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Jane Austen in Hollywood

Jane Austen in Hollywood

Linda Troost
Sayre Greenfield
Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 248
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    Jane Austen in Hollywood
    Book Description:

    In 1995 and 1996 six film or television adaptations of Jane Austen's novels were produced -- an unprecedented number. More amazing, all were critical and/or box office successes. What accounts for this explosion of interest? Much of the appeal of these films lies in our nostalgic desire at the end of the millennium for an age of greater politeness and sexual reticence. Austen's ridicule of deceit and pretentiousness also appeals to our fin de siècle sensibilities. The novels were changed, however, to enhance their appeal to a wide popular audience, and the revisions reveal much about our own culture and its values. These recent productions espouse explicitly twentieth-century feminist notions and reshape the Austenian hero to make him conform to modern expectations. Linda Troost and Sayre Greenfield present fourteen essays examining the phenomenon of Jane Austen as cultural icon, providing thoughtful and sympathetic insights on the films through a variety of critical approaches. The contributors debate whether these productions enhance or undercut the subtle feminism that Austen promoted in her novels. From Persuasion to Pride and Prejudice, from the three Emmas (including Clueless ) to Sense and Sensibility, these films succeed because they flatter our intelligence and education. And they have as much to tell us about ourselves as they do about the world of Jane Austen. This second edition includes a new chapter on the recent film version of Mansfield Park.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7121-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction: Watching Ourselves Watching
    (pp. 1-12)
    Linda Troost and Sayre Greenfield

    The past few years have seen a proliferation ofJane Austen adaptations. Between 1970 and 1986, seven feature-length films or television miniseries, all British, were produced based on Austen novels; in the years 1995 and 1996, however, six additional adaptations appeared, half of them originating in Hollywood and the rest influenced by it.

    The boom started in the United Kingdom in September 1995 with the “wet-T-shirt-Darcy”Pride and Prejudiceminiseries written by Andrew Davies, and crossed the Atlantic in December with the opening of Emma Thompson’s high-profile adaptation ofSense and Sensibility.The success of both these productions lifted the art-house...

  5. 1 Out of the Drawing Room, Onto the Lawn
    (pp. 13-21)
    Rachel M. Brownstein

    What gave Harpo Marx the great idea of adapting Jane Austen for the screen was “a sentimental comedy in three acts” by an Australian named Helen Jerome, a dramatization ofPride and Prejudicethat he saw in Philadelphia on October 28, 1935. “Just saw Pride and Prejudice. Stop. Swell show. Stop,” he telegraphed the powerful Hollywood producer Irving Thalberg. “Would be wonderful for Norma. Stop.” The actress Norma Shearer was Thalberg’s wife, who had just been nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal of Elizabeth Barrett Browning inThe Barretts of Wimpole Street;another English Elizabeth, another evocation of a...

  6. 2 Balancing the Courtship Hero: Masculine Emotional Display in Film Adaptations of Austen’s Novels
    (pp. 22-43)
    Cheryl L. Nixon

    The exclamation, “I loved when Darcy stripped off some of his clothes and dove into the pond as he returned to Pemberley,” started off a classroom discussion concerning the Andrew Davies BBC television adaptation ofPride and Prejudice(1995). The student explained her enthusiasm by noting that although this scene does not appear in Austen’s novel, it serves to dramatize Austen’s development of Darcy’s character. Darcy’s swim provides a dramatic visual symbol of his emotional rebirth, as he forsakes pride and moves toward a more generous love of Elizabeth. The scene makes Darcy seem “more alive” and “more human.” The...

  7. 3 Misrepresenting Jane Austen’s Ladies: Revising Texts (and History) to Sell Films
    (pp. 44-57)
    Rebecca Dickson

    A consumer’s prefatory note to filmmakers: in spite of the dismayed nature of this article, please understand just how much I enjoyed each of the recent Austen-based productions.Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility,andEmmaare all delightful visual and audio experiences. Beautiful settings, witty and lively dialogue, lovely costumes, clever irony, and more—overall, they are all well done. Directors and screenplay writers, I paid money to watch these movies. If an Austen-based film appeared in theaters, I saw it at least once and later purchased it on video. I even purchased the BBC video ofPride...

