We are two part-time academics. Ellen teaches in the English department and Jim in the IT program at George Mason University.

A truth not universally acknowledged about film adaptations & _Jane Austen without Masks_ · 13 March 09

Dear Friends,

While I was away I received an interesting question, and was told about a Jane Austen conference in Italy. First the question,

“Dear Ellen,

I am an assistant professor of English at Tulane University in New Orleans. I read many, if not all, C-18L posts and thought you might be able to help me. I am moderating an event on campus tomorrow featuring the screening of some clips from the 1980 BBC Pride and Prejudice and a subsequent Q&A with
Elizabeth Garvie, who I’m sure you know played Elizabeth Bennet in that version. Anyway, for my introduction I wanted to casually note the number of P&P cinematic and televisual adaptations that have been done. The Internet Movie Database lists nine strict adaptations (not including things like Bride and Prejudice for instance). Does that sound right to you? Nine? I thought there would be more. Just thought I’d ask.
bq. I also wanted to ask you if you would like to contribute a blurb regarding Elizabeth Garvie’s performance, if you would like to write up a sentence or two regarding her accomplishment in that version, that is. You would of course be acknowledged, along with a reference to your current scholarly project on Austen and film. The event takes place tomorrow at 2, and I’m sorry to make this request so late. In any event, thank you for your time
and attention!

Dwight Codr”

Dear Dwight,

I was away and missed this email. This was our one week break at GMU. I regret not participating from a distance. Nine would only be true if you included the commentary type adaptations (1940 P&P and 2005 P&P) as well as the free ones (Bride and Prejudice, the Mormon P&P, Bridget Jones Diary and You’ve got mail and Lost in Austen). The reality is there have been only two faithful adaptations thus far: the 1979 P&P and 1995 P&P. All others either make radical departures even if in they are in historically-accurate costume and more or less generally follow the plot so readers recognize hinge points; or they are utterly free analogies. It may be the number 9 can be explained by reference to several of the very early TV adaptations. None of them were faithful: they were all of the commentary or radically changed type, by which I refer for example to one which was one hour long, so the visit to Pemberley was skipped.

Sue Parrill’s book mentions some of these early ones, but not all for she omits the BBC radio programs.

Significant information?. The real Jane Austen text is not as universally beloved or even known as the astonishing sales of the book and use of the title and a few lines and incidents from it (well-known from quotation elsewhere the way Dickens’s lines and incidents are) would suggest.

Film-makers repeatedly say ((in terms of effective percentages) very few of those who go to Jane Austen movies read the book before and few read it afterwards—even in the case of Pride and Prejudice where they may start, but not finish, or not understand it, or read it from the point of view of the film they saw.

Most viewers don’t in the least care about apparent fidelity and it’s useless to prescribe it.

I loved Elizabeth Garvie. What impressed me most was how she learned to articulate language really taken from Austen’s books, not simplified or shortened as in Davies. She also projected real attraction to Wickham which made sense of the first half of the novel and real depression and sadness in the last part. She was very moving.

A melancholy Elizabeth—remembering Darcy after Lydia has exposed (and to her mind) humilated the family

Garvie looked the way I had imagined Elizabeth to look, though I think Jennifer Ehle (with her wig) was got up to look like I had imagined Elizabeth too and while she played the part differently was also effective.

A self-contained contemplative Elizabeth revelling in nature

Ellen Moody”

Second, my good friend, Beatrice Battaglia sent me her announcement of a one-day Jane Austen conference upon the publication of her book, La zitella illetterata: parodia e ironia nei romanzi di Jane Austen (Liguori, Napoli): Jane Austen senza maschere [Jane Austen Without Masks], Friday, March 27, 2009, San Giovanni in Monte Piazza, San Giovanni, with a program that includes many Italian scholars and from the English-speaking community, David Nokes, Janet Todd, Kathryn Sutherland, Brian Southam.

How I wish I could go :). I look forward to reading her latest book. I’m very fond of her Paesaggi e misteri riscoprire Ann Radcliffe [Landscapes and mysteries, rediscovering/uncovering Ann Radcliffe] (Napoli: Liguori, 2008), partially reprised in English in her “Italian Light on English Walls: Jane Austen and the Picturesque,” Re-drawing Austen: Picturesque Travels in Austenland, edd. Beatrice Battaglia and Diego Saglia (Napoli: Liguori, 2005):15-35, which also contains one of my essays, “Continent Isolated: Anglocentricity in Austen Criticism” :) Battaglia’s book on Radcliffe helped me write my recent paper on Northanger Abbey as as sanguine female gothic “The Gothic Northanger Abbey: A Re-evaluation”.


