The Road that Leads to Austen

The Road that Leads to Austen

God blThinkstockPhotos-459426917ess the broken road that lead me to Jane Austen.

If my last post was too snarky, then this one might be a little too reflective. I had planned to write something else this month, but after a few comments on my post last month, I altered my plans.

At least one reader did not catch my teasing tone, but along the way, I got personally insulted. I expected disagreement, but what I saw was something I’ve seen many times over now. An assumption, perhaps based on my age or the fact that I don’t worship Colin Firth and/or the 1995 BBC production, that I am more of a fan of fan fiction and media adaptations than the book.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

And this form of reader discrimination is something I’ve seen in reviews. Readers deride about other readers’ comprehension of the original.

I read Pride and Prejudice for the first time when I was seventeen for a school reading assignment. We had previously read Jane Eyre. I expected another book like Jane Eyre and was incredibly surprised to read wit and sarcasm instead. Nor did I expect a romance. My other big reading influence from the nineteenth century was Little Women, and so even when I read Jane Eyre, I recognized the story was about character development and not the romantic attachment. I’ll never forget how surprised I was by Mr. Darcy’s proposal. I’m certain I was as astonished as Elizabeth!

I reread it at least three times that year. At one point, I checked out the entire 1995 mini-series from the library. I thought it was ok. It didn’t match what was in my head and chalked it up to being adapted differently for TV. Such was the case with my Little Women experiences. Period novels do not always make interesting films for contemporary viewers.

During college, I took a heavy course load in attempts of graduating early. I worked nearly full time and got married when I was nineteen. I majored in history with minors in political science (wasn’t offered as a major at my university) and English literature. In short, I was required to do a lot of reading and writing. I kept coming back to Austen in my very limited free time, though. My favorite English professor knew I’d try to work her or Alcott into a paper at least once during the semester.

When the 2005 film came out, I hated it.

I was first told about fan fiction by that favorite English professor. I turned my nose up at it. Once finished with college, I read Austen in a continuous cycle. I wouldn’t even try other authors. It wasn’t until I was pregnant with my second child in 2013, after watching the North and South miniseries, that I finally tried Jane Austen Fan Fiction. Well, we know how that turned out!

Around that time I started watching the 2005 film more as well. Baby feedings meant more time for TV viewing than I ever had before, but not enough to watch a 5 part series. Somewhere around viewing number five or six, I realized I was falling in love with the film. At first I only saw the flaws. I saw scenes that were not translated in a literal sense from the book. I saw departures in decorum and dress. But what I finally noticed was it captured the mood I had always felt when reading the book.

Now, I mention all this to say, that I know many people whose first experience with Jane Austen has been through a media adaptation. So it makes me sad to see that derided, especially when it’s matter of preferring one version over another. It is foolish to cast aside millions of fans and say they must not understand Jane Austen correctly because they watched “the movie” (whichever one they mean by that) first.

I have two children. My son just turned five and has watched a few adaptations with me. He loves Mr. Darcy. The other day in the car I asked him why.

“Because he’s pretty and cute!” he told me.

“Is there any other reason?”

“No. I just care that he’s pretty and cute!”

You know what? That’s totally acceptable. I went on to tell him Darcy’s great qualities but, there is nothing wrong with first enjoying the character through a film portrayal. Eventually, I’ll get him to read the book, just like all the others who went on to read the book after watching a film.

We all have our path to Austen and derivative works of her greatness. So, let’s set aside the bickering and condescension. Jane wouldn’t want that. Let’s stop setting ourselves up to be Lady Catherines or Fanny Dashwoods.

Maybe you love Matthew MacFadyen or Colin Firth. Maybe you’ve always longed for an adaptation with Richard Armitage as Darcy (drool). Maybe you prefer Wentworth over Darcy. Or Colonel Brandon or Knightley. Or gasp! Even Edward Ferrars or Edmund Bertram.

