My favorite Jane Austen film adaptations.

It’s true: these Jane Austen movies have nothing to do with Christmas… except that Christmas vacation is a great time to watch one (or all) of them.

(Sarah’s reading a book right now in which one of the characters has a standing date with Mr. Darcy—er, Colin Firth—on New Year’s Eve, when she watches the 1995 BBC Pride & Prejudice from start to finish. I suspect she’s in good company with her holiday ritual.)

Some Jane Austen adaptations are terrific; some will make you feel like you squandered two hours. Here’s my guide to the best versions.

Emma

My favorite Jane Austen film adaptations | Modern Mrs Darcy

At a Christmas party two years ago, I spent two hours trying to figure out which of my friends I should set up the guests in attendance, and came home in the mood to watch this version of Emma with Romola Garai. It took me weeks to catch the irony.

This is the best version of Emma; it’s not even close.

Kate Beckinsale makes a fine Emma in this version. I liked Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma at the time, but find her much too irritating as Emma to re-watch now. Romola’s version is perfect, and Jonny Lee Miller makes a great Knightley. (I was surprised, too.)

Sense & Sensibility

My favorite Jane Austen film adaptations | Modern Mrs Darcy

Andrew Davies—who brilliantly adapted the 1995 version of Pride & Prejudice for tv—took a similar (read:sexy) approach with this 2008 version of Sense & Sensibility. (See: Dan Stevens chopping wood in the rain.) Acress Hattie Morahan, who played Elinor, refused to watch Emma Thompson’s 1995 performance prior to filming for fear it would influence her performance (and absolutely paralyze her).

This adaptation is fun to watch and quite true to Austen’s story, although it does have a few added scenes, like a duel between Brandon and Willoughby.

My favorite Jane Austen film adaptations | Modern Mrs Darcy

2008 is quite good, but Ang Lee’s 1995 version with Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet is a classic, even if it’s not the most faithful to the book.

My favorite Jane Austen film adaptations | Modern Mrs Darcy

Persuasion

Both modern adaptations are worth watching, but neither is amazing. (Screenwriters, take note.)

Of the two, the subdued 1995 version with Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds most resonates.

The 2007 version with Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones has more energy, but that’s not necessarily a good thing: it has a truly terrible ending, in which Anne Elliot’s marathon jog through the streets of Bath culminates in what might just be the worst kiss in the history of movie kisses.

My favorite Jane Austen film adaptations | Modern Mrs Darcy

Mansfield Park

The world is still waiting for a Mansfield Park adaptation that does justice to the book. Neither modern adaptation (1999 or 2007) is worth your time. Read the book while you’re waiting on Hollywood. (Or preferably, the BBC.)

Northanger Abbey

My favorite Jane Austen film adaptations | Modern Mrs Darcy

Andrew Davies strikes again. This 2007 version starring Felicity Jones and JJ Feild (and a young Carey Mulligan—I didn’t realize it was her until I saw the credits!) bring’s Austen’s lampoon of Gothic novels to life in a perfect 86 minutes. Don’t worry about the terrible Amazon reviews—those people don’t know what they’re talking about.

Pride and Prejudice

My favorite Jane Austen film adaptations | Modern Mrs Darcy

The 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice is the best Austen adaptation, hands down. It’s a faithful adaptation, with gorgeous scenery and brilliant acting. Jennifer Ehle is a marvelous Lizzy and to legions of fans Firth is and always will be Mr. Darcy. (In a wet shirt. In the lake.)

My favorite Jane Austen film adaptations | Modern Mrs Darcy

But the 2005 edition with Keira Knightley also has its charms. It’s lush and rich with imagery. (Mr Collins proposing in front of a ham? Perfect.) And it ushered a new generation into Jane Austen fandom.

What’s missing here? What’s your favorite Austen adaptation? (And if you have any holiday viewing rituals, tell us about them in comments!)

P.S. 5 favorite Jane Austen-inspired romantic comedies

The best Christmas scenes in English literature.

For your holiday enjoyment, I present to you the (highly subjective) best Christmas scenes in English literature.

Harry Potter

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling

Harry and his friends elect to stay at Hogwarts during their first Christmas holiday break.

After a meal of turkey sandwiches, crumpets, trifle, and Christmas cake, everyone felt too full and sleepy to do much before bed except sit and watch Percy chase Fred and George all over Gryffindor tower because they’d stolen his prefect badge.

Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Catherine has just returned to the manor after recovering from an injured ankle. The house is preparing for Christmas but Heathcliff has hid himself from Catherine, as Nelly, our narrator, ponders their lot.

Under these circumstances I remained solitary. I smelt the rich scent of the heating spices; and admired the shining kitchen utensils, the polished clock, decked in holly, the silver mugs ranged on a tray ready to be filled with mulled ale for supper; and above all, the speckless purity of my particular care—the scoured and well-swept floor. I gave due inward applause to every object, and then I remembered how old Earnshaw used to come in when all was tidied, and call me a cant lass, and slip a shilling into my hand as a Christmas-box; and from that I went on to think of his fondness for Heathcliff, and his dread lest he should suffer neglect after death had removed him: and that naturally led me to consider the poor lad’s situation now, and from singing I changed my mind to crying. It struck me soon, however, there would be more sense in endeavouring to repair some of his wrongs than shedding tears over them: I got up and walked into the court to seek him.

Bridget Jones

Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding

It’s Mark Darcy to the rescue when Bridget’s family gathering is hijacked by her mother’s ex-lover.

“Come on,” said Mark Darcy.
“What” I said.
“Don’t say ‘what.’ Bridget, say ‘pardon,’” hissed Mum.
“Mrs. Jones,” said Mark firmly. “I am taking Bridget away to celebrate what is left of the Baby Jesus’s birthday.”
I took a big breath and grasped mark Darcy’s proffered hand.
“Merry Christmas, everyone,” I said with a gracious smile. “I expected we’ll see you all at the Turkey Curry Buffet.”

great expectations

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Pip joins his sister’s family for Christmas dinner and fears the moment they notice he stole the mincemeat pie reserved for dessert. First, a guest arrives.

Every Christmas Day he presented himself, as a profound novelty, with exactly the same words, and carrying the two bottles like dumbbells. Every Christmas Day, Mrs Joe replied, as she now replied, “Oh, Un — cle Pum — ble — chook! This IS kind!” Every Christmas Day, he retorted, as he now retorted, “It’s no more than your merits. And now are you all bobbish, and how’s Sixpennorth of halfpence?” meaning me.

perusasion

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Immediately surrounding Mrs. Musgrove were the little Harvilles, whom she was sedulously guarding from the tyranny of the two children from the Cottage, expressly arrived to amuse them. On one side was a table occupied by some chattering girls, cutting up silk and gold paper; and on the other were tressels and trays, bending under the weight of brawn and cold pies, where riotous boys were holding high revel; the whole completed by a roaring Christmas fire, which seemed determined to be heard in spite of all the noise of the others.

What would you add to the list?

Best book you’ve never heard of on … getting over it.

best book getting over it

This post is part of a series we haven’t seen in a long time: the best books you’ve never heard of. We’ve covered everything from fertility to marriage to organizing to the daily grind.

Prepare yourself for something very dreadful: today’s book is depressing. Sort of.

The holidays are a happy time, full of joy and anticipation. But for many people, they are also messy and hard, stirring up all kinds of complicated feelings. For those who have experienced a fresh loss, they can be just plain terrible.

It’s time to dust off my copy of this book you’ve never heard of, right now, in the midst of the holidays.

It’s The Grief Recovery Handbook: the Action Program for Moving Beyond Death, Divorce, and Other Losses including Health, Career, and Faith by John James and Russell Friedman, and its message will change your life.
Grief Recovery Handbook

I worked through this book in therapy a few years ago. I couldn’t have been more surprised when my therapist handed me a copy, because I didn’t think my issues had anything to do with grief.

It turns out that the umbrella for “grief” was much larger than I expected. Grief is a normal and natural emotional response to loss—any sort of loss, not just the obvious ones like death or divorce.

People grieve any number of things that we don’t typically associate with “grief:” a move, a diagnosis, a job loss. A loss of faith, a dysfunctional childhood, a rejection. We grieve (or rather, we need to grieve) anything we wish had ended “different, better, or more.”

This book helped me understand grief, the way it affects people, the way it has affected me.

There are two reasons to read this book.

First, read it for your own sake. Unresolved grief will wreck your life.

