So I was watching the end of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries last week, and I was thinking about adaptation—as you do—and I came up with one very simple principle: We can never allow Joss Whedon to adapt Pride and Prejudice.
I want to be clear: I love me some Joss. It’s not that. Buffy, Firefly/Serenity, Dr. Horrible, whatever. I’m in. It’s just that I can’t allow any of Jane’s characters to end up in Joss Heaven.
You see, there is a tiny room in heaven that I like to believe is reserved for the fictional characters created and then killed by Joss Whedon. If you’ve seen his work, you know what I mean: it’s the nicest, most patient, and most loving characters who tend to die, nearly always unexpectedly and in gruesome fashion. In my mind, these fictional darlings—Tara, Wash (WAAAAAASH!), Felicia Day in Dr. Horrible—spend fictional eternity together, being nice and noble and agreeing about things. And it’s pleasant! But it’s always, always too soon. And in the Jane Austen canon, I can think of exactly two characters clearly destined for Joss Heaven:
That’s it. Just the two of them. (Other Austen characters tend in that direction, but I think the Bingleys-to-be are the height of it.) It happens just as Bingley’s approaching Longbourne to propose, too, so that neither of them will ever know the happiness that was approaching, and readers’ hearts are pierced at the moment of peak fullness. (Don’t you think so? I think so. Yes, this is definitely how it happens.)
And so you see, readers, that we must be vigilant. We must protect these sweet characters from shocking moments of impalement, which are sure to come even in a canon-compliant adaptation. (I don’t know how. But I DON’T TRUST HIM.) Save the future Bingleys!
See you in Joss Heaven.
One week from this Thursday, the web series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries will hit one hundred episodes and call it quits. This, of course, is probably our cue to sneak a little LBD action in around here. We at Austenacious are nothing if not standing on the cutting edge of culture and technology, right?
Here’s one thing about me and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries: I think it’s good. I think it’s smartly written and well-performed. I like the transposing of romantic situations into professional situations, in sometimes surprising ways—I can’t be the only one who, for example, was pleasantly surprised when, duh, Charlotte marrying Mr. Collins was wasn’t Charlotte marrying Mr. Collins at all, because modern-day Charlotte doesn’t need to marry for practical reasons! Catherine de Bourgh is a venture capitalist, OBVIOUSLY! I think the writers made a lot of smart choices and came up with something that’s a lot of fun.
Here’s another thing about me and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries: I do not have a lot of things to say about it, except “Aww!” and “Well, that was clever,” and “How can I have hair like Laura Spencer‘s?” (HER HAIR, YOU GUYS) and “Okay, just one more.” If that were less true, I can assure you I’d have talked about it more here. For the most part, I’ve enjoyed it without much comment.
What I DO want to discuss is the fandom that’s cropped up around the series—a discrete fandom, separate from Pride and Prejudice itself, complete with all the trappings: fanart, fanfiction, pre-episode squee spills all over Twitter and Tumblr and basically the rest of the Internet where people hang out, and, of course, a hearty band of trolls, presumably in empire-waist dresses. People are INTO IT, easily as taken with Ashley Clements and Daniel Vincent Gordh as they are with plenty of traditional Lizzie/Darcy pairs. They’re agonizing over the ending: where will we leave Lizzie and Darcy, and will there be making out (“fingers crossed” seems to be the consensus, or maybe “THERE HAD BETTER BE MAKING OUT OR ELSE”), or will there be vague maybe-someday dating implications, or everything, or nothing, heaven forbid? They’re also discussing it—its relationship to the original text, its relationship to the ancillary series by Lydia and Maria Lu, a kitty named Kitty, the triumphs and vagaries of the web series medium, and especially the portrayal of Lydia, and whether the writers got her right or got her wrong, or were true to Jane’s vision or turned her into something new and incorrect. Some of this stuff is super smart, and some of it’s less smart, and some of it’s silly on purpose, and some of is decidedly not. Put it all together, and it’s a real live fandom.
