Comparing Pride and Prejudice Board Books

Tags

, , , ,

Well, here is a blog post I never thought I would write: a comparison of board book adaptations of Pride and Prejudice. I have already written about the Pride and Prejudice Counting Primer, part of the BabyLit series, and to be honest, I was not very nice about it. But now we have the Cozy Classics, which approaches Pride and Prejudice from the angle of another staple of board books–the concept book (if someone is already hard at work at a Pride and Prejudice ABC’s, then the board book trifecta would be complete.) Putting aside my own feelings about creating board books from classics, how do these adaptations stack up against each other? How much prior knowledge of the original does a reader need to appreciate these books? If you want your baby to love Jane Austen, which should you chose?

Let’s start by comparing the covers.

ImageImage

 

The BabyLit primer shows a doe-eyed Lizzy on the front, sporting an embroidered “I <3 Darcy” dress. It’s cutesy, and grates in the same way an “I’m the Boss” t-shirt on a toddler makes me question the future of the human race. On the other hand, the Cozy Classics shows a picture of a needle-felted Lizzy (already implying a level of craftsmanship invested in the book,) running across a field with a muddy hem and a hand to prevent her hat from blowing away. Anyone familiar with Pride and Prejudice (which the average board book reader is not) will recognize this as a pivotal scene from the book. While drawing the scorn of Caroline Bingley, this incident stirs the first inkling of attraction in Mr. Darcy’s bosom. So before a book has even been opened, first point goes to the Cozy Classics for establishing that they are taking Pride and Prejudice seriously and not just leaving a trail of in-jokes and knowing nods for the adult reader.

Although counting books and concept books are separate formats within the broader board book genre, focusing on different skills sets and developmental milestones in readers, these two books themselves can still be compared by the elements of Pride and Prejudice which each book chose to focus on. There is some overlap.

ImageThe Counting Primer presents us with “2 rich gentlemen”, conveniently identified as Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy. There is not much to differentiate between them, except maybe to guess that Darcy is slightly richer and slightly more formal because he wears a top hat.

ImageIn the Cozy Classics, the very first word of the book is “friends.” There is no identification (in fact, not a single name is used throughout the book,) but the knowledgeable reader knows exactly who is who. (Also–managing to sneak in the famous first line–nice touch.) The choice of word and the conflicting personalities of the two men, so evident in the illustration, achieves a lot in setting the reader on the path of the story. This is further developed when the page is turned to reveal “sisters,” and Lizzie and Jane standing arm in arm. The reader understands that they, too, are friends, and that these two couples are the foundation upon which the book is built. Keeping strictly to a comparison as adaptations, point again goes to the Cozy Classics.

In fact, there really is no comparison; the Cozy Classics is the best, hands down. The book establishes that less is more, as long as the “less” is judiciously representative of the original. The 12 words selected to tell the story of Pride and Prejudice are twelve words common to board books already, with the obvious exception of “marry.” Once they are paired with the needle felted tableaus, which are quite attractive and must have required a lot of time and skill to create, the book kind of makes sense and reaches a level of interpretation which the counting primer, with it’s sly winks to the adult reader, does not.Image

Reading the Cozy P&P, I got the feeling that the authors were trying to do something new for board books as well as the Austen original.  The “Little Miss Austen” (grrrr…..) P&P never rises above novelty.

You can question whether board book adaptations of classics will ever rise above novelty (I know I do.) But kudos to Cozy Classics for approaching the matter with style, thought, and care.

The Dashwood Sisters’ Secrets of Love by Rosie Rushton: Sense and Sensibility in the 21st Century

Tags

, , ,

I’ll start with a confession; Sense and Sensibility is my least favorite Austen novel. I lay the blame solely at Marianne Dashwood’s feet. I find her behaviour and self-absorption more and more intolerable the older I get. It wasn’t always like this. When I was a teenager she was much more bearable. But not everything ages well, and I find that Marianne Dashwood falls into that category. Consequently, I approached The Dashwood Sisters’ Secrets of Love with a certain amount of ‘meh’.

As an adaptation, “Secrets” stumbles in several places. But it gave me something to think about in terms of the marketing of Austen adaptations, not to mention the motivation behind writing one. The book is a UK import, and is actually the first in a series for young adults entitled Jane Austen in the 21st century (not to be confused with the “Darcy and Friends” series by Juliet Archer which uses the same umbrella title.) The author’s website introduces the book like this:

What would happen if you transferred the traumas of teenage love from Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility to the twenty-first century? How would Ellie, Abby and Georgie fare without the restraints of nineteenth-century England?

