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16 August 2009

Lost in Austen

DVD packaging
I've just finished watching the DVDs of Lost in Austen and can't help thinking it's relevant to the concerns of this blog.

The set-up is that a modern woman, who's always loved Pride and Prejudice, finds herself walking through a doorway into the world of the novel, while Elizabeth Bennett goes the other way. One of the very best things about it is that there's no attempt at an explanation of how the doorway works; it's obviously fantasy so you just better get used to it.

But why I really love this series is the love and respect it shows for Jane Austen's work. So much more than any literal period rendering of the story. In this version you get a real engagement with Austen's world, a real discussion between now and then. There's a nod to the material differences - cleaning teeth with birch twigs and chalk - but the social differences are celebrated and criticised rather than seen as fixed. In this version for example, Bingley and Jane decide to make their future in America, and Elizabeth Bennett decides she was born out of time and her independence and wit mean she'll be happier staying in the 21st century. It's like a recognition of Jane Austen's outsider status. My only gripe would be that Elizabeth's part is so small. Like every sensible man I love her, but she appears briefly in the first episode then disappears (in a brilliantly bold bit of writing) until halfway through the last. Meanwhile the 21st century character with a very Austenian name, Amanda Price, is utterly engaging, but in the end her choice of regency life with Darcy is quite disappointing.

Personal reactions aside, I think the lesson is that this kind of creative engagement with a work from a different culture is far more productive that a straight 'translation'. And, my god, this was on ITV!

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