Can there ever be too many adaptations of Pride and Prejudice? Austen’s “sparkling” novel has been the subject of numerous TV miniseries and film adaptations (1938, 1940, 1952, 1958, 1967, 1980, 1995, 2005) and almost as many more-or-less covert adaptations (Bride & Prejudice , Pride and Prejudice: A Latter Day Comedy , and Bridget Jones’s Diary ). And then there are the merely bizarre: Poultry and Prejudice (2004) features Tessa Darcy, a local beauty queen whose family has won the Birdsville County Fair Poultry Show for the past ten years; Snide and Prejudice (1997) follows delusional patients in a psych ward (and before you imagine Colin Firth in a hospital gown, we should warn you that the patients fantasize about Hitler, not Pemberley); Pride and Extreme Prejudice (1990), a Cold War spy drama; and, finally and perhaps most disturbingly, Passion and Prejudice (2001), which chronicles a love triangle between a prisoner, a female college professor and a young female student. One wonders if (or perhaps fears that) Austen novels might be the professor’s area of expertise. On a cheerier note, you’ll find Austen everywhere if you look for her—even in the children’s series Wishbone (in an episode entitled “Furst Impressions”).
What is it about Jane Austen that attracts filmmakers? What do these re-imaginings of Pride and Prejudice tell us about our changing ways of looking at Austen’s novels? or about our changing needs for stories that are the same and not the same? And how does this latest adaptation—Joe Wright’s Pride & Prejudice—reframe, through both words and moving images, Austen’s classic text?
We devote this special issue of Persuasions On-Line to answering these questions and the many other questions that film adaptations, by their very nature, raise: How does this adaptation respond to the filmic history of Pride and Prejudice, outlined above? Is the film “faithful” to the novel, and, as Brian McFarlane and others have asked, is fidelity even a fair or useful criterion for judging a film version? Or, following the work of Laura Mulvey, how does the gaze (of the camera, the viewer, the actors) create meaning in this adaptation of Pride and Prejudice? How do director Joe Wright and director of cinematography Roman Osin exploit the special attributes of film, and particularly cinematography, to mimic or challenge Austen’s narrative strategies? What changes do screenwriter Deborah Moggach and Wright make to create a film appealing to younger viewers? How do they bridge the gap between Austen’s day and our own? And finally, how does location, that staple of heritage film, create meaning in this adaptation “shot entirely on location in England”?
We have divided our issue into five segments. The first, “From Every Window . . . Beauties,” features essays that consider the importance of setting in Austen’s novels and the difficulties attendant on transferring imagined spaces to the screen. Carol M. Dole’s “Jane Austen and Mud: Pride & Prejudice 2005 and the Heritage Film” considers Wright’s “muddy hem” version as a kind of middle ground between heritage film prettiness and a contemporary movement towards social realism. Laurie Kaplan’s “Inside Out/Outside In: Pride and Prejudice on Film 2005” examines Wright and Moggach’s decision to relocate several key scenes from Austen’s novel: why, for example, is Darcy’s first proposal filmed outside, in the driving rain? Mary M. Chan’s “Location, Location, Location: The Spaces of Pride & Prejudice” also investigates this question, contrasting the film’s use of social spaces with the spaces of romance. Finally, Sarah Ailwood’s “‘What are men to rocks and mountains?’ Romanticism in Joe Wright’s Pride & Prejudice” explores Wright’s construction of Darcy and Elizabeth as Romantic figures partly through their relationship to landscape.
Austen’s visualization and construction of landscape is not the only aspect of the novel that undergoes substantial revision. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, indeed the entire Bennet family, receive gentler treatment in this adaptation, as our contributors elucidate in our next section: “Domestic Felicity in So Unusual a Form.” In “Style over Substance? Pride & Prejudice (2005) Proves Itself a Film for Our Time,” Catherine Stewart-Beer reads the film against current housing trends, suggesting that the film’s take on family life is particularly appropriate for a youth audience increasingly moving back in with their parents. In turn, Sally Palmer’s “Little Women at Longbourn: The Re-Wrighting of Pride and Prejudice” situates Wright’s adaptation in the context of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (1868) to suggest that Wright’s idealization of the Bennet family seriously undermines Austen’s critique of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet and oversimplifies Elizabeth and Darcy’s relationship with each other and with each other’s families. Barbara K. Seeber’s “A Bennet Utopia: Adapting the Father in Pride and Prejudice” focuses particularly on the substantial revision of Mr. Bennet in three film adaptations of the novel: 1940, 2005 and Bride & Prejudice (2004). Seeber suggests that the recent adaptations, like the 1940 film, are war-time adaptations that reimagine Austen’s novel in the contexts of globalism and the war on terror.
