evenings with Jane Austen

Earlier this summer, I was on a Jane Austen kick (we’d just got back from a busy vacation and were dealing with sickness–and all I wanted were cosy, comfort reads or films).

Persuasion

Persuasion

My first Jane Austen craving was a desire to re-watch the 1995 Persuasion adaptation, starring Amanda Root. I’ve also watched the 2007 adaptation, which is shorter and disappointed me greatly by leaving out my favorite line from the book. Really, how else are you going to persuade Sir Elliot to rent Kellynch Hall to the Crofts without pointing out that a married lady with no children is a great preserver of furniture? The later adaptation also had Anne running amok all over Bath (that is so not Austen), but the Captain Wentworth was more handsome and broody. Trade-offs, trade-offs.

But handsomeness of actors aside, I prefer the older Persuasion which remains truer to the book (save in their portrayal of Helen Smith and their completely changing Mr. Elliot’s motivations for courting Anne) and in spite of Amanda Root’s deer-in-the-headlights look for far too much of the movie.

Then I re-read the book, and was reminded again what a hard role Anne Elliot is to play. Anne is a quiet woman, with an understated manner. She’s past her bloom, yet has enough delicate prettiness to attract attention. She is not a type of heroine who’s found a lot in modern books and movies.  It’s a lot easier to play spunky Elizabeth Bennet than it is to play an Anne Eliot with her elegant mind and sweet characterwithout making her look like a doormat.

Sense and Sensibility

Sense and Sensibility

In the case of Sense and Sensibility I confess to loving the 2008 adaptation more than the book itself (shocking, I know!). The rather bland leading men of the book are rounded out and made more heroic in the movie. Colonel Brandon is not the relic of the book, but honorable, mature, active and attractive. Edward Ferrars is played engagingly by twinkle-eyed Dan Stevens (Matthew from Downton Abbey). Marianne’s histrionics over the loss of Willoughby are downplayed in the movie without losing any of the emotion. Elinor Dashwood remains an admirable, common-sensical young woman. And the adaptation does a fine job of putting the Dashwoods’ new cottage right on the cliffs with the wild wonderful sea as the backdrop. The location is absolutely stunning.

(I also much prefer this adaptation to the more famous Emma Thompson/Kate Winslet movie.)

Northanger Abbey

Northanger Abbey

I watched Masterpiece Theater’s Northanger Abbey for the first time, and found movie kinder to the characters than the book itself. Austen does not seem to really like her characters very much, which is off-putting to me as the reader. The movie deals much more gently with the romantic-minded Catherine Morland and the love that Henry Tilney bears for her (in spite of his disinheritance by his formidably snobbish father).

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Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Mansfield Park did not make it on to my reading and watching lists for various reasons. Right now, P&P suffers–in my mind–too much from over-exposure. I’ve never cared much for Emma and what I vaguely remember of the Gwyneth Paltrow movie seemed too contemporary (in attitude) for my tastes. I despised poor Fanny Price when I read Mansfield Park as a young teen–I suspect I’d be kinder to her today.

What is your favorite Austen book and/or adaptation?

Comments

  1. Ooo! So long since I got out on the Internet to blogs of those I value. It’s been too long so thanks for putting up Jane Austen and Persuasion which I started reading this morning! Don’t you just love coincidences like that? :)
    I don’t remember your favourite line from this book but I will look-out for it.

    Modern reading seems to be about speed and action, and if one reads Jane Austen other than slowly (I find reading it aloud really helps), small gems and nuggets can be skipped over and left forever unseen! So thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing that sentence which made me smile.

    July with all it’s anniversaries connected with Mr Prue, and the anniversary of the service of thanksgiving for his life which is this coming Friday, have sent me looking for comfort reading, so my picking up Persuasion isn’t a surprise. What is a surprise is that I haven’t read it for years.

    Pride and Prejudice has to be my favourite – perhaps because we read it at school, in depth, and because it’s so light and, in many ways, the heroine is a ‘modern’ woman. Colin Firth was a very good Mr Darcy but Elizabeth was nothing like my idea of her. I find adaptations generally disappointing but if they get people reading Austen then they are a Good Thing.

    Better stop there. Could write a whole essay on J.A. :D
    Prue x

    PS Jane Austen is going to replace Charles Darwin on one of our banknotes. I wonder what she would have thought of that?

    • Prue! How lovely of you to stop by! I’m glad that you’re seeking companionship during a time of painful remembrance–and I’m glad this blog topic was timely. What a coincidence that you’re re-reading PERSUASION. It’s my favorite Jane Austen. I love second chance stories and more mature heroines (a reflection of the fact I’m no longer a young woman, no doubt!).

      PRIDE & PREJUDICE was one of the texts for my literature A-levels. It was definitely much easier going than T. S. Eliot, Chaucer or D. H. Lawrence!

      • What a lovely welcome! Thank you! :)
        I’ve been reading Persuasion today and found the comment about the furniture :D
        Also got out The Green Ribbon and am half-way reading through that.

