Saturday, May 31, 2014

In Defense of Joe Wright's Pride and Prejudice

Back in 2008, I wrote a blog post that was a basic comparison of the 1995 and 2005 versions of Pride and Prejudice.  You can read the whole post, but basically my conclusion was that while the 1995 was the definitive version, both adaptations were equal but different.  To this day I continue to receive comments on this particular post, most of them expressing utter loathing for the 2005 version and wondering how anyone could even dare to compare it to the perfection that is the 1995 version. 

After the most recent comment, I decided to re-watch the 2005 version.  It had been a long time since I had seen it, and maybe all of these people were right.  Maybe it was an atrocious adaptation of the classic story.  However, after finishing it, I have to say that my original feelings have not really changed.  I still feel that there are a lot of really good aspects to this version, or at the very least it is not as bad as some people claim.

First off, I have to say that there is a bit of a double standard here.  A lot of viewers complain that some scenes in the 2005 version don't happen in the book and therefore should not be here.  These same people are ignoring the fact that many scenes in the 1995 version also did not happen.  Lizzy walking in on Darcy in the billiard room, Darcy taking a bath and watching Lizzie from the window, Darcy jumping in the lake, etc.  Most of these people would also claim to love other adaptations such as North and South although it is not a scene by scene adaptation of the book either. Expecting a movie to have every scene in the book is to not have respect for the difference between the two mediums.

The cast in this version also seems to get a lot of hate.  Keira Knightley seems to be especially loathed.  One commenter insisted that the 1995 cast was a "different league of actors".  This made me laugh as I thought of the wonderful acting I have seen from Matthew MacFadyen, Tom Hollander, Carey Mulligan, Penelope Wilton, and Rosamund Pike.  These are all wonderful actors who have turned in many wonderful performances, including these.  It is also obvious from the get go that Joe Wright is attempting to distance himself from the 1995 adaptation by highlighting different aspects of the characters.  Where as Benjamin Whitrow played up Mr. Bennet's humor and contempt for the absurd, Donald Sutherland reminded us of his weariness and the distance he puts between himself and his family that ultimately leads to trouble.  Matthew MacFadyen portrays Darcy's shyness and coldness to Colin Firth's pride and embarrassment.  This plays well with Knightley's openness and vivacity to Jennifer Ehle's grace and verbal wit.  There is nothing wrong with these interpretations of the characters, they are just different.

And then we have the changes in settings that seem to get everyone up in arms.  More scenes seem to happen outside versus inside and the costumes have been changed to an earlier fashion.  While this is true, one has to wonder how much this really matters.  It does not inhibit our understanding of the story or the characters by having a conversation take place in a field versus a drawing room.

None of this is to say that the 1995 version is somehow beneath this one.  I do strongly feel that it is the definitive version and one that everyone should see.  At the same time, I do not feel that the 2005 version deserves all of the hate it gets.  It is a very pretty movie with gorgeous music and strong acting and it does a good job of telling the story in the short amount of time allowed.  It also makes small changes that help modern audiences unfamiliar with the time period to understand certain aspects of the story.  Again, I think these versions are different but equal.  This is why we continue to make adaptations of our favorite books.  It is a chance to see our favorite stories in a new light or to look at it from a different or more modern angle.

You may or may not enjoy this adaptation, and that is fine.  I just think it's time for lovers of Jane Austen to be open to different interpretations of her story.  This was the version that made me fall in love with this story and  author, and I know it did the same for many others.  So before you bash a particular adaptation, just remember it may have been someone else's gateway to the story we all love.         

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Bookish News

There's lots going on in the book world.  Here are a few of the recent stories that have caught my eye...

