The Evolution of the Jane Austen Adaptation

It is a truth known to only me, but now universally, that I spent days trying to think of a clever, fresh way to start this piece about Jane Austen film and television adaptations with an “It is a truth universally acknowledged” bit, and in the end this is all I came up with, and for that I apologize.

Over the past several decades, Jane Austen, who wrote six novels before her death in 1817 at the age of 41, has essentially become the Lady Shakespeare. Her work is endlessly adapted in all sorts of ways; her stories and characters inspire many storytellers consciously and, sometimes, perhaps, subconsciously. Her influence, despite her comparatively tiny body of work, is palpable, especially in film and television. Austen perfected the will-they-or-won’t-they dynamic and the love-hate dynamic, and she opened up the world to the female experience in a society that forced them to be dependent on men. Austen’s ahead-of-her-time sensibility, themes, sharp criticism, characters, and fascination with the human condition translate seamlessly to the modern world and, therefore, storytelling onscreen.

 

Jane Austen screen adaptations started in 1938 with a television movie of Pride and Prejudice. In 1940, Pride and Prejudice was adapted for the big screen in a film starring Greer Garson as Elizabeth Bennett and Laurence Olivier as Mr. Darcy

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