Parodies, continuations and alternate universe settings of Jane Austin’s books have become very popular – mysteries, vampire hunters, etc. – with a greater or (more often) lesser degree of success. Now there is a new version using the world and characters Austin’s Pride and Prejudice and it is delightful and beautiful and very much a great success.
Longbourn by Jo Baker follows the story of Pride and Prejudice from the the servants point-of-view. As were good servants in real life, the servants in Austin are mostly silent and unseen. Here they take center stage. They have their own dramas and crisis, joy and heartbreak and a unique, decidedly unglamorous view of the family. The Bennett girls, both thoughtful and frivolous, only rarely acknowledge the servants and the extra work they often unnecessarily create for them (except for sweet Jane who is always undemanding and kind), and offhandedly change the servants lives without consulting what they might wish. Although they are the center around which the servants orbit, the Bennets are regulated to the periphery here and the world of the servant is foremost. The work is physically hard and mind numbing dull, yet for most of the servants their place in the household gives them shelter, both physical and emotional, from a cruel world.
Sarah, orphaned at a young age, is grateful to have a place at Longbourn, yet wonders if she can again find the happiness she remembers before her parents died. Her suspicions of James the new footman gradually change and when she discovers his secret, they become bound by love and a common understanding of those who are alone.
Longbourn is beautifully written – you may find yourself stopping frequently to reread favorite passages – and full of compassion and secrets. James’ story is especially heartbreaking and suspenseful. At heart a love story, Longbourn is also about the restrictions imposed by society and class structure, about what we are willing to sacrifice for those we love, about the power of waiting and standing firm, about finding your own path no matter the obstacles.
Thank goodness authors and actors and artists keep using Jane Austen as a muse to keep us Janeites busy. Here is a list of a few recent Austen-related items I’ve enjoyed:
From Prada or Nada: I have been a fan of actress Camilla Belle since her Disney Channel days, so I checked out this movie for some fun and silliness. My first shock was that despite the girly title and DVD image, this film has more drama than comedy. Then my second shock came at the end of the movie when I realized I had been watching a pretty direct retelling of Sense and Sensibility! (The girls are even named Nora and Mary–I was so embarrassed it took me so long to register the plot.) The movie follows two sisters as they deal with their father’s death and moving from his wealthy home to live with their Mexican Grandmother and extended family in a poor neighborhood in East LA. The film did a fantastic job of keeping true to Austen’s story while also staying accurate to today’s society and the lives of Mexican-Americans.
Austenland by Shannon Hale: Although I tend to love films that do an Austen retelling, I am always hesitant of books that attempt the same. The exception to the rule is those self-aware books where a modern Janeite finds herself living as an Austenian Heroine in her own life. In Austenland, Jane Hayes has been given a trip to stay at Pembrook Park, one of England’s Regency Era resorts that caters to those with Jane Austen fantasies. Although at first she is hesitant to play along with the staff and actors, Jane eventually convinces herself that she will never let go of her Mr. Darcy obsession unless she fully allows herself to participate in the romantic experience. Unfortunately, her love life just gets more complicated as she begins to confuse reality and Austen fantasy. Shannon Hale just wrote a companion book called Midnight in Austenland that sets a murder mystery in Pembrook Park.
The Lizzie Bennet Diaries: This popular youtube series is one of my favorite new things! As you may have gathered from this post (and my other Jane Austen posts), I love Jane Austen with a modern twist, and the Lizzie Bennet Diaries add a twist that I have never seen before: they are telling the story of Pride and Prejudice in real-time! Yup, Jane started her web diaries back in April when she first found out that a young doctor, Bing Lee, bought the mansion near her parents’ home and her mother was becoming insane about it. Her and her bf, Charlotte, (along with occasional help from her sisters, Jane and Lydia, and Bing’s sister, Caroline) produce two videos a week that are usually about 3-5 minutes each. Right now, Lizzie and Jane are staying over with Bing while their mother is remodeling their home (in case they have to sell it). The actors are fantastic, the scripts are fresh, and the whole shebang is produced by youtube superstars Bernie Su and Hank Green. You can catch up on the videos directly from the LBD youtube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/LizzieBennet/ or find out more about the whole project at: http://www.lizziebennet.com/
But I had no idea she was a highly trained zombie-killing Ninja!!!
It appears that Jane Austen may have left a few things out when she was showering her irony, wit and passive social consciousness all over the story of the five Bennet sisters and their adventures in society…for example: ZOMBIES! According to author Seth Grahame-Smith, the militia stationed at Meryton had a very specific reason to be there–to protect the village from a coming Zombie Attack. However, the officers really aren’t necessary because the Bennet sisters, particularly the two eldest, are known all over the countryside for their skills in kicking zombie butts. Other than that, the story strays little from the original Pride and Prejudice plot. Well… except for Mr. Darcy’s knack to crack inappropriate jokes. Yes, the author seems to have loosened up Mr. Darcy quite a bit, although in return Miss Lizzy is a very violent-hearted ice queen.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is more of a parody than a retelling, so those looking to be swept up in Regency romance and wit will not find it. I found myself reading it more to see how Grahame-Smith incorporated zombies into the plot then for the actual story. Expect a little gore and a lot of Jasper Fforde-esque humor.
More of a swamp thing than a zombie person? Check out Seth Grahame-Smith’s Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters!
I admit it. I am definitely one of those girls who watches the BBC presentation of Pride and Prejudice starring Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy over and over and over again. I also watch Bridget Jones’ Diary starring Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy over and over and over again. In fact, a good majority of my favorite movies are a version of the Jane Austen’s classic. Why watch anything else when you can watch Mr. Darcy (especially when that Mr. Darcy is played by Colin Firth)?
Bride and Prejudice
Bride and Prejudice is Pride and Prejudice gone Bollywood, and it is FANTASTIC. Aishwarya Rai, Bollywood actress and former Miss World, is absolutely stunning as the Elizabeth Bennet character.
Lost in Austen
What girl wouldn’t want to trade places with Elizabeth for some alone time with Mr. Darcy? Yeah, that is what Amanda thought, too, until she started causing chaos in her beloved story when Mr. Bingley falls in love with her and Jane agrees to marry Mr. Collins. Maybe Miss Austen didn’t tell us the whole story…
So Colin Firth will always be my favorite Mr. Darcy, but after seeing James McAvoy as Tom LeFroy, the man who may have inspired the Darcy character, he became my favorite actor. Swoooooon.
Bridget Jones’s Diary
FAVORITE! I went through a phase in college where I watched this movie about once a week, now I watch it about once a month. Renée Zellweger is BRILLIANT as Bridget Jones and Colin Firth is DREAMY as Mark Darcy. Laugh laugh tear giggle swoon laugh.
Pride and Prejudice (the BBC Version)
By far THE BEST straight-up movie version of Pride and Prejudice. Some may be daunted by the six hour viewing time, but I say the longer the better (I have been known to watch it twice in a row…).
and for those of you who prefer Emma:
Long before he was part of Seth Rogen’s gang, Paul Rudd was the Mr. Knightley to Alicia Silverstone’s Emma of Beverly Hills. Hmmm, this represents a crossover into my other genre fave: teen movies based on classics…