And that, my friends, is a little amazing. All this for a story people already know, have already read and seen and talked through a million times and in a million forms. Much of the credit, of course, goes to Jane—she wrote a story that resonates with people, even if the regiment is really the swim team and a decent job at a start-up is just about as exciting as finding your true love. But the team behind the series must be doing something interesting, or I don’t think the discussion surrounding the LBD would be as vibrant as it is. It’s the difference between rehashing Pride and Prejudice and thinking about something new, with new creative choices—even when people don’t like what’s happening, they want to talk about it. And that seems, to me, like the real accomplishment: a new discussion of an old story. For me, watching the fans has been at least as exciting as watching the series.
So, tell me, readers: Are YOU in the LBD fandom? How are you doing with things coming to a close?
Good job, guys! According to a study by people who track library loans, Pride and Prejudice is the most loaned classic in the UK! (Wuthering Heights is #2.) Jane takes three more of the top 20 spots as well:
- #8 Emma
- #11 Sense and Sensibility
- #17 Northanger Abbey
The Telegraph‘s article says, “The study involves a comparison of lending data from Britain’s libraries for 50 classics by British and Irish authors from the literary canon from the early 1990s, a decade ago, and last year.”
Mission #1: People of Britain, read more Austen! I want to see Persuasion and Mansfield Park on this list next time too. We can’t leave Anne Elliot out in the cold and Fanny Price sitting on her bench, now can we?? And let’s get those other numbers up, too. (Special Sneak Preview: Austenacious will do our part by hosting another read-a-long soon!) People of Not Britain: don’t think I’m not watching you too!
Also according to The Telegraph, “Works by Thomas Hardy, George Eliot and EM Forster have seen their popularity plummet over the last two decades . . ..”
I’m not going to say a word for Thomas Hardy. (Anyone want to take that on in the comments?) But, EM Forster, you guys! I love EM Forster. A Room With a View, anyone? Howards End? So beautiful! So smart! The article says maybe Austen got more popular because of the adaptations, and because of her “rather too light, bright, sparkling tone.” (Though George Orwell also got more popular, and he’s, like, super-funny, right?)
Forster is comic, just as much as Austen, so maybe we need more adaptations? I love the 1985 version of A Room with a View—Helena Bonham Carter, before she was crazy! Naked guys! … Good lord, has it really been that long? IMDB says there’s also a 2007 version, which I completely missed. Have any of you seen it? Thoughts? We could do better, though, right?
For Howards End there’s just the 1992 version with Emma Thompson. I’m conflicted here—I really don’t think this book is adaptable. But if anyone wants to have a go, feel free!
Then there’s our girl George Eliot. I’ll admit I’ve only ever read Middlemarch, and I only read that because of the 1994 version. (See, TV adaptations pay off!) Middlemarch is pretty awesome—though it’s not as joyous as Austen and Forster, it does have depth, without being as, um, self-conscious as the Brontës. Do we want a new Middlemarch adaptation? But Rufus Sewell and Colin’s brother Jonathon are so cute… Juliet Aubrey is so Dorothea…. I don’t know. What do you all think?
Mission #2: People of Britain and Not Britain, read more Forster! Read more Eliot! Demand quality adaptations, or make your own crazy vlogs! Or both! Think, live, breathe fiction!
P.S. (Mission #3: Contemplate Colin Firth’s legs.)
Photo credit: dbking. Used under Creative Commons licensing.
I gotta tell you guys: I am having a Sense and Sensibility THING.
Do you all do this? A few years ago, I went through a phase where I re-read Pride and Prejudice, watched the Keira Knightley version, watched the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle version, re-read Bridget Jones’s Diary, watched THAT movie a hundred million couple of times, sought out Bride and Prejudice…there are just a lot of Pride and Prejudice adaptations out there, and I watched and read a bunch of them, is what I’m saying. (I did not watch the 1980 BBC version, as this was before the days of this site and I didn’t know any better, but I want Mrs. Fitzpatrick to know that I hear her exasperation in my head retroactively.)
