Adapting Austen: A Roundup of My Favourite Austen Adaptations

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I’m a sucker for a good Jane Austen adaptation. In fact, I think I’ve seen just about every one in existence, apart from those awkward 1970s BBC ones that are about as exciting as cohabitation with Mr Collins. So, naturally, this week’s Classic Remarks topic is right down my alley. But since I’ve been watching Austen adaptations since I was about thirteen, it’s kind of tough to pick my favourite. So, instead, I’ve decided to group my selections to cover all the bases you might use for evaluating an Austen adaptation. Continue reading

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A Lit Major At The Movies: Mansfield Park (1999)

Mansfield Park 1999Last year I re-read Mansfield Park. And made a surprising discovery.

I actually liked it. All those years of avoidance, staring at it on the shelf and wondering whether it would ever do anything more other than round out my collection of Austen’s work – what a waste.

So when I found myself loving the book, I naturally wondered whether perhaps my younger self had also been unfair on the movie adaptations of the novel. In particular, the 1999 version directed by Patricia Rozema. So I tracked it down and gave it another go. And what I found was, if not the most enjoyable viewing experience (or, indeed, true-to-the-book adaptation), at least a thought-provoking one.

The 1999 version of Mansfield Park is a darker, more sombre version of Austen than those made earlier in the decade. This turn-of-the-millennium Austen hints at the changes that are going to begin appearing in Austen adaptations of the noughties: an interest in the grungy, the suppressed; in sex, and in the characters who frequently hover on the periphery of Austen’s narratives (domestic servants and, in this particular adaptation, slaves on the sugar plantations owned by the Bertram family). Although we never really see either slaves or servants, these individuals are conspicuous in their absence.

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Mansfield Park (1814), by Jane Austen

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I read this novel as a part of the Austen in August reading event. You can see my Master Post here.

On the inside of my aged copy of Mansfield Park is an inscription. It reads, “To Sara: I hope you enjoy this as much as you enjoyed Pride and Prejudice. From Your Sister.”

For many Austen readers, this sentiment would be met with a quiet chuckle. My poor eleven-year-old sister could have had no way of knowing that what she was giving me (paid for by several weeks’ laborious saving of her pocket-money) was not so much a wonderful gift as an obligation to read. To please her, I ploughed through the thick tome, and then put it down, resolving never to read it again.

I’m sure that this pattern of events is not unusual for Jane Austen’s troublesome third novel. ‘Hardcore’ Austen fans finish the book with a quiet and shameful sense of relief that it is over. Even critics sometimes have a hard time finding much to like in Mansfield Park, particularly in comparison to Austen’s other novels. Continue reading