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.
Two hundred years ago today, a little novel called Pride and Prejudice rolled off the presses for the very first time.
Here we are, still talking about it. We’re still thinking about it. We’re still getting new things from it.
In Pride and Prejudice, we have humor and romance. We have family life, and a much-beloved set of nerves. We have walks in the countryside, and a marriage based on genuine love and mutual respect. We have muddy hems and fine eyes. We have two nice people falling in love. We have accomplished ladies who improve their minds by extensive reading. We have Mary Bennet and Mr. Collins, Missed Connection extraordinaire. We have Charlotte Lucas, who does what she has to do. We have Lydia. We have Kitty, who turns out okay, we think. We have Bridget Jones. We have Colin Firth as two good men named Darcy. We have Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and all the rest. We have you—we have this community of funny, thoughtful people.
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.
I know Mother’s Day was three whole days ago. My mom and I spent the day together—in Idaho, in fact—until I got on a plane and she and my dad hopped in the car and started driving to California. But it seems that 2012 is the Year of Mom and Jane Austen, and so here we are. It’s Wednesday, but hey, I can still talk about my mom.
I mentioned it briefly during the read-along, but my mother read Mansfield Park along with the rest of the Austen Nation. (She even commented semi-anonymously, like the ninja she is, on one of our read-along posts! Can you spot the rogue parent?) It was her first time—not just her first time reading The Chronicles of Fanny and her Ha-Ha, but her first time reading Austen, period. Shortly afterwards, she joined my Beloved Sisters and me for the second half of Pride and Prejudice and immediately absconded with Miss Osborne’s DVDs, which were apparently better than the identical set that lived on her daughter’s bookshelf from late 2009 through the middle of 2011.
People, I think we have a new member of the cult. I mean, family.
According to mom, that Henry Crawford wasn’t such a bad guy until the whole wife-stealing thing. That was unexpected, but anyway, Maria and Julia weren’t very nice anyway. But before that, why was she so set against him? HE WAS NICE. And why do they call this a romance, again?
Also, Mrs. Bennet is hilarious and having to choose between never speaking to her mother again and never speaking to her father again is great. But is Jane supposed to be prettier than Lizzy? Because that woman looks like a man. And wait, what actor is that? Oh, right, Colin Firth. I liked him in The King’s Speech.
Rumor has it she might pick up Sense and Sensibility or Pride and Prejudice (the novel) (though I keep trying to press the Keira Knightley movie on her, for Colin Firth/Matthew McFadyen comparison purposes) next. I promise to stand supportively by, books in hand. Happy reading, Mom!
Come one, come all, to the Jane Austen Fight Club, where the very best from Jane’s world and the very best from…well, everywhere else…duke it out for all to see! The prizes: pride, honor, and the adoration of Jane fans everywhere, or a “The first rule of fight club is, we don’t talk about Mr. Darcy” t-shirt and some quality Regency-era medical care!
Caroline “Look at her mother” Bingley of Pride and Prejudice takes on Nellie “Doll-Snatcher” Oleson, villainess extraordinaire of the Little House books! Will Caroline’s sugar-coated machinations be any match for Nellie’s direct-violence methods? Yes, the Mean Girls’ Match is on!
In their corners:
Caroline lists her favorite hobbies as taking turns about the room, crafting subtle barbs to wound her dear friends, and, oh yes, completely ruining their lives. All with a smile, you know. She won’t let you live anything down, from your dirty socks to your mistaken moments of honesty (“fine eyes” indeed, Mr. Darcy!), and she’ll stab you in the back every time.
Nellie likes to pull your hair, snatch her dolls out of your hands, and make fun of your mother. In round 2, she tries everything she can to get you kicked out of school and to catch and keep all the available men, especially ones called Almanzo.
Caroline actually acted out of kindness once. Yes, she did—she tried to tell Lizzie that Mr. Wickham wasn’t quite the golden boy Lizzie thought he was. However, she did it so offensively that no harm was done, and Lizzie liked Mr. Wickham better than ever!