That was awhile back. Where this new Sense and Sensibility yen came from, I couldn’t say, but here we are.
Somewhat sacrilegiously, I think, I skipped the actual novel this time; I’ve read it relatively recently, and decided to opt for Netflix and instant gratification instead. And, okay, the pickings for Sense and Sensibility adaptations are slimmer than they are for Pride and Prejudice, but I think what Sense and Sensibility lacks in quantity, it makes up for in quality: the modern adaptations of it are both excellent. (The other option here is From Prada to Nada, which I haven’t seen, but which has jumped up the Netflix queue in recent weeks.)
I don’t own a single adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, which now strikes me as completely insane. Why don’t I keep the Emma Thompson version on hand? I love the Emma Thompson version! (Fun fact: I have a clear memory of seeing it in the theater, then promptly and enthusiastically re-creating the entire plot for a friend the next day. This is, of course, why I’m so great at parties.) Being from the mind and the pen of Thompson herself, it understandably does many many things well; despite the 90210-ing of several actors’ ages, she makes it work (mostly). Elinor’s freakout at the end, in particular, never fails to impress.
(Speaking of the aging-up of actors, both modern adaptations cast Colonel Brandon as significantly older than he is in the book—fifty-one for Alan Rickman and forty-four for David Morrissey—which I think makes cultural sense, considering the shift in life expectancies since the good old days. Otherwise, the old dude is, like, Ryan Gosling or something.)
I remember liking the 2008 version very much…and then never tracking it down again. I’m now about halfway through, and enjoying it completely—among other things, it’s from that post-Ruth Wilson Jane Eyre period where the BBC decided to get with the times, visually, and it’s both true to the novel (despite some dialogue modernization magic on Andrew Davies’s part) and modern enough to appeal to a wider audience. I’m particularly loving Janet McTeer as Mrs. Dashwood and the girl who plays Margaret—Lucy Boynton, IMDB tells me, and she is comic gold here—and I have to say that if anybody is going to make a better Edward Ferrars than a young Hugh Grant(!), I think it has to be a young and extremely floppy-haired Dan Stevens, playing to type in the best way possible. (Will Edward and Elinor ever be able to express their sweet selves properly and live happily ever after? Don’t tell me how it ends!) (Poor Marianne. I love her, but I’m such a fan of Elinor that I tend to overlook her a bit. Also, ever since Miss Osborne brought it up, I’ve been a little horrified that she ends up with only a nice, relatively happy marriage to the good Colonel.)
Since I took up this new, uh, interest, I’ve been thinking about what makes Sense and Sensibility such a crowd-pleaser. Why do I recommend it to so many new Austen readers? Why does it lend itself to such good adaptations? But also, why is it similar to Pride and Prejudice but always a little in its shadow? My current theories have to do with the simplicity of the story and the relatively small cast of characters (compared to, say, Pride and Prejudice or Mansfield Park); it’s a pleasant story with something for everybody, regardless of temperament; on the other hand, maybe neither Elinor nor Marianne carries as much sparkle as Elizabeth Bennet. I don’t know. So many thoughts! What do you think, readers?
Hi, my name is Miss Osborne. I’m a rage-aholic. But only when I have to sit in traffic! (Or when people mangle grammar.) And this summer, I’ve had many, many hours sitting in traffic. My 50 miles of good road is not a very easy distance. It’s actually only 13 miles, yet it can take an hour and a half to travel. Oh the pains of commuting across a city and over a bridge! I’ve found that I can subvert the rage if I keep myself occupied. First, you have to keep snacks around. I know it’s not the best idea to have food at your fingertips when you’re bored and trapped in your car, but being hungry ensures a lightning-fast downward spiral. Second, have music, audio books, or podcasts at the ready. Listening to the radio is fine, but listening to a musical allows you to follow a story and sing, sing, sing like you’re Norma Desmond ready for her close-up. (Side note: You are sure to entertain other poor suckers who are stuck in traffic when they see and hear you crooning your favorite ballad! Everybody wins!)
