Austen: the complete works as medicine

My wife has been ill for a few months, and it seems that the very best medicine for her is Jane Austen.  Lots and lots of Jane Austen. And, thanks to the Bruins’ disappointing playoff run, I found myself lost in Austen with her.

Since April, she and I have read aloud Emma, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, and Northanger Abbey.  So far we’ve skipped Persuasion and Pride & Prejudice, both of which we’ve read before.

We’ve also watched just about every film adaptation of all of Austen’s books, and I now consider myself somewhat of an expert on all forms of Austen. Also, I’ll admit it’s been fun to read each novel and then watch 2-3 different adaptations of it.

So, ladies, if you’re planning on encouraging an Austen marathon with your husband, here’s a little friendly advice:

Start with Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Bennett are two of the greatest characters ever, and your husband will want to climb into the pages to strangle Mrs. Bennett. Encourage him to do so. And, as I’m sure you’re already aware, the film adaptations are all quite good, especially A & E’s with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle.

Emma is another excellent novel and has, by far, the best film adaptation of a novel that I’ve ever seen; the 2009 BBC film with Romola Garai and Johnny Lee Miller will have your husband begging for more Austen! Begging. The screenplay is excellent, the casting brilliant, and the cinematography very, very good.

Persuasion continues to rank as my number one Austen novel, though I felt a little let down by the two film adaptations. Amanda Root (1995) was a fine Anne Elliot, but her Wentworth’s smile disappointed. The recent BBC TV series (2007) felt more like a music video than dramatic cinema.

If your husband can survive reading the first half of Mansfield Park, he should end up enjoying the remainder of the novel. However, I wouldn’t recommend asking him to sit through either of the film adaptations I sat through. You’d be better off re-watching Romola Garai’s Emma.

Northanger Abbey is okay with its commentary on literacy: interesting that at the beginning of the 18th Century, individuals were considered intelligent for reading histories and biographies, but simple for reading novels. J.J Field is a decent Henry Tilney.

Finally, I would avoid Sense & Sensibility altogether, or at least save it for the end. Both the book and the two movie adaptations almost ruined Austen for me. I have trouble liking any of the characters, and Col. Brandon must be an impossible character to cast.

… Now, if my wife still doesn’t feel up for the complete works of William F. Buckley Jr., perhaps I could be convinced to watch Emma again.


  1. says

    I hope you won’t take this offensive, in any way, in light of your wife’s illness, because I know how serious Austen’s fans are (living with one myself), but have either of you looked at Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? I’d be curious for your take on it. I haven’t finished it just yet, but having read the original, I have to say, knowing who is and isn’t good at killing zombies makes it so much easier to keep track of who’s in love/engaged/infatuated/married with who 😉

  2. says

    I once made the mistake of suggesting ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ to Lynnita… and haven’t ventured near the suggestion again since. :-)

    To tell you the truth, I’m not really a fan of books that enjoy their success on the backs of preceding fiction. Like Jean Rhys’ ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ or John Updike’s ‘Gertrude and Claudius’. Somehow, it strikes me as immature — like an assignment we would give our Grade 12 high school students.

    Or perhaps it’s a shameless cop-out, a last-ditch effort to meet the publisher’s demands. One gets the feeling that John Updike had writer’s block, perused his bookshelves until finally deciding to carry ‘Hamlet’ over to his typewriter.

    Nevertheless, I’m sure that curiosity will get the better of me, and if a copy of Seth Grahame-smith’s graphic novel should land within reach, I will try to wrap my head around the presence of zombies in Austen’s classic.

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