Deborah Yaffe

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By Deborah Yaffe, Aug 15 2019 06:00AM

Thirteen years ago, when PBS’ Masterpiece Theatre aired a new adaptation of Jane Eyre, the network offered viewers a chance to buy something advertised as, if memory serves, “the companion novel.” That would be Charlotte Bronte’s 1847 masterpiece, one of the landmarks of English literature.


Beginning next week, ITV in Britain will air a new adaptation of Sanditon, the novel Jane Austen left unfinished at her death. As Maggie Sullivan of AustenBlog has noted, ITV is clearly hoping that Sanditon will become another Downton Abbey-style period blockbuster. Since the screenwriter is Andrew “Wet Shirt” Davies, famed for turning Colin Firth’s Mr. Darcy into the definitive Historical Hottie, we’ve already been treated to a moony trailer and many, many teasing allusions to All!The!Sex! we’re going to see.


And now . . . the companion novel.


Yes, it seems that Trapeze Books, an imprint of the UK’s Orion Publishing Group, itself a subsidiary of Hachette, will be issuing two Sanditon tie-in books this fall, just in time for the show’s UK airing, which begins August 25. (Sanditon will make it to the US sometime next year.)


One of the new books, The World of Sanditon, is a non-fiction work by Sara Sheridan, whose numerous previous books include a mystery series set in post-World War II England and a non-fiction tie-in to Victoria, another PBS-ITV costume-drama-cum-soap-opera. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!) The other new book is a novel entitled Sanditon by -- shall we guess? Jane Austen?


No, by Kate Riordan, a British journalist and fiction writer who has published three historical novels.


Many writers have tried, with mixed success, to finish Austen’s fragment; six years ago, I reviewed most of those efforts. But Riordan’s book is not another continuation of Austen. It’s a novelization of Davies’ screenplay for an eight-hour series that uses up Austen’s material halfway through Episode 1. Yes, this Sanditon is a novel that expands a screenplay that adapts a fragment of a novel. I get dizzy just trying to keep all the layers of adaptation and reinterpretation straight.


I’ve never seen the point of novelizations myself. Why not just watch the movie/TV show? And although Riordan may be an excellent writer -- I've never read anything of hers -- it’s pretty obvious that this particular effort is motivated not so much by a burning artistic drive as by a desire to put the name “Jane Austen” on the cover of a book that is not yet out of copyright.


Personally, I’ll be watching the Sanditon show and skipping the Sanditon book – except for the Sanditon book that is out of copyright. You know -- the one by Jane Austen.


By Deborah Yaffe, Aug 5 2019 01:00PM

It’s been a wet week for Janeites.


Last Monday, we were treated to the first trailer for Sanditon, the forthcoming ITV-PBS adaptation of the novel Jane Austen left unfinished at her death. As Janeites know, Sanditon is set at an up-and-coming seaside resort, and so it’s no surprise that the trailer features plenty of sweeping shots of sandy strands, ocean vistas, and attractive actors disporting themselves on the beach.


By which I mean playing cricket! What were you thinking?


Well, OK: the eight-part miniseries is written by Andrew “Mr. Darcy in a Wet Shirt” Davies, who, at nearly eighty-three, seems to have lost none of his – um – lust for life, not to mention his talent for extracting free publicity from credulous media journalists. In the year since the Sanditon project was announced, Davies has entertained himself by throwing the press pool tidbits of chum, in the form of quotes about how energetically he’s “sexing up” this latest Austen project.


I’m willing to bet that the sex in Sanditon will fall well short of the Fifty Shades of Grey standard – we’re talking PBS here -- but either way, it’s pretty clear that the project won’t have much to do with Austen. She’d barely gotten started on Sanditon before illness forced her to stop work, and in his latest interview Davies says he used up all her material halfway through his first episode.


And speaking of Mr. Darcy in a wet shirt. . .