  8. 4 Austen, Class, and the American Market
    (pp. 58-78)
    Carol M. Dole

    As each new Jane Austen production reaches the market, culture critics and film reviewers have struggled to understand this sudden fascination with a world nearly two centuries in the past. Widely divergent theories have been proposed for the outpouring of such adaptations on big screen and small in the 1990s.

    Film industry watchers point out how easily the novels of a writer who is “her own script editor” can be brought to the screen (Lane, “Jane’s World” 108) and note the hunger in some segments of the audience for an alternative to “big-screen explosions and computer wizardry” (Maslin).¹ Among cultural...

  9. 5 Jane Austen, Film, and the Pitfalls of Postmodern Nostalgia
    (pp. 79-89)
    Amanda Collins

    Consider the case of the 1995 filmPersuasion.The videocassette of this film may be purchased in two versions. The differences between these versions have nothing to do with the film or the videocassette. The videos are exactly the same. The differences lie in the boxes that house the videotapes.

    The first, which is an adaptation of the poster that advertised the film, depicts the film’s stars, Ciaran Hinds and Amanda Root, poised for that long-awaited kiss that so shocked Janeites and historical purists. They seem to be holding hands and the shot is nearly full length, showing everything but...

  10. 6 “A Correct Taste in Landscape”: Pemberley as Fetish and Commodity
    (pp. 90-110)
    H. Elisabeth Ellington

    Pride and Prejudice,written in the 1790s and extensively revised before its publication in 1813, is, arguably, the first of Jane Austen’s novels to make extensive use of what Austen inMansfield Parkterms “the influence of place.” According to Ann Banfield, the “influence of place” determines the development of individual characters as physical setting “interacts with and forms consciousness” (35). InPride and Prejudice,this is best illustrated in what Roger Sale refers to as the “Pemberley chapters” (42), which describe Elizabeth Bennet’s journey to Derbyshire with her aunt and uncle and their tour of Mr. Darcy’s ancestral estate...

  11. 7 Mr. Darcy’s Body: Privileging the Female Gaze
    (pp. 111-121)
    Lisa Hopkins

    When I first had the idea of writing on Andrew Davies’s 1995 adaptation ofPride and Prejudice,a year and a quarter after it had been shown on BBC Television, I at once lamented the fact that I had not thought to keep any cuttings of the numerous articles in the British press which had focused on it, and, in particular, on the appeal of Colin Firth’s portrayal of Mr. Darcy. However, I need not have worried. Sixteen months on, the impact of the series was still so great in England that two of the newspapers I have delivered featured...

  12. 8 Emma Becomes Clueless
    (pp. 122-129)
    Suzanne Ferriss

    Ranked among the top ten entertainers byEntertainment Weekly(Ascher-Walsh), Jane Austen is “the posthumous queen of genteel cinema” (Maslin). Recent film versions ofEmmainvite speculation about the novel’s appeal in the 1990s. Written in 1816,Emmatraces a classic comic arc: a misguided matchmaker, overconfident in her abilities, learns the error of her perceptions and discovers love in the process. As in other Austen novels, the female protagonist’s success comes through marriage, a clear reflection of the text’s comic roots and also an indication of its essential conservatism. Apart from the outspokenness of its protagonist, the novel bears...

  13. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  14. 9 “As If!”: Translating Austen’s Ironic Narrator to Film
    (pp. 130-139)
    Nora Nachumi

    It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that each of Austen’s novels ought to make a good movie. Four of them already have. Between 1995 and 1997 versions ofSense and Sensibility, EmmaandPersuasionwere released as feature-length films, and on television, the BBC/A&EPride and Prejudicewas watched by over eleven million viewers in England alone (Randle). Despite mixed reviews from its viewers, the Meridian/A&E version ofEmmanevertheless earned a great deal of critical respect. As Caryn James writes, “its charms are those Austen herself might have valued. It is understated and sly, loaded with a sense that...

