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Lost in Austen, 2008

"I'm not hung up about Darcy. I do not sit at home with the pause button on Colin Firth in clingy pants. . . I love the love story. I love Elizabeth. I love the manners and the language and the courtesy. . . the stately, elegant rituals and pace of courtship." These are the sentiments of Amanda Price, feelings which open a portal for her into Longbourne and simultaneously allow Elizabeth to escape into Amanda's modern-day London. So begins Amanda's participation in Pride and Prejudice, unwillingly disrupting the plot and showing characters in a surprising new light.

Some of the resulting twists are fun and funny—learning that Mr. Bennet's first name is Claude, meeting Mr. Collins's dreadful brothers, hearing Amanda's judgment that Mr. Darcy is no Colin Firth. Other allusions to the Firth film include sly musical references to its theme music and a "post-modern" scene of Mr. Darcy emerging coatless from a dip in the pond at Amanda's request.

Some of the character changes extend our sense of Austen's people. Bingley and Lady Catherine respond to the Amanda plot complications in ways that may seem consistent with our knowledge of them. We see little of Elizabeth, but her reactions to our modern values and technologies seem plausible and her statement, "I was born out of time . . . and out of place" can't be dismissed too hastily. Other characters, Wickham in particular, depart radically from Austen's depiction.

Most problematic is Darcy. When Amanda suggests he needs an occupation and serves no purpose, he retorts, "What a disgusting idea. That is the raison d'être of society. We must be seen to be unoccupied." Earlier he has remarked, "Everywhere I behold the squalid prospect of grasping arrivistes, harlots, and liars scrabbling over each other in the sewer that is existence outside society." His words and his role betray the most annoying elements of this film, the absence of Jane Austen's language, irony, and moral seriousness.

Amanda describes Pride and Prejudice as "the greatest love story ever told," and this production gives us another opportunity to revel in the romance and enjoy the houses, gardens, and costumes. We can take the distortions of plot and character as a challenge to rethink and justify our understandings of the book. And an excuse to reread Pride and Prejudice is always welcome.

-Shirley Holbrook, Letter from Chicago, Fall 2009