We Janeites had barely finished toweling off after our trip to Sanditon’s seaside before word arrived that, last Wednesday, flooding had devastated the gardens of Lyme Park, the Cheshire estate that played Pemberley in Davies’ iconic 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.


It was the reflecting pool in Lyme’s now-inundated grounds that featured in the Davies P&P’s most famous scene, the one starring – oh, irresistible irony! – a soaking-wet Colin Firth in a clingy white shirt.


Although energetic sandbagging seems to have saved Lyme Park’s interior from damage, the flooding, which followed days of torrential rain, forced the evacuation of Wednesday’s visitors and will keep the site closed indefinitely.


Meanwhile, if you’re seeking a watery Janeite fix, you’ll just have to wait for the arrival of Sanditon, screening in the U.S. sometime next year. Or you could just watch P&P again.


By Deborah Yaffe, Jul 29 2019 01:00PM

The Emmy nominations were announced recently, and all the brouhaha over Game of Thrones et al. has left me hankering to award some prizes of my own.


As regular blog readers know, one of my perennial themes is the proliferation on the Internet of quotes from Jane Austen movies masquerading as the words of the novelist herself. It would be fair to say that I do not look kindly upon these sloppy mistakes, so easily avoided in this age of searchable e-texts.


Still, there’s a certain grandeur to this phenomenon – or, at least, to its imperviousness to eradication. Faux Austen quotes are the cockroaches of error, the kudzu of cyberspace. In that spirit, I hereby bring you the Top Five Faux Jane Austen Quotes. In the spirit of the occasion, there are actually six of them.


The Top Five (Or, Actually, Six) Faux Jane Austen Quotes


5. “Perhaps it is our imperfections that make us so perfect for one another.”


Attributed to: Jane Austen, Emma

Actually the work of: Douglas McGrath, Emma (1996)


The cherry on this sundae of inaccuracy: the movie words, spoken by Jeremy Northam's Mr. Knightley moments after Gwyneth Paltrow's Emma has accepted his proposal, are actually “Maybe it is our imperfections which make us so perfect for one another.” But who’s counting?



4. “We are all fools in love.”


Attributed to: Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Actually the work of: Deborah Moggach, Pride and Prejudice (2005)


Yes, we are. (Fools in love, that is.) And also suckers for any mistake that’s repeated often enough.



3. “There are as many forms of love as there are moments in time.”


Attributed to: Jane Austen, Mansfield Park (or, sometimes, “personal correspondence”)

Actually the work of: Patricia Rozema, Mansfield Park (1999)


Maybe it was inevitable that Rozema’s highly idiosyncratic film would spawn a faux quote: after all, she claims to have based her screenplay not only on Austen’s novel and letters but also on her “early journals.” Which don’t exist. (Presumably, Rozema meant the juvenilia, but those are fiction, not autobiography.)



2. (tie) “You have bewitched me body and soul.”


Attributed to: Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Actually the work of: Deborah Moggach, Pride and Prejudice (2005)


2. (tie) “To love is to burn, to be on fire.”


Attributed to: Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility

Actually the work of: Emma Thompson, Sense and Sensibility (1995)


The problem, as I’ve noted before, is that Jane Austen the Ur-Romance Novelist is actually not given to grand romantic statements. If you want those, you almost have to turn to the movies.



1. “It isn’t what we say or think that defines us, but what we do.”


Attributed to: Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility

Actually the work of: Andrew Davies, Sense and Sensibility (2008)


This time, the garbling of the faux quote isn’t just a cherry on the sundae; it’s practically a whole extra scoop of ice cream. For, as I’ve reported elsewhere, the real Davies quote, uttered by a newly wised-up Marianne Dashwood, is “It is not what we say or feel that makes us what we are. It is what we do, or fail to do.” But if they won’t check the searchable e-texts, they’re certainly not going to scroll through an entire three-part mini-series to make sure they’ve got it right.



Well, that was refreshing! I like handing out prizes! In fact, tune in Thursday for another round. . .