Nellie let Laura back her into a pond and get leeches all over her. She even cried about it, seriously losing face. How can you take a villainess seriously after that?
Ding ding ding! It’s Miss Bingley, without a fight! She runs rings around Nellie Oleson, all while keeping her pants dry and her wit intact. Nellie tries, but none of her schemes work for long—Laura sees through her every time, and scares her silly with leeches, horses, or whatever’s there. It takes almost the whole book for Caroline’s plot to unravel. She’s got Jane, her brother, and Mr. Darcy sown up so tight that only the blundering of Lady Catherine can set them free. And, mind you, that happens when Lizzie and Mr. Darcy are at Rosings, where the Mistress of Manipulation can’t keep an eye on them. Nope, in the Mean Girl Stakes, it’s Miss Bingley for the win!
Mariella Frostrup over at The Guardian recently wrote this in an advice column:
Despite achieving a position in the modern world where we are not only self-supporting but also increasingly outshining the men, we act like a gaggle of competitive girls whose most important goal is how blokes view us. Female-to-female behaviour hasn’t evolved much since Jane Austen’s day and the sad result is we continue to fail to provide sisterhood.
The rest of the column is similarly depressing. Mariella does suggest that the 40-something woman who feels life is slipping out of her grasp should age gracefully while at the same time make a noise, and “Rage, rage, rage when they attempt to turn out the light.” Sounds like a plan to me.
What about this talk of lack of sisterhood, now and in Jane Austen? Surely Jane and Cassandra Austen themselves are in the Sisterhood Hall of Fame? And Jane wrote about all sorts of sisters. Here’s Lizzie and Jane Bennet: “. . . do you think that any consideration would tempt me to accept the man, who has been the means of ruining, perhaps for ever, the happiness of a most beloved sister?” Not the words of someone who’s putting a bloke above a sister. Elinor and Marianne are another loving pair of sisters, though it’s true that Marianne does put her romantic notions above Elinor’s feelings sometimes. But isn’t that her great failing, what Jane Austen is warning us against? It’s also true that there’s some unpleasant sisters in the books. Maria and Julia Bertram certainly get into a catfight over Henry Crawford in Mansfield Park, and, more chillingly, Lady Bertram, Mrs. Norris, and Mrs. Price take their separation from each other with perfect calm. As with the Elliot sisters in Persuasion, Austen seems to assume that there’s no reason that sisters would hang together, if circumstances or temperament didn’t allow it. And it’s true that we see very little genuine womanly friendship in Austen: Lizzie and Charlotte Lucas and Catherine Morland and Eleanor Tilney are the only examples I can think of. I guess it would make sense when getting a husband was like getting a job that you mightn’t be very nice to the competition, especially in a limited pool. So, I concede, Austen was pretty cynical about the whole sisterhood thing.
But what about now? Miss Osborne, Miss Ball, and I don’t have any sisters. We came together as Beloved Sisters through a shared love of Jane Austen, eating, and talking smack. So we can’t comment on the modern state of sisterhood between actual sisters. But between women in general? I think it’s a pretty mixed bag. I personally haven’t seen much catfight action, have you? And also, isn’t it a bit sexist to assume that women should get along all the time? As if men do!
OK, obviously it’d be nice if we all got along. As it says in our header, Jane will keep us together. This may be terribly ironic, considering the above, but I suggest we try it. Send loving thoughts to all those of your acquaintance, even if there are few people you really love, and still fewer of whom you think well. It’s either that or back to the meat market, apparently.
Photo credit: ©David Stephensen. Used under Creative Commons licensing.
There’s a quotation in Pride and Prejudice that always gets me—it’s the kind that keeps me up at night.
It’s right at the end, when Bingley’s finally gotten everything straightened out and made an honest woman of Jane:
“‘I am certainly the most fortunate creature that ever existed!’ cried Jane. ‘Oh! Lizzy, why am I thus singled from my family, and blessed above them all! If I could but see you as happy! If there were but such another man for you!’”