“How would the characters fare without the restraints of nineteenth-century England?” I found this question intriguing. I would love to know which restraints are meant. Decorum? Lack of an independent income? The ability to travel on one’s own? And if the Dashwood sisters are so constrained, what about Austen’s heroines in general? Perhaps the Bennet sisters at the mercy of the entail—but is it a unifying dynamic across the books? This was a nugget to revisit as I read.

I was also interested by the differences between the American and UK editions. The UK edition wears its Austen connection proudly, even going so far as to quote Sense and Sensibility on the front cover. The American edition makes absolutely no reference to the fact that it is an Austen adaptation with the exception of the title change. The addition of the words “Dashwood Sisters’” is a give-away to anyone familiar with Austen. It’s almost as if the title change was made to act as a secret code to knowledgeable readers: “Don’t tell anyone—but this book is really Sense and Sensibility!” But if the reader is a teen simply looking for some fluffy chick-lit, how would they know? It set me to thinking of just how loaded the words “Austen adaptation” are. In trying to determine if adaptations might encourage readers to pick up the originals, I had to also consider that readers might be turned off by a book grabbing on to a classic’s coat-tails. I also wondered why the rest of the series has not made it to our shores (book six is released this year in the UK.)

So what of the book? It starts, funnily enough, with a Jane Austen quote:

“If a woman doubts as to whether she should accept a man or not, she certainly ought to refuse him. If she can hesitate as to Yes, she ought to say No, directly.”

If you know your Austen, you know that this quote is actually from Emma, not Sense and Sensibility. I found this choice irritating because it seems random. The quote is attributed to Jane Austen (as a “tried and true secret of love” to get things started,) but the textual source is not recognized. And in terms of the plot, it makes a tenuous connection at best. The quote on the front cover of the UK edition (“Upon my word, I never saw a young woman so desperately in love in my life!”) which is actually from Sense and Sensibility would have been a better choice. But no one asked me!

As in the original, there are three sisters: practical Ellie, drama-queen Abby, and tomboy Georgie. Their beloved father has remarried a predictably plastic younger woman (is there any other type of stepmother in chick-lit?) and moved out of Holly House, the ancestral Dashwood home in Brighton. When he dies of a heart attack, the three sisters and their mother discover that not only was he up to his eyeballs in debt, but that he put Holly House in the name of his new wife, and they must move to a tiny seaside village not nearly as hip as Brighton. Let the “traumas of teenage love” begin.

Someone very wise (okay, it was my mother) once made the observation that recent film adaptations of Austen novels are starting to bear more resemblance to the film adaptations which came before, rather than the books themselves. I often felt this way when reading this particular book. I felt as if I was reading an adaptation not of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, but of Emma Thompson’s Sense and Sensibility. No where is this more evident than in the character of Georgie Dashwood. As in Thompson’s film, the third sister is given a much more prominent role than she has in the original novel. I didn’t mind it so much in the film, because the heart of the story was still the bond between Elinor and Marianne. But in this book it was detrimental to the adaptation. Because Rushton was trying to divide the story between three girls, the relationship between the older sisters, in this case Ellie and Abby, was greatly diminished. Never mind lifting the restraints of nineteenth century England; Rushton completely lifted the dynamic between the two girls—a dynamic which saw them through some truly dark times in the original. As a reader of Sense and Sensibility I needed the counterbalance between Elinor and Marianne. I needed steady Elinor’s love to help me appreciate Marianne, just as I needed Marianne’s rants to help me endure Eleanor’s stoic heartbreak at the hands of Lucy Steele (and–let’s be honest–the spineless Edward Ferris.) Austen’s original working title was NOT Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret for a reason. Sense and Sensibility is a book about two conflicting personality types balanced by two sisters who love each other deeply. I would like to have seen more of that in “Secrets”.

