Category: Pride and Prejudice

Guest Post: Why the Classics Live On

Regency Reflections is happy to welcome Marisa Deshaies. Marisa is a lover of Inspirational Regencies and recently obtained her Master’s degree in professional writing. 

Walk into any bookstore or watch previews of upcoming movies, and you’ll surely come across numerous advertisements or displays of classic stories written many years ago. Barnes and Noble consistently presents a few tables of the Classics in its stores.  Every few minutes a trailer for Les Miserables or Anna Karenina shows on television. With each bestseller and Oscar-worthy movie comes a retelling of one of the well-known stories taught in English classes.

Original title page of Pride and PrejudiceWhat is it that endears the public to the Classics? With the advent of three-dimensional directing, popular vampire lore, beloved magical adventures, and modern romance stories that fill the bookshelves and movie theaters, audiences do not lack amusing entertainment. Critics could argue, in fact, that Austen, Dickens, and Tolstoy are authors of the past. Why look back when there are unknown tales waiting to be told?

And yet, retellings of Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and other Classics continue to come to theaters and bookstores in droves. Whether authors create fan fiction of the beloved novels or directors discover new techniques with which to tell the stories, without a doubt some retelling is bound to catch your fancy.

Elizabeth-Bennet-and-Mr-Darcy-played-by-Elizabeth-Garvie-and-David-Rintoul-in-Pride-and-Prejudice-1980Jane Austen’s novels are a particular favorite of authors and directors alike to recreate and maneuver to the readers’ and viewers’ delight. In the two hundred (almost) years since Austen’s novels first hit the market, the fan fiction and movies created for audiences are too numerous to count. Pride and Prejudice, in particular, is an audience favorite. Can you blame the viewers of the 1990s BBC-miniseries version for watching the movie numerous times—after all, who doesn’t enjoy watching Colin Firth walking out of Pemberley’s lake dripping wet? (Try to keep your anger in check, P and P novel enthusiasts. We know this scene doesn’t occur in the book.) Austen, known best for her characters that pursue love in spite of difficult situations, wrote novels that connect with young and old, male and female alike (although females probably enjoy the stories more than their male counterparts). Turning these novels into fan fiction and movies is a sure-fire way to connect with book readers and movie watchers.

Pride and Prejudice 1995So what is it about the Classics that resonates so soundly with audiences? With Austen retellings, I’m convinced that readers and viewers live vicariously through the characters. Yes, every movie-goer and novel-reader places themselves in whatever their escape pleasure is—that’s the point of reading or watching, isn’t it? To be swept away to another world? Google-search the Jane Austen Festival, and you’ll see that while Persuasion doesn’t have witches or goblins and Emma doesn’t take place in a haunted mansion, readers of Austen novels and viewers of the novels’ movie counterparts are just as swept away by the stories as anyone reading Harry Potter or Twilight. Men and women dress in Regency costumes, attend balls, put on theatricals, and host luncheons and dinners, all in the fashion of Jane Austen’s time.

Audiences love Austen because her characters live and love through the same situations people experience today. Are you pining for someone you can’t have? Don’t go running to the freezer for Ben and Jerry’s—Pride and Prejudice will give you hope for that relationship much more than a pint of vanilla ice cream will. Contemplating giving relationship advice to your best friend? Read Emma before setting her up with that lothario from work… your friendship will thank you.

Austenland 2It’s simple, really. Readers and watchers (okay, most likely females) enjoy experiencing life in old-fashioned ways. As much as we say modern behavior gives equality between the sexes, anyone who doesn’t secretly desire a Regency courtship is probably in denial. And what about those ball-gowns and gloves? Gorgeous! In reading Austen’s novels or watching the movie adaptations, audiences are brought back to days of propriety. Days of hand-kissing, ballroom-dancing, letter-writing flirtation. Days of familial responsibility and honor. With a willing suspension of disbelief audiences of Austen novels (in any form) go back to a simpler time when true love took hard work and familial loyal was the most important aspect of a relationship. In today’s society of fast-paced activities, internet dating, and individualism, Austen novels and movies emphasize the importance put into marriage and family that simply doesn’t exist today.

Film Editions of Pride and Prejudice: 1980 BBC Version

253px-PrideAndPrejudiceBBC
1979 Adaption

I never thought I’d find a film version of Pride and Prejudice that I liked better than the 1995 BBC/A&E version with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, until I watched this earlier 1980 BBC version with David Rintoul and Elizabeth Garvie.

I first heard about it in a letter to the editor in the publication Jane Austen’s Regency World, the official magazine of the Jane Austen Centre in Bath, England.
This reader, a PhD from Australia, thought the 1980 adaptation written by screenwriter Fay Weldon was superior, even though she did like the Colin Firth version as well.

So I ordered this 1980 version and sat down to watch its 5 episodes over the course of a few evenings. After the first episode, in which I had to adapt myself to this whole different cast of Austen characters whom I’ve come to visualize from the 1995 version, I began to appreciate this earlier crew. In the end, I think I liked Elizabeth Garvie better as Elizabeth Bennet than Jennifer Ehle; and it was a hard choice between Rintoul and Firth–and I’m a big Firth fan. Both actors are drop-dead gorgeous in my opinion, so no contest there.

Mr. Darcy is a hard role to play because he is expressionless in much of the book, so the male actor playing this character has a hard time showing his inner turmoil to the audience, when his face must remain so aloof and deadpan. However, once the turning point is reached in the story (after the first marriage proposal), when Mr. Darcy begins showing a more human side, I think David Rintoul portrays this better than Colin Firth–but only by a whisker. And, sorry, no wet-shirt scene.

Like the BBC/A&E version, this script sticks much more closely to the book than the 2005 Keira Knightley version, yet it takes more liberties than the 1995 BBC/A&E script, because it adds some lines of dialogue that aren’t in the book and it adds some introspection on Elizabeth Bennet’s part. You hear her thoughts about Mr. Darcy (after she reads his letter, for example). I liked this addition because it makes her gradual falling in love more believable.

I still don’t like the 2005 version with Keira Knightley at all (I’ve never been able to sit through the entire thing), although I enjoyed reading Naomi Rawlings’ championing of it. It helped me understand why those who do love it so much do, but I still prefer a version more closely aligned to the book.

Elizabeth-Bennet-and-Mr-Darcy-played-by-Elizabeth-Garvie-and-David-Rintoul-in-Pride-and-Prejudice-1980
Elizabeth Garvie and David Rintoul

I loved the costuming of this 1980 Fay Weldon version; I think it’s the superior version of all three as far as accuracy when it comes to costuming. As I watched each episode, I felt I was looking at paintings and engravings directly from the regency era. I do believe Elizabeth Bennett lived in an upper class (though modest) house, unlike the 2005 version that made the Bennet family look like borderline poverty, (which doesn’t jive at all with Emma, where a prosperous farmer is considered too low on the social ladder to socialize with the gentry).

I highly recommend this 1980 adaption of Pride and Prejudice, even for the diehard Firth/Ehle fans.

Comment on any post this week for your chance to win a DVD copy of the 1995 Pride and Prejudice miniseries. Winner will be announced Monday, September 2 and must have a US posting address.