The Problem with American Austen…

I was going to entitle this post ‘The Problem with America’, because I feel this is important enough to justify such a ‘shocking’ title.  However, I am not going to ramble on about all the problems with America, such as how they use 9 planet’s worth of non-renewable resources, or the creation of Lady Gaga. There is something far worse than these trivialities, and it goes by the name of ‘the alternative ending’.

J’adore Jane Austen. In fact, j’adore Jane Austen so ardently that I have a subscription to Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine. Moving on.

Pride and Prejudice is probably the most famous of Austen’s novels, having been adapted into numerous glittering films (to watch with popcorn), and Sunday-evening period dramas (to watch with crumpets).  In 2005, Joe Wright took his turn to direct, using the beautiful Kiera Knightley as Elizabeth Bennett, and the sumptuous Matthew Macfadyen as Fitzwilliam Darcy.

I must say, I prefer the 1995 BBC adaptation by Andrew Davies, but he did have 6 hours to play with rather than 2. I still loved this film, but it was the ending that particularly pleased me.

The film’s penultimate scene finds Lizzy and Darcy wandering through the countryside at dawn, finally confessing their love for one another, and kissing in the sunlight.  The kiss is divine, because it never actually happens. Our hero and heroine simply move closer and closer until their lips are about to touch, and the scene ends there. It leaves the rest to the heavily over-active imagination of its hopelessly-romantic audience.

The last scene is a brilliant last display of the Austen-esque wit that, beneath the romance, created a parody of 18th-century middle-class life. Here it is, although the clip is fairly long so feel free to skip to 20.00:

Now here is the crux of the thing. Let us have a jolly flick through the bonus material on the DVD. What’s this? An alternative American ending?

Instead of the light-hearted British ending, reminding us heartily that life goes on despite handsome men and romantic walks at dawn, the American ending features an additional scene. To my horror, Elizabeth and Darcy are sitting outside in their nightclothes, discussing pet names and how ‘incandescently happy’ they are.

I was furious. Not only is this horrifically inaccurate (they would not be gallivanting about in their nightclothes), but we are also drowned in sickening romance, much like watching one of those couples in the park who think they are sly, but are basically humping on the picnic-rug.

I apologise to any American readers: I’m sure it wasn’t your idea to corrupt my beloved Austen with these dreadful visions. But I really feel this sort of behaviour ruins these films, by shouting to the audience:

‘Just in case you didn’t understand, they’re in love.’

In conclusion, best leave it to the Brits.

Here it is:


17 thoughts on “The Problem with American Austen…

  1. Being in America, I’m prevented from watching the ending on the first clip. The alternate American ending is not alternate on American DVDs; it’s just there at the end of the film, completely ruining it. Although I am American I deplore the eradication of subtlety and understandment in this scene, the fact that it gives a whole generation of so-called Jane Austen fans the absurd notion that candle-lit trysts in nightclothes on garden tables form a natural part of Regency romance. In other words: I agree, entirely.

  2. It’s true…America has been in denial on so many levels. We are getting shaken up, which is a good thing. It appears by the Euro that all of Europe is too. Couldn’t agree more about the movie ending but look at Jane Gaskell’s “North and South” that was made in Britain. Making out at the train station would hardly happen in that era as well. It’s artistic license.

  3. I love that you subscribed to “Jane Austen’s Regency World”! I had no idea such a magazine existed!

    As for the P&P ending, I had no idea there was a British finale to the film, though I would love to see it. Could you send me a link for the un-American ending? I’m having a little trouble finding it.

    Thanks for visiting my blog, by the way! 😀

  4. I’m another American who must agree with betweenbluerocks. American filmmakers have long been derided for the “Hollywood ending,” tacking a happy ending on a tragedy, but this P&P gilds the lily, making a happy ending a sappy ending.

    Knowing how you feel, I’m glad you liked my “Jane Austen on Hollywood Boulevard” post.

    Lexie Kahn: Word Snooper

  5. I remember finding that alternate ending and laughing fit to burst. In fairness, though, I think it says more about what the film-makers THINK the American public want than what they necessarily do. In this case I’m sure the bulk of the audience had read the book, so why they bothered with the saccharine, I will never know!

  6. But then for 200 years, us Brits rewrote King Lear (a Shskespeare that j’adore as much as you and P &P) so that Lear survived and Cordelia married Edgar… Shudders in horror at the thought. Howl, howl, howl!

  7. Actually, I’ve just seen the miniseries with Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy and found it incredibly cheeky, especially with it ending on a double wedding with Jane and Elizabeth marrying the men they love dearly. However, they did take the book seriously and they took the words right out of the book. On the other hand, the Pride and Prejudice you were talking about isn’t ruly americanized since it was produced and written for the screen by the people at Working Title, the people who did such works as Bridget Jones (another spin on the same Austen tale), Four Weddings and a Funeral and Pirate Radio. I love this interpretation better because it follows the characters more closely. Mrs. Bennet should be worried about her daughters getting married and not act like an aloof flake. And the people they got for the roles are much better and more believable.

  8. haha! I know what you mean! I discovered this little scene and my sister and I just sat there dumbfounded afterwards. I prefer the BBC version, after seeing it I just cant stomach the American one. Maybe some British people should give making it into a film a go. They might get the ironic wit a little better.

  9. I agree completely about the (American) alternate ending — it is just wrong. Doesn’t fit the novel at all. I don’t mind some license with adapting books to film, but changing the tenor/appropriateness just jars, for me at least.

  10. As an American, I have only seen the ending that offends you. I didn’t even know there was another one! Your objections make perfect sense. That scene doesn’t fit the tone of the book, or even the rest of the movie. But it doesn’t surprise me. I love my movies, but Hollywood is it’s own little planet. It doesn’t really understand the rest of the US, let alone our friends across the Atlantic!

  11. Well put Tiffany. I had a bit of an Austen phase last December and finally read Mansfield Park (not as much fun as P&P). I lived in Britain for 12 years and they don’t get everything right, but sometimes the Brits know when to leave things understated. US cinema and TV has great moments, but it can clobber you over the head sometimes. I’m a fan of Mad Men – tantalisingly ambiguous.

    Jane would never, never write about her characters frolicking about in nightclothes

  12. Wow! I’m so glad you led me to your blog I absolutely LOVE reading it. You’re writing is so natural and carefree. Plus you love Austen, that is a huge bonus right there. I love P & P way too much, and the British TV Series is a guilty pleasure none of my friends have indulged in. Being so infatuated by it, I was enraged at the American version. Sick to my stomach at the in-your-face mushyness towards the end. But you put it very well. Blogging about Austen was well on my list, this could have been the push I needed! 🙂

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