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Posts Tagged ‘Jane Austen Adaptations’

completeworksJane Austen wrote six novels. You can almost count them on one hand. Those books, and a smattering of Juvenilia, a few uncompleted manuscripts, and a number of letters – some fragmented, most missing blocks of years – are all that we have of Jane Austen’s legacy in writing. Yet these little bits of ivory contain such a vastness of riches that one can spend a lifetime exploring them.

Not only did Jane inspire some of the best minds of her generation, but 192 years after her death her legacy still lives on, spawning imitators and sequel makers and inspiring an entire genre in literature. Her topics were circumscribed and narrow, which is the key to her timelessness. By focusing on the essential and not that which was fashionable, her writings remain fresh, relevant, and current. Jane Austen’s works are popular the world over and, observing from the number of websites, blogs, and discussion forums devoted to her on the World Wide Web, interest in her is still increasing and cuts across cultures and generations.

iheartdarcylgpride_and_prejudice_cb2(1)You haven’t truly arrived until you’ve been imitated. Like Shakepeare, Jane’s works invite hordes of copyists, with new books, movies, games, and comics based on her work and life cropping up monthly. Satirists are having as much fun with our Jane as with Shakespeare. Action figures and finger puppets abound, and famous lines are quoted with a modern twist every day. With Shakespeare it might be, “To eat, or not to eat, that is the question,” while Jane’s famous opening line morphs into, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a writer in need of a plot must steal from Jane Austen.” We quoth our Jane evermore, but, lacking her biting wit and brilliant insights, we fall short every time.

sense and sensibility and sea monstersAnd now it seems that the Jane Austen industry has descended into monster sequel and adaptation madness, regurgitating these popular culture books at an unholy rate. The new crop of Jane Austen adaptations include Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Mr. Darcy, Vampyre Slayer, Pride and Predator, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. What’s next? Emma and the Loch Ness Monster? King Kong Conquers Northanger Abbey? Mr. Bingley, Werewolf?

At least Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was sensible enough to retain 80% of Jane’s words. Currently, I am barely slogging through Mr.Darcy, Vampyre. The book purports to be about Jane Austen-named characters, but their actions, speech, and motivation have nothing to do with Pride and Prejudice. Neither can Amanda Grange’s writing hold a candle to either Jane’s spare, witty style or Anne Rice’s evocative and decadent language in her masterful first novel, Interview With the Vampire. One suspects that Source Books has rushed this vanity novel out to take advantage of the Monster and Jane Craze. And now Quirk Books has announced the publication of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. Have you seen the trailer? Uggh. The book has retained only 60% of Jane’s words, which means it will be even more action oriented than P&P and Zombies. While thirteen year old boys are whooping for joy in anticipation of this book, we lovers of literature are scratching our heads, knowing that its publisher and author will be happily scooping up dollars at the bank. Meanwhile a more talented and original writer, unable to get a foot through that publisher’s door, will have to work at Burger King to pay the rent.
Mr Darcy, Vampyre cover
And then there are the Jane Austen and sex sequels. Last year, a sequel had Darcy and his Elizabeth making love at least 19 times in the first half of the book. I am currently awaiting two sexy sequels with a bit of trepidation, but I will be frank with you, if these two books are merely about titillation, I won’t be giving them a kind review. There’s a popular cultural reason why the American ending of Pride and Prejudice 2005 contains this scene, which our British cousins didn’t have to see. “Nuff said.

Not for me these wannabe imitators, these pale, faceless shadows of a literary genius whose sun shines so brightly that I reread her words regularly without tiring of her. Enough, I say, of this monstrous Jane Austen sequel trend.  Fun is fun, but desecration is another thing. I know many people feel that this is an innovative way to introduce young people to Jane Austen’s splendid novels. I say, let’s stop the monster madness now and introduce Jane to new readers in a more proper way.

More on this topic

  • Making light: Incorporate Electrolyte : This blogger wrote tongue in cheek about a possible sequel entitled Mary Bennet, Vampyre Slayer way back in 2007. Her plot outline is funnier than any of the current crop of books

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PBS Masterpiece Classic resumed The Complete Jane Austen last Sunday with the rebroadcast of the 1997 adaptation of Emma. My favorable review of the film sits in the post below. Ellen Moody expressed different thoughts about Mr. Knightley in her blog, Ellen and Jim Have a Blog, Too. Click here to read why she thinks there’s something odd about him.

