There are a host of Austen fans out there who want screen adaptations to stick really close to Jane's books. They want to see the correct carriages from the era, accurate hairstyles and costumes. They don't want to see any garden plants springing up which did not exist in England in 1810, and most importantly, they want everything that happens on the screen to have come from only the brilliant mind of Miss Jane Austen.
To an extent, I was like that--minus the carriages and the plants. I was so fond of her characters, and felt like I knew them so well--they were old friends. So, when I saw a beloved character do something that I deemed "out of character," I literally bristled. If a completely new scene or character was introduced, or a location was changed from the book, I was distracted and felt as if I was pushed off of a most familiar path.
The 2005 version of P&P bugged me. Greatly. For years. I adored the 1995 mini series, and owned it on VHS. I remember plunking down over $80 for it at Costco--never having ever seen it, just knowing how much I loved the book. (I even made back up copies of the tapes--just in case!) Of course, I now have the DVD version, and there is no way to count how many times I have seen it. I have lines memorized and looks from the actors etched in my brain. So, even though I was sooo very excited to see the new adaptation, I was quickly turned off by it almost from the first scene. I was pushed off of my familiar path and landed hard on my hynie.
My head was spinning with everything that was wrong. Wrong! Wrong! It was all wrong! First of all, I couldn't get past the fact that Mr. and Mrs. Bennet actually loved each other. I felt that was such an important drive in Elizabeth NOT to have a marriage like her parents, which made her refusal of Mr. Collins all the more integral to the story line. I felt that they portrayed the Bennets as too poor and shabby. The Bennet girls would have had better frocks. They had spending money, and bonnets and gowns was what most of them obsessed over day and night--aside from officers. And I don't think that their house would have been such a disaster. There is NO WAY that Mrs. Bennet would have allowed a pig in her house, no matter how well endowed he was!! They changed the location of the most important scene in the book--Darcy's first proposal. How dare they?! Lady Catherine De Bourgh would never have visited the Bennets in the middle of the night, and what was Lizzy doing running around the countryside in her nightgown? And lastly, (and the more I think about it, most importantly,) I just couldn't "get" Matthew MacFadyen as Mr. Darcy. He wasn't "pretty" like Colin Firth, and he seemed more awkward than sure of himself. It made me sort of mad. I was truly disappointed. I pouted. I bought the DVD unseen with high expectations. I tucked it away in my library after one viewing and it stayed there until last spring.
Masterpiece Theater (now called Masterpiece Classics) ran a new mini series last year called "Little Dorret," and I fell in love with Matthew MacFadyen's character. He was so sweet, so vulnerable and so tortured at the same time, that I couldn't help but pull out P&P again. I was curious to watch again after four years with new eyes. I'm not sure what it was--maybe I decided to let go of the '95 adaptation and all my preconceived ideas, maybe I needed to be more attracted to the actor playing Mr. Darcy, maybe a combination of the two, but I fell head over heels for the 2005 adaptation.
I watched it over and over again. Keira Knightly was amazing (but that was never a question in my mind, even before). She was the right age (let's all face it, Jennifer Ehle looked closer to 30 than to 20, and Colin firth looked about 35 and not 25--because he was!) and I appreciated the fact that her hair wasn't perfect and her gowns weren't ironed professionally. She was Elizabeth Bennet. Young yet intelligent, spunky yet reserved, restrained yet passionate, observant yet clueless to her own feelings.
The more I watched it, the more I appreciated the "changes" made (except the pig). I appreciated them for what they were--artistic interpretations. We were not promised a recreation, we were promised a film "based" on the book, and that we were served. Matthew MacFadyen surprised me. He could smolder just as hotly as Colin Firth did, but just differently. What he did with his hand after he touched Elizabeth for the first time made my heart skip a beat. So much was said without one little word. What surprised me the most, was how much I loved the proposal under the grecian thingy in the rain. It was so dramatic, so unexpected for Elizabeth--and when they were arguing just inches from each other drenched in rain, and Darcy leaned in for a split second... heavy sigh! Mr. MacFadyen may not be pretty, but he was rugged, tortured and down right sexy there. He was in love, he was speared through, he was angry, he was vulnerable, he was mortified. He was Mr. Darcy.
OMG! I had lived out my own P&P moment! First impressions and all. All my preconceived notions--the way things "should be" versus just enjoying the movie for what it was, clouded my judgment. I will always feel like a little version of Elizabeth or Darcy, turning up my nose at something because I was so prejudiced. Heh heh... I love irony.
So, all that to say, in taking on a "What if?" using Pride and Prejudice, how closely do I stick to Miss Austen's voice, vision and characters? Everyone has their own opinions, as do I. The very nature of a "What if?" book excludes the true purists right away--they spit in our general direction and wish with every fiber of their being that we would leave poor Miss Austen and her works alone. But plenty more cannot get enough of her books and characters, and that is why I'm here today. Should I write as closely as I can to Miss Austen's vernacular and style? Should my own "voice" be heard at all? Can I write this, still stay true to the spirit of P&P, yet let myself come through?
Doing research, I have read four fan fiction books now. Three were modern adaptations and one "What if?" Holy moly! I wasn't prepared for the first one--the "What if?" Regency era one. I was at about page twenty when Darcy and Elizabeth started taking their clothes off! Talk about out of character! I literally gasped in unbelief, closed the book and instinctively looked around. I was alone, but I think my dog knew. She has kept my secret ever since, but requires a lot more treats.
Obviously, I can do anything I please, but I want to strike a nice balance. I won't have Lizzy making out with Mr. Wickham on a dare from Charlotte--I'm determined to stay true to the characters, but I don't necessarily want to copy Jane Austen's style completely. I want some of me to show through, so there will be a little different flavor, my flavor. I've already made up a completely new character who cracks me up. She's a French maid of the Gardiner's who gets Lizzy ready for the London balls she attends during her stay. Oh, crap! It just occurred to me that maybe I got that from "Little Women." I might have to remedy the whole French thing now. England was at war with them, anyway. Oh well...
"I will use Miss Austen's vision and characters as my springboard, but I will let myself be heard without distracting the reader."
How do you like that? :0) At least that's my goal. How I will carry it out--I have no idea. Maybe I should turn my attention to that now. I will go now and de-French a maid.
Goodbye for now, and please rest peacefully, Miss Austen.