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?
Sometimes in this universe, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Or so I hear. Ask and you shall receive, they say. I’d like to propose an alternative: get yourself to a good used-book sale.
It was just days ago that I was complaining about my ugly movie-tie-in copy of Pride and Prejudice. What would I do, I asked, if faced with a newer, prettier copy—a copy lovely of face but without the “I lived life with Miss Ball and all I got was Colin Firth’s face on my dust jacket” attitude? Would I betray my roots and run off with this sexy upstart?
WELL. Sunday, I was trawling the Classics section at the annual church book sale, sifting through the castoffs of a year of Presbyterian reading, and what did I find? A mint-condition Everyman’s Library hardcover copy of P&P, staring up at me with its handsome dotted spine. For a dollar. ONE DOLLAR.
You should know that I ran over to Miss Osborne, over in History and Biography, with my conundrum. To sacrifice valuable parking-meter quarters and a good two inches of shelf space for a book I already own? Or to leave this lovely orphan for somebody else to find? Well, people, I am either a selfish jerk or a huge softie with a tendency to over-anthropomorphize, because that book was in my purse before you can say “Fitzwilliam Darcy.” I shifted things around on my shelves, and the new girl took her place…right next to the old copy. And why shouldn’t they coexist? Old and well-loved and fairly hideous, meet your twin, new and rescued (RESCUED!) and so so pretty. No betrayal necessary. Now I have two copies of Pride and Prejudice, and I think I can live with that.
I have to tell you, readers, that when I visited my local Anthropologie today, I was not looking for books. (I was, in fact, looking for a sale-priced cocktail dress, and I found one! Friends with upcoming weddings: I will not be arriving in the nude. You’re so welcome.) But: there were books. There were these books:
And also THESE books:
Surreptitious iPhone photos aside, aren’t they just about the loveliest? They’re Penguin Classics hardcovers with covers designed by Mr. Boddington’s Studio, and let me just recommend that you don’t click that link, because if you do, all your money are belong to them. No, actually, DO click that link and check out their lookbook, and then wonder why you are not currently getting married in a picturesque ceremony in Italy/Minneapolis/the Rocky Mountains/a ranch on the California coast. Not that I would spend half an hour doing exactly that. Noooope. Not this girl.
Anyway, I don’t know about you, readers, but I am a picky lady when it comes to covers—especially covers for classics. The truth is that I don’t own a complete set of Austen’s novels, in part because I can’t commit to a cover design. My copy of Pride and Prejudice is the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle movie tie-in version, and I’m not sure how that happened—I think it must have been a gift. I love it for sentimental reasons, but it’s ugly. And oh, my library-paperback copy of Emma provokes such internal conflict (much like Miss Woodhouse herself)! It’s hot pink, and clearly intended to snare unknowing chick-lit fans trawling the stacks. It is simultaneously better-looking than many other library copies, and a little offensive to my smart-lady sensibilities. I see what you’re doing there, library, and I’m not sure whether I like it. But I’m going to keep reading.
The recent smattering of well-designed Penguin Classics and other versions helps all this. And, really, these may be my Platonic classics covers, especially the Sense and Sensibility—I feel like that lovely design is going to age well. But the question remains: will I replace my ugly P&P with one that’s prettier but hasn’t traveled through life with me? Will I buy a stylish copy of Mansfield Park (I borrowed Miss Osborne’s copy for last year’s read-along; she read along on her iPad like the tech ninja she is) that I’ll hate in ten years? Why do I even care?
So, readers, tell me: what editions of Austen do you have? Which editions of Austen do you WANT? Or are you above all that and just in it for the language? Hit me.
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.
Hi. My name is Mrs. Fitzpatrick. I am a co-founder of Austenacious, and I have trouble reading Emma.
There! I said it!
I’ve read Pride and Prejudice roughly 42 times, and I read all Austen’s novels about once a year. I can read Persuasion in one sitting. But Emma . . . I keep putting it down and not picking it back up. I originally tried to read it three times before I got to the end—this is unprecedented.