Rushton did make some changes which, if I didn’t necessarily love them, I understood. Nick, the Colonel Brandon character, is simply another student at Abby’s school, who falls in love with her even though she is trying to set him up with her friend (Emma crosses over again!) Here is one instance where perhaps the plot is more about the restraints of the twenty-first century, rather than the nineteenth. There was simply no way to present a relationship between a 16-year-old school girl and a 35-year-old man as acceptable in a modern book for teenagers. The other noticeable plot change, which I did like very much, was the fact that Ellie finds out about the Lucy Steele equivalent (conveniently named ‘Lucy’ here as well) early in the story. And everyone else knows about Lucy, too, which leaves them all wondering just what Blake (aka Edward Ferris) is playing at. This brings a different dimension to the relationship, putting Blake in a position where he needs to actively and publicly chose Ellie. Like Marianne Dashwood, I find Edward Ferris less and less agreeable with age (not quite at the level of Edmund Bertram frustration–but getting there.) When Ellie sees Blake’s hesitancy, always finding an excuse to postpone breaking up with Lucy, her refusal of his affections is justified not in the name of sense, but of self-pride, an emotion which is much more accessible to a teen reader.

I also need to comment on all the brand-name dropping in this book.  I found it to be a particularly self-conscious move in comparison to Austen, who wrote novels set during major historical events which she never even mentioned. Mentioning the brand of every different top Abby tries on might give her some fashion cred with modern readers, but excessive brand-name dropping tends to date books very quickly, and bearing in mind that this book was published in 2005, we are now talking about trends from 7 years ago. One of the reasons Austen’s themes seem so “timeless” is because they have center stage, not the Napoleonic War raging in the background.

Finally, it should be noted that Austen actually gets a mention in the text of the book, and it’s not particularly flattering. Abby is on a bus to King’s Lynn, which is taking much longer to reach than she expected:

“Not only did [the bus] stop in every village and hamlet, but every few minutes someone would stick out an arm, the driver would pull up and collect parcels and then yabber for ages about the weather or some woman’s bunions or the success of the village flower show. It was like finding yourself in the middle of a Jane Austen novel.”

Really? Well if that’s the case, no wonder the American publisher didn’t want to identify the book as an Austen adaptation. According to that description, Austen books are about pedantic backwater inhabitants absorbed with day-to-day trivialities. Funny—I thought Austen novels were about sparkling dialogue and witty, moral heroines who didn’t worry about the restraints of nineteenth-century England because they weren’t defined by them. That passage particularly offended because The Dashwood Sisters’ Secrets of Love was written by stealing all the good bits of an Austen novel while holding up Miss Bates as the poster child for Austenia. It’s hard to imagine that an author who adapts all six of Austen’s novels for modern teen readers isn’t a fan herself, but why would any author adapt books which can be summed up like that? Where’s the love?!

If an adaptation can spotlight the strengths of the original source, perhaps it is also true that an adaptation can highlight weaknesses. Despite its stylish (American) cover and the promise of secrets, which imply success, The Dashwood Sister’s Secrets of Love never rises above the level of lite-weight, because it focuses on the weakest part of the original book—the love stories. While no author is expected to improve upon Austen, innovative interpretation can successfully reimagine what Austen began (the recently published For Darkness Shows the Stars is a case in point.) By removing the meat of the original—the relationship between the eldest sisters, and the philosophizing about heart versus head–-Sense and Sensibility is reduced to just another book to read at the beach.

Wishbone: Furst Impressions

Tags

, , ,

This is slightly off topic by nature of the fact that it’s a video as opposed to a book. But it’s fun! I first heard about Furst Impressions at a recent JASNA meeting, in conversation with author Lauren Willig, who had been speaking about Jane Austen’s afterlife in the publishing world. After nearly having a heart attack, thinking that she was about to give the same talk I was planning (she didn’t–phew!) I was eager to discuss with her my ideas in reference to adaptions for children and young adults. She mentioned Wishbone, a series I am familiar with because we have several book tie-ins at work, even though I had never actually watched it.

Unlike the Pride and Prejudice board book, which purports to be for children, this is an adaptation which genuinely attempts to reach its audience, not just wink slyly at the parents. The episode is not so much an adaptation as an attempt to highlight the plot elements which would have some relevance to middle school readers. This is illustrated by the story line involving Wishbone’s human friends, which is interwoven with his retelling of Austen’s story. Think of it as Pride and Prejudice as an After School Special, with life lessons on the importance about not judging others by their clothes, the pitfalls of listening to gossip, and the importance of a heart-felt apology.

Eat your heart out, Colin Firth.

