Deborah Yaffe


By Deborah Yaffe, Apr 7 2016 01:00PM

More casting news for what seems to be a for-real, actually-going-to-happen film adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sanditon: Two young, good-looking Brits have joined the ensemble.

They are Holliday Grainger, playing heroine Charlotte Heywood, and Max Irons (son of Jeremy), playing Sidney Parker, whom Jane Austen may have intended as the hero. The great Charlotte Rampling had previously been cast as the stingy Lady Denham.

I’m totally looking forward to this movie, but I do find it kind of hilarious to read quotes like this, in “Director Jim O’Hanlon said: 'Sanditon is that rare and wonderful thing - a genuinely original, never-before-filmed novel by one of the world’s favourite novelists. It has everything audiences have come to expect from classic Jane Austen -- comedy, romance, and a dazzling cast of characters for them to fall in love with.’ ”

A non-Janeite reading that line might be forgiven for thinking that we were talking about a book Jane Austen had finished, rather than a seventy-page fragment left abandoned at her death. The little we have of Sanditon is tantalizing, intriguing and altogether wonderful – but it’s very little. The character Irons is slated to play, described by ScreenDaily, the web presence of Screen International magazine, as “dashing, feckless Sidney Parker,” makes his first and only two-paragraph appearance in the last two pages. Dashing and feckless? Maybe, but we don’t know it from Austen.

I’ll happily watch whatever the filmmakers come up with by way of fleshing out and finishing up Jane Austen’s tragically aborted last work. But it might be nice if they’d be honest about just how little genuine, original Austen this project is likely to contain.

By Deborah Yaffe, Feb 11 2016 04:37PM

You remember 1995, right? The beginning of that halcyon eighteen-month stretch during which six Jane Austen film adaptations, ranging in quality from pretty good to totally classic, were released on big and small screens? Happy days.

Well, it’s beginning to look like happy days might be here again. As I reported previously, already this year we’ve seen the Sundance Film Festival premiere of Love and Friendship, Whit Stillman’s adaptation of Lady Susan; the Hallmark Channel screening of Unleashing Mr. Darcy, based on a fan fiction update of Pride and Prejudice; and, just last weekend, the release of the movie version of the best-selling 2009 mashup Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

And now comes word that a UK production company is getting ready to shoot a film based on Sanditon, the novel Austen left unfinished at her death. Charlotte Rampling, currently up for a Best Actress Oscar, will star as Lady Denham. This is great news: except for the extremely uneven web adaptation Welcome to Sanditon, the sophomore-slump effort of the folks who brought us the fabulous Lizzie Bennet Diaries, no one has ever tried to film Sanditon, whose seventy-five-ish pages tantalize with the promise of another great novel.

So far, it must be said, this current film boomlet hasn’t lived up to the high standard set by its1995-97 predecessor, which included the immortal Clueless, the iconic Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle Pride and Prejudice, and the sublime Emma Thompson/Ang Lee Sense and Sensibility. While Love and Friendship has earned excellent reviews, P&P&Z got a decidedly mixed reception and looks to be a financial failure. I haven’t seen either of those yet, but I can attest that Unleashing Mr. Darcy was execrable.

Still: Sanditon! Can’t wait. And as long as we’re mining lesser-known Jane Austen, do I have any takers for The Watsons? This seems like the time to do it.

By Deborah Yaffe, Apr 28 2014 01:00PM

I spent my weekend in Janeite heaven: Saturday at “Jane Austen Day,” a delightful conference sponsored by the Eastern Pennsylvania chapter of JASNA, and Sunday at a meeting of my local (Central New Jersey) chapter of JASNA.

The topic for Sunday’s local meeting was Jane Austen spinoff fiction. We munched scones, chatted about our favorite – and not-so-favorite – examples of the genre, and speculated about why Jane Austen, alone among classic authors, has inspired such an outpouring of imitators. (Because her characters seem unusually real? Because her life is modest and relatable? Because she only wrote six books?)

Saturday’s more ambitious event featured three distinguished academics delivering papers on the conference topic, “The Unfinished Jane Austen” – the books, and the life, that Jane Austen left uncompleted.

Jocelyn Harris, retired from the University of Otago in New Zealand, spoke on card games as a metaphor for the marriage market in Austen’s novel fragment The Watsons. Janine Barchas of the University of Texas at Austin discussed Regency advertising and the concept of branding in relation to the unfinished Sanditon. And Michael Gamer of the University of Pennsylvania talked about how different posterity’s view of Austen might have been had she survived longer, and had her brother Henry not lived to cultivate an image of her as a sedate and pious spinster.

All three papers were well-delivered and thought-provoking, but as usual in these Janeite gatherings, I found myself enjoying the company as much as the program. What did you think of Val McDermid’s Northanger Abbey, the latest installment in the Austen Project updates? Are you planning on attending this fall’s JASNA meeting in Montreal? Isn’t it bittersweet to realize how good Sanditon was going to be, if only Austen had lived to finish it? These gatherings are the place for these conversations, and a dozen more like them. It's all about community.

The quintessential Janeite moment came amid one of the scholarly lectures, as the speaker – surely by accident -- referred to Jane Austen’s untimely death at the age of “fifty-one.” A rustling whisper swept through the audience, as dozens of voices murmured a correction: “Forty-one.”

By Deborah Yaffe, Jan 20 2014 02:00PM

Jane Austen was not perfect. Not every sentence that fell from her pen was a masterpiece; like all of us, she needed an editor’s eye from time to time. And the 17,000-plus words of The Watsons, the novel she abandoned a decade or more before her death, probably lack the layers of polish that her revisions would have applied.

But let’s face it: she was a genius, and when you edit genius – even unfinished genius -- you proceed with care. Unless you too are a genius, most of the time, your edits aren’t going to be improvements.

I couldn’t avoid these reflections as I made my way through John Coates’ 1958 continuation of The Watsons, the subject of today’s post in my "Watsons in Winter" blog series. Coates was a professional novelist and playwright, and his continuation is far from terrible. His grasp of pacing and characterization is much surer than that of some of his predecessors in the Watsons-continuation game.

But an avid Janeite can’t repress a momentary shock on reaching Coates’ afterword, in which he forthrightly admits, “I have altered the original fragment.” His goal, he explains, was to replace words whose meaning seemed obscure to modern ears; to introduce more wit and sparkle than Jane Austen’s original included; and to prune for length. The results show that Coates, while by no means a bad writer, just wasn’t a genius.

By Deborah Yaffe, Aug 15 2013 01:00PM

"The Lizzie Bennet Diaries" was always going to be a hard act to follow.

Cleverly written and well-acted, LBD retold the story of Pride and Prejudice through the video diaries of a twenty-something communications grad student in contemporary California, supplemented with videos, Twitter messages and Tumblr posts ascribed to various secondary characters.

I was one of the insanely large number of fans – more than two hundred thousand YouTube subscribers! – who tuned in to LBD’s one hundred three-to-five-minute-long episodes, posted online between April 2012 and March 2013. I helped a Kickstarter campaign last spring raise nearly $460,000 – almost eight times the target amount – to pay for a DVD package. I refuse to admit how excited I was when an LBD panel was added to the program at next month’s conference of the Jane Austen Society of North America. (But – do you think Darcy’s going to be there?)

Against that backdrop, it’s been a tad dispiriting this summer to watch the LBD team’s follow-up Austen-based web series, "Welcome to Sanditon," fall flat.

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