September 6th, 2005

Austen Again

Another film version of Pride and Prejudice?

Actually there haven't been that many. If you set aside the adaptions that translate Austen's themes to other cultures- Clueless, Bride and Prejudice- the last full-blown big screen version (correct me if I'm wrong) was the 1940 production with Larry Olivier and Greer Garson (and a script- how very weird- by Aldous Huxley.)

Of course we're still in thrall to the BBC film with Colin Firth all dripping wet- but that was made for television.

And it's already ten years old.

No, it's all the other Austen novels that have been filmed for the big screen recently. Producers have been tip-toeing round P & P. It's the big one, it's the Eiger, it's the one you'll never be forgiven for getting wrong.

I like the idea of Sutherland and Blethyn as Mr and Mrs Bennett, but do Knightley and Macfadyen have what it takes to be the Elizabeth and Darcy of their generation? Well, we'll see.

It's odd how much we love Austen. She's one of those very rare authors who have never gone out of favour- either critical or popular- and her reputation has never stood higher than it does now.

And yet her society could hardly be more different from our own. It's as strange and fanatastical- in it's own buttoned-up way- as Middle Earth. But actually that answers the implied question. One reason we enjoy her is that she lets us escape into Another World.

But that's not it. No. The chief reason we return to her, generation after generation, is that she writes such great love stories. Pride and Prejudice is Romeo and Juliet- only for adults. Most love stories are quest stories. The loved object- male or female- is a grail, an all but unattainable object of desire. But Austen gives us both sides of the story- not one grail seeker, but two grail seekers groping towards each another though the mephitic glooms and smokes of the Wasteland. In most love stories one lover is analysed to death and the other is a dummy, but Elizabeth and Darcy are equally real.

Austen is our greatest psychologist of love.