Watching the Jack Russell Terrier Wishbone take on the role of Fitzwilliam Darcy is slightly unsettling (although his posh English accent is cute.) He’s more likely to dig up the grounds of Pemberley than preserve it. Still, if you watch the episode you will be treated to a rather good plot summary, some fine dancing scenes, multiple props for your local library, and an OTT performance by Jeanne Simpson, who plays Caroline Bingley. She really lets those Regency niceties go and plays Caroline Bingley as if she were the biggest middle school meanie around.

For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund: futuristic Persuasion

Tags

, , , , ,

Back to Austen business after a “brief” hiatus (also known as serving on a book committee, which took up all of my time. A fabulous experience, by the way!)

June 2012 sees the release of For Darkness Shows the Stars by young adult author (and JASNA member!) Diana Peterfreund. The book takes place on a post-apocalyptic Earth in which genetic experimentation leads to the almost whole-scale destruction of humanity, an event known as the Reduction. It is also the story of a family of landed gentry who used to be important but are now living on past glories and precious little else, held together by the resolve and good sense of its youngest daughter. Janeites will easily recognize “Darkness” as Persuasion. Enthusiastic reviews have already appeared, and in light of the success of The Hunger Games, this book will be enjoyed by readers searching for the next great dystopian read. For the purposes of this blog (and my upcoming talk,) I will be examining For Darkness Shows the Stars solely as an adaptation. This is a spoiler-free analysis (unless you have not already read Persuasion!)

Peterfreund has taken what she calls in the book’s Acknowledgements, the “bones” of Austen’s story, and “made [changes] to its DNA”. However, unlike the Reduction, this genetic experiment works, and works very well. Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth are now Elliot North and Kai (later known as Captain Malakai Wentforth.) Kellynch Hall is now the North Estate, a once fertile farm which has been nearly decimated by poor crop rotation and an exodus of its staff–the Posts–barring a handful who are faithful to Elliot. Louisa Musgrove is now Olivia Grove. The book can be divided into two categories in terms of interpretation: fun details, and captured essence. ‘Fun details’ would include the hat-tipping involved in the characters’ names. Also, some well-chosen quotes from Persuasion at the start of each new volume (sometimes a risky thing to include because it only serves to highlight what a master writer Austen is, and how difficult it is to measure up.) But fun details do not a successful adaptation make (and neither does plot point-for-plot point, character-for-character transferral, for that matter.) The success lies in the book’s ‘captured essence’.

Publishers would not bother to mention that a book is a Jane Austen adaptation if they did not want to appeal to Jane Austen devotees, so informed readers need to recognize the source and appreciate the connection. Peterfreund accomplishes this by maintaining the three scenes which, for my money, cannot be missing from a successful Persuasion adaptation: Wentworth’s initial–almost unintentional–kindness to Anne Elliot when he removes those troublesome children from her back, the Cobb at Lyme Regis, and The Letter.

In this book, Kai does not simply save Elliot from a nuisance, but actually saves her life. The Letter is paraphrased quite prettily and concludes what has been a subplot involving Elliot’s and Kai’s childhood correspondence (always a nice touch in an Austen adaptation, since letters are so important to the understanding of Jane herself.)

But it is with the “Lyme Regis” scene that Peterfreund really earns her cred as Austen adapter. She takes what is, without argument, one of the most famous scenes in all of Austen’s books and not only does it justice but improves upon its significance for the purpose of her own story. Olivia’s fall is not the result of silly flirtation, nor a plot device to bring the hero and heroine closer. It results from a desire to taste the glory of a different life which Kai is revealing to the sheltered, privileged girl–and, of course, revealing to Elliot. For her part, Elliot is starting to understand the change which her childhood sweetheart has undergone–not just from boy to man, or servant to Captain. She is looking at a force which could possibly undo all that she has been raised to believe about the nature of the world and society in general. In Persuasion, the changing of the guard is from old money to new. In “Darkness” the stakes are higher and involve the future of the human race itself. I was thrilled with the way Peterfreund handled this scene.”Bravo!”

