I first discovered Pride and Prejudice in the summer of 2009. I was fresh out of eighth grade, gearing up for high school, starting to tire of the 101 books in the Saddle Club series and frustrated that the Mysterious Benedict Society sequel wasn't out yet. I read some Dickens novels here and there and felt grown-up about them, but though I called Martin Chuzzlewit my new favorite book, I still hadn't been "grabbed," as it were, by a book written for grown-ups. I was starting to think that maybe books for adults just didn't grip you the way kids' books did, and that I was going to be doomed to a life of reading classic novels so I could be an intellectual, stimulating my brain and increasing my vocabulary while being bored stiff.
BOY WAS I WRONG but that's a topic for another day.
Anyway, so then my mom suggested I give Jane Austen a try, and took me to Borders (yes, Borders still existed then) with a new birthday gift card, and I picked out a Modern Library Classics paperback edition of Pride and Prejudice, with a blond Lizzy and snooty-looking Darcy on the cover, and took it home and read the whole thing in less than a week. And I was hooked. And then we watched the 1995 A&E miniseries (the five-hour one with Colin Firth. Y'all know what I'm talking about). And I was in love. (Not with Colin Firth, though. I mean, he's okay, but... yeah.)
Eventually I read all of Jane Austen's novels, watched almost every adaptation in existence, read all the novels again, started a blog about them (You Are Here), and... well, I have Opinions about the forthcoming newest adaptation of Jane Austen's most popular novel.
I'm not a fan, folks.
Here's what we know so far: the same producers in charge of Poldark and Victoria are spearheading a new P&P series. (Full disclosure: I haven't seen Poldark and can't offer an opinion on that. I do love Victoria, but it's not based on a book.) It's supposed to be "gritty" and "dark" and is supposed to showcase what the writer calls "Jane Austen's wit, which is sparkling like granite."
You can read more about this here and here, so I won't bother recapping every single detail. They say you aren't supposed to write novels in blog posts because you lose your audience's attention (and with the sporadic nature of my blog posts, I need to keep my audience's attention whenever I can get it) so I'll get right to the point. Here are my eight reasons why I am not excited about this new production.
1. P&P is more than just a "bonnet drama."
It really grinds my gears when people refer to miniseries like Cranford and Sense and Sensibility as "bonnet dramas." It implies a note of condescension, that stories primarily told from women's viewpoints in bygone eras are somehow frivolous or unimportant. It's a bunch of ladies in bonnets! Visiting! Having tea! There's nothing deeper there than who's-going-to-marry-who! I will be the first to acknowledge that Jane Austen and Elizabeth Gaskell are not everyone's cup of tea, and I am okay with that, but I am not okay with entertainment critics patting Jane Austen on the head. Yes, there are bonnets in P&P, but there is a plot, too. P&P primarily deals with marriage, money, and morality, but it's not just about Mrs. Bennet howling over Mr. Bingley's ten thousand a year. It was the first novel in English literature to feature a truly independent thinker as a heroine-- a woman who chose her own future (yes, with a rich man, but not because he was rich) within the limitations of her time, who wasn't afraid to speak her mind yet still maintained the sense of propriety with which she was raised. It's a fascinating study in the deficiencies and strengths of human character, and to reduce it to Colin Firth in a wet muslin shirt is incredibly disrespectful to the impact it has had on literature in the Western world.
2. P&P is not a dark story.
This isn't a contradiction of the point above. P&P is serious and deals with some weighty matters. But at its heart, it IS light and bright and sparkling. Jane Austen did not describe Elizabeth Bennet as a melancholy, tortured heroine - she said that she "thought her the most delightful character that ever appeared in print." P&P is funny. It's clever. It's full of snark and sarcasm and you get the constant sense that the author is laughing in her sleeve at all this characters, while simultaneously loving them, and as she writes she's sharing a great inside joke with all her readers. The witty, down-to-earth fun of P&P is a large part of what draws most people to Jane Austen. (I mean, she wrote some darker stuff, don't get me wrong. Check out Persuasion if you want a dark story! But P&P is not the place to go if you want dark.)
