Friday, August 16, 2013

Theory Concerning Differences Regarding Jane Austen, Etc.

For a while now, I've been formulating a theory about why I enjoy both the 2005 and 1995 versions of Pride and Prejudice, while others would rather give birth to a watermelon than ever admit that there is any worth in the 2005 whatsoever.  Okay, I exaggerate (I think), but it's the myriad discussions about the 2005 P&P that got me thinking about this.  And then I was reading the introduction to the Barnes & Noble Classics edition of Persuasion (2003), written by Susan Ostrov Weisser, when I had an epiphany.

Weisser says:
"Those who are attracted to Jane Austen because of nostalgia for the stability of class and clarity of old-fashioned values in picturesque English villages..."
And I realized that that is probably the difference!  That most of the people who revile the 2005 P&P because it has pigs and dirt and unkempt hair and too much sarcasm and untucked shirts and all the other minutiae that get cited as wrong -- the reason those people hate it is because they want to believe that once upon a time, people were much nicer than they are now, and life was simpler and therefor better, and everyone knew their place and how they should behave and where they belonged.

And while it's true that in Jane Austen's day, there were more rigid hierarchies and more conservative social mores and clearer expectations of how people should behave, I do not believe that people were nicer or better than they are now.  People since Adam and Eve have all been filled with original sin, and while sometimes society as a whole conforms more strictly to one set of values or another, that doesn't mean they were better or worse.  People are still people.  Life is still life.  And when you live in a rural setting, there will be dirt.  There will be animals.  Women who are spirited and given to walking for several miles until they look positively wild will not always behave in a perfectly ladylike manner.  Rich men will behave the way they see fit, knowing people will cut them slack because they have money.  Gentlemen who are not particularly rich will have to be more closely involved in the workings of their farms than gentlemen who have plenty of money.

So.  Because I'm not particularly attached to the idea that things and people were all that different in the past, I like movies and shows and books that portray real people doing real things in a way that strikes me as realistic.

What do you think?  Can we discuss this without getting bogged down in minutiae?


  1. Well, actually, that's not the reason I don't care for the '95 version at all. (true, I don't think the Bennets exactly had a pig walking through their house, but still...;) what I don't like is just that it's too short- there is SO much that gets left out or isn't gone into enough detail. Also, I'm not really a huge fan of Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet. Aside from that, I do agree the movie has some great points- cinematically, it's gorgeous, and I love Rosamund Pike as Jane.

    1. Aha! I can see those reasons -- too short is often irksome (I myself wish there had been a way for the Lord of the Rings movies to include both Glorfindel and Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth), and not everyone likes every actor. I think it captured the spirit of the story and characters really well, despite being short.

      And I don't think the pig was walking through the house. I think it was being herded past the entry under that little overhang thingie where Lizzie swings later. However, I haven't seen it for months, so I might have to see if my mom has a copy (we're visiting my folks, not at home this week) to refresh my memory.

      Meanwhile, I found two excellent articles from the Jane Austen Society of North America that deal with the pig, the dirt, and other things people often object to: "Jane Austen and Mud" by Carol M. Dole, and "The Offending Pig" by Kathleen Anderson. Both are awesome and well worth reading if you like thinking about this sort of thing.

  2. This post made me think. I think your argument is very true, I for one DO like to think people were better, though of course no time period was perfect so I might not be correct in believing so...
    Anyway, I like the 1995 version better because it doesn't cut our so much and it was very well done. I believe though that no actress could get the true-to-the-book Lizzy right.
    Neither Keira Knightley or Jennifer Ehle got her completely right. HOWEVER I would like to say that I do enjoy the 2005 version, because it was actually my first introduction to Jane Austen.
    And let me just say, if anyone has not read the book, they are greatly missing out, as books are ALWAYS better than the movies.

    :) Great post, Hamlette!

    1. There's nothing wrong with a little nostalgia -- I love to dream about what it would have been like to live back in the 1940s or in the Old West. Never mind there was no deodorant, no dishwashers, no computers, etc. Daydreaming is good for us.

      But anyway, yes! I agree that I have yet to see any movie version of Austen's novels that got everything the way I wanted it. Same goes for a lot of other books, like Jane Eyre. I've never found a version of Hamlet that satisfies me on all levels -- I always think someone's miscast or some favorite scene or line gets cut, etc.

      So the book is always best, because you get to envision it exactly the way you want it.

  3. Good theory, but not true for me. The main reason I love Austen's stories is the characters, so the most important reason I dislike the '05 P&P is because the characters are portrayed in a way I disapprove of -- in a way contrary to the book.

    That being said, I do also have a problem with the way the Bennets living conditions are portrayed in the '05 as well. I have nothing against pigs or mud or unkempt hair, etc, etc, in of themselves, I have no illusions that they didn't exist in those days. But...

    Taking the book as law, the "real" Bennets were upper-class and their house Longbourne was an estate; they owned lots of land and rented most of it to low-class farmers who worked the land and raised animals.

    But for the '05 Bennets, Longbourne was a farm itself. In that case the Bennets would have themselves been in SUCH a low class they never would have attempted or imagined being acquainted with people like the Bingleys, who in "reality" were richer, but still of the same class as the Bennets.

    So, yes, I cite it as wrong, and it is. Not wrong to the period per se, but definitely wrong when judged against a more complete understanding of Austen's narrative. And the '95 is perhaps the opposite, a bit too clean for the period, but right by Austen, and that is most important to me.

    And I absolutely do not have any silly ideas that people were nicer or less evil back then. That goes back to exactly why I like Austen so well. Her observations on the evil in human character is just as relevant today as it ever was!