Posted by: Ellen

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  1. “Dear Ellen: I’d be most grateful for your pdf of the Italian Austen conference! Both Todd & Sutherland? Could be interesting, that is from the spectator’s point of view. By the bye, I’d like to share some thoughts on Blackwell’s new Companion to Jane Austen, eds. Johnson & Tuite which I decided I had to have.

    Elinor    Mar 13, 12:51pm    #
  2. Dear Ellen, welcome back.:) I am very interested to read this since I am hoping to watch more P&P adaptations and have been intending to watch the Olivier one, which I know isn’t the “faithful” type but still look forward to seeing. I also want to watch the Garvie one again.

    I must say what beautiful and atmospheric stills you have chosen of both Jennifer Ehle and Elizabeth Garvie.
    Judy    Mar 13, 2:10pm    #
  3. People coming to this blog might like a list of the P&P adaptations now available on DVD:

    1) 1940 MGM Pride and Prejudice, produced by Hunt Stromberg, directed by Robert Z. Leonard, written by Aldous Huxley & Jane Murfin (based on a drawing room comedy by Helene Jerome), set decoration Edwin B. Williams, Art Direction Cedric Gibbons and Paul Groesse, costumes Adrian, and Gile Steele, starring Laurence Olivier, Greer Garson, Edna May Oliver, Edmund Gwenn, Mary Boland, Maureen O’Sullivan.

    2) 1979-80 BBC Pride and Prejudice, produced by Jonathan Powell, directed by Cyril Coke, written by Fay Weldon, production design Barbara Gosnold, costumes Joan Ellacott, starring Elizabeth Garvie, Irene Richards, David Rintoul, Moray Watson, Priscilla Morgan, Judy Parfitt, Peter Settelen [Mr Wickham], Sabina Franklyn [Jane Bennet], Kitty Bennet [Clare Higgins],Tessa Peake-Jones [Mary Bennet], Barbara Shelley [Mrs Gardiner], Malcolm Rennie [Mr Collins], Natalie Ogle [Lydia], Osmund Bullock [Mr Bingley], Marcia Fitzalan [Miss Bingley], Desmond Adams [Colonel Fitzwilliam], Shirley Cain [Mrs Philips], Michael Lees [Mr Gardiner], Emma Jacobs [Georgiana Darcy], Moir Leslie [Anne de Bourgh], Elizabeth Stewart [Mrs Lucas], Janet Davies [Mrs Hill].

    3) 1995 BBC/A&E Pride and Prejudice, produced by Sue Birtwistle, directed by Simon Langton, written by Andrew Davies, script editor, Sue Conklin, production design Gerry Scott, costumes Dinah Collin, Kate Stewart, cinematography John Kenway, original music Carl Davis, starring Jennifer Ehle, Colin Firth, Benjamin Whitrow, Alison Steadman, David Bamber, Adrian Lukis, Suzannah Harker, Crispin Bonham-Carter, Barabra Leigh-Hunt, Joanna David [Mrs Gardiner], Tim Wylton [Mr Gardiner], Lucy Briers [Mary Bennet], Emilia Fox [Georgiana], Miss Bingley [Anna Chancellor], Julia Sawalha [Lydia], Victoria Hamilton [Mrs Forster], Lucy Robinson [Mrs Hurst]

    4) 1998 Warner You’ve Got Mail, produced by Nora Ephron and Lauren Shuler Donner, directed by written by Nora Ephron (based on Samson Raphaelson’s Shop Around the Corrner, itself an update and adaptation of Nikolaus Laszlo’s Shop Around the Corner), starring Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Greg Kinnear, and Jean Stapleton.

    5) 2001 Miramax Columbia Tristar Bridget Jones’s Diary, produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Jonathan Cavendish, directed by Sharon Macguire, written by Helen Fielding and Andrew Davies, starring Renee Zellweger, Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Gemma Jones, Jim Broadbent.

    6) 2003 Excel Entertainment Pride and Prejudice, produced by Daniel Shanthakumar & Kynan Griffin, directed by Alexander Vance, written by Anne Black, starring Kam Keskin, Orlando Seale, Lucila Sola, Ben Gourley, Lelly Stables, Henry Maguire, Hubbel Palmer, Kara Holden, Nicole Hamilton, Rainy Kerwin, Honor Bliss, and Carmen Rasusen.

    7) 2004 Pathe Bride and Prejudice, produced by Gurinder Chadha and Deepak Nayar, directed by Gurinder Chadha, written by Paul Mayeda Berges, starring Aishwarya Rai, Martin Henderson, Nadira Babbar, Anupam Kher, Navreen Andrews, Namrata Shirodkar, Daniel Gillies.

