Thursday, January 31, 2008

My Jane Snobbery

I'll admit it. I'm a Jane Austen snob. I've read her books. Some more than once. I consider myself an educated fan. However, I'm not an expert. I'm not claiming to know all the dialogue by heart, nor all the details of Austen's life without looking at the timeline. But I know how to read, and what the screenwriters are doing to her books makes me cringe.

So far, they have shown, on Masterpiece Classic, three adaptations of Jane Austen Novels. Persuausion, Northanger Abbey, and Mansfield Park. Persuasion was forgivable. A few details were left out, but this was because of time. However, the character of Ann was solid and obviously well-researched (meaning, the screenwriters must have read the book! Imagine that!). Northanger Abbey was brilliant. It matched all the high points of the book; the character of Katherine was perfectly brought to life, and Mr. Tilney? Perfection. I thought it was very well done. Mansfield Park? I was highly disappointed. To be sure, it must be hard to adapt such a long novel to the big screen for only an hour and a half. I forgave a few things --the lack of society, Julia (she was hardly there!), and the dance Fanny was given (there was no picnic! Where do they come up with these things?), the man who actually suggested the play (it wasn't Tom's idea), the lack of details in the storyline, etc. but what I couldn't forgive? The interpretation on Fanny's character.

Fanny Price was not all giggles, and let-down hair. She was a shy and nervous creature, kind --to be sure! --but not prone to act like the child she did in the movie. It was like they were trying to make her all "Disney" --full of independence and gusto, but the giggling imaturity of a spoiled princess. It was weird. Did they even read the book? Did they see how she behaved? In fact, when reading the book, when we get to the end and Edmund finally realizes he does love her (although the book makes it seem he's finally "settling"), we don't feel very happy for Fanny. If anything, I think most would agree that she'd probably be better off being alone. Ah. But there you go, you can't put that in a movie, can you?

I had a thought:
Kiera Knightley once said (basically) that people saw Elizabeth Bennet as their own, and would be upset with anybody else's interpretation. She, of course, was speaking about her role in the new Pride and Prejudice movie. I understood her point. But I think she was wrong. Jane Austen wrote the words down. She described her characters in such detail that it left very little room for imagination (except for mayber hair and eye color, but even then she sometimes provided those details!). These characters do exist, most completeley in these novels, and for anybody to take them, strip them to their own "interpretation" is like telling Jane Austen what she wrote wasn't good enough. How cruel to take something so perfected and twist it around for a quick movie. It just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Okay, now that it's said, I will say this. The movies, standing alone as intriguing storylines are very good. I have nothing against the entertainment value, the acting, or the costuming (although, please put up Fanny's hair next time! She looks 10 years old!). It's only when comparing them to the original books that I get all huffy. In fact, I will admit it, but I'm sure I'll watch Persuasion and Mansfield Park again. I may even like them. [Just remind me not to think of the original sources as I do!]


Jessica said...

I am with you, this movie version was weird. I felt like the only reason I was able to follow it was because I had just read the book. I kept explaining what was going on to my husband. I wonder why they had to make it so short, and extra 20-30 minutes would have allowed for a little more character development.
I can understand the need to cut down or out certain parts to fit into a movie format, but I would have loved to see Aunt Norris acted more like I pictured her, ridiculously self-centered with a certain venom reserved only for Fanny. Or to see more of the nuances in Mary and Henry's character, instead of having them portrayed as just scheming.
The end I found very silly, in comparison with the book (by itself in some other romantic comedy it could be sweet and funny). Edmund looks over at her and wham! He is in love? And all the running and giggling?
I wish that they wouldn't always modernize Fanny's character. I think the way they portrayed Anne in the Persuasion was closer to how I would have pictured Fanny.
Anyway, sorry for the long comment, but I have been wanted to discuss this a little and get someone's else's opinion! :)

Jolene said...

I am de-lurking. I have read you blog for quite a while now - I have no idea how i stumbled upon it. It just seemed like we had a lot in common (Amazing Race, Mitt Romney, and a general aura of overcoming) so I kept reading.

I am finally commenting because, I am not a Jane Austen purist but more of a shallow Jane Austen romantic. I enjoy all of the interpretations, even some of the 1990s PBS offerings (really bad acting). I absolutely loved this latest version of Persuasion - I thought Captain Wentworth was incredibly good looking even though Ann was a little priggish. I thought Northanger Abbey was great mostly because of Mr. Tilney.

Mansfield Park is a very long book, so I was expecting some major revisions. What I wasn't expecting were Fanny Price's eyebrows - they bugged me through the whole movie. I couldn't even concentrate on what was missing because I couldn't stop staring at her eyebrows!

I told you I was shallow.

Cheryl said...

Don't apologize! I also want to discuss this with people (well, thus the post!). So, thank you for leaving your thoughts!

Yes! I hadn't thought about how the Ann character would have matched Fanny. Plus, Fanny is so unsure of herself --but not in the way they portrayed in in the movie.

I was also disappointed that there was no Mr. Norris. What happened to him and their house?

Cheryl said...

Oh! Jolene, you left your comment the same time I left mine.

HA! I love it because I hated her eyebrows, too! So funny.

Rochelleht said...

Well, well... My kinda topic!

I was disappointed that Cpt. Wentworth didn't write the letter with her in the room. It didn't do anything to the time and it is the most awesome famous scene in the book. Otherwise, I liked it and think he is yummy.

LOVED Northanger Abbey.

I liked Mansfield Park. Watched it again last night with dh. I had to explain a lot because they leave the viewers to their own devises. I liked the movie, but it was very different from the book. Aunt Norris was not as horrible as in the book and Aunt Bertrum was actually smart and engaged. SO not in the book. The reason I liked the movie was because Fanny was more likable than in the book and you were actually excited for her to get with Edmund as opposed to the book. I totally agree with your assessment that in the book they settle. It's not very romantic.

