Now, That’s Classic

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve consumed quite a few costume dramas, some of which are lengthy BBC productions like

Little Dorrit (2008)
Bleak House (2005)
Emma (1996)
Pride & Prejudice (2005)
Northanger Abbey (2007)

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        Movie-Poster-emma-2618925-500-725  MPW-15344

Northanger

You don’t have to be an English major to know that all are adaptations of classic novels by Charles Dickens (the first two) and Jane Austen (the last three). (Though I confess to having read all of the above when I was an undergraduate English/writing major.) I have another waiting in the wings—North and South, an adaptation of a novel by Elizabeth Gaskell, starring a pre-Thorin Oakenshield Richard Armitage. Whenever I’ve mentioned North and South to others, most of the people I talked to assumed I meant an adaptation of a book of the same title by an American author, John Jakes. No, I mean this:

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I see the gleam in your eyes, oh fans of the 1995 Pride and Prejudice—the six-hour A & E production featuring Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy and Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet. I have that as well.

pride-and-prejudice-DVDcover

I experienced a bit of culture shock as I dragged myself out of nineteenth-century Britain back to the U.S. in 2014. Though I’ve seen all of these adaptations more than once, they still have the power to captivate. And my goodness, Andrew Davies has been quite the busy bee, having penned three of them, with the exception of Emma, the screenplay of which was written by Douglas McGrath, and Pride and Prejudice (2005), which was written by Deborah Moggach. However, he wrote the script for the six-hour version of Pride and Prejudice and tons of other productions.

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Andrew Davies

Every once in awhile, I get a hankering for ’em. Such works are pure escapist fiction for me, each with its share of joy and sorrow—some more heavily weighted on one side or the other, with a touch of romance in all. Even the tragic aspects are vastly entertaining, thanks to villains I love to despise and plucky heroes (male and female alike) who bear up mightily in pressure-cooker circumstances.

Some might view aspects of these stories as too black and white, particularly those of Dickens, who was fond of populating his novels with loathsome people like Mr. Tulkinghorn and Mr. Smallweed in Bleak House or Rigaud in Little Dorrit, characters without a single redeeming quality. And Jane’s books include their share of unpleasant people as well, like Caroline Bingley (and her sister Louisa) in Pride and Prejudice, Mr. and Mrs. Elton in Emma, and Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Pride and Prejudice). On the other side of the coin are Esther Summerson (Bleak House) and Jane Bennet (Pride and Prejudice)—characters who might be deemed too saintly or perfect. But with each side of the social divide so sharply delineated, black and white characters help emphasize the dichotomy.

While paragons like Esther Summerson and Jane Bennet don’t really draw me again and again to the books in which they reside, I can appreciate the parts they play and how different they are from other characters skillfully devised by Dickens and Austen, characters like the obsequious and ridiculous Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice or the equally ridiculous Mr. Guppy in Bleak House. (With a name like Guppy, a character can’t help being ridiculous.)

I wish my novel had a place for a character like Collins or Guppy. But both characters were painted with such broad comic brushstrokes that I fear neither would work with my other characters. Not that all lack a streak of ridiculousness. They come from me after all. 😀

Though some classic novels are avoided now because of the lack of diversity and outright racism in some (though not in the above novels), I still turn to the list above or their adaptations whenever I need a master class in character development and plotting. But mostly, I dive into them when I can’t afford to take a journey, but would like to get away from it all to a world where problems and plotlines are all neatly wrapped up in a reasonable amount of time.

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Gratuitous stuffed animal photo—my lion and his friend the dolphin

Pride and Prejudice movie poster from movieposter.com. Little Dorrit poster from cinemagia.ro. Northanger Abbey cover from movieberry.com. Emma from fanpop.com. Andrew Davies from BBC.com.

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43 thoughts on “Now, That’s Classic

  1. The narration of the audio version of Pride & Prejudice is brilliant — especially the narrator’s interpretation of Mr. Collins, which made me laugh out loud. I think Austen could find room for the saint and the comic amidst a serious story because her works were about society and manners and so it made sense to show the full realm, you know? (I can’t speak to Dickens. He intimidates me.)

