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I presented my research yesterday. It was the first time I presented my research to other grad students and it was as awful as I expected. Nobody asked anything, which could mean that no one knew what I was talking about, or no one cared.

So, here’s the abstract of yesterday’s presentation, plus my poster (sorry about the poster being in Portuguese, but most of the information there is in the abstract as well).

Becoming Jane: Austen as a fictional character in
contemporary derivative works

The relationship between fact and fiction is not new. Paul Franssen and Ton Hoenselaars state in their introduction to Author As Character: Representing Historical Writers In Western Literature that while the genre “may speak to our postmodern world and help articulate the issues that concern us more than previous generations, (…) it is by no means restricted to recent times” (1999, p. 12). In the 18th century, several plays portrayed not only historical figures, but also authors as characters. These occurrences have been classified in order to understand the varying ways in which an author can be regarded as character in a literary work. While superficially similar, there are thin but apparent differences between these genres, from biography to Künstlerroman, from historical novel to vie romancée. Franssen and Hoenselaars point that films portraying historical authors may be the “20th century successor to the vie romancée”, from the number of films produced in which the main character or characters were literary personalities. Although encompassing, the established apparatus of classification seems to fall short when faced with the ever growing presence of real life authors as characters in other authors’ works, not to say of those authors who seem to fictionalize themselves in their work. While not primarily a postmodern phenomenon, the frequency with which one can find authors as characters in recent fiction point to a popularity of the genre that cannot be ignored. At the moment, the tools we have which can be applied to this kind of analysis are those that we apply to postmodern fiction in general, because the questions raised by are “such post-modern concerns as representation, the (im)possibility of historical knowledge, the share of the author in the genesis of a text, and intertextuality.” (FRANSSEN & HOENSELAARS, 1999, p. 11). For the most part author as character is regarded with curiosity, but not with academic interest. It gathers more attention from creative writers who, while producers of this new form of literature are not necessarily interested in understanding it in a structured form, or in what way these creations can interfere with the literary discourse. Therefore, it becomes increasingly important that this discussion is introduced in the academic discourse, since the idea of author as character as a genre could lay ground to larger discussions on intertextuality, authorship, adaptation and appropriation, all relevant topics in today’s literary criticism and scholarship. The aim of this research is to analyze the interface between Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice (1813) and the 2003 biography Becoming Jane Austen, by Jon Spence and how it results in the fictional Jane Austen that we can see in Julian Jarrold’s film Becoming Jane (2007). As a work of fiction portraying a historical character, Becoming Jane relies on biographical information provided by Spence – who worked as a consultant for the film production – and on fictional elements that resemble the plot of Jane Austen’s novels, most prominently Pride & Prejudice. These historical, biographical and fictional relations to Jane Austen’s life and work characterize the film Becoming Jane as an interdisciplinary reading of the author’s life resulting in a fictional Jane Austen. This analysis would gain from the perspective of author as character as a genre, since it would deal with the disappearing boundaries between history and fiction that are present in the film. This research aims to use this phenomenon not only to understand the process in which Jane Austen’s life and work is reinvented to new reading audiences but also how, in this reinvention, a new representation of Jane Austen is formed, one that that is reluctant to acknowledge, or perhaps disregards the boundaries between fact and fiction completely, creating an intertextuality between the author’s life and work, and that could provide a new path for Austen studies. Why focus this research on Jane Austen’s life and work? There is no easy answer, but it is undeniable that her work still exerts power over the public and that her novels appeal to 21st century readers. For Deirdre Lynch, Austen is popular because of her proven commercial appeal, because “Jane Austen is ‘safe’.” (2000, p. 5). But in what aspects is she safe? Economically, yes, Jane Austen is safe. Being dead for almost 200 years and with no heirs to demand royalties, anything using Austen’s name, work and image is relatively inexpensive, which broadens the profit margin for publishers and producers. Jane Austen does not have a prolific body of work when compared to other authors, but her six finished novels are the source for several other works, these so-called “post-texts” that are adapted to different genres and media. More than that: the authors of these post-texts are readers of Austen, who see in this exercise a fulfilling way of giving the public more of the same. Lately, the reader’s interest seems to be heading towards her private life as a form of continuation or complementation of her work. It becomes important that the critic no longer disregards the force which popular demand may have in literary studies. While these recreations help cement Austen’s popularity with the public, but also makes it harder for critics to properly label her according to established literary criteria. For Brandy Foster, “By adapting Austen into popular, formulaic genres, reader-writers of Austen have ignored the notion that Austen should be bounded within any single, definable literary tradition.” (2000, electronic information).

[Update: I took down my references, though they can still be seen on the image above.]

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If anyone has any question/suggestion for me, please use the comments below. I really need feedback on this!