Ellen is the creator of the Jane Austen almanac. If you haven’t yet come across her calendars of Jane’s novels, click here. They are remarkably useful.

Kaye Daycus compared the two Emmas in her Fun Friday review. I wonder what she’ll come up with for this Friday?

As always, there’s a lively discussion going on at Austen Blog. This time it’s Emma’s turn. Join in the fun and leave your opinion.

Over at Jane Austen Today, the second guest blogger, Barbara Larochelle, moderator of the Sense and Sensibility discussion group at The Republic of Pemberley, gives us her thoughts about the new film adaptation of Sense & Sensibility. I believe she likes it.

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Is Sunday night’s broadcast of the 1997 A&E version of Emma on Masterpiece Classic worth watching? Absolutely! Even those who liked Gwyneth Paltrow’s elegant interpretation of 20 year-old Miss Woodhouse as much as I did, will find Kate Beckinsale’s bossy Emma satisfying in a more down-to-earth way. When Kate made this film she had just completed her role as Flora Poste in Cold Comfort Farm, a surprise cinematic hit.

Miss Emma Woodhouse, 20-year-old self-satisfied spinster

Kate plays the part of an interfering, well-meaning young woman with youthful ease and assurance. In addition, this actress is truly British, and she moves, talks, and acts naturally through the English landscape. I am always delighted to see a British actress play a British character (My apologies to Gwyneth, Renee Zellweger, and Anne Hathaway). I know many will disagree with me, but at times Gwyneth reminded me too much of a beautiful high fashion model with her uber thin, attenuated figure and modern facial features. She was as lovely to view as an Ingres line drawing, but I could relate to Kate’s old-fashioned prettiness better.

As you can see from the photos below, Kate’s range as an actress, when compared to supporting actress Samantha Morton, is somewhat limited. Nevertheless, she possessed sufficient acting chops to tackle this challenging role.

In these images (from left to right, top to bottom), Kate as Emma expresses 1) interest in Harriet when speaking to Mrs.Goddard, 2) a mixture of hurt and anger when listening to a lecture by Mr. Knightley, 3) proud admiration in viewing Mr. Knightley’s house, 4) disbelief and tender joy when Mr. Knightley proposes to her, 5) horror to Mr. Elton’s proposal, 6) envy listening to Jane Fairfax’s superior performance at the piano, 7) dreaminess after she and Mr. Knightley have declared their love for each other, and 8. polite and covert interest in Jane Fairfax as Miss Bates extols Jane’s virtues.
I love this reaction shot of Kate (below), whose expressions conveyed several emotions at once. Here, Emma has walked into Mr. Knightley’s sitting room, where she encounters her father by a small fire. Her face captures the combination of love, patience, forbearance, and puzzlement that Emma must have felt toward her father, as he once again frets and worries over minor points of comfort.

Miss Harriet Smith, 17-year old natural daughter of a gentleman

Movie buffs require no introduction to Samantha Morton, an actress so talented that one’s eyes immediately turn to her when she enters a scene.

Samantha’s Harriet Smith is all about innocence, naiveté, and puppyish eagerness to please. Her will – weak and easily persuaded – is sweet and passive. Emma couldn’t have found a more tractable person for her next project in matchmaking. Samantha’s artless Harriet, however, does not come across as dumb, for she often, though softly, questions Emma, and one senses throughout the film that she is unwilling quite to let go of her dream of living in a pretty yellow cottage with her yeoman farmer, Mr. Martin, and his two friendly, well-educated sisters. In Samantha’s interpretation of Harriet, we finally see a young woman worthy of Emma’s attempts at improvement.

While Toni Collette is a fine actress, whose turn as Cole’s frantic mother in The Sixth Sense moved me to tears, her plump, dumbed down Harriet left me perplexed and wondering what the elegant Gwyneth/Emma ever saw in her.

