link with the emphasis on interiority in Austen’s novels. The mirror objects can thus stand for conflicting notions of blindness or introspection, vanity or revelation, according to the films and sequences. Whether it is used as a symbol to reflect the characters’ thoughts or nature, or as a metaphor of the relationships between the characters which can sometimes contrast with the contents of the dialogue and reveal ironic distance, the mirror image constitutes a privileged example of the way Austen’s very modern questioning of the perception of reality can become a post-modern questioning of the reception and distortion of images.”

So, when we as viewers encounter a filmic scene in which the director has used a mirror, we immediately translate the prop’s use to represent introspection on the part of the character. Or we may immediately interpret the character’s self-absorption. Or we may recognize the illusory blindness of the character. In Joe Wright’s 2005 adaptation of Pride & Prejudice, the scene where Elizabeth Bennet “reflects” on Mr. Darcy’s letter is a very poignant one in the film. She discovers her own misconstructions. Those are summarized by Elizabeth’s response to Charlotte Lucas’s inquiry to her mindset. “I hardly know.”


Wright’s film relies on stillness to create the conflict. Following the proposal scene in the pouring rain, the viewer follows Elizabeth’s slow progression through Hunsford cottage to stand before the mirror. We, the viewers, are on the inside of the mirror, looking back at Elizabeth’s inner journey. The scene begins with Elizabeth sitting on her bed. This is what is known as a medium close shot. She does not move. It is a back lit shot to create a claire-obscure effect. Elizabeth moves along a narrow corridor to stand before the mirror. In his commentary on the DVD, Joe Wright says, “We are her,” in referring to the viewing audience becoming Elizabeth’s reflection.


Time progresses behind Elizabeth, but she remains still and expressionless. Darcy appears behind her to deliver his letter. Images are purposely blurred to tell the viewer that these characters have often misconstrued the other. Elizabeth is learning about Mr. Darcy but also about herself. Her “vision” is both blurred and clear. She turns around to find what she now sees clearly as having disappeared. When she can finally recognize Darcy for the man he is, he is no longer available. Wright uses the mirror as an image of revelation. In the novel, Elizabeth looks long and hard at an image of Darcy in the Pemberley gallery. She recognizes the man she should have seen from the beginning.

Now, it is your turn. Tell me other instances of when the mirror is used as a prop in an Austen adaptation. I, personally, can think of several others, but I’ll leave it to you to list some before I pour forth others. We can even explore the use of the mirror in other modern films if you like.

As I leave you, I would like to introduce you to my latest Austen-inspired novel, The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy. It is in the warehouse and ready for release (April 10th). I hope you enjoy it.

Book Blurb:
Shackled in the dungeon of a macabre castle with no recollection of her past, a young woman finds herself falling in love with her captor – the estate’s master. Yet, placing her trust in him before she regains her memory and unravels the castle’s wicked truths would be a catastrophe.

Far away at Pemberley, the Darcys happily gather to celebrate the marriage of Kitty Bennet. But a dark cloud sweeps through the festivities: Georgiana Darcy has disappeared without a trace. Upon receiving word of his sister’s likely demise, Darcy and wife, Elizabeth, set off across the English countryside, seeking answers in the unfamiliar and menacing Scottish moors.

How can Darcy keep his sister safe from the most sinister threat she has ever faced when he doesn’t even know if she’s alive? True to Austen’s style and rife with malicious villains, dramatic revelations and heroic gestures, this suspense-packed mystery places Darcy and Elizabeth in the most harrowing situation they have ever faced – finding Georgiana before it is too late.
Websitewww.rjeffers.com
Blog - http://reginajeffers.wordpress.com
Twitter - @reginajeffers
Publisher - Ulysses Press http://ulyssespress.com/

Bio

Regina Jeffers
, an English teacher for thirty-nine years, considers herself a Jane Austen enthusiast. She is the author of 13 novels, including Darcy’s Passions, Darcy’s Temptation, The Phantom of Pemberley, Christmas at Pemberley, The Scandal of Lady Eleanor, A Touch of Velvet, and A Touch of Cashémere. A Time Warner Star Teacher and Martha Holden Jennings Scholar, as well as a Smithsonian presenter, Jeffers often serves as a media literacy consultant. She resides outside of Charlotte, NC, where she spends time teaching her new grandson the joys of being a child.

Comments

  1. Regina - great post! Very interesting and insightful about "mirrors" in Austen films. Great insight about that scene of Elizabeth staring at the mirror in the film. Thanks for doing this wonderful guest post here. I loved and enjoyed reading it.