    • I’d love to hear the audio version. It’s funny that I never have.
      Dickens shows the full range of society. He has serious and ridiculous characters. He has more of a journalist’s view. He also has a theatrical mindset. I think you would enjoy Bleak House, Laura! Gillian Anderson is great in it!

  2. l love that North and South adaptation. l saw it when it was first on Aussie TV back in 2005 or something. I recently bought it on sale but haven’t had the chance to sit down with it.

    (Related: one of my writing friends recently got back from a trip to Europe during which she is an Richard Armitage as John Proctor in the Old Vic’s production of The Crucible. I am still seething with jealousy, particularly given I was in the Crucible earlier this year so I really got to know it and would basically die to see a production like that!)

    • Yes, Jill! My life has boiled down to three C’s–crocheting, curriculum, and Colin Firth. 😀 I’m having to crochet cats for a baby shower and think of preschool and kindergarten activities at the same time. While I crochet, pop in a period drama. Great fun!

    • I hear you, Andra! I’ve heard more people recommend Gone Girl than The Great Gatsby lately. (Though Gatsby is not a favorite of mine.) I accept that. I still enjoy reading them.

  3. I enjoyed reading most of these, but love watching the different versions of the movies. I happen to like the cast from Pride and Prejudice with Keira Knightley but enjoyed the PBS version with other great cast members. I just watched (not a classic, but a fun movie) “Gambit,” which has Colin Firth and Cameron Diaz as art thieves! Colin is mad at his boss who puts him down, but he worked for a museum before he decided to do a ‘heist!’ Fun stuff.

  4. I love everything Jane Austen, and that Colin Firth version of Pride and Prejudice is my comforting escape when life is getting too down. Mr. Collins is a treat. I saw North and South recently and it is outstanding – it’s now competing with P&P as my favourite costume drama of all time. Have you seen Wives & Daughters or Cranford? They are both worth a view if you haven’t checked them out yet.

    • Hi, Sue. Yes, I’ve seen Wives & Daughters and Cranford. I learned about both through watching the previews of various costume dramas. Both were superb! I might have to look at Wives & Daughters again very soon, now that you mention it!

      Have you seen Daniel Deronda? That’s another good one!

  5. I used to enjoy Dickens so much, but I haven’t read him in decades. I think I should at least watch one of the movies soon. Thanks for the inspiration.

  6. I need to add North and South to my to-watch list. I loved Richard Armitage when he played the accountant who fell for the Vicar of Dibley. Again, nothing like Thorin Oakenshield.

    • I think you would like North and South then! He’s awesome in it! That’s why I was so thrilled that he was chosen to be Thorin. Though he’s not what I pictured when I thought of Thorin, I think he was a great choice for the role.

  7. Sad to say, I’ve never enjoyed reading the classics (Austen, Dickens, or others). I read some in high school and understood them, but couldn’t enjoy them. I just can’t get past the language barrier. Maybe I’d like the TV/film adaptations enough to get into the books. 🙂

    • Kate, I think you’d like the adaptations. Have you seen Pride and Prejudice? I really enjoyed the one starring Keira Knightley. Also, if you saw and enjoyed Clueless (Alicia Silverstone starred), you might like Emma. Clueless is a modern-day retelling of Emma.

      • We watched two versions of Emma in high school, actually– Clueless and another one. I don’t remember the other one, but Clueless is one of my favourite movies. 🙂

  8. I just watched North & South a couple of weeks ago–and really liked it. The book had been popping into my mind periodically, and then I stumbled across the film version on Netflix. I go back to the classics again and again too, especially Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte. Enjoy North & South!

  9. Oh, I do love those old books. 🙂 And many of the movie adaptations thereof. I love the way Dickens manages to describe a character so thoroughly that not only are the depictions of them almost uniform among those who seek to adapt the books, but we get an excellent idea of their personality as well upon meeting them. And, of course, Austen had a marvelous way of weaving chaste romance with tongue-in-cheek humor.

  10. Thanks for hosting Nicki today. She mentioned this post in her post and I had to read it ~ Dickens and Austen (both books and movies) have been favorites of mine for years.

    The scoundrels in Dickens (like Uriah Heap) and simpering idiots and egoists (like Mr. Collins and Lady Catherine de Bourgh) in Austen’s works make for a rollicking good read

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