Deborah Yaffe


By Deborah Yaffe, Nov 8 2018 02:00PM

Back in middle and high school, I took French. In college, I took Italian. I enjoyed them both – beautiful languages, fascinating cultures and histories, great national literatures.

Alas, however, it seems I should have been studying Portuguese.

This belated realization came to me last week, when I learned that Brazilian TV had just concluded the six-month, hundred-hour run of a racy new early-evening soap opera, Orgulho e Paixão (Pride and Passion), that gleefully mingles characters and plot elements from four Jane Austen novels and the novella Lady Susan.

The adapters seem to have taken a few liberties with their source material, and not just in the title pairing. Although the story still concerns a family with five daughters to marry off, it’s set among early twentieth-century coffee barons in rural southern Brazil – “more Downton Abbey than Jane Austen,” writer Marcos Bernstein told the BBC.

In this version, two of the Benedito family’s girls hail from Sense and Sensibility and Northanger Abbey, and free-spirited Elisabeta has not only a love interest named Darcy but also a close friend named Ema.

Oh, and the proceedings also involve a pregnant Lydia-clone who abandons her groom at the altar, an Elisabeta who attends a party in male costume, a Bingley-equivalent who joins a fight club, and a Darcy who ventures down a mine -- not to mention a gay kiss and a scene in which a couple bathe together under a waterfall. All of it was shocking enough that Brazilian regulators deemed the program unsuitable for children.

OK, so it’s not a strictly faithful adaptation.

But come on – does this not sound wildly entertaining? It’s probably too late for me to learn Portuguese, but according to the BBC, the Jane Austen Society of Brazil (blog here, website here) now boasts four thousand members, making it among the largest Austen societies in the world. Surely someone in this group has a little free time on her hands and would like to spend it creating English subtitles for Orgulho e Paixão? Can you say "Janeite service project"?

By Deborah Yaffe, Aug 22 2016 01:00PM

Discussing Jane Austen with fellow fans is one of the delights of Janeite life. If I lived closer to Philly, I would definitely have joined a program that concludes this Wednesday: weekly Austen discussions at the Rosenbach Museum & Library, known for its rare book collection.

The first three meetings focused on Emma, while the upcoming session – held from 6-7:45 pm – covers Lady Susan and other early works. Sign-up for the entire four-week session began in May and cost $250, so I’m not clear on whether it’s possible to drop in just for the last meeting.

In any event, if re-reading Lady Susan whets your appetite for further discussion, the Rosenbach is also hosting an August 26 conversation and book-signing with Whit Stillman, who directed Love and Friendship, the recent film adaptation of Austen’s novella.

By Deborah Yaffe, Jun 2 2016 01:00PM

So I’ve finally seen Whit Stillman’s Love and Friendship, the much-heralded film adaptation of Lady Susan. (I enjoyed it, if perhaps not quite as rapturously as other critics.) But I was mildly annoyed, in my pedantic, can’t-we-get-things-right way, by the promotional email from Amazon Video that arrived in my in-box on the very day of my cinematic expedition.

“Delight in the comic mastery of Love & Friendship, an Amazon Original movie based on an unpublished Jane Austen novella,” the email proclaimed.

Unpublished? The uninitiated could be forgiven for thinking they were about to see a movie adaptation of some work known only as a dusty manuscript stashed on the shelves of a distant library. Rather than, say, a movie adaptation of something that’s available in dozens of hardback, paperback and e-book editions. (I have a soft spot for this particular version, with its Lady Susan Goes Hollywood cover. Who knew they had mascara that good in the eighteenth century?)

To be fair, the movie’s official web site offers an entirely accurate publication history – possible 1790s composition, 1805 fair copy, 1871 publication in the second edition of J.E. Austen-Leigh’s Memoir. But I guess no one bothered to tell the sales team that “unpublished in the author’s lifetime” isn’t quite the same as “unpublished.”

By Deborah Yaffe, May 23 2016 01:00PM

Since its initial release two weeks ago, Love and Friendship, Whit Stillman’s new film adaptation of Austen’s Lady Susan, has been getting so much critical love (for instance, here, here and here) that I have barely been able to restrain my eagerness to see it.

Living in the ‘burbs, as I do, I have had no choice but to relearn the virtue of patience. And at last, said virtue will be rewarded: Our local art house cinema will start showing Love and Friendship – the first-ever screen adaptation of this lesser-known gem of a novella -- this coming weekend.

Needless to say, I will be first in line.

By Deborah Yaffe, May 12 2016 01:00PM

Excited as I am to see Love and Friendship, Whit Stillman’s new film adaptation of Lady Susan, I’ve been more than a little skeptical of the spinoff novel he’s published to accompany the movie. Because Jane Austen already wrote that book, and it’s pretty darn hilarious.

The currently fashionable talk of Lady Susan’s “unfinished” quality ignores the fact that it is, in fact, finished: the fates of all its characters are resolved, albeit in a somewhat rushed, non-epistolary addendum to the epistolary narrative. The best ending Jane Austen ever wrote? No. But unfinished? Also no.

Nevertheless, I can’t deny that Stillman had a point when he suggested in a recent New York Times interview that Austen would likely have heavily revised Lady Susan had she intended to publish it. “The things she did in the same period, they started out epistolary, and then she shifted them to the dramatized novels that we know,” Stillman pointed out.

This tendency is already evident in Lady Susan itself: as the book progresses, each letter includes longer and longer passages of dialogue and dramatized action, implausibly recounted from memory by the letter-writer. It’s as if the living, breathing body of the story is beginning to press against the form into which Austen has corseted it.

Lady Susan has already inspired one clever and well-written non-epistolary fanfic – Lady Vernon and Her Daughter, by the mother-daughter team of Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway – which manages the neat trick of retaining virtually all of Jane Austen’s plot while making the title character sympathetic (and not in a she’s-so-bad-she’s-good kind of way).

Stillman’s novel apparently takes a different tack, inventing a new character, Rufus, who narrates the story in a self-important voice while prosecuting a pro-Lady Susan agenda. “In the appendix,” a recent story in the Los Angeles Daily News explains, “readers will find the full text of Lady Susan, along with annotations by Rufus discrediting many of the forty-one letters that make up Austen’s novella. . . . until 'Letter 15,' after which Rufus decides he’s not going to dignify the text with any more responses.”

OK, I’ll admit it. That sounds like it could be kind of fun.

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