Deborah Yaffe


By Deborah Yaffe, Sep 21 2017 01:00PM

The Jane Austen adaptation factory never seems to stop churning out fresh material. By now, the proliferating combinations and recombinations for stage and screen – I’m not even talking about the books! -- are enough to make the head spin: straight-up Regency, Regency plus zombies, Regency plus murder mystery, Regency plus time travel, modern-day update (American), modern-day update (Indian), Austen biographical, ballet, opera, talking dog. . .

And yet more is on the horizon, judging from a few tidbits of news that came my way in the past week or two.

* ABC plans to air a pilot, and perhaps an entire TV series, adapted from Curtis Sittenfeld’s best-selling 2016 novel Eligible, which updated Pride and Prejudice to contemporary Cincinnati. Regular blog readers will recall that I enjoyed Eligible, and a “soapy drama series” based on it could be kind of fun – though after the first few episodes, it presumably won’t have much to do with Jane Austen. No word on when we can look for this, but I hope it's soon! I'm having new-Austen-adaptation withdrawal symptoms.

* Jane Austen’s relatively quiet life has, improbably, already spawned not one but two screen dramatizations (Becoming Jane and Miss Austen Regrets). And now Austen the Musical – which is, as you might expect, a musical-theater version of that same quiet life – is launching UK and US tours. (The UK performances run from October 2017 to April 2018; no US dates have been announced yet).

Apparently, the show has already played to good reviews in arty venues like the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. I must confess that I felt a qualm when I ran across website copy telling me that “Austen the Musical explores Jane’s struggle to have her work published in a male dominated environment, her romances and her vow to reject a woman’s lifestyle in Georgian England.” (Qualms since a) it’s not clear that her publishing struggles were gender-related; b) her romances are mostly fictitious; and c) I’m unaware of any such feminist “vow.”) But I’m willing to give the show a shot if it comes to a theater near me.

* Meanwhile, the horizon has receded a bit for the long-awaited movie of Sanditon, the novel Austen left unfinished at her death, according to an interview the film’s producer gave to the period drama website Willow and Thatch. (Scroll down to “Update 9/6/2017.”) Back in early 2016, there was talk of a 2017 release -- I blogged about the movie here and here -- but now it looks as if filming won’t even start until next year. Until then, I guess we’ll have to content ourselves with other products of the Austen adaptation factory.

By Deborah Yaffe, May 9 2016 01:00PM

In the 1940 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, played by the great comic actress Edna May Oliver, turns out to be an old softie. Just as in Jane Austen’s novel, her combative confrontation with Elizabeth Bennet ends up bringing the young lovers together, but in the movie version, Lady Catherine planned it that way -- because she’s super-fond of Elizabeth. “People flatter her so much. She enjoys an occasional change,” a smiley Mr. Darcy explains to his lady-love.

When I was a kid, the movie was shown on our local college campus (yes, boys and girls: before God created streaming video, we could only see movies when they were screened in public), and my father, the person who gave me my first copy of P&P, took me along. Afterwards, he commented on Lady Catherine’s personality transplant. “It turns out that that spinster in rural England was a lot less sentimental than all those hard-boiled Hollywood types,” he said.

I was reminded of that moment last month, as I was reading Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible, which updates P&P to Cincinnati in 2013, a world of reality TV, Skyline chili and frequent texting. Sittenfeld’s book is the latest installment in the HarperCollins-initiated Austen Project, which assigns a modern update of each Austen novel to a popular yet critically acclaimed contemporary writer.

Regular blog readers will recall that I hated the first three Austen Project outings, so I’m happy to report that Eligible is much, much better. It’s a cheerful, light-hearted reimagining with some laugh-out-loud-funny dialogue, and its playful attitude towards Austen’s original makes it a lot more enjoyable than the slavishly faithful earlier installments.

By Deborah Yaffe, Apr 16 2015 01:00PM

Halfway to the finish line, the Austen Project is looking increasingly like the Austen Fiasco.

The Austen Project, as you may recall, is publisher HarperCollins’ effort to confer respectability upon the much-maligned genre of Jane Austen fan fiction by assigning a modern-day update of each Austen novel to a commercially successful yet critically acclaimed contemporary writer.

The first three volumes have now been published, and each is, in its own way, pretty bad. No adapter has yet been announced for Mansfield Park and Persuasion (although I’m rather partial to my husband’s suggestion that E.L. James should take on Fanny Price), and the project’s web site shows signs of infrequent updating. Could it be that HarperCollins is having trouble persuading writers with the appropriate track record to jump aboard this listing ship?

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