I’m not always a big a fan of listening to audiobooks because the quality varies depending on the narrator. Miss Ball and I—both fans of Sarah Vowell—nearly drove off the road from the sleepiness induced by listening to audio version of The Wordy Shipmates while on a cross-country road trip. But I recently listened to Simon Pegg narrate Nerd Do Well, and I smiled the entire commute for a few days.
If you’ve got a soul-sucking commute, here are some recommendations to pass the time:
• BBC’s A History of the World in 100 Objects podcasts—The director of the British Museum talks about artifacts from the museum in the context of the state of the world when that object was made. I bought the book a few months ago, and I’ve been reading about a few objects every night. But listening to the podcasts is interesting because you have to picture the object based on the description, and they vary the audio with interviews and sounds.
• Audiobooks of Jane Austen novels—Okay . . . what I was really hoping for was a novel narrated by Emma Thompson, Colin Firth, or Patrick Stewart . . . you get where I’m going here. Unfortunately, not all of the audiobooks listed on Amazon state the name of the reader. However, there is a version of Pride & Prejudice read by Lindsay Duncan that sounds promising. (Who, strangely enough, is exactly the face I saw in my head when I was reading Lady Susan. Perhaps because she often plays really unlikeable people in her TV appearances.)
• When Love Speaks CD—Speaking of listening to the delightful sounds of British voices, I bought this CD when I was in the middle of an Alan Rickman obsession. (My library had a copy of Return of the Native narrated by Alan Rickman, but even though I love listening to him speak, the thought of twenty bazillion hours of Thomas Hardy prevented me from borrowing it.) Take turns imagining you’re Marianne Dashwood and Willoughby reading sonnets to each other on a cold, rainy day sitting by the fire! When Love Speaks is a set of Shakespeare sonnets read by the likes of Alan Rickman, Diana Rigg, Juliet Stevenson, Ralph Fiennes, Ioan Gruffud, and more. I promise, hearing Colonel Brandon say, “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun” is swoon-worthy. Just remember, you’re driving! Keep your eyes open!
• If Alan Rickman doesn’t rock your world, perhaps Loki is more to you liking? Tom Hiddleston’s the new British sexy! And he’s narrated The Red Necklace. One fan says, “I have been listening to The Red Necklace audiobook as read by Tom Hiddleston, and oh, my lord, my ears are pregnant now.” Could you ask for a better recommendation than that?
• The End of the Affair, read by Colin Firth. I wasn’t going to list this, but then I started listening to the audio on YouTube, and I figured you just can’t lose listening to Colin Firth for six and a half hours.
• Believe It!—You know that old guy who plays Gaius on the so-bad-it’s-enjoyable Merlin? That’s Scottish actor Richard Wilson. He’s best known for his ten-year run in the BBC sitcom One Foot in the Grave. Anyway, he’s the main star of the BBC radio show Believe It! And for an extra special bonus, you get David Tennant, too.
I’m sad to say, no one has made an audio book of Fordyce’s Sermons to Young Women. But if you’ve got any other recommendations to keep us sad commuters smiling while we drive, please chime in!
Photo Credit: Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bike/153778544/
This week, only 13 years late: BBC’s Pride and Prejudice, starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth!
As many of you know, I first saw this a few weeks ago. There’s nothing like some good MST3K time with my beloved sisters. But, I have to admit, I came out of it pretty meh. I am not the adoring fan that I know so many of you are. I can see why you love it! I can see it as a good intro to Austen. And I didn’t hate it. But it wasn’t enough to sway my persnickety self from the 1980 version, and, so much better than both, the book itself. Deep thoughts:
- It’s pretty close to the book, lots of word for word, even if they did leave out some of my favorite lines. Though the post-Lydia-eloping part gets really compacted in this version. Seems like all the characters do is get in and out of carriages.