    All the best to you in your new book release! :)

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  2. Jeane,
    Thank you for hosting me today. It was great fun to pull out some of my previous notes on Wright's film. Having once served on a National Media Literacy Commission, I admit to being a bit of a film geek.

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  3. The use of mirrors is definitely in the P&P recent films- including Rosings drawing room probably to give the illusion of space and has to be present in all the Persuasions with Sir Walter. I think in the S&S Emma Thompson vs. I thought there was a mirror in their guest room and in the cottage parlor. But I cannot remember.
    I will have to watch them all again to remember. :D

    Fun thought provoking discussion!

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  4. Think of Colin Firth in the 1995 version of P&P. There are several shots of his standing before the mirror.

    I also like the one of Matthew Macfadyen standing at the pianoforte as Georgiana plays. It is right before Elizabeth and the Gardiners visit Pemberley the second time.

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  5. You're very welcome, Regina. It's a pleasure to host your wonderful guest post here. :)

    Speaking of mirrors, I noticed a few more scenes with "mirrors" in the P&P movie (besides the two scenes with Elizabeth staring at the mirror and Elizabeth/Jane looking through the mirror as they prepare for the Netherfield ball). I'm not exactly sure about these two other scenes, but I thought Mr. Collins had looked at a mirror twice, one was after Elizabeth rejected his marriage proposal. There was a brief scene where Mrs. Bennet was telling Mr. Bennet, "we were all in an uproar..." and you can see Mr. Collins in the background as if he was looking through the mirror with his hand touching his hair for a second there or so. Also, when Elizabeth visited Mr. & Mrs. Collins in Hunsford, while Collins was saying something about his health, it looks like he was looking through a mirror again...or was he looking outside through the window? In one of the Pemberley scenes, where Lizzie was taking a peek at Georgiana playing "Dawn" in the piano, it looks like she had seen Georgiana...and Mr. Darcy (unexpectedly) through a mirror's reflection (or was it?). And the scene where Mrs. Bennet was in her bedroom complaining about a "such fluttering spasm all over me," with her daughters (Jane, Lizzie, Mary, and Kitty), you can clearly see Lizzie's reflection in a mirror from the wall (which I never really paid attention to, as countless times as I've seen this film, until I've read your post here about "mirrors").

    As for other Austen films (I've seen) that used "mirrors" as props...I'll have to go back and see them again to see if I can spot and list them here...

    Sophia - A fun, thought-provoking discussion, indeed. Thanks for reading and commenting here. :)

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  6. Oh, Jeane, you certainly have seen P&P2005 too many times. LOL!!
    You pointed out several I did not recall.

    In the RPJ version of "Persuasion" there are several scenes with mirrors as Anne Elliot reflects on her loss. There is also the one in the CH version of the film right before Anne rushes to tend little Charles. She adjusts one of the curls at her temple as she wonders what Capt. Wentworth will see when they meet again.

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  7. Regina, I should no longer be surprised at the insights you bring to any discussion, but I still am! LOL! This is really brilliant. I love the cinematic history and philosophy that you gave as a backdrop, proving that Wright was not just doing something wacky in the scene with Elizabeth. I have seen this scene criticized many times, and confess it is one that has often felt awkward to me as well. Not saying I didn't like it, because instinctively I understood the passage of time and slight mysticalness of it, but it has also bugged me a bit. Now I understand it much better and have a new appreciation for Wright's brilliance in how he fashioned the scene. I too have seen this movie way too many times, but feel I need to watch it again just for this scene! Oh darn, the torture of watching P&P again - How will I manage? :-)

    Thanks for this post. And good luck with the Disappearance of Georgiana. You know she is one of my favorite characters!

    Sharon

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  8. Sharon,
    It seems that all of us are in need of a P&P 2005 fix. I just said on Susan MM"s promo for this post that I must fit it in my schedule VERY SOON - preferably tonight.
    It is a great sacrifice to watch 2:06 of Matthew, but I will survive the torture!!!

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  9. I wrote a quick post about this subject - http://elinorandemma.blogspot.ca/2012/04/pride-and-prejudice-2005-and-mirrors.html

    Please check it out.

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  10. Thank you for the link, Miss Woodhouse.

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  11. I should probably explain that I was watching "Speed" on Encore (or one of those top level channels) the other evening. When Sandra Bullock kept looking in the bus mirror, I got my inspiration for this post. Are there other contemporary films in which the mirror becomes an integral part of the plot?

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  12. I love when you do this, and no one does it better. I'm drawing a blank on mirrors in P&P adaptations. But thanks for the post.