As I assess these Austen adaptations, I am of course on the look-out as to whether or not the books serve as launch pads for directing readers to the original. Peterfruend has written a story which does indeed take Persuasion‘s DNA and engineers it to tell a tale which is new and of interest to teen readers. The sci-fi backdrop is intriguing, and about as far from the ballroom as you can get. Thwarted love reignited is rewarding, and in Elliot’s case seems much less a fallout of being persuaded as recognizing a sense of duty. There is no Lady Russell counterpart advising her; Elliot persuades herself that she should not run off with Kai, and her reasoning seems justified in light of her responsibility to the estate and the workers in her care, who face an uncertain future because of the underlying social upheaval. There is a moral debate at the core of “Darkness,” due to its nature as a dystopian fantasy, which is not a part of Persuasion, a contemporary novel. So why would a reader who enjoys For Darkness Shows the Stars feel compelled to read Persuasion? What does the original have that “Darkness” does not?

Well, other than Jane Austen at the helm, the one element from Persuasion which Peterfreund is not able to duplicate, is the significance of age. Elliot is 18. She turns down Kai when she is 14. Fourteen?! How iron-clad is a love at 14? For teen readers who may very well consider 25 to be old, never mind anything beyond 30, the heartbreak of a 14-year-old is real. They would not smirk and quote condescending platitudes about “fish in the sea”. That’s what I, as a 42-year-old reader, would do. But consider that, at the start of Persuasion, Anne Elliot is 29, having given up her love at 19. The difference between 14 and 18, and 19 and 29, is obvious. Anne has endured 10 years of regretting her decision. A whole decade of “what-ifs!” How can an 18-year-old girl understand that?

Which is precisely what makes Persuasion, Austen’s most grown-up love story, perfect for adaptation for teens! Because one day those teen readers will be adults and they will be able to revisit the story with the wisdom of time. Pride and Prejudice, with it’s partying and flirting, or Sense and Sensibility with the tear-away Marianne (who I find becomes more and more annoying the older I get) are such obvious choices because the girls involved are teens themselves. Persuasion has a richness and wisdom which comes from living as an adult with the choices made as a teen. Evidently Anne was a silly teen herself, but she wasn’t silly in love. She was silly in judgement. In a society where the rules are changing, and where men not born to money can become wealthy through their own industry, time is the one rule they cannot overturn. Anne makes Wentworth realize what he wasted in grudges and resentment. Her triumph is born of that time she serves.

And that is what is waiting for readers who follow For Darkness Shows the Stars with Persuasion. Same story, fuller perspective. And because Peterfreund’s story is so good, I have no doubt that her readers will find their way to Austen.

I would like to thank Harper Collins for sending me an advance copy of this book. For Darkness Shows the Stars is available 6/12/12.

Pride and Prejudice: the board book

Tags

, ,

As I try to maintain a serious discussion about the value of adaptations of Jane Austen’s works for an audience which may not already be familiar with her, I find myself confronted with this book. I managed to bury all knowledge of its existence deep in the recesses of my brain; it only returned to my notice because of a rant I indulged in over at Not Just for Kids about the board book version of Jane Eyre. And since I plan to look at books for middle grade readers as well as young adults–I figured I might as well toss this into the mix.

The Little Miss Austen Pride and Prejudice is clearly not written for a young adult audience. In fact just who is it written for? It’s a board book, so the obvious answer is, it is written for babies. But that raises the more problematic question of, what do babies need with Pride and Prejudice? Well, in this case, Pride and Prejudice has been adapted as a counting book. Okay–babies need counting books. But why base one on Pride and Prejudice? Could it be because adults with purchasing power like Pride and Prejudice? Hmmm…that sounds like a cynical marketing ploy. But maybe I am the cynic. Maybe these books are really meant to edify. In fact, the back of the book claims that “BabyLit is a fashionable way to introduce your child to the world of classic literature.” (I suppose the unfashionable way would be to read the actual classic to said child.) So the intended audience of the book is children after all! And yet, only an adult who has actually read Pride and Prejudice would understand why “4 marriage proposals” or “5 sisters” or “10 10,000 pounds a year” is significant. They get to have a little “a-ha moment” while their baby wears the book like a hat. Or, better yet, throws it aside in favor of something they can relate to, like Goodnight Gorilla or Each Peach Pear Plumb (now that is a book which cleverly introduces classics to children in a meaningful way.)

