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By Deborah Yaffe, Feb 21 2019 02:00PM

Production of the new television adaptation of Sanditon, the novel Jane Austen left unfinished at her death, is moving along even more quickly than I realized when I wrote about it earlier this month: PBS, which will air the eight-part mini-series on Masterpiece, reported recently that filming has begun and – squee! – provided details of casting.


Many of the names are unfamiliar to me, but Anne Reid, who will play the grasping and imperious Lady Denham, is a wonderful actress. And no heterosexual woman with a pulse could object to the casting of Theo James as the hero, Sidney Parker: James played the extraordinarily dishy Turk who seduced Lady Mary, back in the first season of Downton Abbey, only to die inconveniently in her bed. With luck, Sanditon will keep him alive longer, so we’ll have more time to admire his . . . acting talent.


In Austen’s fragment, Sidney Parker is barely a character: He makes his entrance only a few pages before the end, and his hero status is only an assumption, albeit one shared by most of Sanditon’s readers over the years. Thus, Andrew Davies, the revered screenwriter who is adapting Sanditon, had free rein. And here’s what we’re getting, according to PBS:


“Unpredictable, roguish and restless – seemingly never settling in one place for very long – self-made man Sidney finds his responsibilities to his family in Sanditon somewhat tiresome. And yet his cynicism masks a sensitive soul wounded by a broken heart that has never fully healed. In the company of Charlotte, Sidney must rediscover who he is and crucially, learn to trust again.”


In other words, it’s my all-time favorite Regency romance plot: Sensible, strong-willed heroine heals hero’s emotional wounds (usually the result of a bad childhood or PTSD from the Napoleonic Wars, but a broken heart works too). Typically, the hero repays the heroine’s wound-healing by introducing her to passion (see also: Jane Eyre, Fifty Shades of Grey, etc.), and although PBS doesn’t spell this part out in its Sanditon preview, I think we can count on Andrew “Wet Shirt” Davies not to let us down, don’t you?


OK, I’m now officially looking forward to Sanditon, despite the many, many reasons to suspect that it won't be very much like Jane Austen and, indeed, may not be very good.


“You know you have a win-win situation here,” my husband said. “If you really like it – you’ll just really like it. And if it’s really bad, you’ll bitch about it for months on your blog.”


What can I say? We’ve been married a long time. The man knows me well.


By Deborah Yaffe, Feb 7 2019 02:00PM

Jane Austen wrote only seventy pages of Sanditon before her final illness left her unable to work. In the intervening two centuries, her promising start has inspired plenty of fanfic (six years ago, I reviewed a dozen examples) but no screen versions.


Last year, however, exciting news broke about a planned Sanditon television adaptation by revered screenwriter Andrew Davies, of Mr.-Darcy-in-a-wet-shirt fame. We Sanditon fans have been burned before – it’s been nearly a year and a half since we heard anything about the Fluidity Films adaptation that was originally projected for a 2017 release – but it looks like the Davies version is really happening.


The latest hopeful sign comes buried in a longer inews.com interview with Kevin Lygo, director of television for ITV, the British network that is collaborating with PBS’ Masterpiece on the production. (Scroll down to the grey text box for Sanditon news.) Shooting will start this spring, Lygo promises. Woo hoo!


With its strong female characters and “handsome men,” Sanditon is “gold dust for TV,” Lygo opines. “We can keep it going for years.” Obviously, ITV, the people who brought us Downton Abbey, are hoping to see a repeat of that particularly profitable lightning strike.


Despite its period trappings, Downton Abbey was never much like Jane Austen, and there’s reason to believe that, whatever its origins, Sanditon won’t be, either. We’ve already heard talk of nude bathing, West Indian locations, and scenes set in London’s rotting alleys. And now the inews interview describes Austen’s fragment as “the story of the impulsive and unconventional Charlotte Heywood,” making her sound like a Marianne Dashwood type, when Austen’s Charlotte is much closer to Elinor Dashwood: the cool and sensible center around whom a host of crazies revolves. I love Elinor, but it wouldn’t surprise me if ITV thinks Marianne makes for better TV in our overheated, un-sensible age.