To which Lizzy replies:
“‘If you were to give me forty such men, I never could be so happy as you. Till I have your disposition, your goodness, I never can have your happiness.’”
Readers, put me out of my misery: Is this true? Is goodness a precursor for happiness?
To be clear, I don’t think Jane is telling us that Lizzy and Darcy won’t be happy. Of course they’ll be happy; they love each other and they respect each other and they’re going to go off to Pemberley and be dazzlingly content in their wealth and unnecessary virtue. I get that she’s talking about Jane and Bingley’s ability to be content, and about their ability to not pick fights with life, and about the way that they will be eternally relieved to have actually ended up together (no thanks to you, Darcy).
But no, really. Do we—and by we I mean I—have to be good to be happy?
Let’s look at Lydia, who is pretty definitely Not Good in the context of the novel. Is Lydia happy? She certainly gets what she wants. The last we see of her, she’s all bouncy and obnoxious and rubbing her sisters’ noses in her traipsing off with Wickham—and of course we’re meant to believe that what Lydia has isn’t real (no matter what she thinks in the moment), and that it won’t last, and that she’ll end up disgraced and alone, a washed-up groupie either for the military or, slightly less likely, Phish.
It’s true that, in Jane’s novels, the virtuous and the sweet-tempered generally end up winners; the snobs, the weak-minded, and the mean-spirited, not so much. (I wouldn’t call Lizzy mean-spirited; more like mildly and wonderfully acidic. I don’t think Jane would mind.) Outside of Jane’s novels, I’m not sure: I think there are plenty of happy people who aren’t necessarily good—but are they as happy as they could be?
Shed some light, readers?
Whether you call it literary breaking and entering or the greatest publishing scheme of the new millennium, surely the Austen mash-up trend rates some thought from the Austen community, right? And yet. Love it or hate it, readers, this market isn’t living up to its potential. In fact, we at Austenacious have come up with a new technique by which publishers could amuse/alienate twice as many readers with each attempt! Not all mashups need involve Jay-Z, the walking dead, or anything trendy at all, really: by mashing Austen novels up with other classic literature, we see the rationalizing force of Jane on some decidedly harebrained stories, as well as some extra adventure for the ladies and gentlemen of the Austen canon. What could possibly go wrong?
A few examples:
Detective Sherlock Holmes investigates a murder in Grace Church Street, Cheapside, London: a sweet-tempered newlywed from the country has offed her uppity sister-in-law, a fact he deduces from traces of poisoned wedding cake (a double wedding!) and the fact that neither the guilty party nor her equally nice husband can lie worth a darn. The murderer’s smarter but less-pretty sister may have aided and abetted.
On one of her many walks, Marianne Dashwood falls down a mysterious hole, drinks potion left by a stranger, shrinks (which is what happens when we drink potions left by strangers), and ends up in a magical and dangerous fantasy land. There’s bird-head croquet with Lady Middleton and tea with Johnny Depp. Eventually, she finds it was all a dream and that she has learned precisely nothing about controlling her emotions or anything else remotely useful in life.
The Bennet girls encounter four Civil War-era sisters from a Transcendentalist family in Massachusetts; a good time is had by all, including many picnics, though the youngest from each family duke it out for the attention of all eleven (combined) relatives. The eldest sisters atone for all wrongs by sheer force of their goodness, as the third-oldest play a duet on the piano.
Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth visit a lighthouse either near Lyme or the Isle of Skye, an experience colored by an unreliable narrator and the problems of memory and perception. Nothing else happens, but it’s significant. Later, the author walks into a river with stones in her pockets.
Haters Gonna Hate Edition, Parts I and II:
Catherine Earnshaw wanders the moors until a chance encounter with the post-Northanger Abbey Catherine Morland persuades her to give up the obsession with Gothic bad boys. Heathcliff gives up. The sun comes out, and everybody realizes things weren’t so bad after all.