Location, historical context, and even the Bennet family often serve as mere backdrop for the relationship between Darcy and Elizabeth. The essays of our next group, “High Animal Spirits, or In a Way to Be Very Much in Love,” embody different approaches to the relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy. Rachel Gollay’s “‘The Most Determined Flirt’: The Dynamics of Romantic Uncertainty in Joe Wright’s Pride & Prejudice” views the film through Adam Phillips’s On Flirtation, examining the ways in which the camerawork echoes and enhances the flirtation between Knightley’s Elizabeth and Macfadyen’s Darcy. Jen Camden’s “Sex and the Scullery: The New Pride & Prejudice” takes a slightly darker view of the film; following Mulvey, she suggests the Wright’s decision to cast Keira Knightley as Elizabeth shifts the focus of desire from Darcy to Elizabeth and renders Knightley’s Elizabeth the object of the viewer’s visual pleasure. Finally, Kathleen Anderson’s “The Offending Pig: Determinism in the Focus Features Pride & Prejudice” reads Wright’s casting, costuming, and livestock choices as evidence of the film’s Darwinian take on relationships.
When Mr. Darcy defines the importance of a family library, his reference to the times in which he lives might seem cryptic. Adaptations sometimes unpack the social and historical tensions of the era of the source text as well as the anxieties and concerns of the present day. The essays grouped under the title “Such Days as These” look at the 2005 film in the light of some of the social issues it engages. Linda Martin’s “Joe Wright’s Pride & Prejudice: From Classicism to Romanticism” considers the way this film resolves the tension between two ways of understanding the world embodied in Austen’s novel. In “‘Just What a Young Man Ought to Be’: The 2005 Pride & Prejudice and Transitional Ideas of Gentility,” Ann M. Tandy considers Wright’s choice of a 1797 setting in terms of a generational shift particularly manifested in the changing definition of the gentleman. In contrast, Megan A. Woodworth argues in “‘I am a Gentleman’s Daughter’? Translating Class from Austen’s Page to the Twenty-first-century Screen” that Wright’s translation gets Austen’s social critique wrong, and that a simpler story is the result. Shifting the attention to gender, and to women in particular, Juliette Wells looks at the film’s attempts to translate character from one set of cultural expectations to another in “‘A Fearsome Thing to Behold’? The Accomplished Woman in Joe Wright’s Pride & Prejudice.”
The final set of essays, “What an Amiable Light,” foregrounds the medium. Jessica Durgan’s “Framing Heritage: The Role of Cinematography in Pride & Prejudice” charts the film’s attempts to define itself against heritage conventions through its innovative cinematography. David Roche discusses a technical problem—how to film text and the reading of texts—as a way of getting at the nature and problematics of adaptation in “Books and Letters in Joe Wright’s Pride & Prejudice (2005): Anticipating the Spectator’s Response through the Thematization of Film Adaptation.” In her essay “Staging Intimacy and Interiority in Joe Wright’s Pride & Prejudice,” Anne-Marie Paquet-Deyris considers the problem of adapting narrative voice and the characters’ internal, unspoken but fictionally rendered thought. And finally Joyce Goggin’s “Pride and Prejudice Reloaded: Navigating the Space of Pemberley” looks to the world of video games as a model for Joe Wright’s shooting style.
Though Wright’s Pride & Prejudice hasn’t quite made the same splash as the 1995 A&E/BBC miniseries starring Colin Firth, nonetheless it is the adaptation that most students have seen or will watch. It’s also an adaptation that evokes sharply divided responses. It was with these truths in mind that we first began thinking critically about this adaptation and invited the JASNA community, Austen scholars, and fans to join the conversation. And they did, in a response that was overwhelming. The resulting set of essays—by nineteen contributors from six different countries—represents a true variety of perspectives. In their different ways, with as much candor but more penetration than Jane Bennet, they take Wright’s film “‘in the best light, in the light in which it may be understood.’”
We hope that you will find this issue helpful in fostering discussion about the film and Austen’s novel with friends, students and colleagues. Moreover, we hope that these careful readings of the film invite you to think critically about Wright’s film on its own terms, and to consider its virtues and flaws independent of Austen’s text. We also believe that these essays will take us back to Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with a deepened appreciation and understanding. Miss Bingley reminds us, despite her own example, that “‘there is no enjoyment like reading.’” Above all, we hope that you enjoy reading these essays as much as we have.
This special issue of Persuasions On-Line has called upon the talents of a large community. Members of the Editorial Board provided helpful critical response to a very large number of essays. JASNA’s new president Marsha Huff provided enthusiastic support, free legal advice, and most valuable proof-reading acumen. Lee Ridgeway wrestled with images and some tricky formatting problems. Carol Medine Moss, JASNA’s web manager, was there at all stages of the project (from the Call for Papers, to the journal pages, to the announcement of the new issue), converting and posting texts instantly and beautifully. And finally this project has been truly a pleasurable collaboration—not only between the editors, but also with the wonderful scholars whose essays make up this special issue.