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25 August 2010

Revisiting Pride and Prejudice


Lynna had a great post last week where she talked about this season at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and discussed their production of Pride and Prejudice. I saw the production as well (and liked it, I think, a bit better than Lynna did). Pride and Prejudice has been much on my mind lately. I recently bought an ipad, mostly because of the wonderful research books I could download (well that and because I wanted one). I've found I love reading on it. In addition to a whole library of research books for my Waterloo book, the first novel I downloaded on it is Pride and Prejudice, which I'm now re-reading.


Perhaps it's the different medium, but I've been noticing new things about it (but then I always find new things when I reread Austen). Interestingly, in light of our recent discussion of book openings, Austen jumps right into the action (the action being Bingley's and Darcy's arrival at Netherfield). It's only a bit later that she stops to explain the exact circumstances of the entail on Longbourn and the Bennet family history. The five Bennet sisters are differentiated through action and dialgoue as well, without a lot of long narrative descriptive passages. In many ways, there's something very crisp and "modern" about the story telling, which I find fascinating.

The 1940 movie of Pride and Prejudice was my first introduction to the Regency. Yes, the costumes are updated to something more like the late 1830s, but the movie sent me to the book and then to other Austen books. I fell in love with Austen’s novels and with the era in which they were written. The time period continues to fascinate me (I love writing in it), and I keep going back to Austen’s novels and to the film adaptations.

I’m still very fond of the 1940 Laurence Olivier-Green Garson movie. I know the costumes are the wrong era and the story is truncated and rearranged. But to me, the Aldous Huxley-Jane Murfin script captures a wonderful dry, satirical note that I love in the story (while at the same time having some beautifully romantic moments). In some ways, I think my image of Darcy will always be Laurence Olivier. I also love the A&E version with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth and the recent movie with Keira Knightley and Mathew McFadyen. All of the film adaptations capture different things I like in the book. Each adaptation has made me see new things in the book. For instance, in the Keira Knightley version, in the scene where Elizabeth insists she won’t marry Mr. Collins, for the first time I had a sense that she is actually afraid her father may take her mother’s side and insist on the marriage. This really drove home the precarious economic circumstances of the Bennet family. In the recent OSF stage production, some of the secondary characters came to life with wonderful vividness, particularly Mary, Kitty, and Lydia. Mary in particular was more touching and interesting than I usually find her. There was a wonderful, painful irony in the way the production pointed to the fact that Mary would be a good match for Mr. Collins and yet Mr. Collins ignores her.

No adaptation I've seen of Pride and Prejudice is precisely and completely my vision of the story, I think because the book is so rich and has so many layers and complexiites to explore. It’s a bit like seeing different productions of a Shakespeare play and getting new things each time one sees it.

What about you? Was your first introduction to Jane Austen from reading one of her books or seeing a film adaptation? Do you have a favorite film version of Pride and Prejudice or another Austen novel? Have you tried reading on an ipad or other e-reader?

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41 Comments:

OpenID isabelcooper said...

I first encountered Austen in the form of the BBC Pride and Prejudice miniseries, playing on continuous loop in my high school dorm room during finals week when I was a freshman. There was nothing quite as soothing for oh-God-I've-just-failed-everything-and-I-have-to-do-it-again-tomorrow nerves as flopping down with an ice cream sandwich and watching Darcy brood and Lizzy be witty. I picked up the book once I went home for vacation, and loved that too.

6:25 AM  
OpenID CSHolocene said...

Oo! I actually started with Sense & Sensibility, but I came to Austen as an adult. (I was an SF&F reader as a teenager, rather than romance.) I read it in preparation for seeing the 1995 Ang Lee version. I've since read the others, but Sense remains my favorite, mostly because of the economics. Every time I re-read Austen, I notice new economic nuances, most especially (in the current go round) the parallels between the Georgian class system and the modern unacknowledged one, with all of its economic consequences. The underlying economics show up in the others most certainly, but I think S&S is the one that shows most clearly the economic pressure elders placed on the subsequent generations at all levels of society.

