Tag Archives: Jane Austen

200 years of Pride and Prejudice, and my new favourite adaptation

Today marks the 200 year anniversary of the date on which Pride and Prejudice was first published. I have written about my love for this novel before. I can never quite do it justice, for it was one of those books that I feel helped to define me as a reader. I decided against a rereading of the classic on this particular date, because I am trying to limit my rereadings to once every few years. However, I have found a new way to relive the story a few months ago, which I admit has me quite as obsessed with the characters and narrative as I was when I first discovered Jane Austen’s wonderful novel: As most of my twitter followers might have realised because of my endless squeeing over the past weeks, I am, of course, talking about The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.

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The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is a modern adaptation of Pride and Prejudice in the form of a youtube vlog in which Lizzie Bennet plays the lead. The basic set up is that Lizzie is a master student who starts recording a vlog with the help of her best friend Charlotte Lu. On this vlog, she discusses her mother’s everlasting quest for husbands for her three daughters (Jane, Lizzie, and Lydia; Mary is a cousin and Kitty is Lydia’s cat), but she also talks about her efforts to finish her studies, her job prospects, and the interactions with her sisters and other friends. Some of these characters appear in real life (Lydia and Jane appear on-screen almost from the beginning) and others are impersonated by Lizzie, among whom are her mother and father.

It might surprise some that my title states that I will be talking about my new favourite adaptation, and that it is not the 1995 mini series. But honestly, LBD is definitely vying for that top position, and at this moment it is located firmly at the top of the list. No, it is not a costume drama (although there are a lot of costumes), it is not a period piece, and it is not 100% faithful to the book. Nevertheless, it manages to highlight all the things I so dearly love about this story, and also add in their own interpretation.

One of the strengths of this web-based series is its characterisation. Because it is set up as a video blog, in which Lizzie is often brutally honest, you truly feel you get to know the characters. Furthermore, a lot of them receive a more thorough characterisation than in the novel. Because Jane and Lydia appear on camera as themselves, because you see part of their day-to-day interactions, they become very well-rounded persons (something which is, as Ana mentioned in her post yesterday, always implied in Austen’s novel, but is in some ways more explicit here). Moreover, because of Lizzie’s brutal honesty, which does not necessarily spare anyone, the character growth of both Lizzie and Darcy (and Lydia and Jane!) is highlighted very directly. Lizzie makes mistakes on camera, which she then also has to fix (or grow into fixing) on camera. The character progression of everyone involved is really well-done, and very interesting to watch.

LBD - costume theatre

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There is an added incentive to care about the characters which has to do with the fact that this is a web-based series. Part of it comes from the realisation that these vlogs are out there, and that the “characters” can watch and find them at any time. The characters themselves become more real because most of them have twitters and tumblrs and such, so that you can follow them as they do things and then compare/contrast this with the portrayal in Lizzie’s vlog. The show has engaged with this transmedia aspect of their production in very interesting ways which increases the realism of the story. I admit that I spent last Saturday stalking some of the characters’ twitters (don’t open them if you’re not up to date with the series), because it promised to have some very interesting story developments.

Because of the way different online media intersect in The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, it has developed a very loyal fan base, and every time I open a video I always find it extremely interesting to see the reactions, the interactions, and the involvement of all these people. Yes, true, many TV shows have loyal fan bases, but because there’s the added illusion that Lizzie is there, somewhere in LA, recording her vlog every Monday and Thursday, the sense of interaction becomes more “real”. (And, the Lizzie Bennet Diaries wouldn’t be as amazing as it is if it did not also address these very illusions of reality in its own videos).