By Deborah Yaffe, Jun 27 2019 01:00PM

The Janeite word of the moment, it would appear, is “fragment.”


* Last week, Jane Austen’s House Museum launched an urgent appeal for donations to fund the purchase of a recently rediscovered portion of an 1814 Austen letter.


* A few days later, the British broadcaster ITV released tantalizing on-set photos from its shoot of Sanditon, the upcoming eight-part television mini-series based on the novel Austen left incomplete upon her death in 1817.


* And yesterday it was announced that playwright Laura Wade’s much-praised theatrical version of The Watsons, an unfinished novel that Austen abandoned around 1805, will have a London premiere this fall.


Among these three fragments, the Austen letter is the least mysterious, since it comprises the lion’s share of a text that was published in full before its physical pieces were dispersed. By contrast, no one knows how Austen planned to finish The Watsons and Sanditon (although I’ve reviewed later efforts at completions here and here).


Given this built-in uncertainty, it’s no surprise that the current adapters felt free to take some liberties. Sanditon screenwriter Andrew Davies is apparently bringing us a rollicking melodrama that, judging from the photos, will feature the gorgeous production values and even more gorgeous actors we’ve come to expect from the company that brought us Downton Abbey. The British air date is sometime this fall; Masterpiece, which will air the show in the U.S., has not yet announced a schedule.


Wade’s theatrical version of The Watsons, which was produced last year at a theater festival in southeast England, takes a different tack, making post-modern hay out of the Pirandello-esque concept of literary characters left stranded in an unfinished work. Wade herself – or, at any rate, a writer named Laura -- shows up to debate matters with her heroine. The reviews were great, and if I had any chance of being in London between September 20 and November 16, I’d be first in line when tickets go on sale next week. Since that, alas, cannot be, I'll rely on blog readers to report back.



By Deborah Yaffe, May 20 2019 01:00PM

Today on “Making Fun of the Internet,” a roundup of the latest Jane Austen-related stupid stuff that has crossed my cyber-transom recently:


* “ ‘We are all fools in love’ wrote Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice.” Such is the inauspicious first sentence of a meditation on love by Pakistani journalist Shah Nawaz Mohal, who goes on to name-drop Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Sartre, Ayn Rand, and the Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz while arguing . . . something or other.


I have no idea whether Mohal has correctly quoted all those other people. But I know for a fact that Jane Austen didn’t write the line he attributes to her, which actually comes from Deborah Moggach’s screenplay for the 2005 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Will no one around here ever bother to conduct a simple text search?


* “. . . there such much to love about Austen's world. Not to mention she gave us the image of Colin Firth emerging from a lake in a soaked blouse.”


HAHAHAHAHAHA. OK, Isabel Mundigo-Moore: I get that you’re a writer for Yahoo!’s Style pages, not a literary critic (or, apparently, a proofreader). And far be it from me to question your expert claim that such staples of Regency fashion as organza, linen, puffed sleeves, and pearls will be all the rage this summer.


But do you honestly think that Jane Austen gave us wet-shirt Colin Firth? A gift indeed, don’t get me wrong, but one for which we need to thank Andrew Davies, the screenwriter of the 1995 TV miniseries of Pride and Prejudice. Austen had nothing to do with it. It’s not in the book. Nope. Not there. Not even close.


* “The film’s final act meanders into the byways of marriage and inheritance better suited to a Jane Austen soap.” Or so argues New Zealand critic James Robins, reviewing the new Kenneth Branagh movie about Shakespeare’s last years.


Excuse me: a Jane Austen what? Surely, James (may I call you James?), you aren’t implying that Jane Austen wrote soap operas – or, even worse, that stories about marriage and inheritance are inherently soapy. Because she didn’t and they aren’t, unless you think the majority of English novels published in the nineteenth century are soaps.


Or perhaps I should just introduce you to Tanya Gold and let you two settle in for a nice chat. Have fun, guys!


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