This is not meant to be a snobbish rant about what is suitable reading material for grown-ups. Hey–if adults want to read a board book based on Pride and Prejudice and have a chuckle, have at it. And frankly, I am completely in favor of adults reading childrens books for fun. But I am discussing adaptations, and this particular book is a poor adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, and I cannot forgive that. You don’t play with perfection and then produce pap. The book’s success, both as an adaptation and a reading experience, is entirely dependent on the reader’s knowledge of the original. If one is not already familiar with Kitty and Lydia’s obsession with Red Coats, “7 soldiers in uniform” falls flat and is meaningless; it’s just a random stop between 1 and 10.

At their best, adaptations are love letters between an admirer and the original source. At their worst they are vanity projects which nick the best elements from someone else’s story. I expect most of the books I will read for this project will probably fall somewhere in the middle, providing in-jokes to readers in the know and a pleasant enough read for everyone else. But I’m pretty sure I will not find one as spectacularly off the mark as this one.

Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman: getting to know Jane Austen

Tags

,

“There is little more likely to exasperate a person of sense then finding herself tied by affection and habit to an Enthusiast.”

Polly Shulman’s romantic comedy Enthusiasm isn’t so much an adaptation, as it is a crash course on Austen themes, plot devices, and trivia. The story of two teenage girls, best friends all their lives, who find themselves attracted to the same boy, reads like a love letter to all things JA. Although we are (sort of) spared a reworking of “It is a truth universally acknowledged,” Austen’s presence is immediate: protagonist Julie Lefkowitz is a self-professed “person of sense.” Her best friend, Ashleigh, is an “Enthusiast”, incapable of enjoying anything without becoming obsessed. When Ashleigh reads Pride and Prejudice, which happens to be Julie’s favorite book, she embraces it with….well….enthusiasm. This means adopting the book as a manual by which to live. Ashleigh’s enthusiasm is not unlike the desire often seen in adaptations written for adults, with grown women bemoaning the fact that their lives are not like that of an Austen heroine. Or, to be more precise–complaining that they have no Darcy. Ashleigh has a remedy for that problem. She and Julie will simply crash the formal dance at the nearby posh boys’ school and snag themselves a Darcy and a Bingley.

From this point on, Austen herself becomes a peripheral character in the story. There are times that the reader needs to be reminded that Ashleigh’s crazed behaviour is because at one point she read Pride and Prejudice. However, the thematic cap-tipping by Shulman is evident to the informed reader. Consider these examples:

  • the two female leads are a combination of a sensible girl and a strong-willed girl completely ruled by her emotions;
  • there is a ball in which the heroines encounter the heroes;
  • a male provider remarries a woman who puts his previous family’s needs and cares behind her own;
  • correspondence between the leads plays an important part in the story;
  • there are amateur theatricals (a student-written adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which the plot of Enthusiasm sometimes seems to mimic as well;)
  • match-making gone wrong;
  • the book has a single-word title;
  • one character suppressing her love to preserve the feelings and presumed prior claim of another;
  • the hero’s name is Grandison;
  • Julie’s birthday is December 17th, the day after Jane’s (a fact curiously unmentioned in the story;)
  • a scene where Julie and Ashleigh look at portraits in a museum and try to match them to people they know;
  • the combination of wealthy hero and less wealthy heroine (yet still a gentleman’s daughter;)
  • a guy who thinks he is in a relationship with a girl, but she does not agree (paging John Thorpe.)

Shulman has managed to touch upon almost every one of Austen’s novels and makes a few references to the author’s life as well. Not bad. Whether the book would draw new readers to Austen is another matter. There is not enough Austen analysis within the book to steer readers to the original source material, although the edition I read had bonus material which included “Little Known facts about Enthusiasm and Jane Austen,” The Life and Legacy of Jane Austen”, and “Discussion Questions,” almost all of which are about Jane Austen (as opposed to Enthusiasm) and require a working knowledge of her works to answer. In keeping with the theme of this blog, Question number 1 is ” Why do Jane Austen’s stories translate so well into modern stories?” Good question, but not really relevant to Enthusiasm itself since it is not a straight reworking of a specific work.