Last but not least is definitely the manner in which the story is translated to a contemporary setting. There are more movies who have done this, more or less successfully, but this one does a stellar job at updating the social issues caught in the book. Yes, class relations are a part of that, and I particularly enjoy the ways in which this is implicitly (and explicitly) made a subject. Moreover, as some of the minor characters receive more attention, they sometimes also receive more agency. Georgiana’s (Gigi’s) back story and its reveal is a good example of this. Most of all, I think this show might work particularly well for me because it involves characters who are at a similar stage in life. Lizzie’s impeding graduation, her fears about the job market, the way in which at times she’s not quite ready yet to take charge of her whole life, all ring very true to me. And then there’s Lydia’s story, which is now progressing on her own blog, and is very painful to watch because it has been updated in a manner that I think might hit very close to home for many girls who have experienced less-than-perfect loves. It is painful, and difficult, but I also find it extremely pertinent, well-addressed, and definitely very brave in this respect.

I could give you a lot MORE arguments why I enjoy this series so much, the first among whom would be a simple: just go watch it. The episodes are short (as it is in the format of a video blog most videos are around 5 minutes long), they are very entertaining, completely heartwarming, funny, and at the same time not afraid to tackle more serious issues. The fact that there are now over 80 episodes may seem daunting at first, but I admit I got hooked somewhere in the autumn and I caught up in a day and a half. Now, I struggle to keep patient for any new episode to appear. I am not afraid to admit that Monday’s and Thursday’s have become the highlights of my week.

Are you watching the Lizzie Bennet Diaries? Do you think you might start to? Are you as obsessed as me? (Please tell me I’m not alone!)

Persuasion by Jane Austen [audiobook]

Persuasion - Jane Austen Persuasion – Jane Austen
Narrated by Juliet Stevenson

Naxos Audiobooks, 2007
Buy: Amazon | Bookdepository *

Persuasion may be my favourite Austen. Perhaps I fell in love with Pride and Prejudice first, and, it is true, Persuasion was the very last of Austen’s books that I read, but it was also the first since Pride and Prejudice that left me with All. The. Feelings. Of course, I love Austen for a lot more than just the warm fuzzy feelings some of her stories give me, but nevertheless it is always nice to discover a book that will make you feel so much love.

[somewhat spoilerish]
Moreover, Anne, insecure Anne who was persuaded to give up her engagement with Captain Wentworth by her influential friend and relations. Anne, who now, many years later, sees Wentworth again, and finds she might be perceived to be aged, to be thoughts of as beyond the stage for love, and from the sidelines watches Captain Wentworth flirt with other girls. Until.. until.. the very end where Anne gets to make her own decisions, in some form or other, we get to see the power of Anne shine through even in all her niceness and willingness to give to others.. And yes, the end, where she may truly love again.
[/somewhat spoilerish]

I am sorry. I just cannot help but love this book. In audio, it was the perfect pick me up after a long day of work. Or during the dishes. Or while ironing. Jane Austen feels like home to me. Juliet Stevenson does a pretty good job at narrating the story (the only complaints I had is that Mary’s voice is a little sharp at times which made me want to tone down the volume when she’s speaking). But apart from that, I really liked the narration and production of this book.

The weird thing is that I honestly thought my audio edition of this book was abridged. But it did have this cover and this narrator and this producer, so perhaps I simply made that up? Because as I was listening I kept wondering which parts were abridged, since they all seemed pretty close to the plot to me. And then, I started doubting whether I even knew one of my favourite books anymore. I even considered checking a few chapters in my print version to the audio version. But then.. I couldn’t be bothered. And I just enjoyed the story as it was told to me.

Okay, I just checked the library and I listened to the unabridged version of the book *headdesk* I really should check these things before I start questioning my own sanity.

So.. Anne, Captain Wentworth, Letter, it being read to you.. It was kind of perfect.

Next time I reread Persuasion (and let’s be honest, that’s bound to happen sooner rather than later), I will give you an actual intelligent opinion about it. Or at least I’ll try to. Promise.

* These are affiliate links. If you buy a product through either of them, I will receive a small percentage of the purchase price.