There’s not one way to find or love Austen. She’s there for us all. You’re entitled to your opinion. Your interpretation is great. Your taste is great. Whether you first found Austen from a Lifetime airing of the 2005 film of Pride and Prejudice, Emma Thompson’s brilliance in the 1995 adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, read the book in school, or have been a devoted Austen scholar for fifty years. And I think that’s the attitude Jane would want us to have: respectful but firm, don’t take trash talk from anyone but not arrogant or condescending.


18 Responses to The Road that Leads to Austen

  1. Loved this article! My first foray into Austen was going with the girls in my dorm to the 2005 version. I had never read or watched anything before that. The movie, soundtrack, everything was so beautiful and I watched it so often. I love the Regency time period generally and read other series set in similar times. Finally, I was commuting to work for 2 hours everyday and read while I was on the train, I found Death Comes to Pemberly at Barnes and Noble and thus began my descent into JAFF. I’ve now read more than 150 of them and am writing my own. Interestingly, nursing my babies had given me the time to read and enjoy books like I haven’t had time to since being in school. At this point, I feel like Austen and JAFF writers have almost influenced me more than any other books I’ve read.

  2. I totally agree Rose. I read the book many years ago in my teens several is definitely my favourite of Jane’s books. I absolutely loved the 1995 mini series especially Colin Firth. I still love it and have the DVD. Then I saw the 2005 film and I love that as well. I don’t see any point in arguing or name calling as it is personal choice. I happen to prefer whichever I am watching and as well as watching my dvds I watch whenever they are on tv. I especially love the world of books Pride and Prejudice has inspired. Thank you for your contributions?

  3. I love this post Rose. I found Jane Austen because my DH read Pride and Prejudice 6 years ago. He watched the 2005 film and just put it on one evening. And, well, I fell in love with Pride and Prejudice, Darcy (MM) and Elizabeth. I then read the book and watched the 1995 BBC adaptation. I felt Firth was ok but loved MM’s interpretation. It doesn’t matter how one is introduced, what one prefers, which version, or book be it Jane’s works or JAFF, etc. All that matters is that we all love Jane Austen and her works. That’s why we are here.

  4. Well said, Rose. I loved the snarky tone of your last post and the way you parodied the orginal article. No need for anyone to make any personal comments at all.

    Some may already know it but I fell in love with Jane Austen after first seeing the 1940 version in around 1966. I also fell in love with Olivier’s Darcy. OK, I was only 11 at the time but I checked the book out of the school library the next day. My only disappointment was that the archery scene in the film wasn’t in the book! The rest is history.

    Having read all of the books multiple times and seen at least two different adaptations of each, I do have favourites. I still find Mansfield Park the most challenging to enjoy in either book or dramatisation. P&P and Persuasion vie for the number one spot. But, sorry to say, I’m finding P&P 2005 more and more difficult to watch. The cinematography and music are simply wonderful, though.

    I only came to the world of JAFF and the online community comparatively recently (early 2014, apart from a brief encounter with some audiobooks three years earlier) and have become a total junkie ever since. Thanks so much for letting us be a part of your world.

    • I actually think Olivier is the best actor to play Darcy. The later adaptations can do so much with setting, lighting, music all these things with close ups and such to capture moods but the 1940 one really relies on the actors. I also really find it hysterical that the same man who wrote Brave New World wrote the screenplay of that adaptation! Who would have thought he could do such a comedy! I wouldn’t say Olivier is my favorite Darcy but he’s a heavyweight to be sure.

      I’m so glad the film drove you to read the book and it stayed with you all the years until you found JAFF!

  5. Great article Rose. I had to read Pride and Prejudice at school aged 13 after having had to read two very depressing Thomas Hardy books so it is hardly surprising that I fell in love with such a sparkling, witty book with amazing characters. I introduced some of my students to Austen through the film Clueless which is even more shocking to some, but it got fifteen year olds reading Austen!