Be that as it may, the idea of enthusiasm as a state of being is certainly relevant to Janeites, if not Austen’s books themselves. Whether or not I think Jane Austen’s stories translate well into modern stories (and I’m taking no stands at this point!) there is undeniably something about Jane Austen which we as readers want to embrace and live with, just as Ashleigh (sorry–may I call her Maryanne?) tries to do by wearing long dresses and calling Julie ‘Miss Lefkowitz’. Her hugely demonstrative brand of enthusiasm is but one version of the Janeite passion. As Julie says when she realizes that her friend has gone bonkers for Pride and Prejudice:

“Now, for the first time, I had taken the lead, introducing her to an interest of my own. But how long would it be before her passion overshadowed mine? Would she take over my favorite books, leaving nothing for me? I was convinced that I felt as strongly about Jane Austen’s books as Ashleigh had ever felt about any of her crazes, but my love was deep and silent–and therefore easily overshadowed. I would never, for example, speak Jane Austen’s language. That would be undignified and unworthy of the writer I adored. ” (p. 4)

Julie is the side of fandom which is happy enough with the canon; who can return to those six novels time after time and find new gems to savor. Ashleigh is fueling the business in P&P prequels, sequels, murder mysteries, time-travel stories, and graphic novels.

Interestingly, one question the story does not answer is whether or not Ashleigh’s enthusiasm survives the end of her craze. Once she can approach Austen with a level(ish) head, does she chose to read Northanger Abbey? Or Emma? It’s hard to imagine that a reader who loved Pride and Prejudice wouldn’t at least pick up one more Austen. And one who was enthusiastic about her….no excuse not to.

Getting started

Tags

Hello, and welcome to my new home in the blogosphere. If you have found me because you are a reader of Not Just for Kids, or because you are interested in the topic (or, perhaps, lost,) thanks for stopping by.

This blog has its roots in the fact that in 11 months’ time I will be standing before the Massachusetts region of the Jane Austen Society of North America, delivering a talk. The general theme of my talk will be about the trend towards Jane Austen adaptations in current Young Adult literature. I have been a childrens librarian for over ten years now, but four years ago my scope of attention widened to include young adult literature as well. In those four years I have seen titles such as Prom and Prejudice, Prada and Prejudice and Sass and Serendipity, pass before my eyes. I couldn’t help but notice them, being a JASNA life member.

It’s no secret that the number of Austen adaptations, sequels, and mash-ups has mushroomed to nuclear proportions in the past 15-20 years. So why should a few more teen titles catch my eye? They caught my eye and have given me food for thought for the simple reason that I don’t think YA readers are necessarily an obvious audience for Austen adaptations. It makes sense to write prequels and sequels and alternate reality regencies for the adult Austen fan base; the readers who already know her and love her and simply cannot reconcile themselves to the fact that six novels and a handful of letters is IT. We create more Austen to fill the gap of not-enough-Austen. Young adult readers, on the other hand, are at the stage where they might just be discovering Austen, and reading the words “It is a truth universally acknowledged” for the very first time. Surely, if one wants to share a love of Austen with a young reader, wouldn’t it simply make sense to give them…. you know….actual Austen?

Still, there is something to be said about being inspired by a master. Zadie Smith basically reworked Howards End, and nobody called her out on it. So how are these books enriching young adult literature? Are they substantial enough to stand on their own without the helping hand provided by the original. Will they actually introduce readers to Jane Austen? And is anyone writer enough to put Pride and Prejudice aside and tackle Mansfield Park?

I intend to use this blog as a sort of open notebook to help me keep track of the books I am reading, ideas I am developing, theories I’m trashing–and maybe even indulge in some panic–as I prepare for my talk. Comments are always appreciated, and I would love readers who know of teen Austen adaptations to point me in their general direction. Here is my reading list so far:

  1. Enthusiasm (Polly Shulman)
  2. Prom and Prejudice (Elizabeth Eulberg)
  3. The Dashwood Sisters’ Secrets of Love (Rosie Rushton)
  4. Prada and Prejudice (MandyHubbard)
  5. Cassandra’s Sister (Veronica Bennett)–Cheeky title, by the way!
  6. Pies and Prejudice (Heather Vogel Frederick)
  7. I was Jane Austen’s Best Friend (Cora Harrison)
  8. Epic Fail (Clair LaZebnik)
  9. Sass and Serendipity (Jennifer Ziegler)
  10. The Jane Austen Diaries (Jenni James)
  11. Jane Austen in the 21st Century (Rosie Rushton)
  12. Jane Austen: a Life Revealed (Catherine Reef)

The last title is not an adaptation, but an actual biography. However, when it was published last year, it claimed to be the first biography about Austen written specifically for young adults. All those adaptations, and then someone finally decided to write about Austen herself. For reals. Interesting.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 911 other followers