  • Around the world, but especially here in the US, we are mourning the loss of one of our society's most well loved poets, Maya Angelou.  Author of 7 autobiographies (including I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings) and multiple collections of essays and poems, she was also a civil rights leader, a journalist, and a professor.  Tributes continue to pour in and her loss will be felt by many.  “No sun outlasts its sunset but will rise again and bring the dawn.”
  •  Actor LeVar Burton has started a Kickstarter campaign to bring his long-running children's show Reading Rainbow back for a new generation.  The idea is to put Reading Rainbow on the web and make it free and accessible to children and classrooms all over.  As someone who grew up watching this show and learning so much from it, I am so excited to see it being brought back.  Visit his campaign page to contribute.
  • Though it has been finished since 1926, J. R. R. Tolkien's translation of Beowulf is only now available for readers.  Unlike other translations, it is in prose form.  Let the comparisons to Heaney's translation begin!
  • UK Education Secretary Michael Gove recently announced his decision to remove American classics like Of Mice and Men and To Kill a Mockingbird from the list of required reading for British students.  Mr. Gove contends that there should be more emphasis on British classics saying "I want pupils to grow up able to empathise with Jane Eyre as well as Lennie, to admire Elizabeth Bennet as much as Scout Finch."  My first thought is that some people are taking the criticism too far.  This is hardly a "ban" on American books.  However, I do feel that dividing literature into nationalistic categories may not be the best idea.  Great literature doesn't speak just to a specific nation, time, or society, but rather to the human condition as a whole.  I'd be interested to hear what British readers think of this.
Got any thoughts on the above stories?  Have any other bookish news stories?  Share in the comments!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Happy Birthday To:

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
May 22, 1859

“The love of books is among the choicest gifts of the gods.”

Sunday, May 18, 2014

And Then There Were None

“But no artist, I now realize, can be satisfied with art alone. There is a natural craving for recognition which cannot be gain-said.” 

There is perhaps no mystery author as beloved and admired as the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie.  She wrote 66 mystery novels in her career, with many memorable plots, characters, and endings.  But for many people, her 1939 novel And Then There Were None is her masterpiece.  It's unfathomable mystery and shocking end have made it not only the best-selling mystery novel of all time, but also one of the top selling of all books.

The Plot:

Ten people have arrived at a private island on the coast of Devonshire.  Some have been invited as guests, others as employees, of the owners.  But none have ever met them.  Upon arrival, they find that their hosts/employers have not yet arrived.  Though the house is a modern mansion, they notice odd little things like a framed "Ten Little Indians" poem on each bedroom wall and corresponding Indian figurines on the dining room table.  After dinner, the butler plays a record (per written instructions) that accuses each person of having committed murder but evaded justice.  All are shocked and dismayed, but insist they are innocent.
Then the deaths begin.  One by one, guests are being killed in ways to reflect the deaths in the bedroom poem.  The others search the island for the killer, but soon realize that he/she must be among them.  As the murders continue, each survivor struggles to decide who they can and cannot trust.

My Review (Caution - Spoilers):

Though I am familiar with many of Agatha Christie's stories, this is only the second book I have read.  Unlike The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, this particular novel does not involve a specific detective.

This mystery is fast paced and very intriguing.  From the first moment we are asking questions, and they don't stop anytime soon.  Who are the owners of the island?  What is their purpose in bringing the guests to the island?  Are the guests really guilty of murder? Who is doing the killing?  Christie sucks us in from the very beginning and never lets up.  The growing panic and confusion among the guests transfers to the reader creating a rather intense reading experience.  It is the smart reader indeed who can explain the mystery before Christie's big reveal.

I thought the use of the poem in the murders was clever, and in some ways increased the tension as you waited for the next inevitable murder.  Of course, this also decreases the suspense somewhat as we know how many people are supposed to die as well as the way they die.  I also felt that the explanation, while clever (and similar to the surprise of Ackroyd), was also rather convenient in some places.  There just didn't seem to be enough time for the killer to complete some of these murders without being caught.  But though these thoughts were in the back of my mind, it didn't diminish my enjoyment of the novel.

It is clear that nobody writes crime like Agatha Christie.  Her storytelling is tight, her plots are brilliant, and her endings are surprising.  If you have never tried a Christie novel, And Then There Were None is a great place to start.  It is no wonder that it remains popular with readers the world over.

The Movie:  
There is a 1945 adaptation starring Walter Huston, C. Aubrey Smith, and Judith Anderson.  I haven't seen it, but I love these actors and will definitely try to see it soon.    