3. We don't need yet another P&P flick, really.
You can go watch the 1940 version or the 1980 or the 1995 or the 2005 (except... ya know, don't) if you want a "straight" adaptation of the novel set in Regency England. (WELL EXCEPT FOR THE FACT THAT THE 2005 ABOMINATION TRIED TO PUT IT IN 1795 WHEN THAT WAS NOT THE RIGHT PERIOD but I digress and will leave that for another day). If you want a different re-imagining of the story, skip to Point #8. Are any or all of those adaptations perfect? NOPE. Not even the 1995 BBC/A&E miniseries which is one of my favorite Austen adaptations of all time. That one STILL didn't get everything right (though I still love it). But guys. We have a LOT of P&P out there to choose from. (And I am using a LOT of caps today. I AM SORRY.) There is a finite amount of movie-making money floating around out there, and a finite amount of TV air time, and wouldn't it be better to use that money and time towards an adaptation that we actually need? Like, y'know, Mansfield Park for example? (Hint hint hint hint hint. If Heidi Thomas or Sandy Welch are reading this, please take note.) We have a poorly-filmed and somewhat dry version from the 80's, a totally-not-like-the-book-what-is-even-happening-here chick flick from the 90's, and a scowling hour and a half of Billie Piper with her hair down from the 2000's. Please, please, please. Give us a decent Mansfield Park. Fanny deserves better.
4. We all saw what happened with Anne with an E.
Okay, those of you who were brave enough to watch the whole series saw what happened. To be fair, I haven't watched all of it - just clips here and there and read some horrifying reviews, my hair standing on end the entire time. Taking a beloved, classic story and trying to make it into something it's not will not go down well with that story's many fans. Anne with an E is the latest edition of What Not to Do in the period drama universe. Let's learn from other people's mistakes.
|Charles Dickens wrote his own stuff!|
5. You want a dark, gritty story, write your own.
6. Jane Austen said herself that she could not write a serious romance to save her life.
If that isn't a good enough reason for you to accept that P&P is not meant to be a serious romance, then I don't know what WILL convince you. (Note that I'm drawing a line between "dark" and "serious" -- as I said in #2, I consider Persuasion to be dark, though not in a bad way.) She said this *after* writing P&P, I might add -- you cannot argue that she later changed her mind and decided to sparkle like granite.
7. Fake P&P already messed up badly enough.
I realize I am stepping on some toes by saying this, and I don't mean to offend the sensibilities of those of you who enjoy that movie. As a film, it's lovely. As an adaptation of P&P, I feel that it does not measure up. Can't it be a cautionary tale to film producers at this point? We've seen what happened when a writer decided to stick the Bennets in a pigsty, introduce wild flouting of social convention, make Elizabeth Bennet (the delightful creature!) incredibly obnoxious, and rewrite everything that makes Mr. Darcy... well, Mr. Darcy. (If you want to read more bashing of what my best friend and I fondly call Fake P&P and understand more of the reasoning behind why I despise it, feel free to click here.)
8. You want a re-imagining? We've already got those!
May I recommend The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, for starters? (Viewer discretion advised-- a lot of the content in this web series adaptation is not for younger viewers.) I haven't seen it, but I've heard some good things about Bride and Prejudice. Death Comes to Pemberley, while not strictly a new adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, does a pretty good job of staying faithful to the original while bringing in a new storyline. We won't talk about P&P & Zombies, (although do check out some of the hilarious comics that some clever people have made in response to the Jane Austen/paranormal nonsense going on lately) but there are many, many more novels and films out there inspired by the original.
You may wonder why I seem to have a problem with this new BBC adaptation and not with things like The LBD. The reasons for this are threefold. First, that The LBD doesn't even pretend to be a straight page-to-screen adaptation of the novel -- it's a new version for a modern audience that creatively places new interpretations of the original characters in the digital age. It's very cleverly done, but it doesn't pretend to be "the" P&P. I love it when writers take an old, old story and make it
new again by putting the characters (or basic approximations thereof) in new settings. It forces the reader or viewer to think about the messages the original novel is sending, and why people behave the way that they do. But when a reader who loved a book goes to look for a film adaptation of said book, optimistically hoping for a faithful onscreen bringing-to-life of the characters she fell in love with in the novel, she's going to be very disappointed to turn on a movie that *looks* like it should be great (after all, the costumes look good! The famous people look pretty on the cover! The title is right!) and... isn't.
Am I being cynical?
Am I willing to be pleasantly surprised by the new P&P, if indeed it turns out to be good?
Sure! In fact, I'll write a retraction of this post if that is the case.
But am I holding out much hope for that?
Well, unfortunately, not.
I look forward to your (civil) discourse in the comment section. :)