Irony and Idyll

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park on Screen


Jane Austen’s worldwide popularity is not least due to the remaking of her novels for the visual media. Of the fifty-odd Austen related productions since 1938, forty-three of them adapt her novels to the various screens of cinema, television, computer and tablet. However, her attraction for film-makers is undoubtedly promoted by her own qualities. As a novelist, Jane Austen has been particularly recognized for her ironic voice, which dominates all her stories and gives the readers a peculiar perspective on her world. Do film-makers want this, and if so, how do they transmit her attitude of amused distance? In the present book, Marie N. Sørbø investigates the function and targets of irony in two novels and seven films. Irony and Idyll is the first book-length study of Austen’s irony since 1952, and the only comparative analysis of all the available screen adaptations of Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park. On the bicentenary of their publication, these novels continue to influence modern culture.

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Marie Nedregotten Sørbø has taught English literature at Volda University College, Norway, for many years, including courses on film and fiction. For her doctoral degree she wrote a dissertation on the reception of Jane Austen on screen. Sørbø has contributed the Norwegian chapters to the volumes on The Reception of Jane Austen in Europe (2007) and The Reception of George Eliot in Europe (forthcoming, 2015). She was part of the leadership of the European COST Action “Women Writers in History” (2009-13), and is a Principal Investigator in the HERA funded project “Travelling TexTs 1790-1914: The Transnational Reception of Women’s Writing at the Fringes of Europe” (2013-16).
“Sørbø raises the possibility that the greatest irony in Mansfield Park is that Fanny marries the wrong guy after all.
This is great stuff, an interpretation that explains why so many readers are dissatisfied with the novel. […] Its value lies in Sørbø’s close reading, which enables new insights about the texts she considers. More can be learned about Austen, irony, and film after all.” - Nora Nachumi, Stern College / Yeshiva University, in: JASNA News 31.3 (2015), pp. 21

“At the October meeting, where we reprised the Montreal AGM, I enthused about the presentation by Norwegian scholar Marie Sørbø, and especially about her book Irony and Idyll [….] Sørbø’s thesis is that Jane Austen is all irony all the time, and that adaptors largely miss that, and thus, what they give us is ‘idylls’ – idealized stories set in an exotic time and place.“
“ ‘Women in Love’ […] Sørbø suggested would be an appropriate alternate title for Mansfield Park. […] This is Jane Austen poking a stick at the conventional love story of her era […].”
-Elspeth Flood in Muse @ Musings, Newsletter of Jane Austen Society of North America Vancouver Region, No 121, February 2015, p.3
Introduction: Responses to Austen’s Novels
Part I: Pride and Prejudice
Chapter One: The Novel: Austen’s Ironic Voice
Chapter Two: The Novel: Courtship Couched in Irony
Chapter Three: The 1940 Film: Old England Invoked
Chapter Four: The 1980 Miniseries: Faithful to the Feminist Perspective?
Chapter Five: The 1995 Miniseries: Faithful to the Female Audience
Chapter Six: The 2005 Film: Everybody Loves the Bennet Family
Part II: Mansfield Park
Chapter Seven: The Novel: Class and Patriarchy Undermined
Chapter Eight: The Novel: Marriage as a Game of Speculation
Chapter Nine: The 1983 Miniseries: The Beauty of Tradition
Chapter Ten: The 1999 Film: Aiming for Austen’s Voice
Chapter Eleven: The 1999 Film: The Targets of Irony – Racism, Sexism and Class
Chapter Twelve: The 2007 TV Film: “Some Much Needed Sizzle”
Conclusion: The Voice of Irony and the Urge for Idyll
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