I, too, have a iPad, and read on it quite a lot, though for me, it is most valuable for editing. I've been an ereader since the Handspring came out, so the large screen took some getting used to. I'm delighted that so many more books are available now, compared to the early days. I've always loved the portability of a thousand books in my pocket, and of always having a book at hand, even while waiting in the grocery line or the doctor's office.

6:48 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

My first Austen experience was reading Pride and Prejudice the summer after I graduated high school. No one told me to read it, I guess since I didn't have anymore summer reading I felt this would be a good book to read. Then I read Sense and Sensibility, which is my favorite Austen. Shortly after I found a copy of Northanger Abby with Ann Radcliffe's "The Italian", which introduced me to the Gothic Novel.

I have trouble deciding which movie adaptations are my favorites when it comes to Austen. I appreciate certain things about each of them. But when it comes to Sense and Sensibility, Alan Rickman steals my heart as Colonel Brandon.

7:24 AM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

My intro was the David Rintoul version (and yes, Rintoul IS Darcy for me, all others to the back of the bus, and McFadyen need not even apply for a ticket). I think I was thirteen when I saw it? Something like that anyway. I found the book in my parents’ library that night and it was an all-Austen summer (ok, it was Austen, horses and swimming).

8:32 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Isabel, there is something very comforting about the story! I too often watch one of the versions when I'm feeing stressed out. Was it the David Rintoul/Elizabeth Garvie version or the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle?

10:00 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Great point about "Sense and Sensibility" and economics, CS. I think the Ang Lee movie brings that out brilliantly. I love the moment at the end where Colonel Brandon tosses the coins in the air at the wedding. A gorgeous moment and yet it takes us back to the money that's been at the heart of so much of the action.

10:02 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Elizabeth, I love the Ang Lee "Sense and Sensibility." I think it's my favorite Austen adaptation over all--so rich and subtle, so full of nuances. What makes "Sense and Sensibility" your favorite Austen novel? Is it the economics and class system, like CS mentioned?

10:04 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Isobel, I think it's fascinating how many of us have seen one of the adaptations at a fairly young age and then decided to read the novel. I have to say, I have a hard time getting into the Rintoul/Garvie version, though the period look of it is gorgeous.

10:06 AM  
Blogger Laura's Reviews said...

My first experience with Pride and Prejudice was watching the A&E/BBC version when it first aired on television in 1995. I was in high school, lived in the country, and didn't have cable. I had to have a friend tape it for me. My sister, friends, and I loved it and watched it over and over. I read the novel for the first time shortly after that, then devoured all of Austen's novels. I've read countless reworkings and spin-offs since.

I've also noticed that each time I re-read an Austen novel I get something new out of it. I listened to Sense & Sensibility, Emma, and Mansfield Park on audiobook last year. It was a new adventure with Austen in a new medium. It really made me think that she wrote the novels to be read aloud to her family as they work so well as audiobooks.

1:16 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Laura, that's a great point about Austen probably writing the novels to be read aloud to her family. Reading aloud was so common in her era. I've listened to some audio versions, and I agree they work great.

My friends and I watched the A&E/BBC version over and over too. One time I was talking to a friend on the phone, with the series playing in the background, and my friend could tell just from the music that "this is the moment where Darcy's jumping into the lake."

1:21 PM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Terrific post, Tracy. My first experience of P&P in another form was the 1941 Olivier/Garson film and it still remains my touchstone out of all the adaptations, because it captures Austen's wit and tone (leaving most of the plot details that it does cover, intact). And how can you beat a screenplay by Aldous Huxley? I don't care that the costumes are the wrong era (at least they're more or less in the same era as each other ... Hollywood's idea of the 1840s.)

But, as much of a costume maven as I am, give me Austen's wit and tone above costume accuracy any day. The Firth/Ehle version was enjoyable, but rather earnest, if I recall; and the Knightley version was painful for me to watch on too many levels to discuss in a post comment. In the fall of 2009 (I think it was), I saw one of the 2 musical adaptations being workshopped, asked by the editor of Jane Austen's Regency World Magazine in Bath to cover the concert reading. It was hellacious in every way (for starters, the score was dreadful; all post-modernism wannabe with no musical homages to the melodies and tempi of Austen's era).

