now a major motion picture

2 April 2008

I’m on a fiction jag. More accurately, I’m on a Jane Austen jag. Masterpiece Classics on PBS has been airing “The Complete Jane Austen” and, drawn into the movies, I’ve decided finally to read the books.

My first exposure to – I won’t say experience of – Austen came in high school. As a student, I was focused on getting good grades rather than on learning anything. My report card showed B’s for calculus though I didn’t understand math beyond algebra, and A’s in English though I rarely glanced at the books my teachers assigned. At least, not until it came time to cull quotes for knitting into into long, assigned papers about the books’ themes.

I’m not sure why I avoided the assigned reading, except perhaps that it was assigned. I was a ravenous reader from the start. High school is when I began reading everything I could by an author I liked. As with my current Austen obsession, a movie prompted my first author-focused reading fit. Unlike with Austen, though, I felt drawn to Isak Dinesen because the movie based on her book befuddled me. I’d seen it in junior high, when my mom met questions about what was going on with “You’ll understand when you’re older.” A few years later, roaming about a used book store, I discovered Out of Africa on the shelves and was attracted to the lingering illicit air implied in my mom’s comment, reading it like other kids read the Joy of Sex found hidden under their parents’ mattress.

I don’t yet know how far my interest in Austen will take me, though my obsessiveness about an author can get out of hand. Out of Africa lead to a years-long exploration of Dinesen, which included a transfer from my first university in the big-hair wasteland of Dallas to the University of Washington to study Danish, Dinesen’s first language, with the thought of becoming a Dinesen scholar.

So far, my interest in Austen has resulted in reading three of her novels and seeing nearly every adaptation of any of her works I can get through Netflix.

I’m troubled a bit by watching instead of, or even in addition to, reading, especially when it comes to my daughter. My foremost objection to watching movies based on books is their pernicious tendency to preempt or supplant my own mental images formed while reading, and I worry that my daughter will likewise be stuck forever seeing Tilda Swinton as Narnia’s White Witch. Though as far as Mr. Tumnus goes, you could hardly ask for better than James McAvoy. And maybe her fascination with the movie’s Aslan, which has so far stretched into months of imaginative lion play, will grow into a love for, or even obsession with, C.S. Lewis once she’s a reader herself.

One Response to “now a major motion picture”

  1. 1 amri
    July 12th, 2008 at 12:45 pm

    Oh, baby, it’s only just begun. Although I enjoyed Emma in high school, it wasn’t until 1995′s version of Pride and Prejudice (with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle) that I went on a massive Austen jag that continues to this day. I read all the books multiple times, saw all the adaptations–even the dry as toast 80s BBC versions (which do have their charm), started reading Austen fanfic, went on a pilgrimage to Bath and the Austen museum, went to see the house that was Pemberly in that 1995 P&P. Basically, totally geeked out and it continues to this day. It’s a really wonderful world. Jane totally rewards re-reading and total submersion. As far as adaptations vs. books–for me, they enhance each other. I may picture an actor while reading, although I’m not sure–fictional characters do kind of remain as their own images in my mind even if I am fond of particular actor’s interpretations. Sometimes there are parts of the books that I’m so mad they left out or re-interpreted badly, but then I can appreciate them as works of art, too. Really, I think anything that enhances your appreciation of Austen is all to the good. Have you seen Persuasion with Ciaran Hinds and Amanda Root–one of the very best. The 1999 Mansfield Park, directed by Patricia Rozema with Frances O’Connor as Fanny Price is not the book in any way shape or form, but has its charm. I actually get very irritated at the novel’s Fanny Price–I just want to smack her into talking, but the movie, which makes her more heroic and outspoken, not to mention turning her into a writer like Jane Austen, kind of redeems the book in a way. And Emma–Kate Beckinsale vs. Gwyneth Paltro–truly an embarassment of riches there–both great adaptations. And, fond as I am of Colin Firth, I was kind of charmed (and annoyed in parts) by the recent Keira Knightly/Matthew McFadyen version. Really, pigs running through the house? They weren’t THAT poor, for the lord’s sake. And of course, there’s the Emma Thompson, Oscar winning Sense & Sensibility which is just fabulous. If you haven’t seen these, you have much to look forward to. Have fun!