Mr. Knightley, 37-year-old gentleman, owner of Donwell Abbey, and Emma’s brother-in-law

Mark Strong’s Mr. Knightley sets the movie’s serious tone. His hawk-like features are dark, almost sinister, and his lithe, athletic figure moves with animal grace. In fact, Mark’s Mr. Knightley is dangerously and forcefully handsome, but not in a classical sense. His interpretation of Emma’s friend and lover is more vigorous than Jeremy Northam’s. Under repeated viewing and scrutiny, Mark’s performance holds up well. His angry encounters with Emma are a perfect foil to the moments when he is caught off guard tenderly watching her or smiling at something she has done or said, and after he proposes to her.
The change in Mark’s Mr. Knightley is most evident at the Harvest Ball, where he cannot contain his love for Emma. Many critics thought that this particular Mr. Knightley was too forceful, however I found that once he expressed his feelings for Emma, the change in his demeanor contributed to a completely satisfying romantic ending. The wolf has been tamed, and while we suspect that this Mr. Knightley will always be an exacting and demanding lover (ooh la la!), we also know that he will cherish Emma forever.

Critics of this movie will say it is too dark in tone, that the light-hearted spirit of Jane’s comedic novel was better captured by the 1996 theatrical film. Frankly, I prefer this film’s meatier fare. While Emma’s generous spirit and sincere interest in her charity work are largely ignored in this film version (and emphasized in Gwyneth’s Emma), Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax are allowed to play out their charade under everyone’s noses, Bernard Hepton as Mr. Woodhouse is given free reign to explore his character, and the backdrop of regency life and manners is filmed in minute detail.

One of the film’s most important characters is the village of Highbury (played by Laycock, a National Trust village in Wiltshire.) This village is peopled with gentry, artisans, craftsmen, servants, and laborours going about their business. As the protagonists move through this landscape, the evidence of regency life playing itself out fascinated me – from Emma’s courtesy visits to Miss Bates – to the ball at the Crown Inn – to the seating at table, with Emma in the position of hostess, and Mrs. Elton and Mrs. Weston at the head of the table with Mr. Woodhouse – to the footman holding the candelabra up to Harriet’s picture so that everyone could see it better – to the farmers and their families harvesting grain before The Harvest Ball.

I found Gwyneth’s world overly beautiful, refined, and Hollywood-sanitized, but Kate’s world showed some rough edges, most particularly when depicting exactly how much hard labor was involved in supporting the lavish lifestyle of the landed gentry. Who can forget the strawberry picking scene at Donwell Abbey where footmen dressed in livery (an extreme sign of wealth) stood by each guest, moving the kneeling cushions along the rows of strawberries; or the servants laboring to cart furniture, dishes, and food up Box Hill in order to provide a bucolic outing for the guests? Or Frank’s gift of the piano being hoisted up to the second floor of Mrs. and Miss Bates’s rooms, because the stairs were too steep, winding, and narrow?

These typical touches of an Andrew Davies script influenced my decision: I prefer this cinematic version of Emma. Oh, please do feel free to quibble. As I watch Gwyneth’s version of Emma again, my preference just might swing back to that movie. When it comes to all things Jane Austen, I am known to be fickle!

Watch Emma tonight on Masterpiece Classic at 9 p.m. Read the reviews about Emma on PBS’s Remotely Connected, and details at this PBS site.

Can’t get enough of Emma? Please click on the following:

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Jane Austen Today will feature four guest writers in the next four weeks to discuss Emma, Sense and Sensibility, and the last three weeks of The Complete Jane Austen on PBS. The first entry with Kali Pappas is up. Kali wrote about what she knew best: the costumes that were used in Emma 1997, and how these clothes reflected character. The post is titled: Fashionable Emma Woodhouse: Costuming in Austen’s Emma Adapted. Kali created Emma Adaptations, the definitive blog about Emma. If you haven’t visited her blog, you are in for a treat. Along the way, stop over at Jane Austen Today and read her fabulous contribution.