Which version is playing at Ashland? Is it a musical?

2:53 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

I agree about the Olivier/Garson P&P, Leslie! Though I like some of the other adaptations better than you do, that one always remains my touchstone, precisely because it does capture the tone so well. It's very cinematic in that it gets Austen's story and themes across in visual ways, like the carriage race at the beginning between Mrs. Bennet and Lady Lucas, both trying to get their husbands to be the first to call on Mr. Bingley or the archery contest between Darcy and Elizabeht. And it has that lovely scene we've talked about where Darcy hesitates at the door and says "this is perhaps the last time we shall meet. God bless you, Elizabeth"and then Elizabeth realizes too late that she wants him to come back.

The OSF adaptation is by Joseph Hanreddy and J.R. Sullivan. It isn't a musical. It's quite close to the book, using a lot of Austen's dialogue and getting in a lot of story details.

3:23 PM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

In the Olivier/Garson P&P I was always very bothered by the transformation of Lady Catherine into a benevolent do-gooder who's promoting the match between Lizzie and Darcy. It changes the story too much for me. It removes one of Darcy’s major moments of character growth. I minded that far more than the changing of the setting to the 1840s (the story still works just find whether you set it when the book was written, when it was published, or in the 1840s).

3:34 PM  
Blogger Allison Chase said...

Tracy, thanks for a timely post! I've been rereading the Austen novels all summer. The reason? Not that one needs one, but I was also feeling really stressed out and found nothing as soothing and comforting as curling up with Jane Austen's beautiful stories. Xanax for the soul, I call it.

When I was younger, Emma was my favorite, and I didn't care for Mansfield Park really at all. Now Emma seems a little too flightly (well, that is part of her character arc), Pride & Prejudice has become my favorite, and I found myself understanding and sympathizing much more with Fanny Price. Funny how our perspective changes over the years.

4:28 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

The changes to Lady Catherine in the Olivier/Garson version bother me, too, Isobel (I remember my mom commenting on that as well, though she loved the movie). I actually like the scene between Darcy and Lady Catherine after Lady Catherine speaks with Elizabeth, but I agree the arc of the story is better with Lady Catherine not changing. But it's not enough to ruin (or even damage) the movie for me.

4:59 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Totally agree about Jane Austen being soothing and comforting, Allison! Emma is close to P&P as my favorite Austen, though I'm also very found of Sense & Sensibility and Persuasion. I have to say, even returning to Mansfield Park as an adult, I have a hard time caring too much about Fanny Price. Or rather, I sympathize with her situation, but I still find her dull and priggish as a character.

5:02 PM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

MP, not a fav. I'm a Persuasion girl.

8:48 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

We read Persuasion in one of my college history classes. I got so many nuances out of it then that I missed first reading it as a pre-teen (though I loved it the first time). It's definitely a book I find more in as I get older.

9:02 PM  
Anonymous Sarah said...

I'm currently re-reading 'Sense and Sensibility' - the last time was at school, where we had to study the text at GCSE level! Not being a fan of Austen, I'm open to the newer adaptations which the purists tend to turn their noses up at - the Keira Knightley P+P is the first version which really brought the story to life for me, and it was the 2008 BBC production of S+S that made me buy my own copy of the novel again after so many years of avoiding the books. That would never happen with an author or a book I really love.

Also, I have completely fallen in love with Colonel Brandon, even though he is largely absent through most of the novel, to the point where I have just ordered a copy of Amanda Grange's 'Colonel Brandon's Diary' - I don't care if it's 'published fan fiction', I need to read more about him!

1:09 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

I think Austen, like Shakespeare, can stand up to a lot of different interpretations, Sarah. I enjoyed the 2008 S&S a lot, though my heart still belongs to the Ang Lee movie. Totally agree about Colonel Brandon. I always wanted him to end up with Elinor...

1:21 AM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

Totally agree about Colonel Brandon. I always wanted him to end up with Elinor...

