After having seen the most recent iteration of "Pride and Prejudice" - you know, the one with the impossibly beautiful Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet and the relatively unknown Matthew MacFadyen as Mr. Darcy - I was bemused to read that the creative team behind the film had released it with two different endings. Apparently, while the American version of the movie ends with Darcy and Elizabeth in a passionate Hollywood embrace, the British version of the film is more restrained, following the book's discreet lead and going light on the fireworks.
Many writers had weighed in on this phenomenon; talking heads had talked, critics had critiqued, and pundits had pundited. But none of them had gone to the source, and I'm proud to say that after a bit of effort, I managed to get Jane Austen to speak - on the record! - about her life, her work, and getting the Hollywood treatment.
Ms. Austen met me one early weekend morning at Volume One, a quiet downtown eatery noted primarily for its fictional clientele. Today didn't disappoint; I managed to catch a glimpse of Jean Valjean at the pastry counter, and someone who I thought was Alexander Portnoy hitting on one of the waitresses.
Austen came in right on time, wearing a lovely high-waisted Empire dress and her hair fetchingly done up high above her head; I don't know whose shampoo and conditioner she uses, but a celebrity endorsement would be worth its weight in gold. A somewhat faithful transcript of our conversation follows.
Jeremy Dauber: First of all, thanks so much for making it here today from the early 19th century. I know the commute is terrible.
Jane Austen: I was honored to receive your gracious invitation; as for my journey, it was nothing to speak of.
JD: Glad to hear it. Let's start with an easy one: so which one's proud and which one's prejudiced?
JA (laughing gaily): I believe that to render such decisions lies beyond the author's purview the moment the pages she has written leave her pen. Surely it is the reader whose judgment in these matters is to be trusted above all?
JD: In that case, then, you're sympathetic to the license screenwriters and directors take when they adapt your novels?
JA: Naturally, sir, you conceive of a noteworthy difference between the two; the producers of such public entertainments are hardly readers.
JD: Well, that's for sure; in fact, I've heard that some of the major studio heads haven't read a book in 20 years.
JA: You willfully misunderstand me to quiz me. I mean to say that their judgments on my poor pages are not private. In these spectacles they put on, they purport to present my world to a larger company; it is my name they bandy about with such license, and in presenting their opinion as my fact, they do great violence to my design. It is a truth universally acknowledged that violence is a necessary product of re-creation; but acknowledgment of sad truths gives me little pleasure.
JD: So you'd rather they read the book, in other words?
JA: Mind you, I am no despiser of theatrical entertainments. But nonetheless - (a pause) Modesty forbids me from speaking further.
JD: OK, I get it, you wrote the book, you want people to read it, not some imitation of it, no matter how good. But you must prefer some adaptations to others - like the more faithful British version to the American version, with its over-the-top "Hollywood ending"?
JA: The colonies (as I persist in calling them to this day) seem to me a wild adventure; tho' themselves full of much possibility, a reputation for excess is not unnatural to their character. But as I utter these words I reproach myself, as I find the pride and prejudice of my characters lurking deep within my breast as well: to leave the theater satisfied is no small thing, and the entertainments of the Americas satisfy as do no others.
JD: Still, you're saying you prefer the British version.
JA: Though my present circumstances may find me far from home, England and all things English will ever be closest to my heart.
JD: Well, that's pretty clear. Now, I don't want to get all personal as we wrap up, but I do have to ask: any truth to the rumors about you and Colin Farrell canoodling at Skybar?
JA: I am offended - I am mortified - such insinuations are ill-becoming in one who considers himself to be possess'd of all the gentlemanly virtues! Besides, Colin and I are just good friends!
The interview kind of went downhill after that, with Austen referring to me a 'dastardly blackguard' and 'a cad and a bounder, until she eventually stormed off. Still, the afternoon wasn't a total loss: Inspector Javert came by looking for Jan Valjean, and I ended up hiring him for a couple of sous to try to find my missing iPod. I'll let you know how it goes.