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They had a very fine day for Box Hill … Nothing was wanting but to be happy when they got there. Seven miles were travelled in expectation of enjoyment, and every body had a burst of admiration on first arriving…Jane Austen, Emma


One of the most famous scenes in Emma is the picnic scene on Box Hill. Picnics were becoming increasingly popular at the turn of the nineteenth century, when romantic sensibility influenced the trend of eating out of doors as a way to commune with nature. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term picnic originally meant “A fashionable social entertainment in which each person present contributed a share of the provisions; now, A pleasure party including an excursion to some spot in the country where all partake of a repast out of doors: the participants may bring with them individually the viands and means of entertainment, or the whole may be provided by some one who ‘gives the picnic’. ”

Even though picnicking became increasingly popular, arranging one was often no easy matter. According to Andrew Hubbell, author of How Wordsworth Invented Picnicking and Saved British Culture*:

To picnic is to consume not only particular food, but also a specific environment chosen according to an aesthetic standard, and a particular form of sharing food according to certain standards of behaviour. It means creating a moveable feast and overcoming difficulties and inconveniences, not only for preparation and transportation,but also for consumption and cleanup. Yet picnicking is the pleasurable pursuit of a leisured people, so the difficulty of moving the feast has some reward. The reward is primarily ideological: it enables the participant to share a form of eating that creates relationships between small groups of people, natural landmarks, and cultural ideals. These relationships form a consciousness of national identity. Picnicking, especially for early nineteenth-century picnickers, was thus away of performing Britishness.


This Romantic aesthetic can be witnessed in the A&E version of Emma, to be show on PBS this Sunday. Box Hill, the setting of Emma’s famous picnic, and comprising of woods and grassland, offered a spectacular view of the surrounding countryside. The experience of eating in such a beautiful setting would appeal to both the eye and palate. Box Hill is covered with box trees, yew trees. and beeches and oaks. To this day, the area is filled with flowers and the sound of bird song, and fully two-thirds of the British butterfly species have been recorded at this site.**
As is still the custom, each member or group invited to a regency picnic brought a dish, usually carried in wicker baskets, for the others to enjoy. In this way a variety of dishes would be shared and tasted. However, without someone to guide them, guests would often bring similar foods. As picnics became more organized and elaborate, one person would take charge of assigning the dishes, ensuring the non-duplication of foods, or a host would offer to take over the responsibility of providing all the food.

As the 1997 A&E film demonstrates, these elegant and sumptuous picnics were not easy to accomplish. Teams of horses were arranged to transport wagons with picnickers, servants, food, and outdoor furniture. If the picturesque spot was located in an out of the way place, the party had to walk the remainder of the way with the supplies. The servants would lay out the dishes, and tables and cloths al fresco. After the parties had dined, these supplies needed to be repacked.

In the film, the servants were shown constantly working to provide a leisurely and pleasurable outing for the picnickers. Their hard work was for naught, however, since no one in the party, most particularly Emma, seemed to be having a good time. As the afternoon progressed, the underlying tension among the diners erupted with Emma’s cruel comment towards Miss Bates.

The Box Hill scene in Emma is pivotal. After Emma insults Miss Bates, Mr. Knightley angrily confronts her about her behavior. Unable to remain blind to her own faults, Emma begins to change and grow. She realizes how much she craves Mr. Knightley’s good judgment, which leads her to a later revelation that she loves him.

Interestingly, at the strawberry-picking at Donwell Abbey the day before, Mr. Knightley says to Mrs. Elton: “The nature and the simplicity of gentlemen and ladies, with their servants, and furniture, I think is best observed by meals within doors.” Given how utterly the Box Hill excursion failed to entertain the picnickers, his words were prophetic.

To read more about the origins of picnics, and about Box Hill, click on the long list of links below.

Box Hill, Emma

Physical Setting of Box Hill

The History of Picnics


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You can download a podcast of Jonathan Bing’s audio interview with Joe Wright, director of Pride and Prejudice 2005, and Donald Sutherland, who played Mr. Bennet (left). Or you can click on the link and simply listen to it from your computer. This podcast is part of the LA Variety Screening Series of 2005.

As an interesting aside, Annie Coleman, a reader for Librivox, offers her recording of Pride and Prejudice on her website. Click here to listen to the book or to download the podcasts, which are free. You can also listen to her other podcasts, such as Anne of Green Gables and the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Joe Wright and Keira Knightley

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