- I actually liked the scene-setting parts that aren’t in the book—showing the countryside and town and all. You get a better sense of their world.
- Plus I liked Jennifer Ehle better than I thought I would! I thought she would be too sappy; she was not too sappy. Check.
- You want to talk Colin Firth? OK, let’s talk Colin Firth. Sure, he’s tall and cute, but he’s wooden. (Ha ha, get your minds out of the ha-ha, kids!) By which I mean he stares at Lizzie in a frankly creepy way for 3/4 of the movie. I’m spoiled by already having seen him in A Single Man and The King’s Speech, and I say he could tear the part up now 10 times better than he did it then. (Apart from being too old, and what do we think of Helena Bonham-Carter as Lizzie? . . . OK, back to 1995.)
- Let’s talk more Colin Firth! Why do we call it “the Colin Firth version?” Is fans’ love of this version simply based on the Firthy Goodness (thank you, Miss Osborne)? Is it because we’re not sure how to say “Ehle”? (AY-lee, I think.) I’m curious. Because she is after all the star, though this version does try to bring him closer to stardom than Jane put him, by showing us his Inner Feelings, and his butt, and his famous wet shirt. Thoughts?
- Jane Bennet is all wrong. No one thinks she’s prettier than Lizzie. (And she has a thick neck.)
- It was kind of amusing at first, but it grated on me more and more that all the supporting characters were seriously exaggerated from the book. Any complexity in them was left out, and they were all completely one-dimensional. It makes them more fun to laugh at and all, but it does hurt the story. I mean, who would really believe Miss Bingley was their friend? She’s totally scary! And Mrs. Bennet always shrieking flattens the drama and believability of her crazy mood swings. Etc.
So, as I said, some mixed feelings. However, at least I now know what all you crazy kids mean when you say “No one wants your concertos here!” and “Lord, I’m so fat!” And that is a comfort.
Well, we’ve finished the novel, people, so let’s get down to the real work: Mansfield Park 2014, the mega-budgeted star-magnet “romantic” “comedy,” which draws unprecedented, gender-balanced crowds to the multiplex but also woos critics with its profound insights on the human instinct to escape the ha-ha! The Oscar (whichever one you like) shall be ours, and we can all crowd up on the stage in dresses that make us look way worse than any self-respecting famous person, because we have dressed ourselves and are concerned that we may have lost our $4 Target earrings on the way up the aisle! They will probably have to play us off with music, because we are loud and difficult to corral and probably waving at Colin Firth!
Are you with me, Austen Nation?
By which I mean, it’s been well-documented that the most recent adaptations of Mansfield Park have been…odd. To be fair, it’s not an easy story to adapt: there’s a play, and then there isn’t a play, and then adultery, and then some goody-two-shoes get married (goody four-shoes?). The End! We’re just waiting for the agents’ calls to pour in!
But really. I think we can do better. So let’s talk casting.
Fanny Price: I keep coming back to Zoe Boyle, Downton Abbey‘s Lavinia Swire, for no reason I can quite put my finger on. Who can play virtous yet inert, and make us like it? Readers?
(Fun fact: Just this evening, I learned that the 1997 theatrical-release Fanny is, in fact, Frances O’Connor and not Embeth Davidtz, Mark Darcy’s snooty law partner in Bridget Jones’s Diary ["To Mark and his Natasha!"]. For YEARS I’ve thought this. And I’ve seen the movie!)
Edmund Bertram: I have to support the existing choice of Jonny Lee Miller on this one, though it’s primarily because of his performance as Mr. Knightley in the most recent BBC Emma. Handsome and kind, yet vaguely judgmental? He does that so well. (See also: I am trying VERY hard not to suggest Dan Stevens, especially considering the next entry down. But Dan Stevens, you guys.)
Mary Crawford: Hayley Atwell in the 2007 BBC one sounds like strong work to me, and I hate to typecast the Downton crowd—but my imaginary Mary has, since she first stepped onto the page, been Michelle Dockery. (My brain is a nerrrrrrd.) Tell me I’m wrong.