Me too! I have such a hard time with that book. It's nearly impossible to respect Edward, which makes it hard to like him, or to think he's worthy of Elinor. And I feel the same way about the flighty Marianne. I just don't see long-lasting HEAs for either couple.

7:37 AM  
Anonymous Sarah said...

Tracy and Isobel, that's just what I'm thinking about Colonel Brandon and Elinor! I don't agree with Austen's final pairings at all, apart from that I want the Colonel to be happy! ;)

The Ang Lee version is too closely associated with studying the book at school for me, as we watched the film in class. Also, both Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet look far too old to play teenage sisters.

7:38 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Isobel and Sarah, I actually found Edmund more likable in both the Ang Lee movie and the recent BBC version. They somehow made me realize that he's being honorable by not giving Lucy (the opposite of Willoughby) instead of seeming wishy-washy, which he did the first time I read the book. I liked him a bit better the second time I read the book. Need to do another reread to see if he improves or if the adaptations just make him more likable.

Edward and Elinor at least seem compatible. I always worry that Brandon and Marianne don't have enough in common, but they both love music and books. She likes to be adored and he likes adoring her. So it could work. But I think Elinor and Colonel Brandon would have made a much more dynamic romance!

10:08 AM  
Anonymous Susan/DC said...

Actually, Kate Winslet was only 20 in 1995 (and therefore a bit younger when the film was actually made), so she was very close to Marianne's age. Emma Thompson was in her early 30's so was about a decade older than Elinor, but I love her in the role nonetheless because she's such a fine actor. If we can forgive making Lady Catherine into a matchmaking fairy godmother, we should certainly forgive Emma Thompson for casting herself in a lead role - besides, it's very romantic because (IIRC) she met Greg Wise on the set of S&S and they became a couple shortly thereafter.

10:20 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Hi Susan! Emma Thompson's age doesn't bother me at all in the movie actually. She and Kate Winslet (and the girl who plays Margaret, who's great), totally seem like sisters. There's a maturity to Elinor that a lot of 19/20-year-olds today don't have, and I think Emma Thompson is fabulous in the role.

10:52 AM  
Anonymous Sarah said...

Compared to Willoughby, Edward is at least honourable, but he's so weak! And Elinor waits for him! I think Austen realised she had backed him into a corner, because the last chapter of the book is almost block exposition, trying to explain away the sudden resolution of his predicament. Edward is also absent for about as much of the book as Brandon, cowering in Oxford, but he doesn't have the same strong character to survive it.

1:29 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Yes, Edward does rather fade into the woodwork. S&S is a brilliant book, but I find both love stories less than satisfying.

1:36 AM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

I feel like we're committing book treason . . . eep!

8:42 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Jane Austen can stand up to people pulling apart her books :-). As I said, I think S&S is a brilliant novel. I don't think of it as among my favorite, most satisfying love stories, but I also don't think Austen's intent was to write a love story. If it was, I think both Brandon and Edward would get more "stage time" as Sarah points out.

10:06 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Sense and Sensibility is in so many ways a practice book -- who remembers all those longueurs when Colonel Branden goes off to avenge or save his ward or whatever she is and whatever he does?

The rake and revenge themes, some critics wisely say, are 18th century holdovers that Austen figured out how to make her own with Wickham and later and perhaps even better dispensed with entirely, as in Persuasion (also my fave, Isobel). There's a lot of klutzy baggage in
S&S...

And yet, just when you least expect it you get -- poof! -- perfection. Not only the King Lear setpiece when M&E's sister-in-law persuades her husband he'd be doing them a favor by cutting them off without a penny. My hands-down favorite scenes are the bitchery between Elinor and Lucy Steele. Fan-effin-tastic.

5:06 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

The scene where Mrs. John Dashwood persuades her husband not to give anything to his stepmother and half-sisters is brilliant, Pam. And I love the scenes between Elinor and Lucy too. Also, it's a brilliant portrait of the relationship between two sisters. And as CSHolocene pointed out above, the role of economics in driving everyone's possibilities in life is very sharply etched.

5:59 PM  
Blogger Karthi said...

