Deborah Yaffe

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By Deborah Yaffe, Oct 5 2020 01:00PM

After the year we’ve had, we’re all going to deserve a holiday-season treat. And it looks like the Janeites among us will be getting one.


The U.S. rights to Modern Persuasion, a romantic comedy starring Alicia Witt that updates Austen’s last completed novel to pre-pandemic New York, have just been sold to Samuel Goldwyn Films. While the new movie doesn’t quite have a release date, it does have a release month: December.


No word yet, as far as I can see, on whether the movie will be available via streaming, in theaters, or both. (Hey, who knows if theaters will even be open come December? Sigh.)


Persuasion updates are hard to pull off, and I’ve been skeptical about this project since the get-go, but these days, I’m in no mood to be picky. Hang up your stockings, light those Hanukkah candles, and break out the popcorn!


While we're waiting for December to get here, we can spend our time scrounging for new gossip about the planned adaptation of Persuasion, Jane Austen's actual novel (Original Persuasion, maybe? Not-So-Modern Persuasion?). That project is at a much earlier stage, but with the way the world is going these days, we may need a holiday treat next year, as well.


By Deborah Yaffe, Jun 22 2020 01:00PM

For many of us, coronavirus quarantine has proved to be the perfect moment to reread Jane Austen. (Although, really, is there ever a bad moment to reread Jane Austen?) Just in case the novels themselves haven’t imbued your days with enough of that old-time Regency feeling, however, the internet has recently suggested some ways to bring a Janeite flavor to the activities that have been filling the hours for so many of us. Herewith, a roundup:


* Homeschooling: Students in a business law class at Toronto’s Ryerson University can enhance their studying with a set of online review materials at the Course Hero website. Relevant for our purposes: the sad tale of Carlos, a rare-books dealer who arranges to buy Yasmeen’s first edition of Pride and Prejudice for $20,000, only to have her renege on the deal in hopes of seeing the book’s value increase over time.


Budding lawyers may be most concerned about which multiple-choice answer most accurately calculates the damages Carlos could recover in a breach-of-contract lawsuit. We Janeites will simply congratulate Yasmeen on realizing that these days, a P&P first edition could be worth a lot more than $20,000 – and, in any case, is priceless.


* Movie-viewing: Quarantine brought us an early chance to watch the latest film adaptation of Emma on our home screens. Coming soon, if we’re lucky: another Jane Austen movie!


Two years ago, when word of Modern Persuasion first surfaced, I had my doubts about the viability of this version, which stars Alicia Witt in a “contemporary tale about a New York workaholic whose firm is hired by an old flame.” I still have those doubts, but four months without setting foot in a movie theater have left me ready (well, even readier than usual) to watch anything – including this rom-com, which just acquired a distributor and is screening this week at the Cannes Film Festival’s virtual market. As far as I’m concerned, it can’t arrive on my screen quickly enough.


* Game-playing: Tired of Scrabble, Boggle, Clue and cards? Luckily, the Jane Austen Summer Program – the academic-except-more-fun-than-that sympoisum usually, but not this year, held in mid-June at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – has an alternative: Find Mr. Darcy, or at least a life-size Colin Firth cutout, which is the next best thing.


In essence, the game is a mildly entertaining online Austen trivia quiz that won’t pose much challenge to any knowledgeable Janeite. But it does give you the chance to hopscotch around a map of England while ogling still photos of attractive actors from Austen screen adaptations. Beats another round of Crazy Eights.


* Drinking: In the absence of a coronavirus vaccine, health experts agree that bars remain risky venues. The only solution? Keep drinking at home. In a recent feature pairing cocktail recipes with literary classics, South Sound, a lifestyle magazine covering southwest Washington State, recommends accompanying a reading of Emma with a “flirtatious and fruity" pink cocktail consisting of white wine, pisco, lime juice, and raspberry syrup. I would have thought Donwell Abbey strawberries a more appropriate choice for Emma, but I guess these days we can't afford to be picky.


By Deborah Yaffe, Oct 14 2019 01:00PM

We Janeites may love Austen’s heroes and heroines, but it’s her secondary characters who make us laugh out loud. Fanny Dashwood’s selfishness, Mr. Collins’ sycophancy, Isabella Thorpe’s insincerity, and [insert your favorite here] never fail to divert us.


So it’s encouraging to hear that the gifted character actress Bebe Neuwirth, whom some of us remember fondly as the toxic ex-wife in Frasier, has a part in the upcoming movie Modern Persuasion, which recently completed filming. (It’s – wait for it -- a modern version of Persuasion. Bet you didn’t see that coming.)


Alas, the movie’s IMDB entry, which lists characters with names like “Wren Cosgrove” and “Grayson Keller,” provides no clues to which Austen-inspired part, if any, Neuwirth (“Vanessa Perry”) will be playing. Is she Elizabeth Elliot? Penelope Clay? Lady Russell? Mrs. Croft? Each one offers promising scope for Neuwirth’s genius, assuming the script is any good, so I am all anticipation. With no release date yet announced, I’ll just have to be patient.


Meanwhile, however, another Jane Austen vehicle that does have a release date promises similar pleasures. The new feature film of Emma will arrive on U.S. screens on February 21, and although its star, Anya Taylor-Joy, is an interesting actress, I’m more excited about two of her co-stars. The hilarious Miranda Hart has the potential to be the Miss Bates of our dreams, and the chameleonic Bill Nighy should make a wonderful Mr. Woodhouse.


And of course January will bring us, via PBS, Anne Reid as the imperious Lady Denham in the controversial UK TV version of Sanditon. It should be a great year for Austen sidekicks.


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