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The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (18th Installment)

August 13, 2018 09:33PM
I've made one departure, not from Austen, but from what I imagine are common conceptions of how Jane looks, by making her a "strawberry blonde" rather than a honey or golden blonde. After both the 1995 mini-series and the 2005 theatrical feature, the notion of "Jane-as-blonde" is pretty firmly cemented in most of our collective mind's eyes, I suspect. But, as I mentioned earlier, I've always thought the young Deborah Kerr might have been a good choice to play Jane back in the day, and the way she looked in the Biblical epic Quo Vadis, which I saw again recently (and in which she wore her hair in that "ponytail-over-the -shoulder" look, a look my wife likes very much; me, too) and the fact that, in the book, it's left completely to our imaginations, led me to make this change. There'll be a discrepancy, since I can't edit earlier chapters to accommodate. But if I decided to try to get this published, of course, the discrepancy will be edited out.

In this chapter, Mike, like me, also reveals himself to be a comic book fan.


PART NINETEEN

Jane was speechless.

She had just watched the first hour of this filmed play, Pride and Prejudice, and found herself without words. Of course her romance with Charles, and Lizzy’s with Mr. Darcy was important to both of them, and to their families, and, in lessening degrees to all who felt any love or friendship for them. But they were not the sort of romances that get passed down through history! They were not Paris and Helen. Nor Odysseus and Penelope. They were not Justinian and Theodora. Not William Wallace and Marian Braidfute. Not Abelard and Heloise. There was nothing epic about either of their romances. Oh, the business with Lydia and Wickham might have added an element of suspense, if it was emphasized in the telling of the story. And Lizzy and Fitzwilliam misunderstanding each other so thoroughly, so willfully, might be a source of humor.

But, looked at objectively, it was simply two handsome, wealthy young men and meeting a pair of simple country girls, falling in love, courting, and marrying. How could such an ordinary story be spun out into a six-hour drama?

The first hour ended on what Michael called a “freeze-frame” with her and Lizzy riding their carriage away from Netherfield and back to Longbourn, following Jane’s recovery from her sudden illness, while Lizzy declared that she had “never been so happy to leave a place in my life.”

As the image froze, Michael picked up what he called the “remote,” pressed a button on it, and the word “PAUSE” appeared in an upper corner of the screen.

“So,” he said turning to her, “what do you think so far?”

*

“It is more than a little disconcerting,” she said, “to see one’s life turned into an entertainment. But what surprises me most is that anyone would think it a story worth preserving through the ages. Now that I think about it, however, I seem to recall your saying once that it was well-known here. Only then I thought you were talking about the ‘here’ of 1817.”

“No, I was talking about now,” O’Brian said. This, he thought to himself, was going to be the toughest cliff to scale. He was surprised at how easily she had accepted being brought two hundred years into the future. But he was pretty certain she would have a much harder time understanding that it wasn’t her future. That it was a future in which she, indeed all her family and friends, were fictional characters.

“Only think of such a remarkable thing occurring,” she said. “If anyone had told me that courtships of Lizzy and I would be the subject of a play two hundred years hence, I would have scoffed. If any romance from our era was likely to still be talked about, and dramatized two hundred years later, I would have more easily expected Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton to be the subjects.”

O’Brian nodded absent-mindedly, finding himself mildly surprised that as sheltered a lady as Jane was even aware of that scandalous relationship. Still, she was a full-grown woman, and though she’d never approve of such an arrangement, it had been the talk of the nation.

“They’ve been the subject of a few dramatizations, too. But your sister’s and yours are far more popular.”

“Be serious, Michael! The notion that two sisters from a small community like Meryton would be better remembered than the Victor of Trafalgar and his Lady? Nonsense! Indeed, I am at a loss to fathom how such an ordinary story survived?” she asked. “I can see the charm the story might have, if someone happened to stumble upon it, but I can’t fathom, after all this time, how there was still something to stumble upon. Did the playwright discover a diary or some letters that told the story?”

“Yeah, about that,” he started, then paused, at a loss of exactly how to explain it. He thought, when it came to the crunch, the right words would just come.

But they weren’t coming.

He turned to Ada.

“You want to field that one, partner?” he asked.

“Uh-uh,” she replied. “Wasn’t me thought you ought to download all this on the poor girl her first day. You’re the one opened the ball. Now you’re the one gotta dance. Don’t ask me to teach you the steps.”

“Thanks a lot,” he replied. Then turning back to Jane, he said, “OK, it wasn’t a diary or letters. The fact of the matter is that this show was based on a book. A very popular book.”

“Oh, yes, I believe I noticed that in the title sequence. Was the book also called Pride and Prejudice?”

“Yes,” he said. “Yes it was. Although the title the author was originally going to use was First Impressions.”

“Ah, yes. That would have been a fine title, too. Though Pride and Prejudice is very clever, a concise character description of both Lizzy and her husband.”

“Exactly.”

“What is the author’s name? Is she still alive? I think I should like to meet her.”

“No,” he said. “She died. Quite some time ago, actually.”

“I see. Was this her only book?”

