Jane Austen as Gateway Drug (or Must-See BBC)


When Masterpiece Theatre aired their complete series of Jane Austen not only was I reacquainted with an artist who I wholly took for granted in my undergraduate years, but the re-adaptations of such delightful works as Mansfield Park and Persuasion got me hooked, once again, on the period piece dramas I escaped  to in the awkward and unnecessary years of high school. Since MT’s airing, I’ve been chasing the likes of Dickens, Hardy, Eliot, and the Brontes since and am thoroughly enjoying almost every page of these seemingly endless serial works.

I wholeheartedly advocate diving into these wonderful recent adaptations, all of which are deliciously satisfying. I wasn’t a fan of Billie Piper until I saw her in Mansfield Park where she proved she had some acting chops as precocious and shy Fanny Price, who, despite her lowly background, doesn’t hesitate to speak her mind and triumphs over deceit and denial.

Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penny-Jones are wonderfully pensive and draw out a nuanced performance in their awkward and painful dance in Austen’s more serious Persuasion.

I was utterly enthralled and enchanted with Northanger Abbey, which should make a short and delightful read just in time for Halloween. I’m also enamored of JJ Field, who is irresistible in this romp as well as in Phillip Pullman’s The Ruby in the Smoke, a Masterpiece Mystery Classic.

I did not care for the new Sense and Sensibility nor the Emma with Kate Beckinsale, but if you’d allow me to make a plug for my three absolute favorite BBC period productions, which I intend to own someday because they’re just so damn good. Elizabeth Gaskell makes Jane Austen’s drawing room dramas seem tawdry frivolously frilly affairs in her powerhouse critique of Industrialization and Labour in North and South.


Gemma Arerton’s performance in Hardy’s Tess of D’Ubervilles will win you over body and soul. And Hardy blazes a scathing eye to Victorian society and the demented rigors of religion that leaves everyone scarred and profoundly stunned.

Keeley Hawes is also astoundingly amazing as downtrodden but defiant heroine, Lizzie Hexam (one of the rare complex female Dickensian creations to grace his volumes of otherwise two-dimensional women), but you really need to read Our Mutual Friend before being able to enjoy the adaptation. Chuck D is a master writer and no matter where one is in with the craft, we can always learn from him.

With that said, no writer has compared and no piece can withstand the astute clarity and transcendent pathos of Charlotte Bronte. I used to love her sister above all else until I saw Jane Eyre, and then read Jane Eyre twice in a row. Charlotte is a Goddess of Art.

I watched Lost in Austen a couple of months ago and though I loved Jemima Rooper as a lesbian ghost in the macabre BBC occult hit Hex, I found the modern revamped Austen take too silly and therefore unnecessary.

Before watching Becoming Jane I had serious doubts about Anne Hathaway as Austen but was pleasantly surprised by the film and Hathaway’s performance though Miss Austen Regrets is a finer tribute to the writer, and the film attempts to present a truthful portrait of the arduous and lonely journey of a mature writer.

This journey is eased and inspired by all the great works listed above, which are worth visiting and revisiting until the journey’s end, not to mention they’re just great fun and a perfect antidote to rainy weather blues.

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