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Vlogging the Classics

It's no secret that last year's hugely popular The Lizzie Bennet Diaries completely turned the internet/literary world upside down  Creators Hank Green and Bernie Su took a widely known and well-loved story and recreated it a way that fit perfectly within our modern times.  And the new series Emma Approved is proving to be just as popular, showing that this new format of storytelling may not be going away anytime soon.

I was introduced to another modern "vlogging" adaptation of a classic story by Hannah.  A group based in Vancouver has been re-telling Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre (as The Autobiography of Jane Eyre) for the last several months.  I was a little skeptical at first since it seems like this particular story would be difficult to adapt to modern times, but the writers have done an excellent job with it.  The acting was a little shaky at first, but has become better over time.  The female characters have been especially good, like the Reed and Rivers sisters.  And though this adaptation is low-budget (and thus less polished than LBD or EA), that in itself adds a bit more intimacy to the story.  If you are a fan of Jane Eyre, or of vlogging adaptations in general, I really recommend this series.  It is close to wrapping up, so you'll be able to really binge watch. 

Personally, I have really been enjoying this type of classic adaptation.  I think what is most amazing about it is that it takes a story that is so well known and loved and makes it seem new again.  Jane Eyre is a story that I know inside and out, and yet I have often found myself a giddy mess when some of my favorite scenes occurred.  In my mind, that is what really makes a story "classic" can be told in different ways in different times and it still resonates with us.  I especially loved the comments from viewers who were not familiar with the story and were now vowing to read it.

Do you enjoy these type of adaptations?  Do you have a favorite?  Is there a classic story you would like to be told in this way?  My vote is for Persuasion or North and South.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Literary Moments in Scotland

I'm recently back home after a two week adventure in Scotland.  My grandfather and I had an amazing time traveling all over the country from Edinburgh and Inverness to the Isle of Skye and Oban.  Though the trip mainly revolved around history, whisky, and jaw-dropping scenery we still had a few literary related moments on the trip.  Here is a glimpse at some of them:

Deacon Brodie's Tavern, Edinburgh

Located on the Royal Mile between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace, this tavern is named for William Brodie, a cabinet maker in Edinburgh in the 18th century.  By day, he was a respected and prominent citizen.  By night, he was a thief, gambler, and womanizer.  This double existence was the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson's classic story The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

"Tam O'Shanter" Chair at Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh

Visiting Holyrood Palace was special enough for this history buff.  I literally had to take a moment to collect myself after climbing the stairs from Darnley's chamber to Mary's and standing in the room where Rizzio was murdered.  There is also a nice piece of literary history in the palace.  Created in 1822, this chair was built from part of the collapsed roof of the Kirk of Alloway, the hometown of Robert Burns.  The back has an inset of brass panels with his classic poem "Tam O'Shanter" inscribed on them.
The Scott Monument, Edinburgh

Personally, I think it looks more like a shrine to a pagan god rather than a memorial to a Scottish writer.  Located in Edinburgh's New Town, this monument honors Scotland's most famous author and the man who perhaps has done more for Scotland's image than any other.  From Ivanhoe to the Waverly novels, Sir Walter Scott's body of work remains a must-read even to this day.
St. Oran's Cemetery, Isle of Iona

Believed to be the burial place of many kings including Scottish, Norwegian, and Irish.  And who can blame them as the beautiful and peaceful setting makes for a lovely final resting place.  It is also believed to be the burial place of that Scottish king made so famous by Shakespeare...Macbeth.
It was nice to have a moment revolving around Scotland's most important authors.  If you have been to Scotland, please feel free to share your favorite literary moments with us.  Below are some of my other favorite moments from the trip.

Standing atop Hadrian's Wall

Learning the fine points of whisky making in Oldmeldrum
Finding an ancient stone circle hidden in a stand of trees near Banchory

Paying respect to the dead at Culloden

Monster hunting on Loch Ness

Out of this world scenery on the Isle of Skye

Finding peace on the sacred Isle of Iona