In a fit of pique, Emma Woodhouse runs off and finds adventure on the river and/or in caves (possibly around Box Hill), and teaches generations of American high school students about racism and the dangers of picnics.
Emily Bronte and Mark Twain, née Samuel Clemens, each die a second death of embarrassment and rage. Jane, in an impressive show of self-control, manages not to laugh in public. A new literary sub-genre is born.
We Austenites can be a boy-crazy bunch.
We make much of Mr. Darcy diving into a pond in a puffy shirt (which isn’t even in the book!). We divide into camps over, say, Knightley and Wentworth, and then further into sub-camps over Jonny Lee Miller and Jeremy Northam (or Colin Firth and Matthew McFadyen, or Ciaran Hinds and Rupert Penry-Jones). We admire the mutton chops and the fancy dance moves of Austen heroes from Sense and Sensibility all the way up to Persuasion. We objectify the pants off those fictional characters—see what I did there?—and have a fantastic time doing it.
And we’re missing half the story.
In Friday’s Telegraph, “novelist and ladies’ man” (heh) Jay McInerney gave us the other side of the coin: the male perspective on the ladies of Austen. Spoiler alert: It seems the menfolk can’t get enough of the fine eyes and dirty hems of Elizabeth Bennet any more than Darcy could; McInerney also reveals things for Emma Woodhouse and, with a charming note of self-consciousness, Fanny Price.
We don’t get a lot of this perspective around these parts; being primarily female and straight, the Austen community in general tends to spend way more time on what’s underneath Darcy’s breeches than what might be going on with those boobalicious Regency gowns.
McInerney goes on to claim some degree of depth in his Austen attachments—he really does love them for their minds, he says, both as characters and as representations of Jane herself. But what if he didn’t? What if this guy fixated—with an unusual sense of publicity and and odd sort of camaraderie—on the rain-drenched Marianne Dashwood, or on Jane Bennet’s mid-storm arrival at Netherfield? What if he sat around writing fan fiction about Lydia and either Wickham or, because it’s fanfic and he can, Mr. Collins or Charlotte Lucas or (crossover alert!) Hermione Granger or Sirius Black? Or all of the above? Would we react to him differently, and to his way of experiencing the Austen universe? How would we approach him as a man and as an admirer and/or objectifier of the women of Austen?
Readers, what do you think? (And while we’re at it, who’s your biggest Austen crush—of either gender?)
So, how can I put this? Let’s see. Okay, so. Sometimes, it seems to me that Austen adaptations are…shall we say, remiss in failing to offer a satisfying ending? Failing to seal the deal, if you know what I mean? Sure, Lizzy and Darcy end up in the Carriage of Loooove at the end of the 1995 adaptation, but what’s with the little peck as they’re driving off (frozen for effect, even—what, BBC, do you think we didn’t see what you did there, you dirty cheaters)? And, really, nothing for Jane and Bingley? They’re going to get a complex, people. Even Emma Thompson’s Elinor promptly explodes with emotion when Edward turns out not to be married—but does she sweep him off his feet and carry him away, complete with soaring music and distracting crane-shot camera work? Spoiler alert: she does not. And oh, sure, maybe it’s not in the book, exactly, but then neither is a thirty-six-year-old Elinor, a Jane Bennet that looks vaguely like a Greek statue, or that awesome cake on a pedestal (with ribbons!) at the end of Sense and Sensibility. I stand by what I say: more kissing, please! Jane won’t mind.
Thankfully, there are some recent Austen adaptations that seek to remedy the situation, and I think this sort of thing requires some, uh, research. Or, more specifically, a poll. Here are seven ending scenes from relatively recent Austen adaptations, all of them containing some sort of kissy-kissy true-love moment. Inquiring minds want to know: Austenacious readers, which is your favorite, and why? If there’s one that isn’t listed here, what is it (and why couldn’t we find it)?
Pride and Prejudice 1995
Mansfield Park 1999
Pride and Prejudice 2005
Northanger Abbey 2007
Mansfield Park 2007