Deborah Yaffe

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Jane Austen movies: not the same as Jane Austen books

By Deborah Yaffe, Dec 19 2013 02:00PM

Look, it’s fine with me if your knowledge of Jane Austen is based on the movies, not the books. No problem. I love (many of) the movies too.


But could we please remember that the movies are not the same as the books? That just because it’s in a movie adaptation of a Jane Austen novel doesn’t mean it’s in the novel by Jane Austen? Could we please stop attributing movie stuff to Jane Austen without first checking to make sure it’s in the book?


Today’s rant is occasioned by an it’s-Jane-Austen’s-birthday feature that ran this week on Bustle, a web site specializing in allegedly female-centric topics like news, entertainment, fashion and Jane Austen. Our author, Anna Klassen, set out to rank Austen’s men from worst to best. Along the way, she demonstrated that, although she may have read the books, she’s seen the movies a lot more recently.


Exhibit A: Willoughby is a “douchebag” for “seducing a 15-year-old girl and abandoning her when she became pregnant.” Except that in the book, the seduced-and-abandoned Eliza is seventeen. She’s fifteen in the Andrew Davies script for the 2008 TV miniseries of Sense and Sensibility. (Minor detail? Not to us Janeites.)


Exhibit B: Edmund Bertram is Austen’s most romantic hero (yes, you read that right. No accounting for tastes in this world) because, among other things, he “encourages Fanny in her writing pursuits.” Except that in the book, she’s not a writer. It’s Patricia Rozema’s 1999 movie of Mansfield Park that turns Fanny into a Jane Austen prototype and Edmund into her literary mentor.


Exhibit C: “John Knightley and Emma Woodhouse are pretty much BFFs throughout the novel.” OK, this isn’t movie confusion – just a straight-up Journalism 101, if-you-couldn’t-remember-that-his-name-is-George-you-should-have-Googled-till-you-got-it-right lesson.


Exhibit D: “Darcy is seriously moody: He loves her, he hates her, he’s indifferent, and he loves her again. Surely, ‘You have bewitched me, body and soul’ will go down in history as one of the greatest lines in romantic literature, but it took him a while to get to this selfless place.”


Where to begin? Let us break this travesty down.


1. However we may interpret the facial contortions of Messrs. Olivier, Rintoul, Firth and Macfadyen, in the book it is one hundred percent clear that Darcy moves from indifference (“tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me”) into love so seamlessly that he is in the middle before he knows that he has begun. After that, no hatred, no indifference, no change of mind. Not moody at all. Just, you know, proud.


2. “You have bewitched me, body and soul” will not go down in history as one of the greatest lines in romantic literature. This will not occur for two reasons.

a) It is a cheesy and cliched line.

b) It is not in the book. Not literature. Cinema. If you love that line, then don’t thank Jane Austen: thank Deborah Moggach, the screenwriter for the 2005 movie of Pride and Prejudice.


All right, back to our reading now. Or our movie-watching. Just no confusing the two, OK?


6 comments
Dec 19 2013 04:17PM by Amelia

Of course that line won't go down as the most romanctic. Clearly the author hadn't read Persuasion because "You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope" is WAY more romantic.

Dec 19 2013 05:32PM by Kathleen (elder)

So, tell us how you really feel. :-) I agree w/ what you say AND I will only add that Jane Austen did NOT include a wet shirt scene for Darcy in the novel. Just sayin'.

Dec 19 2013 06:30PM by dyaffe

To give the writer her due, she actually does quote The Letter in her Captain Wentworth section. (While misspelling his first name. But never mind.)

Dec 19 2013 06:32PM by dyaffe

Well, I"m sure she would have put that in if she'd thought of it. :-)

But seriously: I don't mind liberties being taken by screenwriters, and sometimes I even like the results. I just hate it when Jane Austen gets the blame (or even the credit!) for these things. . .

Dec 20 2013 12:11AM by Lisa May

It makes it really difficult to discuss Austen's works, when people can keep the books separate from the films. I've noticed this in on-line discussion groups as well as FTF discussions. I get tired of saying, "But that isn't in the book," and the film-centric people get tired of hearing it.

Dec 20 2013 03:30AM by dyaffe

So true. I even ran across this confusion in a Diane Johnson piece on Persuasion (in the essay collection called "A Truth Universally Acknowledged"): she bases a point on Captain Wentworth's saying in Anne's hearing that he's ready to marry anyone between 15 and 30, when it's only in the Amanda Root movie that Anne hears this remark -- in the book, he's talking to his sister and Anne is nowhere in sight. It goes to show how totally the movies have colonized our collective cultural sense of the books.

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