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?
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!
O readers, there has been a specter looming on the edge of Austen life. Something dark. Something chilling. Something so terrible as to render us speechless thus far. And I’m here to tell that it is REAL. And we’re going to have to talk about it.
I’m speaking, of course, of the shadow of a third Bridget Jones movie.
Let me first say: I ADORE the original Bridget Jones’s Diary (film more so than novel). It strikes me as one of a few modern romantic comedies that is both actually romantic and actually a comedy; I own it, yet also watch it on TBS at all possible junctures; desert island, blah blah blah. I also really love Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (novel MUCH more so than terrible film)–it’s ridiculous (Thai prison?) but also rather sweet (The Velveteen Rabbit analogy). So let’s establish that I’m no hater. I’m not gonna hate! I just want things to be good.
And, you guys, YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO THIS.
Sure, I mean, we haven’t seen Renee Zellweger OR Hugh Grant in awhile, and Hollywood abhors a career break. But there are other ways! (Surely there are other ways.) Renee, find an occasion to smile in such a way that we can see your teeth! Hugh, I’m not actually clear on why your celebrity stock has fallen so precipitously, but find a reputable project and do it! No more of this “Sarah Jessica Parker and I are almost divorced and stuck in the American West” nonsense. We know you can do better, and we’re sure some indie director would love to have you on the rolls. Now self-deprecate your way back into our hearts, will you?
And, well, Colin, we know you probably just didn’t want to be the guy holding up the entire production…but you have an Oscar now. You can BE the guy holding up the entire production, and we will totally understand! You are now allowed to exercise your common sense! (On the other hand, the only thing worse than Bridget Jones 3 is Bridget Jones 3 without the charmifying presence of Mark Darcy and his reindeer jumpers. So, actually, forget I said anything.)
My greatest fear, here, is that a third movie will include yet another takeoff of one of the greatest scenes in all of filmdom–by which I mean the street fight(…ish) between Daniel Cleaver and Mark Darcy, or Hugh Grant and Colin Firth flailing hilariously at each other to the beat of The Weathergirls’ “It’s Raining Men.” The creators of Edge of Reason clearly understood the great comic value of the original scene and tried to re-create it, mostly unsuccessfully, in a fountain. I’m not sure this world can handle another sad iteration.
Of course, it’s entirely (or at least vaguely) possible that Bridget Jones 3 (I just can’t call it BJ3) might not be the worst thing ever. Among the deep dark sea of buzz about it, there are two tiny pinholes of light: 1) The movie may not be the product of a room full of middle-aged male execs pulling ideas out of the air and looking to salvage a series (“I’ve got it! Bridget gets a pet chimp! Ladies love chimps, right?”). Or, it may not totally be that. Helen Fielding is apparently typing out a third novel as we speak, which one hopes is going straight from her hard drive to the screenwriter’s/producers’ brains. The timing of this seems suspect, but if Aaron Sorkin can do it and win and Oscar, who are we to judge? Also: 2) Paul Feig, director of of Bridesmaids/Freaks and Geeks/The Office fame, is apparently in talks to direct. Now THAT, might be an actual upside. The man knows both cringe-inducing comedy and the heart behind it, and might be able to unbreak the hearts of Bridget fans everywhere.
We can only hope.
With Colin Firth being all over the media because of his victorious Oscar run, the “Who is Colin Firth?” conversation popped up. Again. Has this happened to you? I’ve discovered that there are people in this world (mostly men) that don’t understand the Firth Love. Many don’t have any idea who he is. Granted, he doesn’t parade around half naked with bulging muscles and guns à la Daniel Craig. But Firth does parade around in awesome suits, and he has graced the big screen in movies other than period dramas. (No, really…he has! Think Bridget Jones’s Diary or the original Fever Pitch.)
After the most recent round of I Have to Explain Who Colin Firth Is to the Men in the Room, I managed to get two male friends to agree to a viewing of the 1995 Pride and Prejudice. (It is possible that I might have enticed them with barbecued pulled pork and beer.) But if your friends aren’t quite as willing to commit five hours of Regency fun, you could always entice them to an evening that includes the Jane Austen Drinking Game. I call the pianoforte!
Image and video © Mostly Water Theatre.
“Thank you! Thank you! No…really. Thank you.
I’d like to thank the Academy for this great, great honor, as well as my beautiful wife, Livia, and all of the exceptional professional people who have made this work possible.
But let’s be honest: In 1995, I dive into a pond in my riding breeches and a very white shirt; fifteen years later, I win an Academy Award. You do the math. And so I’d like to thank Jane Austen for creating such a complex character, who happens to also wear high-waisted pants and tall top hats, and enjoy stalking in and out of rooms in the name of frustrated love. I’d like to thank Helen Fielding for creating a postmodern Darcy, so that I might later beat the crap out of a perfectly sleazy Hugh Grant, hilariously, as “It’s Raining Men” plays in the background. I’d like to thank the internet and the thousands of lust-wild fangirls who kept my name and image so alive there all these years, mostly for not-very-pure purposes. Not that I’ve looked, or, for that matter, posed as the internet handle ‘FitzyMcHotBuns’ to contribute to the conversation. I’d like to thank those same lust-wild fangirls, whose demographic aligns nearly perfectly with the entire viewing audience of The Last Legion, and so on. Ladies, you know who you are. And so I dedicate this award—this bastion of old-Hollywood dignity and glamour—to you, Jane Austen, and to your faithful, man-crazy protegees. In the spirit of a massive canon of dirty fanfiction, I salute you.”
