Literary Criticism: “Austen didn’t need a Wonderbra™, was their argument …”

A little look at Dr. Olivia Murphy’s essay: “Books, Bras and Bridget Jones: reading adaptions of Pride and Prejudice

A lot of literary criticism is hard to get into.  From my highschool extension english days, and my university readings, I know that a lot of it can be plain painful.  However, occasionally I come across something that is so worth reading, and such a joy to read, that I want to share it.  And who better with, than other Pride and Prejudice fans?  Especially when the title of said essay is as enticing as it is.

This piece is mainly a critique on the 1995 adaptation (the Colin Firth, Jennifer Ehle one) and sort of a personal interrogation over our own readings and obsessions with Pride and Prejudice, in sort of what was once referred to as a ‘head fake’ by the amazing legacy that is Randy Pausch.  One thing that most of us Janeites, and worshippers-at-the-altar-of-Colin-Firth know is that there is a lot of sex in the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice, even if there isn’t any actual… well… y’know… sex. That probably doesn’t make a lot of sense, but anyone who has seen the wet-shirt scene, or the ‘gazing adoringly as Lizzy plays on the piano’ scene knows the sort of sex I’m talking about.  It’s thick with it, but it’s the just out of reach sort that most of us Austen fans love so much.

The essay is fantastically modern in the way it is written, with unashamed references to undies and Wonderbras as called for, so I recommend checking out the link and giving it a once over- you’ll thank me.  As we are drawn by Murphy to the hypocrisies in Bridget’s obsession with Mr. Darcy, it is a little too easy to see our own insanity.  I think Murphy must be a Janeite herself.  “The basis of my own addiction, I know, is my simple human need for Darcy to get off with Elizabeth. … I do not, however, wish to see any actual goals. I would hate to see Elizabeth and Darcy in bed, smoking a cigarette afterwards. That would be unnatural and wrong and I would quickly lose interest.” the article quotes Bridget Jones as saying, pointing to this dual sense in all of us.  I would have to agree.  And while it’s a little ridiculous, I love it even more.

An interesting problem, or perhaps result, of the changes and directorial decisions is easily seen when it comes to power and the feminist undertones of the book, as well as the alteration of Jane’s voice that comes from placing a book into the film medium.  I certainly think this analysis brings up important topics for future film directors that have P&P in mind, many of which involve costuming and eye popping cleavage.  Particularly when it explains that getting rid of the asides written into the book means taking away Jane’s voice, and thus leaving the shell and storyline of Pride and Prejudice but without any of the heart she wrote into it.  Similarly, Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’ Diary is said to have changed the tone through the filmic version- I know this to be true from my own reading of both the books and watching both the films and seeing only a very slim similarity in the character of Bridget, and hardly any in any other area.  This essay makes an interesting point about the loss of the undertones (perhaps even overtones) of feminism in both books- taking away Elizabeth’s independence and thoughts, and even knowledge at points, and the loss of Sharon’s (Shazzer) prominent position in Bridget’s life as her feminist-y friend.

The most interesting comment however, is whether the 1995 adaptation changes Jane’s opinions and lessons to us, or ignores them completely.  We obviously miss a lot by solely watching an adaptation, but maybe we are missing more than we think they are?  How about Jane’s own mistrust of romantic works of fiction and things that seem too-good-to-be-true? 

Dr. Olivia Murphy is a Sydney University alumni ’05 from Canberra who is highly involved in literary criticism and Jane Austen scholarly circles.

So, what did you think of the article?  Interesting?  Too scholarly?

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Filed under A good find, Discussion, Other Review

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