Intertextuality

Knee-deep in research for the term paper. Re-watched both P&P and S&S movies in the last week, as that’s what I’ll be writing about – so that’s about 12 hrs worth of Austen film. Tough, but someone’s gotta do it.

Part of the point of my paper is going to be the issue of intertextuality, how one “text” (in this case films are considered “texts” as much as the printed version) refers to another, and how our reading/viewing of one is influenced by the other.

We had an argument last night in the family about whether the 1995 P&P, which we’ve watched incessantly, actually includes the scene from the book where Bingley says that if he decided to leave Netherfield, he’d be gone in five minutes – which he says in a sort of self-deprecating way, “Haha, I’m so impulsive,” whereupon Darcy tells him off, saying that he’s really indirectly boasting of being like that. It’s a fairly significant character point in describing both Bingley and Darcy. One of the family thought they were absolutely sure that scene was in the movie, and thought they remembered hearing Colin Firth delivering the line “I see your design, Bingley. You dislike an argument, and want to silence this.” But the fact is, that dialogue and this particular line are not in this movie adaptation; Colin Firth never did say that. But having watched the film so often, on every re-reading of the book Mr Darcy now speaks with Colin Firth’s voice, to the point where it’s difficult to separate the movie memories from the book ones.

Conversely, I only just twigged to the fact that in the 1995 S&S Emma Thompson’s Elinor is not, in fact, nineteen, but more like twenty-eight. I had always watched the film with the “knowledge” in my head that Elinor is nineteen and Marianne seventeen, and purposely in my mind glossed over the very obvious age difference of the actors (Emma Thompson was thirty-five to Kate Winslet’s nineteen) – sort of told myself to suspend disbelief, made myself read Elinor as nineteen even though she obviously wasn’t (kind of like watching Shakesperean boy actors play girls, you just make yourself accept it). I was watching the movie through the lens of the book. But in fact, Emma Thompson wasn’t trying to play a nineteen-year-old. The character is written and acted as a mature older sister, daughter of a fifty-year-old mother (not the forty-year-old of the book), looking after her flighty little sisters and running the household (“denying” them sugar and beef, for example, because it’s too expensive) – in fact, being the responsible mother-figure in the family. That’s how the film character is written and played (and played well), but I didn’t really see it because I was looking for the Elinor of the book, and so that’s what I saw.

And then of course there’s the fact that the movies heavily influence each other – in the case of Sense and Sensibility, the 2007 version directly quotes the 1995 one over and over, visually, verbally, in allusions, in character development, in scenes – sometimes purposely contrasting the one with the other. For example, in 1995 it’s Willoughby riding on a white charger to the rescue of Marianne who is collapsed in the rain; in 2007, Colonel Brandon gets to ride the horse to find Marianne, whereas Willoughby is on foot in that first scene. The Colonel-Brandon-carry-Marianne-into-the-house scene is not, I’m sad to say, in the book – Austen was obviously lacking the proper romantic sensibilities for appreciating such a scene. Good thing we’ve got Emma Thompson and Andrew Davies to make up for it.

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