No, Colin. We salute YOU.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick knows a lot of stuff, useful and useless alike, and Miss Ball and Miss Osborne are fond of asking for her scholarly opinion on all sorts of things. Now you can too, using the contact form on the About page. Send us your questions! Ask Mrs. Fitzpatrick will answer anything related to the world of the books, the books themselves, P.G. Wodehouse, math, or Star Trek. Jane Austen (deceased) will comment on your personal problems in What Would Jane Do? We’d love to hear from you!
Miss Osborne: Miss Ball’s recent Jane Austen Fight Club post got me thinking about duels in the Jane Austen world. Duels were going on during that time period (the Aaron Burr-Alexander Hamilton duel was in the early 1800s), so why didn’t Mr. Darcy call out Wickham for a duel? Clearly, Darcy had the right. Were most duels just between equals? Or are there other reasons why dueling would not be an appropriate response to Wickham’s treachery? (It’s not like Darcy had to worry about looking like a dork—á la Mark Darcy versus Daniel Cleaver in Bridget Jones’s Diary—when all he has to do is walk a few paces and pull a trigger.)
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: Ah, dueling. I was once hailed by a passing stranger as “the swordsman’s girlfriend,” so I’m well-fitted to answer this. And the swordsman himself dumped five books on the history of dueling in my lap the instant I mentioned this query. The romance of the sword lives to this day, even when the sword is a gun (if you follow).
By the time Jane Austen was writing, dueling in Europe was an upper-class game of machismo on its way out—it was a game only among equals, though, yes, and taken seriously as a show of honor among them, though ridiculed in the press. In America, actually, dueling was much more serious (we had the Old West to prepare for, remember), and people died a lot more, like poor Hamilton. As Alexis de Tocqueville put it in 1831, “In Europe one hardly ever fights a duel except in order to be able to say that one has done so. . . In America one only fights to kill. . .”
In Sense and Sensibility, Colonel Brandon fights just such a European duel with Willoughby over his seducing Miss Williams (Col. Brandon’s not-daughter). “‘I could meet him in no other way. . . We returned unwounded, and the meeting, therefore, never got abroad.’ Elinor sighed over the fancied necessity of this; but to a man and a soldier she presumed not to censure it.” Some people have seen this duel as the crux of the plot, and it is part of the 18th century side of the novel, along with the seduction itself, Marianne’s dramatic illness, and Willoughby’s drunken declaration of love.
In Pride and Prejudice, remember, there is a question of somebody fighting Wickham, but it isn’t Mr. Darcy—it’s the ironical Mr. Bennet, framed nicely by his adoring wife: “And now here’s Mr. Bennet gone away, and I know he will fight Wickham, wherever he meets him, and then he will be killed, and what is to become of us all?” Nine pages later, “Sure he will not leave London before he has found them. Who is to fight Wickham, and make him marry her, if he comes away?”
Mrs. Bennet’s always so silly that I don’t think we’re supposed to take either proposition seriously. Pride and Prejudice has much less of 18th century flavor than Sense and Sensibility. Yet I really can’t tell whether Mr. Bennet himself would have wanted to duel Wickham or not, though I’m inclined to think not. He was too sensible, and the whole idea was to hush the thing up, anyway.
And this, I think is our answer to why Mr. Darcy doesn’t challenge Wickham over the honor of Georgiana. He did have the right, and he was of the class (and, I imagine, the temperament) to be dueling, but, he tells Elizabeth, on discovering the proposed elopement “You may imagine what I felt and how I acted. Regard for my sister’s credit and feelings prevented any public exposure. . .” Unless this is a coded indication that they did fight (as the fanfic authors no doubt go off on), his love for his sister overcame his ideas of his station in that way, just as (guess what!) his love for Elizabeth later overcomes his ideas of his station in another way.
Plus, imagine the scandal if it all did come out—too shocking! Mr. Darcy never revealed anything to anyone if he could help it.
For more on dueling, see The Code of Honor, by John Lyde Wilson, 19th century governor of South Carolina and avid duelist.
Today’s contestants: Mr. “Fitzwilliam” Darcy, of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and and Mark “Just as She Is” Darcy, pugilist extraordinaire from Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary. It’s not to be missed!
In their corners:
Mr. Darcy does really, really nice things and doesn’t tell anybody. He spoils his little sister. He rides and shoots and reads and writes. He has ten thousand a year and a sweet pad (with trout pond!) to show for it. He’s loyal to his goofy best friend. He’s faithful even when there’s nobody to be faithful to.
Mark Darcy likes Bridget Jones just as she is. He’s handsome; he’s wealthy; he’s helpful in the kitchen. He’s a lawyer AND a do-gooder. He’s awkward, but nice, and he has the good sense to be ashamed at his own social ineptitude. He’s a nice boy, but he kisses like that.
Mr. Darcy says rude things too loudly at parties. He barges in on his lady love, proposes marriage while also implying that marrying her would be a huge cramp on his swingin’ social style, and then gets pissy when she says no. He also hangs out with his friend’s appalling relatives.
Mark Darcy wears reindeer jumpers and should seriously rethink the length of his sideburns. He allows himself to be bullied by his business partner, Natasha. He always says exactly the wrong thing in every situation, and I believe we find out later that he doesn’t vote Labour. Horrors!
Mr. Darcy. Mark Darcy’s foibles take place on a smaller scale–he often says the wrong thing, for example, but generally comes through when the stakes are high, like when the soup is blue–and so he seems the kinder, gentler Darcy. And that’s exactly why he loses this battle: Mr. Darcy the Elder goes big or goes home. He declares passionate love…in the most insulting way possible. He stomps off, angry, and then gallops around in the middle of the night, out-nice-ing himself entirely. He is “violently in love,” and shows it, given the chance. Plus, we all know Mark Darcy can’t fight.
Ding ding ding ding ding! Knockout for Mr. (Fitzwilliam) Darcy!