Pride and Prejudice in Comic Book Format

Pride and Prejudice – Nancy Butler (Author), Hugo Petrus (Illustrator) & Jane Austen (Original Work)
Marvel, 2009

Buy: Amazon | Bookdepository *

Boekenfestijn Leeuwarden, the complete haul

When I went to another edition of the Boekenfestijn [bookfest]  in June, the Pride and Prejudice comic book version was the book I was happiest about finding. Why? Because it was the biggest surprise among the books, the one I never ever expected to find, had forgotten about completely, and then there it was…

Pride and Prejudice comic among the haul

It was the cover image that sold me instantly. The drawing style, the girly-magazine-like cover that pokes fun at the “pride and prejudice as chick lit” portrayal we often find. I knew I had to own it.

Just look at the pretty cover images that were part of this interpretation of Pride and Prejudice:

Unfortunately, the artwork inside the book is much less satisfying. This should not be too surprising, when you realise that the covers were made by another artist; they were not drawn by Hugo Petrus, but by Sonny Liew.

Hugo Petrus visual interpretation of Pride and Prejudice, together with Nancy Butler’s unsatisfactory lifting of huge lines from the original texts which nevertheless made me feel that it didn’t do the complexity of the story justice, left me completely underwhelmed. Especially the facial expressions seemed completely unfitting to the characters. I simply do not want to picture Lizzy as follows [see to the left].

It’s unfortunate but true. As much as I still like the fact that I own this as part of my probably never-ending drive to own as many as possible Jane Austen related things, the book itself was a disappointment.

Other Opinions: Good OK Bad [which is also the source for the screenshot on the left], Lindy Reads, fashion piranha, Lakeside Musing, One Literature Nut, Beth Fish Reads, YA Book Nerd, Fantasy Debut.
Did I miss your post about this comic? Let me know and I will add your review to the list.

* These are affiliate links. If you buy a product through either of them, I will receive a small percentage of the purchase price.

Rereading Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

My last post for Advent with Austen. After this, I will be silent about Jane Austen for a little while, I promise. I had lots of fun during Advent, even though I was only able to join in with one joint movie night and only posted regularly during the last week. I hope those of you who participated enjoyed themselves too.

Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen

My tattered copy of Pride and Prejudice (Penguin Classics 1985). I bought it years ago at a book fair, second-hand, and then continued to read it until it was in its current state: pages on the verge of falling out when you open it.

I have posted before about how I fell in love with Jane Austen through Pride and Prejudice. I was obsessively passionate about the story. Rereading it, rewatching the 1995 TV adaptation a million times (ask my sister, she still has nightmares about me wanting to watch it). I read it so often that I now know large parts of the story by heart. I can fill in the blanks in many a sentence. I couldn’t stop rereading it, until the passion of the story dulled a little, knowing it by heart so well that I couldn’t feel the same butterflies in those scenes that used to make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. (I know this may sounds ridiculous, but it’s honestly how I felt about the book). My quest to rediscover those feelings are part of the reason why I can never give up on sequels, prequels and rewrites of the works by Austen. It is why I am on an everlasting search for literature that will make me feel the same. Not only passionate about the story, but something that truly lights up your life. I found it in a few books, two of those being Persuasion by Austen (which I may even love better, actually, I think I do) and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. Two books that I haven’t indulged in too often, so I can still feel when I read.

Rereading Pride and Prejudice now, three years since I last read it, was different. I had not read it for years on purpose, knowing I could never feel like I did that first time, but hoping that perhaps I could reread it in a fresh but different manner. And I think I succeeded. I vowed to not skip any parts of the story, which I usually do, as I find the Wickham and Mrs. Bennet scenes quite difficult to deal with (especially since I picture Mrs. Bennet as in the 1995 adaptations, so perfectly cast that I cannot look at the scenes that feature her). I loved reading Pride and Prejudice again, and other elements of the story started to jump out at me.

