Louise Flavin (2004),
Jane Austen in the Classroom. Viewing the Novel/Reading the Film
New York, Peter Lang
Review: © Patrick Cattrysse (4 Dec. 2018)
Louise Flavin is a literary scholar and this book is a manual on how to teach Jane Austen in a literature class. Film adaptations are used as a window into the socio-cultural world of its literary origins. They serve as an introduction to the reading (cf. Flavin 2004:9). This does not mean that no considerations are made about the movies as works of art in their own right. The matter of fidelity however is never out of sight. This attitude makes it harder to perceive filmic merits on their own. It also hinders the scholar in detecting and appreciating other contextual material that co-determined the filming process and did not originate from Austen novels.
However Louise Flavin has a different goal. In a brief introduction, the author explains her personal fondness of Jane Austen’s work. Her objective is to pass that enthusiasm on to her students/readers, not to expose a scientific description of how and why Jane Austen novels were adapted the way they were onto the film or television screen.
Students/readers hardly need any background in literary and cinematic analysis. The topics and questions Flavin deals with are very general in nature. The author reviews fourteen Jane Austen adaptations available on video, including feature-length films and television mini-series. The reviews are bundled in six chapters dealing subsequently with Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion. Each chapter is split in a literary part (“viewing the novel”) and a filmic part (“reading the film”). The literary paragraphs deal mainly with the major themes, issues, ideas and genre features of the book. The film paragraphs tackle casting and characterization, changes from novel to film, conceptual integrity and cinematic technique. Each part ends with an interesting list of questions to start a discussion. The book ends with a brief bibliography dividing the works cited according to the chapters they relate to.