Everyone’s experienced loss, and it doesn’t always look like you expect. This book helps you understand and accept your own losses, instead of minimizing them. (A crucial distinction.)

(On your own, it’s an interesting and helpful read. Many people will need to go through the material with the help of a therapist, like I did.)

best book you've never heard of on ... getting over it

Second, read it for the sake of those around you. This book helps you be a better human being.

As a culture, we are terrible at grief—our own or others. We say horrible things to people who are grieving, like it was for the best, it could be worse, look on the bright side. You’ll learn how to engage with grieving people in a way that is actually helpful, instead of hurtful.

You’ll also learn some fascinating and eye-opening things, like how often things like fender-benders correlate with times of grief.

This book is about sad stuff, but it’s not a sad book. It’s interesting and enlightening and hopeful, and it deserves to be better known.

P. S. Read about more of the best books you’ve never heard of here. And find tons of great Kindle deals here.

Gift guide for the Jane Austen fan.

The Jane Austen Centre has declared today, December 16, Jane Austen Day—and today’s post has been planned for a month. Jane and I are clearly in sync.

For the Jane Austen fan in your life (and that may very well be YOU): here are 9 gifts she’ll adore.

9 gifts that are perfect for your favorite Jane Austen fan. (Even if that Jane Austen fan is YOU.)

Jane Austen Cover to Cover: 200 Years of Classic Book Covers by Margaret C. Sullivan ($18)

This gorgeous hardcover—covering everything from the original editions to Pulp! The Classics—will have Austen fans drooling. This is coffee table material, beautiful to display and worth reading again and again.

9 gifts that are perfect for your favorite Jane Austen fan. (Even if that Jane Austen fan is YOU.)

Emma spiral notebook from Kate Spade ($15)

This personal notebook is pretty inside and out. 112 lined pages to write your deepest thoughts or your to-do list.

9 gifts that are perfect for your favorite Jane Austen fan. (Even if that Jane Austen fan is YOU.)

Jane Austen action figure ($11)

This action figure has been hard to find for years but Archie McPhee brought Jane back for Christmas. Let this little figurine grace the desk of your favorite Austen fan as her new muse.

9 gifts that are perfect for your favorite Jane Austen fan. (Even if that Jane Austen fan is YOU.)

Longbourn by Jo Baker ($10 paperback; $20 hardback)

Downton Abbey meets Pride and Prejudice: Baker retells Austen’s classic from the servant’s perspective. Austen fans love it or hate it, but its excellent fodder for discussion either way. (Wait till you see what she did with Mr. Wickham!)

9 gifts that are perfect for your favorite Jane Austen fan. (Even if that Jane Austen fan is YOU.)

Jane Austen typography tshirt ($24)

The locations from Pride and Prejudice, listed typography-style on a plain black tee. From the fabulous Austen-themed Etsy shop Brookish.

9 gifts that are perfect for your favorite Jane Austen fan. (Even if that Jane Austen fan is YOU.)

Bingley’s Teas (from $12)

Loose leaf tea available in a wide range of flavor profiles just for Austen fans. Choose from Compassion for Mrs Bennet’s Nerves (chamomile, peppermint, and passion flower), Lydia Had More Fun (a blend of Rooibus and flakes of coconut shreds), Wicked Wickham (Pai Mu Tan white tea and pomegranate), and more.

9 gifts that are perfect for your favorite Jane Austen fan. (Even if that Jane Austen fan is YOU.)

A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter by William Deresiewicz ($10)

Part memoir, part literary criticism. Grad student Deresiewicz had zero interest in reading Jane Austen, but then he was forced to read Emma for class. This is his story of how—and why—he fell in love with Austen’s works. The chapter on Mansfield Park is my favorite.

9 gifts that are perfect for your favorite Jane Austen fan. (Even if that Jane Austen fan is YOU.)

Cozy classics ($6-$9)

Jane Austen’s classics, board book-style, told in 12 words and illustrated with 12 beautiful needle-felted illustrations. Not just for kids. Austen fans can choose from Pride and Prejudice and Emma.

9 gifts that are perfect for your favorite Jane Austen fan. (Even if that Jane Austen fan is YOU.)

Miscellany

There is so much good Austen stuff to be had: choose from band-aids, temporary tattoos, journals, postcards, stickers, bookmarks, bangles, and more.

What would you add to the list?