I studied English when I was a student back in the early eighties. One of the aspects I most enjoyed was discovering that I liked literature I never thought I would. Books, for example like, Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene or George Eliott’s Adam Bede.
Most of all though, to my surprise, I really enjoyed what I’d once dismissed as the girlie Jane Austen. Now I learn the book Emma, the one I studied in the most detail, has again been turned into a film which is coming out next weekend.
This immediately brought to mind an essay I wrote 40 years ago, amazing how you can easily recall things from past decades but can’t remember what you did five minutes ago. In the essay, I praised Emma’s subtle comedy but, just for balance, I dismissed the subject-matter as “trivia”.
When I got my marked essay back from the tutor he argued that it was not “trivia” at all but was, in fact, the “fabric and texture of daily life”.
Those words have stuck with me ever since and I agreed then and still do now that he was right and that there’s nothing wrong with dramatic work featuring “ordinary” daily lives. After all that’s what makes life what it is and stories about “ordinary” lives can, in their own way, be just as important as big historic events.
Big Little Lies
The 1980 film Ordinary People, Robert Redford’s directorial debut, which came out around the time I was reading Emma takes up a similar theme as does the very current Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty.
Now I read that this new film features nudity which, believe me, I’m all for when it’s appropriate but surely not in Jane Austen for whom understated subtlety was everything.
What’s made it even worse is that the supposed custodians of Austen’s legacy, the Jane Austen House Museum, agree that it’s “gratuitous” but go on to say that’s ok because it’s a man who’s getting naked and a good looking naked man at that!
“We left the screenings with smiles on our faces and agreed it was one of the best adaptations we’d seen,” said museum trustee Kathryn Sutherland. “Any doubts that Mr Knightley is a sex symbol are banished in practical fashion – an early scene has him strip naked – quite gratuitously, but necessarily, of course.”
I could just imagine the outrage in this Hollywood-influenced #metoo era if a man were to say that it was ok for a woman to be gratuitously naked in a film for no other reason than for the titillation of men.
After yesterday’s diary piece on prostate cancer, here’s more blatant gender bias I’d say. Sometimes it feels to me like we’re living in a world gone crazy or maybe it’s just me talking as an out-of-touch grumpy old man. ‘Discuss’ as my university essay questions used to say!