Masterpiece's Complete Jane Austen concluded tonight with the wonderful adaptation of Sense & Sensibility. Here is a review of the film from Jill Pitkeathley, author of the forthcoming novel about Austen and her sister, Cassandra and Jane. Read her review of Emma here.
After the review, check out my Jane Austen contest!
Making a seduction scene the introduction to an adaptation of a Jane Austen novel is a bold step and one for which Andrew Davies has been much criticised. Yet the ruin of Colonel Brandon's ward by Willoughby is central to the plot of Sense & Sensibility, so illustrating how the poor young girl was deceived and abandoned by him is surely not a distortion of what Jane Austen wanted her readers to understand. Indeed, though she lived and died a virgin, Jane was by no means ignorant of both the fact and the effect of sex outside marriage. She lived, after all, in the robust days of the Regency and before the times of Queen Victoria when young ladies were not expected to know about such things. Jane was quite well aware of what loss of virtue in a woman meant and seduction features in Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park as well as in Sense and Sensibility.
S&S as she called it, was the first of Jane's books to be published, after Pride and Prejudice had been rejected by one publisher by return of post! It was written at the end of the 18th centurty and first took the 'epistolary' form as a series of letters between the two main characters. She was writing it perhaps when she herself had a brief romance with Tom LeFroy, a young Irishman whom she met when he was over from Ireland visiting his relatives. She may have been in love with him but his family was poor and they both knew he would be obliged to marry well--an alliance with the daughter of a poor clergyman was out of the question as Jane would have well understood. Perhaps Elinor and Marianne represent the two sides of Jane's character--Marianne the romantic and headstrong, Elinor the practical and reserved. Jane later spent a good deal of time revising the manuscript into the narrative form we know now so that it is unclear which parts were written by a 22-year-old Jane and which by the woman of 36 as she was when it was eventually published in 1811. Of course her identity was not then known at all -- it was attributed only to 'A Lady.'
Although much of the book was probably written when Jane was in her early twenties, it shows all the maturity of form and characterisation that we expct hof her novels. She allows the characters to develop and our opinions of them to change as the story unfolds. Mrs. Jennings is at first ridiculous and heartless in her teasing of the sisters but shows real sympathy and warmth during Marianne's illness. The growth of Marianne's respect and love for the Colonel is shown clearly as the story progresses and perhaps comes from the understanding of Jane herself that a man of six and thirty can still be an acceptable lover, even if he does need a flannel waistcoat!
Mrs. John Dashwood is an odious character with a grasping and callous nature which enables her to persuade her husband from his original idea of giving his half sisters one thousand pounds apiece to merely making them a present of fish and game in season--and still is able to think himself generous.
Mrs. Dashwood, the mother, is very like Marianne--driven by her emotions, and so easily overlooks the needs of her elder daughter in her absorption with Marianne and Willoughby, by whom she is also taken in. But Elinor is perhaps not a very appealing character--to judgmental and critcial to elicit our sympathy, somehow she shows perhaps a little too MUCH sense. It makes her rather dull and I sometimes think that in that respect, she and Edward are very well suited to each other!
If I have one reservation about Andrew Davies' adaptation which in all other respects I loved, it is the portrayal of Willoughby. To my mind he is not sufficiently handsome and nowhere near aristocrative enough. The meeting of Willoughby and Marianne on that rain swept hillside is the most dramatic and romantic in all Jane Austen's works and he needs to be the most dramatic and romantic person to match the occasion--the sort of whom Marianne dreams. He is a scoundrel--we suspect from the beginning, but we need to see how he can sweep a girl off her feet figuratively as well as literally!
Many a young woman identified with Marianne when S&S first came out--including the heiress to the Throne, Princess Charlotte, who remarked that 'me and Marianne are very much alike.' Sadly, unlike Marianne who survives her putrid fever to make a wise and sensible marriage, Princess Charlotte was destined to die giving birth to a still born son, leaving the throne of England to Queen Victoria though Jane Austen did not live to see this as she herself died in 1817 at the early age of 41.
--Jill Pitkeathly, author of Cassandra and Jane, coming in September 2008
As you all know, I added a poll to the blog where we can all vote for our favorite adaptation. But I want to know why you picked the one you did -- so I'm running a contest.
Tell me in the comments which adaptation was your favorite and why, and you'll be entered into a random drawing to win a collection of Austen inspired novels including Darcy's Story, an advance reader's edition of Cassandra & Jane, Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, Lost in Austen and The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen as well as the DVD of the most popular adaptation, as chosen by all of you! The contest will end and polls will close next Monday April 14th.