Skip to main content

Spending time in Austen's worlds

When I consider our lives, I find I prefer your version.

--Jane, Lost in Austen
Over the last month or so, I’ve watched four Jane Austen related television productions that I’d not seen before—Masterpiece Theatre’s Northanger Abby, Emma, Sense & Sensibility and the British miniseries Lost in Austen. For an Austen fan like me, this has not only been a feast of good stories, wonderful characters, tears and laughter, but it’s reminded me of what it is I most love about Austen and her stories.

The first three are adaptations of Austen novels I’ve read and adored, and all three were a pleasure to watch. Emma felt like a much different production than other adaptations I’ve seen; I appreciated more this time Austen’s ability to pressure relentlessly her heroines to bring them to moments of humility and awareness from which comes a wisdom and beauty not gained any other way. When it comes to Sense & Sensibility, it was hard not to compare it to the Emma Thompson/Hugh Grant film; but it turned out to be an interesting and engaging adaptation—and I must admit, David Morrissey’s Colonel Brandon left me contemplating whether Darcy could hold a candle to that man. And the sly Northanger Abby—in which Austen pokes fun (rather harshly) at the then-popular craze over gothic novels—left me wondering how Austen would think of the modern Twilight phenomenon. Not fondly, I think.

Unlike the first three, Lost in Austen is not a direct adaptation of a novel, but a delightfully and surprisingly clever, enjoyable and fun 2008 British television miniseries in which a modern girl finds herself transported into Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. In short, modern 20-something and Jane Austen fan Amanda Price goes through a doorway in her bathroom and is transported to the house and story of the Pride & Prejudice Bennets absent Elizabeth, who has been transported to modern England. Trapped in the novel’s unfolding story, Amanda attempts to make sure the events turn out as they should in spite of Elizabeth’s absence. But, as it goes in Austen stories, plans go awry, threads and events begin to unravel and our heroine finds herself at her wit’s end. But not to fear, dear viewer. Austen’s penchant for happy endings prevails.

And that gets at what is about Austen for which I am so grateful: Though the world crumbles by our flaws and at our own hands, yet all is woven by a benevolent Author to a happy ending. In Austen’s worlds, acknowledged and hidden flaws, purposeful deceit and self-deception, selfishness and unintended consequence of meant-for-good actions unravel life. Heroines come to the ends of their abilities and all seems lost. When we open a Jane Austen novel, we know bad things will happen—both thrust unbidden upon our heroines as well as by their own hands. But we also know things will turn out good, love-filled and right. And all her worlds remind me of this one—of the Story in which we all live and breathe. We and our world are riddled by flaws, brokenness, deceit and darkness, yet our benevolent Author is weaving all to good and an ending of just-ness and right-ness in wide open spaces of his grace and glory and love. All will be as it was intended from the very beginning.

I found this poignantly reflected in a scene in Lost in Austen in which Jane Bennet’s fate is drastically altered; rather than married to Bingley, she is married to the pathetic Collins. At one point, Jane tells Amanda—who has been telling them all along that things should be ending up differently than what they are—that she prefers Amanda’s version of things to the way things are playing out. I can relate. There are moments when I’m slammed by the reality that things are supposed to be different. Pain, suffering, cruelty, injustice, loneliness and all that with which darkness claws at this world are not the way things are meant to be. I hear in my ears the beginning of the Story, where this world and we ourselves were created good, free, bathed in love and purpose. Everything was supposed to be different. But eventually, I find my way back to and rest in the truth that our Story is being fixed not by yet one more flawed being but the Author himself. He is working—indeed, he already has worked—this story to the best, good and happy ending.

On a final note, I was delighted to discover Bollywood is coming up with its own version of Emma. Aisha is a modern adaptation set in India’s high society—and if it’s anything like the Bollywood Bride & Prejudice, I for one will be hoping it hits theaters in the U.S. so I don’t have to wait for the DVD.

And, perhaps, like the adaptations and stories I watched recently, this one will also bring God-talk into open spaces.

(Images: Lost in Austen, copyprighted Image Entertainment; Northanger Abbey, copyrighted Masterpiece Theater)


Anonymous said…
Thank you for explaining to me why I too love the austen novels--the moment when the heroine/etc. sees her flaws and repents, and the happy ending. I've been reading anne tyler of late and find she does much the same. And her people are so flawed yet dear that I find I love them all as friends.