Express Jane

So. Next Monday we are having our Grad School Conference. Basically, all grad students have to present their researches to each other, no matter at what stage they are. They say it is a way of promoting all research groups in the Institute. I say it will be three days of hell.

You see, since I just recently joined the program, I am on the early stages of research (that is, none at all). But I still have to make a 5-minute presentation of my project and make a poster with all the information and stand by the poster all afternoon and answer questions.

The thing is, I have no idea what to say.

Oh, I am well aware of the contents of my research project. And I do know exactly which authors I am going to use and all that (some professors just want to make sure you know the Big Names in the Area), and I have been thinking and re-thinking my project for the past 3 years. I know what I am doing.

I just don’t know how to explain.

In 5 minutes.

Any ideas on how to explain really quickly why studying Jane Austen as a character in other people’s work is relevant? (They love stuff like this, when what you do is relevant, or contributes to society. I like reading and I like reading and writing about authors I like. Can’t that be enough?)

(I’ll try to upload an image of my poster after the presentation on Monday.)

Definitions

Three weeks in the graduate classes, I have to start thinking about writing. Most of my thesis is ready in my head, but unfortunately the committee can’t read minds.

It doesn’t help that our discussions in class (and in the coffee shop after class) keep giving me ideas. Life is too complicated right now to go out of script. So I decided that the first thing I needed to do was work on definitions; that is, trying to explain each and every “new” concept I’m trying to work with. Most are common knowledge in academia (parody, pastiche), but when you get to Derivative/Alternative fiction, things get tricky, just like movie adaptations. I understand that it is difficult to reach an agreement over all the different definitions out there but c’mon people! Just make up your minds!

Other than that, I’m having fun with the Book Club: we are reading Sense & Sensibility and, shock!, of the eight students I have, only one has seen the 1995 film. So they don’t know what happens and they are having a good time reading it. Which is the aim of this Book Club: to encourage the students to read. Non-Brazilians will think this is crazy, but unfortunately my country is not the most intellectual of places. My sister told me about a research that showed Brazilians have an average of 10 (that’s right: TEN) books per home. People in Brazil with more than 100 books at home are only 8% of the population (I have more than 100 only in my bedroom and I’m not counting my eReader).

People in Brazil don’t like to read, period. Not even in Portuguese (there’s the whole “books are expensive” thing here, but I’m ignoring it). So WHY did I decide to study Literature, from England no less?

I’m crazy. But happy 🙂

Jane Austen Retold

[DISCLAIMER: I’m in no way a film critic nor do I aspire to be one. My reviews are solely the impressions I got from watching these films, which I probably liked because I like everything I watch with rare exceptions and I have a huge problem saying bad things about films. Especially Austen adaptations. I like ’em all. Well, I have issues with Laurence Olivier as Darcy but that’s for another post.]

[DISCLAIMER 2: This post is dedicated to @SalonJaneAusten, @lnkent, @margecavani and @Austen_in_Bath. Thanks for the support, girls!]

I’ve had the opportunity in the past month to watch two of the most recent Austen movie adaptations. Coincidentally, both films are more of a modern retelling of the novels than a direct adaptation.

Aisha cast (PVR Pictures)

Aisha (2010) is a modernized version of Emma with a Bollywood twist, much like Bride & Prejudice (2004) did with Lizzie & Darcy’s story. It’s an interesting approach, made more difficult by the fact that the best adaptation (in my opinion) of Emma is already a modern retelling: I’m obviously talking about Clueless, the 1995 film starring Alicia Silverstone.

So we have the lively, rich Aisha (Sonam Kapoor), a girl who is trying to become an event planner, who thinks that she can match all her friends, since she is responsible for matching her aunt to a Colonel. I admit I couldn’t follow some of the family relationships because I am not used to Indian costumes – if, like Brazilians, they tend to call Aunt and Uncle close family friends that are not necessarily related to them. Even more intriguing is her relationship to Arjun (Abhay Deol) – the Knightley to Aisha’s Emma -, who is her neighbor and her brother-in-law’s younger brother whom she introduces to the audience as her best friend and her worst enemy.

Like Bridget Jones borrows more from the 1995 mini-series of Pride & Prejudice, Aisha borrows directly from Clueless instead of going directly into the novel. This becomes problematic, for instance, because Aisha’s best friend Pinky (Ira Dubey) – the couterpart to Clueless‘ Dionne – doesn’t exist in the novel, and needs to be dealt with. While in Clueless Dionne has boyfriend Murray and seems to accept Tai’s presence in their little clique quite well, Aisha’s focus on Shefali (Amrita Puri) puts a wedge between Aisha and Pinky, who feels left out. Also feeling left out is Randhir (Cyrus Sahukar) – a Mr. Elton-type wealthy boy who tries to fit in Aisha’s group of friends but ultimately gives up after being rejected by her. In an interesting twist, Pinky and Randhir bond over this rejection and eventually get together and the scene where Pinky breaks the news to Aisha is very similar to Lizzie finding out that Charlotte Lucas is going to marry Mr. Collins [see, people, Collins and Elton COULD be twins after all!].

