For JASNA’s 2005 Annual General Meeting in Milwaukee, Sara Bowen and I arranged a preview of Pride & Prejudice, the first feature-length adaptation of Austen’s novel since the 1940 movie starring Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson. More than 400 members gathered at the Oriental Theatre, a restored 1927 landmark, whose ornate ceiling, plaster elephants, and giant Buddha figures gleamed in all their outlandish glory. An organist entertained the audience with show tunes played on the original Wurlitzer, which seemed to sit on the stage but dramatically descended into a subterranean pit as the movie began. The image of Keira Knightley appeared on the screen, and the sound of the movie’s lovely theme filled the theater.
Members in attendance that night would most likely agree with my description thus far. But they would later agree on little else about director Joe Wright’s film, from its title to the controversial “American” ending. Some would defend the use of an ampersand in the title (Pride & Prejudice) because it aptly signals a revisionist, twenty-first-century interpretation of the novel. Members sensitive to Austen’s subtext of sexual awakening would appreciate the romantic conclusion, in which Elizabeth and Darcy share an intimate—though distinctly un-Austenian—moment at Pemberley (Chatsworth, seat of the Duke of Devonshire). The final scene was created solely for distribution in North America, but British fans clamored for and were eventually allowed to see the hero and heroine in their nightclothes.
The movie was popular, particularly among teenage girls, and the paperback edition of the novel with Miss Knightley on the cover introduced many new readers to Jane Austen. Two years later, however, the film is still controversial. Points and counterpoints have moved from audience debate to scholarly examination, represented in this special edition of Persuasions On-Line. I want to thank Persuasions Editor Susan Allen Ford and Jen Camden of the University of Indianapolis for their vision and achievement. Their work is an outgrowth of JASNA’s commitment to the study and appreciation of Jane Austen’s fiction, in all its permutations.
These essays add to the examination of Austen’s legacy by elucidating the 2005 film and evaluating its place in the growing body of Austen adaptations. The analytical tools applied by the authors to the 2005 film will prepare viewers to assess critically the four new novelistic adaptations and two film biographies of Austen premiering in the United States in the next year. The timing of this special edition of Persuasions On-Line also provides a prelude to JASNA’s 2008 AGM, organized by the Greater Chicago Region, whose theme is “Austen’s Legacy: Life, Love & Laughter.” The debate about Austen films is certain to continue.