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  13. Regina - Yeah, I've seen P&P movie too many times, lol. In fact, I watch it at least once a day...or when I have the time, I try to watch it. What can I say, I love P&P movie and I never get tired of watching it. It never gets old in my viewing. Also, I love listening to the soundtrack and Matthew reading the first proposal scene from P&P...I have them on my iPod. ;)

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  14. Sharon - hey, there! how are you? hope all is well with you...long time no chat. Great to see/read your post here. :) LOL, watching P&P is never a torture, it's always a pleasure especially if we have the dreamy and Darcysexylicous Matthew Macfadyen as Mr. Darcy to keep our full attention watching him on screen. ;D

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  15. Mary - I have to agree with you. Regina always comes up with interesting insights about props and other devices and stuff in films we just don't pay close attention to.

    Speaking of props...I went back to re-watched Bride & Prejudice (the Bollywood version of P&P) and I noticed some scenes with mirrors. Interesting there were more than a few scenes with mirrors in that film that I never really paid attention to.

    Here are the "mirror" scenes from B&P movie (spoiler alert! for those of you haven't seen this movie)...

    - the first scene with the Bakshi (Bennet) women were actually seeing Maya (Mary) and Mrs. Bakshi (Mrs. B) were looking through the mirror to fix their hair as they prepare to go to a bridal shower party of Lalita's (Lizzie) friend
    - At the aforementioned party, Lalita when to see her friend who was getting married and guess what, there were the room looking at a mirror as her friend gets ready to come out
    - In "No Life Without Wife" singing/dancing montage scene with the Bakshi sisters (Jaya, Lalita, Maya, and Lakhi), Lalita had a solo number and yep, she went to look through multiple mirrors, lol. :D
    - In the scene towards the end when the older Bakshi sisters (Jaya and Lalita), were getting ready for Jaya's engagement party and meeting Balraj Bingley's family, they were in their bedroom (just like Jane & Elizabeth in P&P movie) looking through a mirror as they get ready and had a lil' conversation.

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  16. In Lost in Austen, I remember seeing a few scenes with "mirrors" too...

    - When Amanda Price went to Elizabeth Bennet's world, she dressed up into Elizabeth's period dress/costume and Jane was fixing her hair as they both looked through a mirror.
    - When Amanda Price went back to her world to find Elizabeth Bennet, she was seen in her bathroom talking to her boyfriend and as she brushed her teeth on the sink, there was a small square mirror in front of her and you can see her face in the mirror
    - When Elizabeth came back to her world and back home in Longbourn with Amanda, they were talking in the hallway and Elizabeth (who was carrying a lamp) was standing in front of what looks like a mirror. After she talked to Amanda, she passed by that mirror as I noticed and saw the lamp's reflection on it.

    Those were the only ones I could remember from that movie (I havent' seen it in a while)...

    I'll have to go back and watch P&P 1980 and 1995 versions to see "mirrors," but that'll be when I have the time to see them. The same with the other Austen film adaptations.

    In Becoming Jane, I could only remember one scene with Jane (Austen) and her cousin Eliza De Feuillide getting ready for the ball and they were surrounded by mirrors and looked through them to fix their hair. There might be more...I'll have to go back and see this movie again to see if there are more... :)

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  17. Mary,
    Thank you stopping by. I appreciate your continued support more than words can say.

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  18. I'm thinking an Austen movie marathon is in order this weekend.

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  19. In the Billie Piper version of "Mansfield Park," I can recall but two scenes with the mirrors used as something more than wall decorations.
    At the very beginning of the film, Lord Bertram is upset with the young Fanny's refusal to be a part of the family. His reaction is shown to the audience in the mirror's reflection.
    Mary Crawford's countenance is shown in a slightly out of focus reflection in the scene where she first meets Thomas at MP.

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  20. I was watching "The Lake House," which is loosely based on Austen's "Persuasion" last evening on LMC. I looked up from my writing to find Sandra B. looking in the mirror over the bar, which triggered her flashback - one at her surprise birthday party where she meets KR's character and kisses him. I had forgotten about it.

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  21. Regina - I had forgotten about "The Lake House" as well. I haven't seen that movie in a while. Loved that movie. It's one of my favorite romantic movies.

    Hmmm, I might have a P&P/Austen marathon this weekend too as well as see other movies and pay attention to mirrors. If I remember right, there were a few "mirror" scenes with The Crawley sisters and their mother (Lady Grantham) too in a few Downton Abbey's Seasons 1 and 2 episodes.

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  22. What an excellent post Regina. I loved how Joe Wright directed that mirror scene of how Elizabeth is now on the inside looking out. It was definitely an awakening of sorts.
    Your commentary is always top notch!
    A great modern would be 'Once Upon A Time's. I really don't get into it but I am usually in our family room reading while everyone else is watching. Mirrors seem to be a big part of the show.

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