Janeites for a New Millennium: The Modernisation of Jane Austen on Film

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Steenkamp, Elzette
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The late twentieth century saw a surge in cinematic adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels, the films generating wide-spread interest and zeal from a new caste of modern-day Janeites, many of whom were previously unfamiliar with Austen’s work. While the notion of a Janeite culture based purely on motion picture renditions of the original novels is sure to displease literary purists, the purpose of this discussion is not to initiate a debate regarding our responsibility to remain faithful to Austen in her original form. Rather, this article identifies the type of cinematic alterations and emphases which render Austen films more appealing to a certain group of modern-day Janeites. It will be argued that modern-day audiences’ demand for recognisably modern protagonists necessitates the modernization of Austen on film. Thus, cinematic adaptations tend to emphasize Austen’s nascent feminism, re-imagining her heroines as more fiercely independent, lively and witty than their original incarnations. Through additional scenes, altered dialogue and substantial changes to the characters, film producers not only highlight the plight of women in the early nineteenth century, but also circumvent such restrictions by allowing their female protagonists the degree of independence demanded by modern-day audiences.
Jane Austen, Film adaptations, Modernisation, Feminism, Cinema