Why do I stop? Well, I think it’s mainly because it’s too good. (“Gah! So brilliant! So true to life! Ooh, I just want to shake that girl . . . Am I like her? Hmm . . .”) I have to share, and going into rants about the Eltons leaves most people just befuddled.
So! Join us for our Emma Read-along! Starting next week (January 21–25) we’ll be reading 10 chapters a week. Grab a copy and read with us, and you too can complain about barouche-landaus like a boss.
Here we have the answers to last week’s game of failed New Year’s resolutions. Thank you all for playing along—your hemming and hawing and theorizing in the comments was delightful! Let’s play again soon.
1. Resolves to practice the power of positive thinking. Is already so thoroughly positive as to succeed just by getting up in the morning. Is impressed by the power of positive thinking. - MR. BINGLEY
2. Resolves to run off, experience the world, and achieve self-actualization, possibly becoming a lady-pirate with much cooler younger sister in the process. Fails to account for the medium-sized drop-off, meant to thwart wandering cows, at the edge of the estate. – FANNY PRICE
3. Resolves to be more in control of her emotions. Is in raptures about how controlled her emotions are going to be, now that she’s resolved. Faints with excitement. – MARIANNE DASHWOOD
4. Resolves to get out of bed. Is seduced by cuteness of pug face. Stays in bed. – LADY BERTRAM
5. Has no resolutions. Life is already perfect: wife supportive of gardening habit; house next to awesomest house in the world. – MR. COLLINS
6. Resolves to be a lady with a grasp on reality. Is pretty sure husband is pushing her towards this resolution in order to lure her into cave of godlessness and drink her blood. But at least she likes her father-in-law. – CATHERINE MORLAND
Austenacious readers, today’s post is not for you. Today’s post is for your loved ones—those wishing/required to give you a gift this holiday season. Specifically, those hoping not to find themselves in a picked-over Walgreens on Christmas Eve (or, you know, Hanukkah and/or Kwanzaa Eve), weighing the costs and benefits of a pair of LED-lighted Babylon 5 socks. So just hand this on over to them, and you’re welcome.
To the friends and family of the reader at hand, it’s nice to meet you. We’re here to help—we’ve scouted the coolest, funniest, prettiest, and Jane-iest stuff at our beloved Etsy and laid it out here for all your gift-giving needs. We recommend shopping early, as shipping time is of the essence, but we hope you’ll find what you’re looking for and give the Austen fan in your life something a little special to get excited about this season.
Students of modern typography and/or fictional geography, take heart! Brooke and Justin made you a shirt. From Longbourn all the way to Pemberley, this top is stylish and modern, and also offers endless chances to say to yourself, “IN CHEAPSIDE!” (Austenites, you know what I mean. Confused non-Austenites, nothing to see here. Except a really cool shirt that your loved one will wear all the time.)
Are you looking for a way to show your lady friend how much you care? Has it been more than half a decade? Are you handsome, and basically a friendly pirate? This print commemorating the proposal of Captain Frederick Wentworth to his once and future intended, Anne Elliot, should do the trick. Also comes in black on white.
Wrap your favorite Austenite in romantic angst this holiday season. Like, literally. Around the neck. But not like a psychopath! More like a Naval captain who’s been pining for his ex-girlfriend, who has, thankfully, been pining right back. Does that sound good? Then give someone this scarf. Also comes in Darcy’s proposal.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single lady in possession of a sense of adventure (so, not Fanny Price) must be in want of a nine-hundred-year-old anthropomorphic alien to whisk her around time and space in a blue police box and then probably be separated from her in some amazingly poetic and heartbreaking manner. At least, we THINK that’s how the saying goes. Anyway, anybody who loves Elizabeth Bennet AND Doctor Who cannot go wrong with this set of prints commemorating their theoretical meeting.
For all the essentials: pragmatic elder sister, romantic younger sister, handsome tool, guy who regrets promising himself to someone else, older gentleman who doesn’t mind an age difference. Also keys, phone, wallet, lip gloss, mints, emergency earrings, tiny notebook of mostly to-do lists and brunch menus, The New Yorker, half-empty tub of hummus. (Just me, then?) Also comes in Persuasion and, for the heavy packer in your life, Seven Novels.
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?