    8) 2005 Universal Pride and Prejudice, produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Paul Webster, directed by Joe Wright, costumes Jacqueline Durran, written by Deborah Moggach, starring Keira Knightley, Donald Sutherland, Matthew Macfayden, Brenda Blethyn, Judy Dench, Tom Hollander, Talulah Riley [Mary], Rosamund Pike [Jane], Claudie Blakley [Charlotte], Simon Woods [Bingley], Jena Malone [Lydia], Rupert Friend [Wickham], Penelope Wilton [Mrs G], Peter Wight [Mr G]

    9) 2008 Granada/ITV/Mammoth/ScreenYorkshire Lost In Austen, produced by Guy Andrews, Michelle Buck, written by Guy Andrews, directed by Dan Zeff, starring Jemima Rooper, Elliot Cowan [Mr Darcy], Huge Bonneville, Alex Kingston [Mrs Bennet], Morven Christie [Jane Bennet], Tim Mison [Mr Bingley], Tom Riley [Mr Wickham], Lindsay Duncan [Lady Catherine de Bourgh], Michelle Duncan [Charlotte Lucas], Daniel Percival [Michael]

    Elinor    Mar 15, 11:35am    #
  4. From Dwight:

    “Dear Ellen,

    Thank you for taking the time to clarify this all for me. I am not an Austen scholar, much less an Austen film scholar, and your remarks helped to ensure that I didn’t make a fool of myself when moderating the conversation. I sincerely appreciate your assistance.

    It¹s interesting that so many discussions surrounding the adaptations of P&P concern the extent to which the lead actress confirms what people imagined Elizabeth to look like, speak like, etc. I wonder to what extent this question informs all discussions of adaptations (Does it match my already-established idea of the character?, in other words), and if so, can we have a reasonable conversation about the value of an adaptation since our ideas of who these characters are are always going to be determined by our personal reading experiences, experiences that themselves have been conditioned by larger social and cultural trends?

    In any case, most of the reviews that I have read echo your sentiment, while most of my students tend to see Jennifer Ehle as more closely matching their idea of Elizabeth. What I like about Garvie¹s performance personally is, for some, one of her signal failures; namely, Garvie, at times, looks like she¹s acting. I find this a virtue since a) the kind of social experiences that E. Bennet has would have been inherently awkward ones and b) these situations (and other, less obviously awkward situations) would have called forth certain social ³scripts² or speech patterns more characteristic of plays than easy-breezy eloquence (like that characterizing Ehle¹s Lizzie).

    You might be interested in knowing that Garvie was wonderful: charming, kind, humble, gracious, informed and informative. One interesting note. She said that remembering her lines during the final encounter with Lady Catherine was a real challenge, one phrase in particular: ³But the wife of Mr. Darcy must have such extraordinary sources of happiness necessarily attached to her situation, that she could, upon the whole, have no cause to repine.² She said that she was able to remember the middle phrase here by conjuring an image of a Chinese restaurant called ³extraordinary sources of happiness.² Isn¹t that priceless?

    Again, thanks so much for the response!

    Elinor    Mar 16, 5:13pm    #
  5. Dear Dwight,

    I’m delighted that I was in time. I thought I was answering too late.

    On your comment whether we can have a reasonable discussion about film: I’d say not yet with ordinary viewers. Movies have such little prestige, and the shibboleth of literal fidelity (absurd) has yet to be given up. So whatever the real reasons for a given reader’s liking or dislike of a movie, the person can fall back on the rationale of a lack of literal fidelity. Film studies seriously done are increasingly fruitful and stimulating; when well done, it sheds light on the original textual source too. A recent book I recommend to you to show you the increasingly fine state of film studies (academic) is Andrew Higson’s English Heritage, English Cinema (or a title very like that)

    I have seen Elizabeth Garvie recently through a UTube on line. She was so gracious. It seems to me her part as Elizabeth remains in her mind as a sort of high point in her career. On her “trick” to say the phrase: in The Making of Pride and Prejudice Ehle talks about the difficult of memorizing (or remembering) and articulating adequately even Davies’s simplifications. She says she had trouble with the rhythms of these long sentences, that they did not come naturally and thus were hard to memorize—and I assume speak. I am very interested and glad to know what precisely gave Garvie trouble. The scene itself is supposed to be and comes across as an intense quarrel. Judy Parfitt is to my mind the best Lady Catherine thus far.

    I will be at the Richmond ASECS and I go to ASECS conferences now and again so I hope we may someday meet f-to-f as they say.

    Elinor    Mar 16, 6:54pm    #

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