Authenticity In Northanger Abbey Essay

1556 words - 6 pages

Northanger Abbey:  Authenticity       

 In what is for Jane Austen an uncharacteristically direct intervention, the narrator of Northanger Abbey remarks near the end: "The anxiety, which in the state of their attachment must be the portion of Henry and Catherine, and of all who loved either, as to its final event, can hardly extend, I fear, to the bosom of my readers, who will see in the tell-tale compression of the pages before them, that we are all hastening together to perfect felicity."

As far as I know this is the only overt reference Austen ever makes to the material nature of her medium, and the relationship of that materiality to generic conventions. She might as well have said "This is a romantic comedy I'm writing" as announce that the happy-ending conclusion was foregone. In terms of audience reception -- surprise, suspense, narrative deferral -- the advantage of writing film scripts (as distinct from TV, whose audience can tell when the end is nigh simply by looking at its collective watch) is that there is no 'tell-tale compression of pages'; your viewers don't know when the end is coming. If you're writing scripts for, say, Blue Heelers, you make them forty-eight minutes long and no mucking about, and the imminence of narrative closure is obvious to everybody. The advantage of being a novelist is that you can decide where you want to stop.

One of the biggest differences between Austen's novels and their current screen versions -- two of which were written for TV -- is that Emma Thompson's screenplay for Sense and Sensibility, Nick Dear's for Persuasion and Andrew Davies' for Pride and Prejudice -- unlike all of the originals -- were circumscribed first and last by material constraints

For the six-part BBC Pride and Prejudice, Andrew 'Let's Put the Men Back in women's Writing' Davies, fresh form his triumphant masculinisation of Middlemarch in 1994, had five hours to play in; he could afford to be generous with leisurely conversation, period detail, and some free interpretation and development of the character of Mr Darcy. In Davies' adaptation of Middlemarch, a book whose opening words are 'Miss Brooke', the opening scene is of a sexy and mysterious-looking male stranger arriving in town: the High Plains Drifter of Victorian England. In the Davies version of Pride and Prejudice, a book about five sisters and how they secured their futures is transformed into a script which begins with two men -- one of whom is significantly more sexy and mysterious-looking than the other -- mounted on handsome, powerful, snorting horses galloping flat-out across a field. (True, the camera then pans back to find them being watched from a hill by a pair of speculative and not especially friendly dark eyes under a bonnet, and there is an audible creak of shifting power as the view lines up with Elizabeth Bennet for the rest of the series.) Despite the relative freedom to improve on Austen that was granted by the five-hour time...

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