It’s possible that Davies is going to bring us a faithful adaptation of Austen’s fragment, followed by a whole lot of stuff she never had time to write (or, more likely, never would have written). Or perhaps the whole thing, from beginning to end, will have nothing to do with Our Jane. But at least we’re going to know for sure within a year or so.


By Deborah Yaffe, Jul 12 2018 01:00PM

For the Jane Austen world, it qualifies as blockbuster news: Revered screenwriter Andrew Davies, the man behind the iconic 1995 BBC miniseries of Pride and Prejudice and adaptations of three other Austen novels, has adapted Sanditon, the novel Austen left unfinished at her death, into a miniseries of its own.


Earlier this week, PBS’s Masterpiece series announced that it is collaborating with Britain’s ITV on a version of Sanditon, the story of Charlotte Heywood's adventures in an up-and-coming seaside resort, that will likely begin filming next spring.


“The twists and turns of the plot, which take viewers from the West Indies to the rotting alleys of London, expose the hidden agendas of each character and sees [sic] Charlotte discover herself… and ultimately find love,” the press release promises.


Those of us who have read Sanditon’s tantalizing 24,000 words will not remember any scenes set in the West Indies or in London alleys, whether rotting or otherwise, so it’s pretty clear that this production will be more Davies than Austen.


Indeed, a lot more: Masterpiece is promising us eight hour-long episodes, and even shaving off a few minutes per episode to allow space to advertise Danube cruises, that’s a big chunk of airtime. Davies managed to squeeze all 122,000 words of P&P into a mere six episodes running to five and a half hours. Heck, his version of War and Peace ran less than six and a half.


Davies, famed for allegedly "sexing-up" Jane Austen, is apparently up to his usual tricks this time around: His new version of Sanditon features "quite a bit of nude bathing," he promises, possibly with tongue firmly ensconced in cheek (although, with Davies, you never know).


For Sanditon fans, the big unanswered question is what the new production means for an earlier Sanditon project, Fluidity Films’ long aborning feature-length version, based on the 1975 completion of Austen’s fragment by Australian journalist and novelist Marie Dobbs.


More than two years ago, we were treated to exciting casting news – Charlotte Rampling as Lady Denham! – and confident-sounding predictions of a 2017 release date. Late that year, filming was said to be delayed until 2018. And although Fluidity Films’ website still lists the production, it offers no details about timing.


Could two separate Sanditons – one a conventional two-hour-long period film, the other a sweeping seven-hour wallow in melodrama – find audiences, potentially within mere months of each other? If Janeites ran the world (and wouldn’t everyone be better off if we did? You know it), the answer wouldn’t be in doubt.


By Deborah Yaffe, May 21 2018 01:00PM

It’s been quite a while since I last discussed the unfortunate phenomenon of faux-Jane Austen quotes, usually originating in Jane Austen movie scripts, proliferating in the Internet echo chamber. Perhaps this pause has lulled you into the belief that my good work, along with that of untold numbers of other Janeites laboring to correct the record, has borne fruit, driving the legions of misquoters into retirement.


Alas, no.


Once again, our text is drawn from Bustle, that rah-rah Girl Power website that seems to take a perverse pride in never, ever double-checking its sources, at least when it comes to Austen. The latest offender: a story headlined, with a word-omitting sloppiness that bodes ill for what follows, “15 Quotes From Books To Use Your Personal Mantra On Bad Mental Health Days.”


Parenthetically, I must note the strange self-contradiction of this particular article, which points out the bankruptcy of feel-good bromides – “[b]eing told to ‘just think happy thoughts’ and ‘try harder’ gets really old after a while, as anyone with mental illness will tell you” – before offering up more elegant versions of the same thing from the likes of Alice Walker, Audre Lord, and Sylvia Plath (!) and urging readers to “[m]emorize them to recite like mantras, and you'll always have an uplifting quote to help you muddle through.”