Henry Crawford: Everybody I can think of for this is either Too Much (Ryan Gosling, self? REALLY?) or an infant (Matthew Lewis!). And here I thought brainstorming hot British actors would be my shining moment of usefulness. Help me, readers! You’re my only hope!
Lady Bertram: This really COULD be Embeth Davidtz. I hope she likes pugs.
Readers, who would you pick, for these characters or any other? Let’s hear it!
What with Miss Ball’s recent Mansfield Park deflowering, (and some of you got deflowered along with her, I know), it’s been a confessional little old time over here at Austenacious. And since they say confession is good for the soul . . . or catching, at any rate . . . I too have a confession to make. I’ve never read Pride and Prejudice!
Ha, ha, no, psych! I’ve read all Jane Austen’s major books many times, I’ve read Lady Susan, The Watsons, and Sanditon each more than once, I’ve read Jane’s History of England—I’ve even read the Juvenilia, which are pretty hilarious and a lot less refined in more than one way, if you know what I mean. I’ll admit that I haven’t yet read the complete Letters, but that is not my deep dark secret. No, gentle readers, the secret that I have hidden from you all this time . . . is that I have never seen the 1995 BBC Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle Pride and Prejudice. Nope! Never seen him jump into the lake even once! (How do I know he jumps into a lake? Have you met yourselves at all, AustenFirth fans??)
“But how can this be, Mrs. F?” I hear you cry. “Were you not raised by a good, Austen-lovin’ mamma?” Well, I was. But those were different times, and I was raised on the clean, wholesome 1980 BBC version, always dear to my heart. I did see 2 minutes of the 1995 version when it first aired, and, bear with me here, I thought Jennifer Ehle was far too sappy to be Lizzie. No Colin Firth onscreen, and I didn’t stick around.
Well, that was 1995 and this is 2012. And here I am, ready to give this another try. Miss Ball and Miss Osborne will be on hand to laugh at my ignorance. And if you haven’t seen the Colin Firth version recently, say this year, you can laugh along with them! We’ll be liveblogging Pride and Prejudice this coming weekend:
4/28, 12-3 pm, PT: Episodes 1-3
4/29, 12-3 pm, PT: Episodes 4-6
Will my curmudgeonly heart stay true to Elizabeth Garvie and David Rintoul, or will I be swayed by the wet, billowy cotton of Colin Firth? Stay tuned! And come on, I know you all need a refresher course, right? I mean, can you think of a better way to spend the weekend?
See you on Saturday!
Thanks to Mr. Miller for pointing us to Lizzie’s new video blog. Can’t wait to see how it comes out! (Re the statistics on single men of good fortune, see our informal sample. Regression analyses to come. Or possibly not.)
(Click here for video.)
In a world of dispiriting politics, an economy that is decidedly lowering all boats (except a notable few, of course), and a disturbing upward trend in the number of televised singing competitions, at least there’s this:
Way to go, HarperCollins! Clearly, with all the foresight and innovation of an industry that definitely will not be obsolete in fifty years, you’ve identified an unmet need and an unfilled niche. I mean, it’s not as if we had a) an entire genre of female-oriented lit originally spawned by a Jane Austen update fifteen years ago, b) an entire sub-genre of female-oriented lit featuring Austen sequels, updates, mashups, prequels, re-imaginings, re-genrefications, and character studies, c) with monsters, d) numerous generations of young-readers editions of Austen novels, or e) ACTUAL JANE AUSTEN NOVELS. WRITTEN BY JANE AUSTEN.
Before you get too far into this esteemable project, HC, may we interest you in some friends of ours? Three sisters and a crazy brother raised on the moors? They’re over there. No, way over there. Yes, that way. Keep going! Don’t stop! Have fun storming the castle! Bye-bye!
Oh, readers. How long do you think we can keep this up?