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Jane Austen on Film

Discussion in 'The Box Office' started by Michie, May 8, 2021.

  1. Michie

    Michie Human rights begin in the womb. Supporter

    United States
    There’s no knowing for sure, of course. I may be wrong. But I doubt that Jane Austen would quite have approved of the movies. We know from Penny Gay’s Jane Austen and the Theatre that she was a keen theatre goer whenever she had the chance and was even quite undiscriminating in her taste, which ranged from Edmund Kean’s Shylock at Drury Lane in 1814 to the lurid melodramas of which we find several parodies among her juvenilia. But there is and always has been titillating, voyeuristic quality to the movies, a sense of the camera’s inevitable intrusion into personal and domestic privacy, that must have made moving pictures more like the amateur dramatics and amateur actors of which we know, from their treatment in Mansfield Park, that she disapproved. There, in arguing against the amateur performance of Lover’s Vows — a play about extra-marital sex and illegitimacy — Edmund Bertram pleads against his brother Tom’s contention that their absent father would approve of it because he approved of their declaiming Shakespeare when they were boys: “My father wished us, as school-boys, to speak well,” says Edmund, “but he would never wish his grown up daughters to be acting plays. His sense of decorum is strict.”

    So was Jane Austen’s sense of decorum strict, like that of her alter ego, Fanny Price in the novel, who adamantly refuses to take part in the play. Lionel Trilling thought this had to do with Fanny’s, and probably also her creator’s, horror at the insincerity of anyone, like the temperamentally inclined actor Henry Crawford, who could relish pretending to be someone he was not. It is the actor in him, examples of which we see off the stage as well as on, as when he imagines himself to be a naval hero or a spellbinding preacher, that makes Fanny mistrust him. And of course females on the stage were widely and not always wrongly suspected of unchastity for as long as there had been females on the English stage — which was for just over a century before Jane Austen was born. But I think there is another reason why she might not have approved of the movies, or of television.

    This lies in what I believe to be the central paradox of Jane Austen’s novels. It’s certainly true that she prized sincerity. “My Emma,” says Mr Knightley to the eponymous heroine of that novel, “does not every thing serve to prove more and more the beauty of truth and sincerity in all our dealings with each other?” But there was another virtue that she prized even more highly and that, from one point of view at least, is the very antithesis of sincerity, and that is the virtue of what she calls self-command. “Oh that my dear mother had more command over herself!” laments Jane Bennet in Pride and Prejudice when her “dear mother” keeps giving her painful reminders of her having been forsaken, as she supposes, by Mr Bingley.

    Continued below.
    Jane Austen on Film - Ethics & Public Policy Center
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  2. J_B_

    J_B_ Active Member

    United States
    Book adaptations are always a dangerous thing. I despise quite a few of them, though I happen to adore the 2005 version of Pride & Prejudice with Kierra Knightly.

    I think this is because of my love of reading, and the necessity that film turn novels into short stories, thereby overlooking much of the depth a book can bring.

    What I would say, is that my example of how to do an adaptation correctly is Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings (emphasized all the more by the fact that Jackson's The Hobbit is a perfect example of what not to do). Why that movie? Because, IMO, Jackson (and his fellow writers) understood the book perfectly and translated the tone & themes to the screen by careful selection of source material rather than trying to preserve each and every story beat. That film doesn't try to be the book or replicate the book; rather it celebrates the book.