The other problem comes from Aarti (Lisa Haydon), who works with Arjun and is clearly dating him although it is never explicit that their are together. Aisha is jealous of her from the start. She has the same function as Rebecca in Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason – that is to say, she is Louisa Musgrove trying to keep Cap. Wentworth and Anne Elliot apart. But since we know from the start whom Arjun will end up with, her character swiftly turns into Jane Fairfax and, after a party, she ends up with Dhruv (Arunoday Singh), this story’s Frank Churchill.

One thing in which this filme surprised me: Aisha’s reaction to finding out she is in love with Arjun is much more pro-active than, say, Emma’s or Cher’s. She does act weird around him at first, but finally she decides to go after him and tell how she feels – even if it fails miserably. It was interesting to see this sort of girl power moment, to be reminded a few scenes later of one of the Bollywood rules: no kissing (I know we have no kissing in Austen novels, and I know people don’t like when adaptations incorporate them, but it is unrealistic to expect that a modernization of one of the stories should skip such a fundamental part of relationships as we are used to, even more so in a film – the final kiss is, like, the most overused cliche ever. I mean, there’s drug use in this film, but NO KISSING!!!). Well, yay for girl power.

All in all, Aisha is a fun movie, with an upbeat soundtrack. I had some difficulties watching the filme because, unlike Bride & Prejudice, this one is not spoken solely in English, so there were parts that were hard to get even with subtitles. It is not as good as Clueless, but I had fun, which is the most important thing.

Official Site

While visiting New York in the end of January, I got to see From Prada to Nada (2011) in the teather. God knows how long will it take to get to Brazil – if it gets here. So I could not waste the opportunity to see the film while there. I knew by their massive Twitter campaign that it was a Sense & Sensibility adaptation with a Latina twist.

What I got from From Prada To Nada is that it is not so much an adaptation but a story vaguely based on Sense & Sensibility. You can easily identify the Dashwood sisters in Mary (Alexa Vega) and Nora (Camilla Belle) Dominguez. Their sister-in-law Olivia (April Bowlby) is as empathetic as Fanny Dashwood, but her brother Edward Ferris (Nicholas D’Agosto) is (at least to my taste) a bit more assertive than Mr. Ferrars. Other characters are mashed into one (like Aunt Aurelia being both Mrs. Jennings and Sir John Middleton) or visually deceptive (it took me a long time to realize that Wilmer Valderrama’s Bruno was supposed to be Col. Brandon and not Willoughby).

That in itself is not a problem for me. The issues I had were with the plot: while the struggles of the Dominguez sisters to adapt not only to a new life but to a whole new heritage their father preserved but never passed on was really well done, a few storylines were left unresolved or so rushed that I couldn’t understand if I got them right: it is never explained why Rodrigo (Kuno Becker) would have lied to Mary about his trip to Mexico (or, if it is, it was so rushed that I missed it). Also, the newly discovered brother Gabriel makes a huge life-changing decision after reading the letters their father left for him, which Mary gives him in the engagement party. However, we are never shown what was in those letters that affected him so much to the point of doing what he does after – in fact, he barely speaks, so it is hard to know what he feels or thinks.

Another thing that bothered me is the characterization of Nora: Elinor was sensible and pratical, but not dull. She is as pretty as Marianne, although not as outspoken. But here, while Mary is fun, popular and well-dressed (although Alexa Vega is borderline incorporating Lindsay Lohan in this role), Nora dresses like a matron and focuses on her professional life for reasons that are not at all clear. So, in a way, I can see why this time Edward had to be more energetic, but it still bothered me that Nora would only let go of her “issues” while drunk at her Aunt’s party.

I know Adam Spunberg didn’t like the film as much as I did and I do agree with him in some points (mostly that Wilmer Valderrama was definitely the best thing in the film, if such thing is possible), but since it was a Sunday ight in New York and I was looking to have a fun night with my sister, I let go of most plotholes and enjoyed. [Funny story, the following night I met Adam 🙂 ].

Official site

[Cross posted at Bem Vindo à Casa de Bonecas]

Jane Austen might turn in her grave, but what if Elizabeth used email, not snail mail? The results here…

Back to basics

I have to write my research project, that’s a fact. I have four months to do it and little motivation other than being extremely stubborn. So when The Liquid Researcher said “let’s blog our experiences”, I thought it would be a great opportunity to put all the pieces of the puzzle in the same place so I don’t lose them.

So here it is, my research blog. I warn you beforehand: I love Jane Austen, I’m going to write about Jane Austen and I talk way too much about Jane Austen. So deal with it.