Adapting Austen

Almost as delightful as pouring over one of Austen’s books is watching it come to life in a television or film adaptation. Finally, the characters exist somewhere other than your head/dreams/imagination! (Hopefully that’s not that just me…)

 

But, in my opinion, not all adaptations of Austen’s work were created equally. So, I’m going to quickly go over my favorites here and how they had a part in influencing my upcoming novel, Aerendgast: The Lost History of Jane Austen (soon to be published by Meryton Press).

 

Pride and Prejudice
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This is a tough one. And no doubt some of you will disagree with me. I know how you feel, I was once you. I swore up and down that the Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle P&P was THE ONLY version worth seeing. It’s so incredibly true to the book, and the genius addition of the lake scene is now so infamous that a town in the UK erected this to celebrate the book’s 200th birthday:

 

However, I have to say that the Matthew Macfadyen and Keira Knightley version from a few years ago is my absolutely favorite hands down. I know lots was cut out for time. I know it’s not 100% true to the book. I know that Keria isn’t everyone’s ideal Lizze and Matthew isn’t everyone’s ideal Darcy. But what the film does incredibly well, better than most, is perfectly capture the tone of the book through cinematography and score. The result is that the feeling I get watching the movie is the same feeling I get reading the book. For example, the first time Darcy proposes to Lizzie, in the film, it’s raining. As the scene escalates, the rain pours down harder and harder, evoking the feelings of Darcy and Lizzie in that moment without the aid of a narrator.

 

Sense & Sensibility
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Another controversial choice, I know. Believe me, I love Alan Rickman. I love Emma Thompson. But, my favorite S&S is the BBC’s recent version with Charity Wakefield, Hattie Morahan, and Dan Stephens (pre-Downton Abbey!). First of all, I love this cast. David Morrisey, Janet McTeer, Dominic Cooper; everyone is perfection. But again, this adaptation captures, in a way previous versions have not, the isolation of the Dashwood’s, the limited choices the girls have once their father dies and their step brother refuses to help them, and the way that love evolves as we grow up. These themes are reflected in the beautifully desolate locations and the time and care given to the pace of the story.

 

Emma
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Two words: Jeremy Northam. There is no other Mr. Knightley. He is so swoon-worthy in this role that I will still watch literally anything he is in, because he was once Mr. Knightley. There was one summer in high school that I must’ve watched this version of Emma (starring Gwyneth Paltrow) once a day. It’s not perfect, Emma is a much nicer person that she is in the book, large pieces of the plot are missing, but it manages to capture the seriousness and silliness of the book while adding a bit of whimsy that’s completely new.

 

Northanger Abbey
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One of my favorite novels by Austen (I find Henry Tilney just delightful), Northanger hasn’t been adapted often. Felicity Jones and JJ Field do an absolutely wonderful job in Masterpiece’s recent adaption of Austen’s first novel. The Gothic satire shines through and there’s another top-notch rain scene that is 100% dreamy. Trust me.

 

As this post is becoming a novel itself I’ll save Mansfield Park and Persuasion for another day.

 

Being able to watch Austen adaptions helps me visualize the time, place, and circumstances of Austen’s life in a way that books can’t always provide. Seeing her characters come to life helps me pick and choose how to incorporate them into my book. In Aerendgast, Jane Austen’s life becomes much more tragic than any of her characters’, but it’s through a combination of reading her words and watching them on the screen that I was able to rewrite her story. Aerendgast: The Lost History of Jane Austen, will be published by Meryton Press in April.

 

Disagree with my list? Let’s talk about it in the comments!

 

Jane Austen’s Lasting Legacy

Jane Austen, and her writing, have become so mainstream that she has an action figure–complete with writing desk and quill pen. So I’m asking a question that hundreds have no doubt asked before me: Why?

I wrote my Master’s dissertation on another famous author, Dickens, and how his writing on London continues to shape peoples’ perceptions of that city. The short answer is that his writing is nuanced and compelling; the longer one is that he was writing at a specific time and place, the beginning of the modern era; when, for the first time, charities were being formed to helped the poor that he was writing about; books were being shipped to America and all across the world; he was writing about the city at the center of the Universe at a time when its influence and reach was peaking; etc.

But Austen’s lasting popularity is of an entirely different sort. She isn’t known for sweeping descriptions of famous places, or tackling social issues that plagued the country. She wrote about people. And she wrote about them honestly.

Austen’s stories remain incredibly relevant while transporting the reader back to an age that, frankly, sometimes seems like a dream when juxtaposed with the more mundane realities of our day to day lives–even though, as we know, it was not. Somewhat ironically, her characters feel that same dullness and want of something more that we do. Emma Woodhouse thinks she needs to be the world’s greatest matchmaker so that she has a purpose. Kitty and Lydia Bennett long for dances, travel, and a chance to see the regiment, as ways of varying their unrewarding daily routine. Catherine Morland imagines she is the heroine in a Gothic horror because she has not had an opportunity to go out and live her own adventures. This is what endears them to us. We have an instant connection with them, we understand them, we see ourselves in them. As a result, they mean more to us than other characters we come across in novels.

One of the ideas I thought about when writing my book was the fact that Austen herself couldn’t have lived a very happy life. Never married (even after one or two suitors), lived with her parents until she died in the early forties, novels that were only moderate successes in her lifetime. So how did she create some of the most joyous love stories ever put to pen? In Aerendgast, I’ve rewritten her story with twists and turns, joys and sadness. But more than anything else I’ve tried to give her a voice beyond just that of just the spinster, the author, the chick lit icon. I’ve attempted to make her a three dimensional person with the fears, hopes, worries, and dreams like the rest of us.

Aerendngast will be published April 1, 2014.