    Anyway, THAT being said, I imagine we could go on about this until the internet crumbles down around us and only succeed in strengthening our own views... but I'm willing to give it a try! ;)

    I started out with the best intentions of making this a short comment... oh well.

    1. I know what you mean about intending to write short comments -- I keep meaning to write short movie reviews, and rarely succeed. There's always so much to say about something you're passionate about!

      I don't know that Mr. Bennet is much more involved in farming than what you would call a "gentleman farmer." He's not out plowing the fields or milking the cows. The only time we see him involved with farming concerns is the pig scene -- we do see him potting a flower once, and sitting in his library several times. He's not even shown out overseeing the servants. Perhaps the pig was a prize stud (it certainly looked like it could be), and if a gentleman farmer would be involved in the breeding of horses, well... maybe Mr. Bennet just liked breeding really good bacon or something. Would there have been barns on the manor house's premesis? Stables, certainly. Would there have been sheep or pigs or geese or chickens? Maybe, maybe not -- I'm starting to feel like I should do some real in-depth research on this, hee!

    2. Very true!

      That's what I'm saying, Mr. Bennet wasn't a farmer at all in the book. There was no such thing as a "gentleman farmer" in those days. He was a landowner. He wouldn't have had anything to do with farming as his tenants would give him produce as part of payment. There wouldn't have been any reason for any animals other than horses and pets to even be around the house. I did some research and this article reiterates what I said, and I also looked at a couple of ever-reliable Wikipedia pages (on landed gentry and tenant farming) if you're interested.

    3. Thanks for the links! The Wikis are very interesting reading, though I haven't finished the other yet. Nothing in them says "a gentleman would not follow a pig through a door" or that they couldn't have barnyard fowl near their house for easier access for the cooks... but I'll take your word for it.

    4. Today I bought a book that, I hope, will help me get a better grasp on just what life was like during Jane Austen's time. It's called Jane Austen's England and it looks amazing!

    5. Here is another review of it that touches on its exploration of the earthier parts of life that we've talked a little about here.

    6. Looks like a very interesting read, I hope you enjoy!

  4. You make a great point! The biggest complaint I read about that version is that the Bennet's and their household aren't right. And I definitely agree that it feels more real and gritty. Yet as Sarah and you said above, not one version gets everything just right. That's to be expected of movies and it's okay. At least in my opinion. Because nothing can take the place of my imagination and how I picture it anyway! :)

    I love every version of P&P that I've seen (which I think is pretty much all of them), but the '95 version is probably my favorite. Mainly because it has so much more time to fully flesh out the story. But the '05 has it's own wonderful qualities too, so I watch it just about as often as the '95.

    Whichever way you fall, I do believe we can all agree that Jane Austen was a wonderful storyteller and we are grateful her stories can still be enjoyed today! :)

    1. You're right -- the most important thing here is that these movies get us all interested in Austen's original books, and maybe gets other people interested in them too!

  5. I totally saw your "pig in the house" post before this one. Whoops. Well, more thoughts:

    I don't get the point of criticizing the 2005 because it's a little grittier. I guess if you think it was completely historically inaccurate, that's one thing, but I feel like they might have been taking just a little bit of liberty in order to give the movie a certain feel. Fine by me. Whether a pig running around would have "actually happened" matters a lot less to me than whether they portray the story and the characters well overall. That's why the 2005 isn't my favorite (but I still like it).

    I don't like Kiera Knightley as Elizabeth. Just don't. I'm not looking for the "perfect Lizzie" by any means; I can enjoy different interpretations of Lizzie, but I didn't love hers. I didn't really love any of the actors' portrayals of the characters, actually, but the movie was absolutely beautiful in several respects, and I really enjoyed that aspect of it.

    1. Lol! Well, the "pig in the house" is above this on the blog, so I can see why you'd have seen it first.

      A lot of people don't like Keira, or don't like her as Elizabeth. I get that. I don't like Cameron Diaz, and if she played Elizabeth, I probably wouldn't like the movie. It happens.

  6. I don't like either of them. Can I win something special?! ;-D

    (Although, I did quite like Keira as Elizabeth.)

    I actually really don't like P&P much at all, which causes my mother the-Jane-scholar-who-has-taught-classes-about-her-and-knows-everything-about-her to go into actual fits. haha

    I just dislike the Darcy character (Tilney is my favorite, but I also love Knightley and Captain Wentworth).

    However, I do love the 1940 version -- even though it is crazy and inaccurate or whatever. It is perfect and happy.

    I also love the 2004 indie modern day version. It's one of my favorite movies (and it's even my mother approved for keeping the spirit of Jane).

    1. I can see Darcy being dislikable. He's actually my third-favorite Austen hero (my favorite is Wentworth, and Knightley and Tilney tie for second. Usually), but Elizabeth is my second-favorite Austen heroine (after Anne), and I like their verbal sparring.

      I've only seen the 1940 version once, but it was flouncy and fun. I love Mr. Bennet's line, "Maybe we should have drowned some of them."

      The 2004 -- is that Bride and Prejudice?

  7. Hello...I'm digging up old posts again, just to add my comment that I posted on my Facebook this week about this subject: "Pride & Prejudice is not just a period drama; it's a love story that transcends the ages. By hating on the 2005 adaptation, you limit Pride & Prejudice to a time frame. It isn't so popular because it's a beautiful story from the early 1800s. It's a classic because it's a profound love story." Which basically sums up my feelings on the subject. :-)

    1. :-) Nicely put!

      I have come to realize that whatever a "purist" is, I am not one. If being a purist floats someone else's boat, that's fine, but it doesn't float mine.


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