(We know what you’re thinking, Gentle Reader: WOW AN OPEN THREAD ON AUSTENBLOG WE HAVEN’T HAD ONE OF THOSE IN A WHILE! Well, yes, but not for lack of thinking about it very hard every Tuesday.)
Welcome to Tuesday Open Thread, which is just that–an open thread to talk about what’s going on in your patch of Janeiteland. Also, we have an actual topic to get things rolling:
When faced with bad or disappointing or infuriating film adaptations or books inspired by Jane Austen’s work, we Janeites are often given the sop, “At least it will get people to read Austen’s novels.” In your opinion, is that a good reason—or even an acceptable reason—for Janeites to countenance such productions?
(Do you have a topic for a future Open Thread? Send it to the Editrix!)
9 thoughts on “Tuesday Open Thread: Gateway Drug Edition”
The problem with disappointing, infuriating, or just horrible adaptations is – does it get people to read Austen novels?
1. A lot of people who haven’t read an Austen novel haven’t done so because they don’t read that much, and would rather watch the movie than read the book, anyway.
2. Doesn’t seeing something that is just terrible make a person inclined to think that the book will probably be the same?
Also, a bad movie or a bad book are just that – bad pieces of media. I realize that a lot of time and effort has probably gone into the piece of media, but at the same time, I have a right to get upset about having spent my money on something that I don’t enjoy and cannot appreciate very much on an artistic level.
I have seen this happen when we share our WELL DONE movie adaptations here in Mexico. I have had to buy several JA books in Spanish to pass around- which are still being passed around years later!
It seems illogical to expect that the same would happen after viewing a BAD adaptation.
I read an article once about an author that got a horrible review in the NYT’s Book section, but was thrilled because even the bad review meant attention and sales.
The adaptations and spin-offs often bring attention to the original, but that doesn’t mean we should tolerate garbage based on the source. I guess there’s no way to stop the garbage…I already don’t give them my cash…but it is depressing that they are out there. (And I’m sure they set out with the best intentions even if they do fail.)
A friend can’t get her husband to read Austen because he saw one of the BBC’s 1970s adaptations; on the other hand, my niece read P&P after watching the 2005 adaptation. The pros and cons, the goods the bads. I guess I don’t have the answer. 😉
The Editrix asked “…is that a good reason—or even an acceptable reason—for Janeites to countenance such productions?”
In a word, no.
In more than a word — If I were sitting in a writing workshop, for instance, and a few of the participants offered up weak stories, I would have no qualms about giving them credit for trying, and engaging seriously with what they produced.
But, out in the open marketplace, where there is every incentive to slap the words “Jane Austen” on any kind of drivel and no price or penalty for doing so, the rules ought to be different. There is so much bad stuff out there, and it is marketed so unceasingly, that it does shape the popular perception of Austen’s work. I’m not saying that inferior productions should be banned, as if that were even possible — but I do think it’s reasonable for Janeites to set the bar higher and let some things languish in obscurity (or else mock them as they deserve).
I’ll go further and say I think your question is relevant to Austen-related research & criticism, as well as works of fiction.
This is a subject on which I am torn. I will happily thank them for their efforts, though I would hardly compliment what I personally consider to be work poorly done. I cannot ignore that their own work, good or bad, was done in admiration of what I consider to be great work. I cannot ignore the sheer amount of effort that went into the production. Equally, I have to admit that my taste may not be the same as that of someone else, or that, truthfully, it really did look good on paper, just for some reason or another fell flat in production (not a rare occurence, particularly when the finished product is middling.)
At the same time, I would never recommend such work to another person simply because I approve of the thought and effort behind it. I will even turn it off halfway through (or in one case less than a quarter) because I am not enjoying it. One need not force themselves through something rather uncomfortable simply because of approval of the process and sentiment that brought it on.
I think it is actually unfair both to the work of Jane Austen, and to the work of those who then adapts it, to sop and say, “At least it will get people to read Austen’s novels.” It is fairer to both to acknowledge the good, and the bad as what they are, and to be honest with ourselves and with others about where the work is lacking, and why we feel as we do about them. What I am uncomfortable doing is openly mocking work that was undertaken in seriousness, just as I would hate for my own work to be so mocked. Criticism? Of course. Parody and satire are appropriate as well, especially when it comes to Jane, but ill-thought derision brought on by frustration and our own prejudice in favour of A Lady, is not. Miss Austen taught me that.
So ultimately I suppose the question for me is what you mean precisely by “countenance”? I countenance the production in that, in development, I will support any work based on Jane Austen’s which I believe to be have been honestly undertaken, regardless of what the final outcome is. I will be curious. I will watch it. I will not, however, recommend any work to another person that in my opinion has failed. I will recommend something if I recognise that, while not to my taste, it does have merit one the grounds that ‘it’s good if you like that kind of thing’ (including at least one satire of Jane Austen’s breed of satire which, while not to my liking, was very well done.) That which I dislike though, I will acknowledge and engage with whatever level of seriousness was intended. Or I will, at least, try to.
To each his own. There are authors who have written Jane Austen sequels who have only seen the movies. I will just about watch any film adaptation, reread all of Jane Austen’s novels ’till the cows come home, and read biographies of her life or of people who lived during her era, but I stop at reading too many sequels, prequels, and whatevers. In the hands of a talented author, the sequels can be fun, but I can’t read more than 2-3 per year before I turn back to Jane again.
I guess I haven’t really answered your question. My hope is that through Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and JA film adaptations, and comic book treatments, a few young people will come to discover Jane on their own. One sequel author who wrote a book after seeing Pride and Prejudice decided to try her hand at reading Pride and Prejudice. She gobbled that book up, and read the rest of Jane’s oeuvre. Let’s hope that this trickle “up” effect happens more frequently than we suspect!
My wife reads voraciously but I cannot get her to actually read any of Jane Austen’s novels. However, she will sit and watch ANY and ALL of the film adaptations over and over. Go figure.
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