I see that the comments have veered off to S&S, but I shall stick to Pride and Prejudice - that I read at the age of 12 and immediately fell in love with - I guess being an Indian, I understood the girls' predicament very well because even today in our country, poor parents have a tough time marrying off their daughters. I haven't seen the Olivier version - but saw the other two - and must say that both have their merits. On the whole I am slightly partial towards the A&F version because it's longer and more detailed. And yes, you're right - each time I go back to the original text, it acquires more colour and meaning - guess that's what makes it a classic. Thanks for the article.

10:02 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Thanks for posting, Karthi! I too love the fact the A&E version can tell the story in such detail. Have you seen "Bride and Prejudice"? It retells the story in present-day India. From the perspective of an outside, who's never been to India, I thought it worked well. I'd love to get your take on it.

10:29 AM  
Anonymous Sharon said...

The 1980's BBC adaptation of P&P was my first Austen. It seems somewhat shabby in comparison with the other versions, but I've come to prefer it these last few years, perhaps because it leaves me wanting more rather than feeling saturated, as watching the Firth/Ehle version the 2nd time around made me feel. I am an odd one within a minority, I know.

As to S&S, I am also within the minority to regard the Elinor-Edward & Marianne-Colonel Brandon pairing in line with their character traits. Both Elinor & Edward may appear to stick to the conventions and propriety, but Elinor's practicality and Edward's lack of ambition actually made them the unconventional couple. Marianne and the Colonel are more conventional on the other hand: both idealize romantic love and behave according to their gender roles, or what's understood of their gender roles. Sometimes I fear for Elinor when I hear others speaking of pairing her with the Colonel. :)

11:27 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Interesting point about the 1980s P&P, Sharon! I will try to remember your and Isobel's comments the next time I watch it.

I do think Austen does a good of setting up that Elinor & Edward and Marianne & Brandon have similar personalities and interests. I just often think there'd be an interesting spark if Elinor were paired with Brandon. But I definitely think Austen sets up that both couples could be happy together.

1:46 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Glad this discussion is still going. I definitely agree with Sharon -- there's something nice and a little sad and very human about how Marianne eventually aims her romantic exuberance at being a lady of the manor.

While as for P&P -- this Friday I hope to present yet another view of it, when I write about Ann Herrendeen's recent bisexual retelling, called PRIDE/PREJUDICE.

10:45 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

It's fascinating how there's something "conventional" about idealized romantic love. Which probably has something to do with the fact that my characters don't tend to fall into idealized romantic love :-).

Look forward to your post, Pam!

2:52 PM  
Anonymous Sarah said...

On the subject of 'Sense and Sensibility', may I just squeeze in a recommendation for Amanda Grange's novel 'Colonel Brandon's Diary'? This is the first sequel/continuation of a classic novel I have read that actually does justice to the original, so well researched and beautifully written is Brandon's story. She really builds on Austen's quiet hero, filling in the blanks about his past and tragic love affair, but also adding a more hopeful union between the Colonel and Marianne. Grange has Marianne finally recognising Willoughby's faults and selfishness, and realising how immature she has been to mock Colonel Brandon for his age and experience. It's just lovely, and I not only fell for the Colonel all over again, but came to appreciate Marianne too! How's that for writing?

Fans of Colonel Brandon should definitely add Amanda Grange's version to their bookshelves.

5:58 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Thanks for the recommendation, Sarah! Colonel Brandon definitely has a rich back story to explore. And I like the idea that the book expands on his relationship with Marianne.

11:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a large collection of Pride & Prejudice continues books. Some are great, some not so great. I have to disagree with you all. My very favorite P & P movie is Matthew Mcfadyen as Mr. Darcy. I thought he was perfect. Kiera Knightley was also great. Colin Firth is not my idea of a romantic man. He is great in the Bridget Jones movies, but he is no Mr. Darcy.

11:39 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Thanks for posting, Anonymous! I think it's fascinating how different people get different things out of the various adpatation. As I mentioned, I really like the Keira Knightley/Mathew Macfadyen P&P as well as the Ehle/Firth one, though the Garson/Olivier version remains my favorite in many ways.

11:35 PM  

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