  • The economics of the story: I rather enjoyed reading the first 10 chapters in particular, and signalling how often Austen used economic terms when she talked about relationships. The most famous one being, of course, the first sentence of the book. But really, it is hard to read the whole first chapter without noticing it, it is everywhere, in almost every one or two sentences there is something that will alert you to the economic mechanisms at play here.
  • The ways in which the story can be read as one condoning class differences, but also as challenging the assumptions of class and social levels. Elizabeth’s speech to lady Catherine De Bourg is particularly inspiring, but there are other examples throughout the book in which the social status quo is assumed, but also slightly challenged.
  • Austen’s style is truly superb. After reading Why Jane Austen earlier this year, I couldn’t help but notice some of the strategies talked about in the book: how the author as narrator and Elizabeth’s opinions often subtly intertwine in the story, but also how half of what we know about the several characters is revealed in their speeches. Mrs. Bennet’s sentences often contradict each other, casting her in a role of a somewhat silly mother. And Elizabeth’s prejudice shows directly in her first conversation with Wickham, whom she trusts on his word alone, while she later rejects the opinion of Bingley, his sisters and Mr. Darcy about Wickham, because they’ve all been influenced by Darcy, and so have no objective view of the matter. I wonder if I signalled this because I knew Wickham was no good, having read the story before, and if we all do this because the story is so universally known that it is hard to read it without any prior impressions. Did Austen mean for the reader to suspect, all along, that Elizabeth was predetermined to dislike Darcy and all to eager to believe Wickham? I have a feeling she did. And so again, character traits of Wickham and Eliza, that haven’t been officially revealed, are there, in Austen’s language. I have to say, I was impressed by the quality of the story all over again.

I hope to set aside Pride and Prejudice for at least a few more years now and I cannot wait to discover what I will find next time I get around to it.

The Secret Fanny Price Fanclub

It appears there is no Austen heroine as universally disliked as Fanny Price from Mansfield Park is. It always surprises me a little, the way people are annoyed with her silent observations, her inactiveness, or the way she strictly keeps to her own moral guidelines. Most consider Mary Crawford the true heroine of the story, wishing she would have ended up with Edmund. You see, the thing is, I never really looked at Mansfield Park in this light, but then again, I have secretly always considered myself a member of the Fanny Price Fanclub.

Oh, I can see the appeal of Mary Crawford. Her easy manner, her liveliness. She, in many ways, is more like Elizabeth Bennet, and thus the expected Jane Austen heroine, than any other of Austen’s characters. Mary Crawford is much easier to fall in love with than Fanny is, as Austen herself expresses:

“A young woman, pretty, lively, with a harp as elegant as herself, and both placed near a window, cut down to the ground, and opening on a little lawn, surrounded by shrubs in the rich foliage of summer, was enough to catch any man’s heart.”

But is not that all the warning we need from Austen? Although it is usually the man who the heroine first falls in love with that is eventually unmasked as immoral, here it is the woman who first wins Edmund’s affections who is later illustrated to lack morals.

Here, again, I can see why Mary Crawford appeals. At times, she expresses such “modern” opinions that readers (and I suspect especially us 21st century readers) cannot help but respect the sentiments expressed. Everybody wants to rebel, occasionally. It is as if she is the very example of reading texts against the grain, and so, to some extent, we want Austen to have considered her the heroine, want to think of Austen as condoning women taking on initiative, making the most of the restricted position they have in society. In many ways, Austen does approve of this. And I am sure she must have enjoyed having Mary Crawford express modern and slightly rebellious opinions about religion, marriage and affairs. But, at the same time, Austen undermines Crawford’s opinions, Crawford’s very appeal as a heroine, by contrasting Mary’s liveliness with her being so focused on her own gains, her own opinions and views, that she does not take Edmund’s into account, that, in the end, in her stating that the affair of Maria Bertram and Henry Crawford is merely a “folly”, she shows how careless she is of everything the family at Crawford, and I think society at large, considered the most important at that time. To me, it is not Mary’s “lack of morals” that makes me dislike her, it is her inability to consider the feelings of those around her, the ones she claims to love. Surely, had she truly loved Edmund, she would not have expressed her own opinions so unfeelingly? I am all for her having her own points of view despite feeling an attachment to a man (and I think that is the appeal of Mary, there’s something feminist in her storyline), but there is a line between having your own opinions and holding to them, and shrugging your shoulders in the face of issues that are of the utmost importance to your close friends.

