Deborah Yaffe


By Deborah Yaffe, Mar 28 2016 01:00PM

We fans of Jane Austen movie adaptations have had kind of a dry spell for the last few years.

We’ve watched poor Sally Hawkins gallop through the streets of Bath, in the travesty that was the 2007 Persuasion. We’ve goggled at the utterly miscast cleavage of Billie Piper in the 2007 Mansfield Park. We’ve endured Austenland, survived Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (OK, I admit I haven’t actually seen that one yet – waiting for the DVD), and sat through – God help us – Unleashing Mr. Darcy.

So I think we really deserve to have Whit Stillman’s Love and Friendship, the first-ever screen adaptation of Lady Susan, be excellent. Early reviews out of the Sundance Film Festival (for instance, here) have been very positive, and now comes this trailer.

Squee! Looks ve-e-ry promising! Dry spell may be over!

By Deborah Yaffe, Jul 6 2015 01:00PM

For months, the best news I could imagine hearing about the filmed adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Seth Grahame-Smith’s best-selling 2009 mash-up, would have been word of its demise: as blog readers will recall, I wasn’t crazy about the book and groaned at the idea of a movie.

Unaccountably, the project went ahead despite my opposition, and now, with seven months until the February 5 release, I find myself heartened to read this article, despite the rather anachronistic frilly underwear on prominent display in the accompanying photos. I’m now cautiously optimistic that the movie, which sets Austen's story in an English countryside plagued by a zombie scourge, won’t be quite as terrible as I’d anticipated. (High hopes indeed!)

If director Burr Steers and his leading lady, Lily James, are to be believed, we may be spared the excruciating tastelessness of our last big-screen Austenesque outing, 2013’s appalling “Austenland.”

‘“ ‘The idea was that it was Pride and Prejudice set in this alternate world and then for everyone to play it straight,’ Steers explains. “The movie’s big wink is that there is no big wink.” . . . So brace yourselves, James says. ‘It’s definitely not camp.’ ”

If anything could make this story work, playing it straight seems like the most promising approach – though I still have my doubts. Without extra campiness, you’ll be staking everything on the inherent drollery of the contrast between the tea-and-crumpets stereotype of Austen’s world and the blood-and-mayhem archetypes of zombie movies – an inherent drollery essentially captured, in its entirety, by the project’s title.

Will that, plus frilly underwear, be enough to keep us going for ninety-plus minutes? Stay tuned. . .

By Deborah Yaffe, Dec 30 2013 02:00PM

For someone who’s been dead since 1817, Jane Austen had a pretty good year in 2013.

She was honored with a set of UK stamps, and her image was chosen for a forthcoming British bank note. A not-particularly-accurate portrait of her sold at auction for more than $270,000, and a turquoise ring she’d owned was acquired by her museum from an American singer. A popular novelist rewrote Sense and Sensibility, while a political scientist found elements of game theory in all her books. And holiday gift-buyers scarfed up Austenesque tattoos weeks before Britain’s Christmastime TV viewers enjoyed a mystery-themed visit to the Darcy family at Pemberley.

A wildly popular web series called "The Lizzie Bennet Diaries" finished its run and won an Emmy. The annual Austen festivals in Louisville, Kentucky, and Bath, England, attracted droves of fans, unlike the appalling film "Austenland," which justly flopped. And all year long – including in September, at the Minneapolis meeting of the Jane Austen Society of North America -- the world celebrated the two hundredth anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice.

Jane Austen was good to me this year, too: in August, my book, Among the Janeites: A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom, was published. Many thanks to all the interviewers, bloggers and readers who’ve talked about the book – it’s been a great pleasure to see my work connect with fellow fans of our author.

Here’s to an equally good Janeite year in 2014! Hey, all you fans of Mansfield Park (published 1814) – this is your moment. . .

By Deborah Yaffe, Sep 9 2013 08:04PM

Shannon Hale’s Austenland is not a great work of literature: it’s a mildly entertaining beach read with a cute romantic denouement. The movie version could have been a sweet, funny summertime romantic comedy, something for us girls to see while the menfolk were occupied with “Boys Blowing Things Up, Part VIII.”

Much though my little feminist heart longs to support "Austenland" as a rare, female-centric movie – producer Stephenie (Twilight) Meyer noted in a Hollywood Reporter interview that it's “based on a novel by a woman, scripted by women, produced by women, directed by a woman and starring a woman” -- honesty compels me to report that it's appalling.

It’s not bad like a guilty pleasure, or bad like an interesting experiment gone wrong, or even so-bad-it’s-good. It’s just bad – unfunny, unsexy, and uninterested in any of the real questions that its story might raise about women, romantic fantasy, and Jane Austen’s relationship to both.

By Deborah Yaffe, Sep 5 2013 01:00PM

"Austenland," the new movie based on Shannon Hale's novel about a Colin Firth-obsessed woman vacationing at a Regency theme park, won't open in a multiplex near me for another ten days -- or so the movie's perky little web site informs me.

Despite the generally atrocious reviews -- "embarrassingly juvenile," says the New York Times -- I've been looking forward to this movie ever since I heard it was being made. The book was fun, and wih JJ Feild playing the hero, how could you go wrong? (I may eat those words soon, but for now I remain optimistic.)

Meanwhile, here's an interview in which Hale talks about her Austen-love and why Henry Tilney (once played -- definitively, in my opinion -- by JJ Feild) doesn't get as much swoony admiration as Mr. Darcy. Her basic argument: we readers identify with Elizabeth Bennet and therefore like the guy who's smart enough to fall in love with her.

There's a bit of the plain-Lizzy meme at work in Hale's thesis, but it's an interesting idea nonetheless, this suggestion that we're really falling in love with idealized versions of ourselves when we swoon for Austen heroes. Might be right. . .

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