The NAB Blog

A Jane Austen Month – Again!

By Nicolas Soames

1 January 2008

The appetite for film and TV adaptations of the classics continues unabated. Neither Jane Austen nor Charles Dickens would be nearly as popular in the twenty-first century were it not for some truly memorable performances on the big and small screens.

As proof, just a few years after Emma Thompson’s intelligent and faithful re-working of Sense and Sensibility, for the director Ang Lee’s venture into English literature, here is Andrew Davis’s reworking for BBC TV: though whether Thompson’s wonderfully sensitive portrayal of Elinor can be truly matched remains to be seen.

This constant reworking of the classics demonstrates a public appetite which cannot be denied, encouraging producers to cast a wider net. It has been heartening in recent years to tread not only the highways – such as the pops from Austen and Dickens (Bleak House, Our Mutual Friend), the Brontës (and more than just Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre!) and Thackeray (Vanity Fair) – but also the byways, such as Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford, which proved an indubitable hit.

Purists can rail against the way they are done (blatantly luscious kisses in Jane Austen… even a sex scene!; contraction of events from the Cranford novels etc.). But more often than not the period, the sensibility and the point of the works are retained. This was certainly true of last year’s delicious Fanny Hill, though for me A Cock and Bull Story, the reworking of Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, surely gets the prize for the most imaginative screen presentation of a wildly wacky novel.

And back we all (or many of us) go to the original…

This was true last year of Cranford, which previously registered low on the classics scale. The Naxos AudioBooks unabridged recording by Clare Willie proved very popular (supported by a stream of outstanding reviews!) and the paperback publishers found themselves rapidly reprinting to keep up with the demand.

When it comes to audiobooks, the question often arises whether to go for the abridged version or the unabridged. Of course, the faithful throw up their hands in horror.

’My dear, I wouldn’t TOUCH an abridged version.’

In some cases, the decision is easy. Cranford runs for just eight hours unabridged, so we didn’t even consider doing it abridged.

But Bleak House read so affectingly by Sean Barrett and Teresa Gallagher runs for thirty-six hours unabridged – and that is a serious audiobook commitment. So many will prefer our (generous) abridgement, which runs for just over eleven hours.

Similarly, Great Expectations, read by Anton Lesser, runs for over eighteen hours unabridged, so we offer an alternative four-and-a-half hour version on four CDs.

And what about Sense and Sensibility? Well, the full version runs for just under fourteen hours. For many, the pairing of Jane Austen and Juliet Stevenson means fourteen totally absorbing hours. But others will prefer the three CD version, running for nearly four hours. They may also prefer the inclusion of classical music which makes these abridgements more of an atmospheric production, perhaps even closer to the TV adaptation. The main point, of course, is that you get the real words of Jane Austen – and (shock, horror!) you neither find any lubricious corners, nor do you miss them.

Of course, time is not the only factor. There is price as well…

For this month, we are offering the unabridged version of Sense and Sensibility for just £19.99 AND a free recording of a biography of Jane Austen.

Juliet Stevenson has had a close working relationship with the novels of Jane Austen, being a memorable Mrs Elton in the film version of Emma; but she is, perhaps, peerless when reading the original… Listen to her talking about her feelings and continuing respect for Austen in her podcast, and you will see why… and why fourteen hours of Sense and Sensibility is an unalloyed joy.

Nicolas Soames

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