Monday, May 3, 2010

Jane Eyre vs. Jane Austen

For the past decade or so, Jane Austen has reigned supreme as the queen of the so-called "bonnet drama". Each of her stories has been adapted at least once (sometimes twice or more) within that time period, plus two biopics, scores of "sequels", and even monster mash-up rewrites. But some in the world of book-film are seeing the writing on the wall for one of England's greatest authors.

"In the past two decades film and television audiences could not get enough of 19th-century dramas. Jane Austen, in particular, thrived, from the 1995 TV Pride and Prejudice, with a wet-shirted Colin Firth, to the Oscar-winning film of the same novel ten years later, starring Keira Knightley. Lately, audiences have dwindled, as shown by lacklustre viewing figures for the BBC’s latest Emma last year."

It would seem that the general reading and watching public have had their fill of Austen. Not that die-hard Janites will be giving her up anytime soon, but the focus seems to be shifting to the greatest sisterhood in literature: namely, the Brontes. Yes, it seems that Bronte fever might be the next pandemic to sweep the literary adaptation world. There is a brand new adaptation of Jane Eyre set to be released next year (even though we just had a brilliant adaptation barely four years ago) and a new version of Wuthering Heights as well (which we also had a recent sampling of). So what is driving us back to these stories as they are just as well known and adapted as the Austen classics?

“There is something about the current situation that the world finds itself in where the Brontës more suit the mood of the moment [than Austen]. Jane Austen is a lighter cut than the Brontës, who are much more brooding and bleak.”

Is Austen another victim of the sagging global economy? Have we lost our optimism and now seek consolation in the dark and gloomy stories of the Yorkshire moors? I think that is some of it, though I also believe that a certain teen series with a bent towards the darker side of romance has a bit to do with it as well. It is certainly interesting to sit back and watch how the times that we live in affect what we read.

So, as a lover of both Austen and Bronte, what exactly do I think of all this? First off, I'm kind of glad that we are backing off of Austen, much as I admire her works. There is almost nothing new that we can do with her at this point, and her sheer popularity has IMO weakened her position as one of England's greatest novelist. She is now too often regulated to the "chick lit" shelf. As a HUGE fan of the Brontes (they are my faves), I'm a little nervous about what all this new attention may bring. God forbid these amazing stories be degraded to the realm of "chick lit". But I am slightly excited about possibilities that might be explored. Film makers will have to be very careful if they don't want to bore the audiences. I mean, you can only make Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights so many times. Maybe we will get adaptations of the lesser read Bronte works like Agnes Grey and Villette, and maybe even a biopic of the sisters themselves. All in all, I'm kind of excited about this shift in focus and hopefully this will introduce new readers to these classic stories.


Charleybrown said...

I'm pleased that producers seem to be shifting away from Austen and yet I'm disappointed that they are producing Bronte adaptations that have just been done recently! Where's their originality?? There seems to be a large number of us who would like to see something that HASN'T already been done(like Vilette or Agnes Grey as you said). Also there are countless other novels which would be wonderful to see and are NOT attached to the name of Bronte or Austen!

emily michelle said...

I'm rather perplexed that they've decided to redo Jane Eyre so soon after the Ruth Wilson version (which I adore), but in general I agree that it could be fun to get some of the intense scrutiny off Austen's ouevre and focus on someone else for a while. I do rather wish it was someone new, though--I'm a big Bronte fan, but really, there are other authors out there.