I thought Henry was so cute and he was perfect. Edmund was great as well. Again, more likable than in the book. Mary was way less subtle than in the book.

I HATE Gillian Anderson at the beginning of these. I am going to start fast forwarding through her. When she said that Jane Austen was really Mary Crawford, I was totally annoyed. That statement alone, ruined it for my friend. She couldn't stop being mad long enough to enjoy the show.

Cheryl said...

Comparing Jane Austen to Mary Crawford was like comparing Mother Theresa to Britney Spears. It ticked me off, too!

I will write another post about this later, but I think my Mr. Darcy has been replaced with Mr. Tilney. :)

Katie said...

Love the Post. I totally agree. Here is my take.

Persuasion. I wish they would make Anne a little more prettier. In both films (old and new) she is super dowdy. The book says that she is simple, but also attractive. She just isn't all glam like her sister and dad. Ugh. Someday they will get it right. Capt. Wentworth was nice and cute. I liked that. Usually he is portrayed older and not so cute. I also agree that I missed the note writing bit. That IS THE BEST PART, because you are like Finally...HE GETS IT! Ugh. But, I liked how they showed her always running, like she can never seem to get what she wants or where she is going. I love Anne. She is one of my favorites because she is such a real person you know.

Mansfield Park. I must confess I have not read this one. But, I have seen a few adaptations. This one was way toooo light. And not just the eyebrows, but the teeth...oy, vay! I was also bugged by the hair. Why portray her as so young and naive? She was not. I did like the Edmund character, but I did snicker a bit when he ....looked over...and...wham...insta-love.

Northanger Abbey. I liked it. This one is the lightest of the books and I think they pulled it off well. Good adaptation. I don't think Ms. Jane was trying to do more with this one than write something fun about probably the girls she hung out with who were reading lots of Gothic novels.

But, all in all, even at its worst, it is still better than like 99% of what is out there on TV. Oh wait, Lost is on maybe 98%.

the wiz said...

I loved Persuasion, but I wish Anne had been prettier, and I wish the letter scene had been different.

I turned off Mansfield Park. I've never read the book, *hangs head in shame* so I was really excited to see this one. Also, the chick from "Dr. Who" was in it, so my husband would watch it with me.

Could not understand it, it was boring, and I simply couldn't get into it enough. I turned it off really bugged.

I've read P&P, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, and Persuasion several times, but not the others. I think Persuasion is my fav, with Pride and Prejudice a close second.

Rochelleht said...

the wiz, I think it's so interesting to hear someone's take on this who hasn't read it. I kept thinking that they didn't explain anything, so if you hadn't read it, you would be so lost. Turns out, I was right. I still liked it, but it's because I knew what was going on. I've read it twice.

I agree about Persuasion. It's my 2nd fave after P&P. I think the sexual tension in that novel is fantastic. That's why I was so disappointed that letter-writing scene was gone. The tension in that scene is palpable.

Janelle said...

I read Persuasion the day of the showing and it really ruined the film for me. Seeing the film cut out so much of the intrigue of the characters was tough. So I decided to not read Mansfield Park and Northanger Abby until after.

I loved Northanger Abby.

I did not love Mansfield park. Eyebrows, teeth, scary fiance all minuses. But Mary, I would like to see her in another film with better character development. I could even see her playing a very good Elizabeth Bennett in an unecessary but new adaptation of P&P.

Cheryl said...

Okay, ladies, so last night I decided to do more research. I re-read the letter scene in Persuasion and you're right! They should have done it that way, although now I understand why they didn't (too many characters to shuffle around). I also re-read parts of Mansfield Park, and then I decided to re-watch Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.

I know. The things I do for research. :)

Okay, I didn't re-watch them all the way through. I fast-forwarded to the yummy Mr. Tilney and Captain Wentworth parts, but I digress...

I liked Persuasion better than the first time I watched it. I still feel they left out too much, but the character development was quite nice. I also thought Anne was rather pretty! I just kept thinking that she was a much prettier Ann than the P&P Jane! (Colin Firth version).

Thinking back to Mansfield Park, I think I like the assessments you have all made. And actually, there was a version of Mansfield Park that came out 10 years ago...? Maybe it was sooner than that, but the character development in that movie was very, very good, although the satire of the entire movie was quite annoying. I'll have to find the link. Oh, and Janelle? The actress playing Mary was very good. I just wish she had been given a better script to follow.

Lastly, I thought it was wonderful that other Jane snobs like myself were put off by the inconsistencies in the transitions from book to movie. It validates my own opinions in all things "Austen". Thank you!

P.S. This confirms my decision to write more Jane stuff in the future, too! :)

Hillary said...

My mom would totally agree with you. But I think books and movies are completely different genres. Each has something that the other can't offer, and because they are two completely different media, I don't think you can really compare them. It's like comparing apples and oranges. I just don't think it works.

Cheryl said...

I understand what you are saying, but I disagree with you.

Yes, movies give us something different from the book --they give us the inability to imagine. They take away the picture of the person in our mind. But if done correctly, that image will be the one Jane intended. And yes, I'm that arrogant that I would say I think I know what Jane wanted. How? Because I've read her books. I know the words. I know the characters. And when screenwriters and movie makers take away those words because of budget restraints, or their own egos, it ruins these works of masterpieces.

Yes, they are different genres, but movies BASED on books shouldn't be so flippant with their "interpretation". If they are going to claim that the movie is based on the book, then I think they should get it right, you know?

But thank you for your comment. It forced me to think about it some more. :)