  6. Loved this!! My first experience with austen was in highschool in a class where i chose my own books from a list and sense and sensibility was on that list. I struggled with it! The despriptions of the flowers and trees and such were hard for me! And i strggled with Marianne. So i was determined never to read another jane austen novel again! (I was 16) ha. When i was 19 we moved to england and i heard so much about jane austen there from my girlfriends that i was a little intrigued. However it wasnt until i was 21 in college, married, and had a 3 month old that my friend beought over pp 2005 to watch as our husabnds were out working and she helped me fold laundry that i was intrigued!! I couldnt hear the movie but i was DYING TO REWATCH IT. i watched it 5 more times that week and went and bought a copy of the book and read it in a long evening. WOW life changer. I got into fanfiction in 2012 read EVERYTHING and well its lovely!! It truely is! Thanks for being an amazing author to my now FAVOURITE genre!!

    • In my high school class we were put into groups (groan) and then each group had to choose books from a category that was divided by era or topic. We were then to do a presentation and the idea was that the whole class would have a good grasp of the book based on presentation. If I recall correctly, Austen was put in the Romantic category (the historical movement, not romantic pairings) even though she’s a bit on the early side. Sense and Sensibility was the other one by her in the category but had been previously chosen by another group. I didn’t read S&S until many years later and I can’t recall the school presentation, but I wonder how I would have reacted to it had I read it at 17. I had been very much a Marianne when I was 16, so it probably would have hit too close to home, I would have caught the dramatics and been deathly ill for a month and then been searching for a Colonel Brandon. Strangely enough, I met my husband that same year he’s much more Darcy than Brandon and I wasn’t looking for a relationship at all. Actually, one of the reason I turned him down when he asked me out was that I just didn’t want to think about love.

      Oh, and I was laughing at how you watched P&P while folding laundry and couldn’t hear it. I’m assuming you had the sound off because the baby was sleeping? Sounds sooo familiar! Glad you fell in love with the movie and the book!

  7. Hear hear!! I think this post is so right on the nose! I too fell in love when I was in school. Of course my first love was Emma because (without the wealth) I was a bit of an Emma. I used to wish strongly for Mr. Knightley to show up. Then when I did get married (and I waited until I was 27 because men typically annoyed me), my husband is very first my strongest friend, critic and cheerleader quickly followed by all the things a husband is supposed to be. It took me a long time to warm up to fan fiction, not really until I found Sharon Lathan. Everyone has our own road and our own opinions that we are 100% entitled to. Just don’t deride someone else people!! I wanted to add, I’m not much for movies (period), but I will watch Austen adaptations and fill in the missing parts in my head. LOL It’s also one of the ONLY ways I can get through Northanger Abbey. :-p LOL

    • Lol. I’ve thought I can identify with each of the heroines to an extent. I have a plot bunny for a modern story dealing with that. So, I can understand your Emma-ness. I do love Northanger Abbey and I adore the 2007 production with Felicity Jones and J.J. Feild! So glad you found JAFF!

      • Oh, and I found that pic on a stock photo site but it could just as easily be my own! I’ve recently moved (again) and the roads are awful here. I was going to do a post about Regency roads- or something like that, as I think there have been a few travel related posts so I wouldn’t want to repeat anything- because I try to remind myself that they had it worse. But really, there are potholes large enough for a small car to get stuck in.

  8. Thanks for the post. I too fell in love with P&P at the age of 17 (in 1994), although in my case the reading was purely voluntary when I needed something for a long car ride. I read it straight through until I finished at 1:30 in the morning, and then the next morning, I opened it and started it over again. It is one of the few books I really enjoy movies based on, but I think that is primarily because I have spent so much time with the book that I have imagined it out many times in my head. Anyway, I love the comments about each of us being entitled to our own opinions. Thank goodness we all have our own minds and free will. What a boring place the world would be otherwise!

    • Wow! What a reaction! I don’t think I started the day after finishing, but I vaguely recall staying up late after getting enthralled. Of course, I do that all the time now. What are things like bookmarks for? Quitter strips!

      And I agree! What a dull world we’d live in if everyone had to be the same.

  9. Rose thank you for sharing your reflections. We should ALL take time to pause and reflect in order to see where we are and and where we need to go…. 😉

    • Ah, maybe this begs a follow up post. Where my thoughts are now on this front are different from where they used to be. Life is a journey, isn’t it? We all have to keep moving forward.

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