  15. 10 Emma Thompson’s Sense and Sensibility as Gateway to Austen’s Novel
    (pp. 140-147)
    M. Casey Diana

    Many English instructors use film clips in an effort to help students visually “connect” with a text. Sometimes, let us say in the case of Kafka’sThe Trial,the entire Orson Welles film (1962) can be particularly helpful in allowing students to navigate Kafka’s labyrinth. The recent spate of literary film adaptations and the amount of video equipment utilized by English department media centers support the idea of an increasing dependence upon this pedagogical methodology. However, are we doing students a disservice by allowing them access to film, especially before they have had a chance to experience the literary text?...

  16. 11 “Piracy Is Our Only Option”: Postfeminist Intervention in Sense and Sensibility
    (pp. 148-158)
    Kristin Flieger Samuelian

    Early in Emma Thompson’s 1995 screen adaptation ofSense and Sensibility,Elinor Dashwood and Edward Ferrars are riding together in the fields near Norland, the Dashwood family estate—soon to be relinquished to Elinor’s half brother. Picking up the thread of a conversation begun earlier and continued over several scenes, Elinor remarks, “You talk of feeling idle and useless—imagine how that is compounded when one has no choice and no hope whatsoever of any occupation” (Thompson 49). When Edward comments, “Our circumstances are therefore precisely the same,” she retorts, “Except that you will inherit your fortune. We cannot even...

  17. 12 Feminist Implications of the Silver Screen Austen
    (pp. 159-176)
    Devoney Looser

    In January of 1996,Timeran a television review with the headline “Sick of Jane Austen Yet?” For many months in 1995 and 1996, British and American viewers found themselves asking, “Why Austen?” and “Why now?” Attempting to answer these questions, as Louis Menand has suggested, “is an invitation to punditry it is probably wise to decline” (15). As the existence of this collection of essays itself demonstrates, however, a number of pundits have happily ignored Menand’s advice. Periodicals fromThe ProgressivetoThe National Review,fromRolling StonetoTown and Country,fromPeopletoThe Wall Street Journal...

  18. 13 Mass Marketing Jane Austen: Men, Women, and Courtship in Two Film Adaptations
    (pp. 177-187)
    Deborah Kaplan

    Some years ago I was given the “tip sheet”—guidelines for prospective writers—distributed by a well-known publishing house of mass-market contemporary romances.¹ Prescriptions for the characterization of the hero immediately caught my eye: “The hero is 8 to 12 years older than the heroine. He is self-assured, masterful, hot-tempered, capable of violence, passion, and tenderness. He is often mysteriously moody. Heathcliff(Wuthering Heights)is a rougher version; Darcy(Pride and Prejudice)a more refined one.”

    The tip sheet thus makes explicit that Jane Austen’sPride and Prejudiceis one of the models for the late twentieth-century’s mass-market romance. To...

  19. 14 The Mouse that Roared: Patricia Rozema’s Mansfield Park
    (pp. 188-204)
    Linda Troost and Sayre Greenfield

    Canadian director Patricia Rozema faced a major challenge when adaptingMansfield Park.UnlikePride and Prejudice,this was not a bright and sparkling novel with a witty heroine and a smoldering hero: Fanny Price is meek and Edmund Bertram bland.¹ The film, jointly produced by Miramax and BBC Films (assisted by a £1 million grant from the Arts Council of England) and released late in 1999, produced mixed reactions. Those expecting another “heritage” film, full of country dancing, Capability Brown landscapes, and posh frocks, were disappointed. Some reviews overtly or subtly condemned the screenwriter-director, claiming that she imported irrelevant lesbianism...

  20. Appendix. Austen Adaptations Available on Video
    (pp. 205-207)
  21. Selected Reviews, Articles, and Books on the Recent Films, 1995–2000
    (pp. 208-212)
  22. Contributors
    (pp. 213-214)
  23. Index
    (pp. 215-221)