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Even if you’ve never read any of her works (if that’s the case, shame on you!) you still know exactly who I’m talking about. You know exactly who she is.
Jane Austen. Beloved author.
Jane Austen. The original independent woman.
Jane Austen. The queen of the novel.
I believe that Jane Austen is the greatest writer who ever lived. An unaware reader can read right over all of her subtle sarcasm and wit. Jane Austen demands her reader's undivided attention, and her skill makes it impossible to disappoint. You can't help but be sucked into the worlds she created so flawlessly. In Elizabeth Bennet, Anne Elliot, Emma Woodhouse, Elinor Dashwood, Fanny Price, and Catherine Morland, Jane Austen gave us what many an author of the 19th Century didn’t understand we needed. Heroines.
The beauty of the Austen heroines is that they are real, believable women. They are, by no stretch of the imagination, perfect. Let’s face it, these ladies are flawed. Elizabeth Bennet is too proud and prejudiced after a poor first impression of Darcy to give him a second chance. Anne Elliot is too persuadable - she gives up the man she loves simply because he’s her social inferior, not trusting him to become successful (which he does, by the way). Elinor Dashwood has absolutely no clue how to regulate her feelings. Emma Woodhouse is a snob. Fanny Price is terrified of everyone and everything. Catherine Morland is too naïve. But along with these flaws that make Austenian heroines human, they are also quite remarkable, especially for their time. Elizabeth Bennet is headstrong. Anne Elliot has calm and capable. Emma Woodhouse really does have everyone else’s best interests at heart. Elinor Dashwood is sensible. Fanny Price is insightful. Catherine Morland sees only the good in people (except Henry's father, of course). All Austenian heriones are intelligent women, which was a bold move for an author of Jane's time. Jane herself is famous for saying "A woman, especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can." (Remember what I said about wit?) In these six characters Jane Austen has given generations of women six inspiring women who can teach us a lot. They teach us that first impressions aren't always correct. They teach us the importance of following your own heart. They teach us that when it comes down to it, nothing (not even a sadistic family, a snob of an aunt, or pride) can stand in the way of true love. Among the many things Miss Austen has taught us, my favorite is this: “All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one; you need not covet it), is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone" (Persuasion).
Jane Austen’s work is so beloved it has been adapted for the screen several times. Although a movie or mini-series never lives up to the novel, these adaptations are always fun to watch. The best adaptation is widely accepted to be BBC’s 1995 6-part adaptation of Pride and Prejudice starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. It also happens to be my favourite.
Jennifer Ehle is the perfect Elizabeth Bennet, and of all the Elizabeth Bennets she is by far my favorite. Her portrayal was flawless. It astounds me how very much Keira Knightly’s 2005 performance is based on Jennifer Ehle’s. Even the way Knightly speaks, pronounces her words and the way she moves her mouth when she does is a direct copy of Jennifer Ehle! I have frequently found myself thinking that this being the case (surely you cannot argue?!) that Knightley didn’t actually deserve all of the praise she got for this role. Untill the day I die I will maintain that Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth Bennet is an attempted carbon copy of Jennifer Ehle’s. Jennifer’s being the supreme, of course.
Having said that, I really enjoy watching this adaptation. The Bennet sisters are brought to life beautifully by Jena Malone, Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, Rosamund Pike and Talulah Riley.
In my humble opinion the worst Austen adaptation (unpleasant, I know, but we must discuss these things) must be the 1996 made for television movie of Emma starring Kate Beckinsale. I love Kate Beckinsale as an actress, I really do, but this was a horrendous adaptation, and if it weren’t for the fact that I was hoping it would get significantly better, I would not have been able to sit through the whole catastrophe. Frankly, I want my 107 minutes back! Now, I firmly believe that you reap what you sow. I don’t want to put negativity into the universe, so I hope you don’t mind that I will leave it at that.
When all is said and done I can think of many words to describe the works of this author, but the most appropriate seems to be timeless.
A picture of The Jane Austen Centre sign in Bath, thoughtfully taken for me when Erika visted Bath