I admit I feel a teensy bit bad about criticizing the writer, who implies that she is among “those of us who live with mental illness every day.” But not bad enough to stay my hand when, right there at number fourteen among the promised “Quotes From Books,” I find this: " 'It isn't what we say or think that defines us, but what we do.' — Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility"


Back in November 2015, I laid the issue of this particular misquotation to rest in what I feel I may describe, with all due humility, as the definitive blog post on the topic. Yet, like a zombie out of a Pride and Prejudice mashup, this mistake will not stay dead. So I must repeat: This is not a line from a Jane Austen novel. It is not even really a line from a filmed adaptation of a Jane Austen novel. It is a garbled version of a line from Andrew Davies’ 2008 TV adaptation of Sense and Sensibility.


I think it’s time that someone created an online listicle discussing how best to cope with the stress and anxiety brought on by finding faux-Austen quotes on the web. It probably won’t appear on Bustle.


By Deborah Yaffe, Feb 12 2018 02:00PM

Long, long ago – wait, was it only 2009? – a clever young man named Seth Grahame-Smith interpolated zombie references into the text of Pride and Prejudice and sold a gazillion copies of the resulting mashup.


Ever since, the temptation to take Jane Austen’s out-of-copyright masterpieces and dress them up with references to. . . whatever. . . has seemed inescapable. We’ve had Sense and Sensibility with sea monsters, Mansfield Park with mummies, P&P with added Jews, and Emma with previously unsuspected vampires.


This year, just in time for Valentine’s Day, a British TV channel called Drama* has brought us yet another addition to this trend: Pride and Prejudice reimagined for the social media age. No, not another update of the story to our own times: Drama’s version is the 1813 text, except with Facebook, WhatsApp, email and selfies accompanying the carriage rides and formal balls.


“We're seeing if technology would ruin the 'art of romance' in classic love stories,” Drama explains on its website, which offers a free download of this new P&P, along with social-media-enhanced versions of Wuthering Heights and Tess of the d’Urbervilles.


From my skim of the enhanced Austen, the changes seem much as they were in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: sometimes amusing, mostly cosmetic, and likely to become tiresome when stretched to book length. Darcy spends his time at the Meryton Assembly swiping on Tinder instead of dancing with the locals. Elizabeth captures his insult to her beauty in a Snapchat video. Mr. Collins’ letters arrive via email. Lady Catherine threatens to unfollow Elizabeth if she persists in her designs on Darcy. After Wickham leaves Meryton, rumors circulate that he “had created a secret online account under the name ‘The Militia Stallion’ which he used first to entrap, then to ghost certain ladies.” And a ringing cellphone interrupts both of Darcy’s proposals.


The only major plot change I detected was Drama’s decision to correct Jane Austen’s unaccountable error in omitting the now-famous scene of Darcy diving into the Pemberley lake and emerging in a clinging wet shirt. Yes, at last this moment, invented by Andrew Davies for the BBC’s iconic 1995 P&P adaptation, has made it onto the page. And this time, Elizabeth takes a smartphone photo of Darcy in post-lake deshabille, captions it “OMG,” and posts it online, inadvertently setting off “a Twitter storm of epic proportions.”


So what's the answer to Drama's question? Does social media ruin “the art of romance”?


Not really. As soon as Darcy switches off his phone, that second proposal goes about as well as you'd expect.



* As blog readers will recall, it was Drama that -- exactly a year ago, also just in time for Valentine’s Day -- earned a tidy little publicity windfall for its rebroadcast of beloved Austen adaptations by commissioning an artist’s rendering of the “real” Mr. Darcy. The dweeby result, based on the investigations of a historian and an Austen scholar, made clear that the standards of male beauty in Austen’s time differed dramatically from our own Firth-and-Macfadyen-inflected preferences.


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