My husband was gone for four days on a golf trip so I decided to indulge in a Jane Austen film festival in his absence. I watched six movies– Persuasion, Mansfield Park, Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Sense and Sensibility and Northanger Abbey. I had reread all these Austen books during the last year or so; but watching the stories one after the other, I observed new things they had in common.
1. Jane Austen movies almost all have dancing. I liked watching the elegant English Country dancing in almost all of the films. Their patterns are lovely but complicated. The many different steps must have been hard to master. How many hours did they practice? Key scenes in many of the films take place at dances.
2. I noted that clergymen figured prominently in most of the novels. Three of them Edmund Bertram in Mansfield Park, Edward Ferrars in Sense and Sensibility and Henry Tilney in Northanger Abbey are admirable, intelligent and of good character even though they are not perfect. Two of them Mr Elton in Emma and Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice are foolish and vain.
3. All of Jane’s main characters have an independent, assertive streak that is admirable. In Northanger Abbey Catherine is brave enough to want to explore the mysteries of the Tilney family.
Fanny in Mansfield Park refuses to marry Mr Crawford despite the fact that everyone else seems to think she should.
It is Elinor in Sense and Sensibility who takes charge and organizes things for her family when her stepbrother and his wife fail to support them.
Elizabeth is not afraid to tell Mr Darcy exactly what she thinks of him in Pride and Prejudice.
Despite the noteworthy confidence of the Austen women, watching the films made me realize again how lucky I am to live in a time when women are not dependent on men and marriage to make their way in the world, as was the case in the time of the Austen novels.
4. I am also struck by how both men and women in the Austen novels were being forced to marry for money. It seemed a key consideration. Perhaps it is still an important factor in many marriages.
Watching all those movies in such short order got me thinking about what Jane Austen is trying to tell us about marriage. She does think we should marry for love and not for wealth or appearance. However, she does warn us not to be so taken in by flashy, passionate romance that we fail to notice if the object of our affection is not a person of character, worthy of respect.
Marianne Dashwood for example in Sense and Sensibility falls for the dashing Mr Willoughby and is sick at heart when he rejects her, but in the end, discovers that Colonel Brandon’s love is much more worthy and dependable and perhaps every bit as passionate.
5. We never get to know any of the servants in the stories. Sure some of them have a few words to say, but they are never treated as real characters and the main protagonists in the films don’t develop close relationships with them.
6. I noticed how many letters Austen characters received and sent and what an important role they played in the films. In Pride and Prejudice Mr Darcy writes a letter to Elizabeth to explain why he treated Mr Wickham as he did. In Sense and Sensibility Marianne Dashwood receives her final rejection from Willoughby by letter. In Northanger Abbey Catherine’s brother, James sends her a letter to let her know his engagement to Isabella has been broken off. While Fanny is away from Mansfield Park she receives letters keeping her abreast of what is going on there.
There is a website where you can answer 40 questions and find out which of Jane Austen’s heroines you most resemble. Supposedly I am most like Emma Woodhouse from Emma. The survey notwithstanding I am drawn to Elinor Dashwood for some reason, especially the way Emma Thompson portrays her in the film version of Sense and Sensibility.
Pride and Prejudice, however, remains my favourite novel. I recently read PD James Death Comes to Pemberley just so I could revisit the characters.
Why would you need to read the passionate Fifty Shades trilogy at the top of the bestseller lists these days when you can have the gentle romance of Jane Austen?