Compared to Mary, Fanny may be dull. She observes, but often remains silent. And I can imagine that her morality makes many roll their eyes. But to me it is her practicality and her morality that makes her strong. She stands up for her own opinions, despite knowing that everyone disagrees with her. In a way, she has the same feminist streak we see in Mary: sticking with her own opinions despite what everyone around her thinks is best. Except where Mary’s opinions are unfeeling and affect those around her, Fanny’s concern her own future (and moral propriety, in her eyes) more than those of her family and friends. Fanny’s opinions may be conservative in our eyes, while Mary’s are more rebellious and thus easier to love, perhaps?, but I like Fanny exactly because she chooses her own path in live, not by following every opportunity open to her, not by wishing for the grandest despite all that occurs, but exactly because she retains her sense of self, is willing to sacrifice her own stable future (in marriage to a man of means, that she is nonetheless convinced is immoral), because she wants to keep to the principles she believes are just. Perhaps I like Fanny because I identify with that shy, observant, nature. I recognise in Fanny the feeling that because you do not stand up for what you want, does not mean you do not have an opinion. I admire her for proclaiming against that which she feels is wrong, and keeping to it, never submitting to peer pressure. There is, simply, an integrity to Fanny, that I do not find boring at all, although I do understand now, having heard it often enough, that others think it is.

I had to think of this, when I read Murder at Mansfield Park this year.  As the Good Reads description for this novel reads:

“Nobody, I believe, has ever found it possible to like the heroine of Mansfield Park.” –Lionel Trilling

In this ingenious new twist on Mansfield Park, the famously meek Fanny Price–whom Jane Austen’s own mother called “insipid”–has been utterly transformed; she is now a rich heiress who is spoiled, condescending, and generally hated throughout the county. Mary Crawford, on the other hand, is now as good as Fanny is bad, and suffers great indignities at the hands of her vindictive neighbor.

Murder at Mansfield Park - Lynn Shepherd

Murder at Mansfield Park - Lynn Shepherd // Beautiful Books, 2010

What I found interesting about this reworking of the characters of Mansfield Park, is that Fanny becomes more like her cousins Maria and Lydia Bertram, spoiled and arrogant in the face of people they consider “below them”. In contrast, in an effort to cast Mary Crawford in the role of heroine, she is not rewritten with much of Fanny’s original integrity. Murder at Mansfield Park is an interesting rewrite, because it is very original in its take on Jane Austen’s novel. It is also very well written. However, at times I found it hard to like the book, because it seemed to underline the stereotypes that so often get associated with Fanny and Mary: Mary as the true heroine, Fanny as the shy and moral one, which is translated to arrogance. But in the end, this is exactly what makes the novel interesting as well. When I came to the discussion questions at the end of the novel, my eye fell on this one:

“Fanny Price in Mansfield Park is very unlike a typical Austen heroine – in fact it’s Mary Crawford who is much closer to Elizabeth Bennet or Emma Woodhouse. What do you think about the role and idea of the heroine, both in Austen’s novel(s) and in this one?”

The above made me question my initial dislike of recasting the story’s characters as Shepherd had done, because in a way, she undermines the idea of Mary Crawford as the should-be heroine in the original Mansfield Park, since in order to make her the lead character in her own story, she gave her so many of Fanny’s admirable character traits.

How do you feel about Mansfield Park? Is it one of Austen’s novels you love most or one of your least favourites? What is your take on Fanny vs. Mary? Are there any others, who, like me, actually feel sympathetic towards Fanny Price?