  2. I love the 2008 Sense and Sensibility adaptation! I felt like that whole run of remakes was really good, including Emma (which is usually not my favorite Austen story). Definitely good “comfort watches” :)

    • Oh, I will have to check out Emma, on your recommendation! The Sense and Sensibility adaptation is edging out the P&P one on my favorites list at this point in my life. I love so much about it. :)

  3. I collect Austen DVDs, but somehow have never come across the 2008 Sense and Sensibility (0r seen it — it can’t have been screened here yet) OR the version of Northanger Abbey you mention. Shock horror! Must rectify!
    I love the Amanda Root version of Persuasion too — oh, dash it, I love both versions for different reasons. But I agree the earlier one is grittier and more true to the book.
    I have two versions of Emma — the latter stars Kate Beckinsale. I like them both, but not as much as some of the others. The version of Northanger Abbey I have is different — it has Carey Mulligan in it, but not as Catherine. I’ve also seen a really weird 80s version of NA. Wouldn’t recommend that one!
    I do confess to still loving P&P. The long, the short, depending on how much time I have. :-)
    I can’t pick a favourite at all.

    • Oh, I like P&P, too, still. Like I said, I’m a little worn out by its popularity–and all the P&P adaptations and inspired-by books/movies/whathaveyou. It’s been worse in the last year or so, too.

      Which is your favorite version of Emma?

  4. Okay, at the risk of getting myself kicked off your blog for good, I’ve NEVER read Jane Austen, and I’ve NEVER watched any of the movie adaptations. I have, however, read Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, which I enjoyed a great deal. I was actually grateful for the zombies, because I knew 10 pages in that Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy were going to end up together, and wasn’t sure I otherwise would have bothered to slog through 200 pages to get them from point A to point B.
    Now, my favorite adaptation is Pride & Prejudice & Curling Rocks by Andrea Marie Brokaw. It’s a charming YA book that seems to mix up the plots of a couple different Austen novels – set in contemporary upstate New York – teenagers involved in curling and hockey – lots of fun to read.
    So…yeah…I hope you let me come back, now that you’ve seen the real me…
    ;)

    • Hey, I love Austen, but not to *that* extent. People who don’t like Austen aren’t dead to me–I save that for people who don’t like the “North & South” TV adaptation starring Richard Armitage. ;)

      I will check out the Brokaw book.

  5. Alas! You have named my favorite among your least favorites. Emma. I read her again just the other night because I had a serious hankering for the Mr. Knightleys. Emma herself is (to Austen), unlikeable, but to me a loveable snob primarily because she is self-aware enough to acknowledge her faults, come to understand them, genuinely repent, and be genuinely loving through all of it. That in itself keeps her in my favor, though I certainly skipped re-reading certain scenes of the Elton fiasco. But I adore Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax’s story more with each re-read. The book is richer for multiple readings. I love that about it.

    I do like Pride and Prejudice but it isn’t one I’d return to very often. Perhaps the overdoing it going around right now. Sense and Sensibility was tolerable to me only as I could bypass some of the histrionics. And I had the hardest time to keeping the male characters straight. You called them bland; that may be why I never could keep them all sorted properly, which naturally diminished my enjoyment of the tale.

    I have started on Persuasion at your suggestion but have not finished it as yet. I’m doing less novel-length reading in digital format lately, but I assume that will shift with my moods as everything else.

    • I haven’t read Emma since I was a teen. I’ll re-read it one of these days, to see if the intervening years have given me a different perspective. I intend to re-read Mansfield Park, too. My teenage self was a rather unforgiving reader. :D

      Marianne’s histrionics in Sense and Sensibility were hard to bear. The mini-series I mentioned does a good job of toning those down.

  6. There was a Bollywood movie, ‘Bride and Prejudice’ a few years ago, based on P&P. I really enjoyed it and it was great fun working out who was who.

    As for Mr Knightly – Mark Strong played him so very well. Since those days, Strong has gone in for playing ‘baddies’ but he always has something of Mr Knightly about him for me :)

  7. My favorite has always been Emma, with my favorite adaptation of it being the film Clueless. In light of that, it’s a little weird that I wound up writing an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (Thank you, Liv Rancourt, for the shout out! I’m so glad you liked it!), but these things happen. :)

  8. I always liked Emma. I think I got about half-way through the book before I started to, though. It’s been a long time, so I can’t remember what changed for me, but I never thought the Platrow adaptation (while great fun) did it justice. I, too, have the Beckinsale version, which I think is much better – it lets you see more of the bored young woman trying (misguidedly) to fill her days rather than just the ‘rich snob’.

    Persuasion was, at the time I read it, my favorite JA book. It’s been a very, very long time, but I remember absolutely loving it. I always thought Amanda Root adaptation was always a little boring, though. And I agree about the dear-in-headlights look.

    You mentioned North and South…have you seen Wives and Daughters (also by Elizabeth Gaskell)? It’s excellent! The heroine, Molly Gibson, reminds me a little of Pursuasion’s Anne and seems to be what insipid little Fanny Price *could* have been…if only. Molly is played with charm and spunk (i.e. not like a doormat) despite her quiet, selfless nature, by a young woman named Justine Waddell. I haven’t read the book so I don’t know how closely it follows the story, but it’s an excellent BBC mini-series, at any rate.

    I didn’t know about the 2008 S&S…I’ll have to go look for it!

    • Yes! I have seen the Wives and Daughters adaptation and I love the way Molly Gibson was depicted. I believe there is much more of a resolution in the miniseries than in the book itself,

      I’ll try the Beckinsale version of Emma. But first, I should re-read the book and see if Emma’s grown on me. :D

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