Don’t Insult Your Children, Give Them Jane Austen by Allison Burr My kids saw that scoundrel Willoughby at Chic-Fil-A last night. Or so they thought. We had just finished our chicken sandwiches and waffle fries and were headed off to Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb of God concert, but all four kids stopped dead in their tracks when they saw the unsuspecting dark-haired, large-eyed teenage boy behind the counter. I could read their body language; if this was indeed Willoughby, as they frantically whispered in my ear, he would surely do something reprehensible at any moment. And they weren’t going to miss it. Much to their chagrin, we ushered them out the door, and the Willoughby look-a-like was left to finish his work without further danger of besiegement. In their overactive 10-, 8-, 7-, and 3-year-old minds, they had seen a villain behind the counter. The details of this poor boy’s true identity are of no consequence. The more important reality is that Jane Austen had captured their hearts and imaginations, and my children have not yet entered adolescence. This surely qualifies as a parental milestone. Now, I know the purists contend that the consumption of the screen portrayal should never precede the consumption of the written. I don’t hold to that particular standard (but undoubtedly have my own purist standards in other areas). As such, when we began the several-hour long 2008 BBC version of Sense and Sensibility, my kids were immediately enthralled and the questions came with great rapidity. With my finger (more…)
We love costumes dramas. Some of our favourite recent viewings have been the hit costume dramas shown over Christmas. We had the sumptuous The Miniaturist, we had a new three-part adaptation of Little Women, and we’ve had a Call The Midwife Christmas special. Over the past few years we’ve had Downton Abbey, The Crown, Lark Rise to Candleford, Cranford, War and Peace… We could go on.
However, while we’ve very much enjoyed these, in an interview about being based in Britain, actress Thandie Newton has highlighted a problem about having a dominance of costume dramas in the British entertainment industry.
I can’t work, because I can’t do Downton Abbey, can’t be in Victoria, can’t be in Call The Midwife … there just seems to be a desire for stuff about the royal family, stuff from the past, which is understandable, but it just makes it slim pickings for people of colour.
Part of the problem is that if every costume drama is adapted from a book which only features upper-class white characters, then that’s all there will be on TV. Historical accuracy is one thing, but should it come at the cost of diversity within the acting world? Some within the television and film industry are calling for script writers to write scripts which allow for a more diverse range of actors to be represented within the cast. Afterall, if Maxine Peake can play the male role of Hamlet at the National Theatre, why can’t an actor like Idris Alba play Colonel Brandon?
What are your thoughts?
What’s the Jane Austen News this week?
Mr Bennet With Us For Ten Years!!!
Our Mr Bennet (A.K.A. Martin, our meeter-greeter who welcomes all our visitors to the Jane Austen Centre) has been with us for ten years! So to celebrate we arranged a little surprise for him…
The Telegraph recently published their top ten literary tours that literature lovers ought to take this year. Happily, a tour of Jane Austen’s England was on the list…but only at number five! Even though this year is Jane Austen 200 and events are taking place all over the country to celebrate!
So who beat her in the top ten?
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must have no life without wife.
Obviously, something was lost in translation between the 1813 novel and the 2004 film, but the sentiment in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and in Gurinder Chadha’s Bride and Prejudice is the same. Society, our audience, has expectations of us all. We can conform, like Charlotte Lucas, and be granted a modicum of respect, however grudging, from the Lady Catherines of the world. Or we can do the unexpected, like Lizzie Bennet, and brave the wrath that is sure to follow. There’s a heavy price to pay either way.
The modern filmmaker is given a similar choice when she dares to adapt Jane Austen. She can attempt a period piece costume drama with bonnets and riding boots, as in the Keira Knightley/Matthew Macfadyen Pride and Prejudice. However, in attempting to meet the purist expectations of the novel’s most ardent admirers, the filmmaker is practically guaranteed to fail. Some history buff or another will note a flower blooming in the background that failed to make its way to England until say 1830. Someone else will take issue with the colour of a dress, that dye not being available before 1860, and another person will be absolutely appalled by the actresses’ makeup. Or, the filmmaker can flaunt convention and blaze a new trail, like Frank Sinatra crooning “I did it my way.” Not only has Bend It Like Beckham director Gurinder Chadha taken the road less traveled, Chadha has chosen to boldly go where no man has gone before. She takes Jane Austen to Bollywood, and we should all be grateful that she did.
Like Bridget Jones’s Diary and Clueless, Bride and Prejudice is not a line by line reenactment of the novel. It is an enjoyable romp under the guise of what if Jane Austen’s characters were living in our modern world? The answer seems to be that they would do and say very much the same things. This reaffirmation of the human spirit has to be reassuring to the viewer, and it seems unlikely that dear Aunt Jane would be much surprised to find us so little altered in 200 years, or 2,000 miles. Continue reading Bride and Prejudice: 2004
Jane Austen Novels Books Life and Times
JANE AUSTEN – A LIFE IN TWO WORLDS?
It is truth universally acknowledged that the author of these opening words, which are among the most famous in English literature, is perhaps the greatest writer the English language, indeed any language, has known, bar Shakespeare.
One might find it hard to think of a time when Jane Austen’s novels was not a byword for romantic fiction, and Pride & Prejudice, where the above quote derives, the last word on it. But there was, of course, such a time and this lasted up until the early years of the nineteenth century.
Once her novels began to be published, however, they came at a rate that would make Stephen King proud: Sense & Sensibility (1811); Pride & Prejudice (1813); Mansfield Park (1815); and Emma (1816). Add to this quartet the posthumous publication of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion in 1818, a year after Austen died, and it becomes one of most impressive canons of any writer.
For all the popularity of the novels during her lifetime, however, it was not until after her death that Jane Austen’s name became widely attached to them, having originally published them under the pseudonym A. Lady. And it is not until the last two decades has she achieved the world prominence reserved normally for pop stars and screen idols.
The question still remains though as to what exactly makes Austen so immensely popular in the modern day. The television and film adaptations have gone a long way, of course, but the fact remains that her books were being read, enjoyed and acclaimed more than a century before the first screen outing ever appeared.