“No. She wrote six, plus a long-ish short story, and she was working on two others when she passed away. One of ‘em told the story of the very pretty daughter of a minor aristocrat who fell in love with a dashing military officer, and accepted his proposal of marriage, only to be persuaded to break it off.”

“Why that is Mrs. Wentworth’s story!” she exclaimed. “How very extraordinary!”

“You ain’t heard nuthin’ yet,” O’Brian muttered to himself.

“Can we see more of the play?”

“Sure,” he said, hitting the “PLAY” button on the remote, thinking that if he could persuade her to watch the whole thing tonight, he wouldn’t have to try to explain what was actually going on ‘til tomorrow, ‘cause trying to do it after a six hour marathon of P&P binge-watching was probably not advisable.

“Dodged that bullet,” Ada murmured.

*

A little less than four hours later, encompassing three hours and twelve minutes of actual running time; with pauses for bathroom breaks, dishes of chocolate fudge ice cream to be served (“This is delightful!” said Jane. ”Heavenly!”), and DVD’s to be switched out, the screen versions of Jane and Lizzy were off to their happy endings.

“I am amazed at all the small details they managed to convey so accurately. Of course Longbourn was not quite right, but not all that dissimilar, either. And, while the home they chose for Pemberley was lovely, it wasn’t the actual Pemberley. Is it still standing?”

“Hard to say,” said O’Brian non-committally.

“But what truly struck me was how close so many of the actors were to their real-life counterparts. The actor portraying our cousin, Mr. Collins, looked nothing the real person. He is a large, heavy man. And Mary, though she tends to dress rather drably, is really much prettier than the lady who played her, don’t you think?”

“I do.”

“But the actors playing Charles and my brother Darcy, heavens, it was uncanny how close they were! Not just in appearance, but in manner, in the inflection of their voices. Of course, Fitzwilliam would never spontaneously take a jump into the pond like that. He is far too proper. That struck a rather dissonant note, to be honest. So much of the rest of the production was exactly right, that the pond scene was disconcerting.”

“Yeah, that was something they added to give the ladies in the audience something to swoon at. It’s the favorite scene of a lot of women who are devotees of the show. But in the book he just arrives unexpectedly and they meet by chance.”

“That is exactly as Lizzy described it to me. And I am quite sure that if he had just finished a spontaneous bathe in the pond and was looking disheveled as he approached she would have mentioned it. But the actor playing him was marvelous. Every gesture, every inflection of tone, just like my brother.

“Well, it’s not the first, nor the last, adaptation ever done, but it is generally considered the gold standard.”

“I have not the pleasure of . . . “

“The best,” O’Brian said quickly.

“Ah. Yes. I see. Gold standard. Yes, very droll. You have such colorful colloquialisms in America.”

“It’s our number one export,” said Ada.

Jane giggled and said, “You are quite like my sister, Ada. Always teasing.”

“Yeah. I’m always getting compared to Elizabeth Bennet.”

Jane giggled some more, “What was the name of the actress who played Lizzy?”

“Jennifer Ehle,” said O’Brian.

“She was even better as Lizzy than the actor playing Fitzwilliam was in his part. Sometimes I thought she actually was Lizzy. The main difference was that Lizzy doesn’t wear her hair in quite that severe a style. She prefers a freer, more natural look.”

“What’d you think of the actress playing you?” he asked.

“I . . . well, what did you think?”

“More like you than the actress playing your sister Mary. Less like you than the actresses playing Miss Catherine or Mrs. Darcy. She’s very lovely, but one couldn’t mistake either of you for the other, whereas Miss Ehle’s resemblance is quite uncanny. Your features are a bit more delicate than hers. And you’re what we call a strawberry blonde. She’s more of a honey blonde. I do think Susannah Harker, the actress playing you, captures your personality quite closely, though.”

“Yes, I thought so, too. How odd a sensation to be on the outside looking in, as it were. As though that screen was a window, and I was seeing parts of my own life being played again.”

O’Brian gathered the ice cream dishes and spoons, rinsed them out, and, bachelor-like, left them to soak in the sink. Then he went to his den, looked at his bookshelves, and retrieved a book from the top shelf, a hardcover collection of comic book stories called The Flash of Two Worlds.

Stepping back into the living room where Ada and Jane were chatting, he said, “Ladies, it’s been a long day. You both ready to turn in?”

They both nodded.

“Good, ‘cause I’m bushed, and you’re both sitting in my bedroom,” he said. Then walking over to Jane he handed her the book he had just retrieved from his den.

“Like you to read the first story in this before you go to sleep,” he said.

“What is it?”

“It’s what we call a comic book. A story told in illustrated cartoons. Narration’s in the caption boxes. Dialogue’s in the balloon-like things coming from the characters’ heads.”

The Flash of Two Worlds,” Jane read out loud. “What is it about?”

“The Flash is what we call a super-hero. A character with an unusual power or collection of powers, like those the ancient Greek and Roman gods had. Once given these powers, they dress up in colorful costumes to hide their real identities, and fight evil from behind a masked persona. It’s a childish melodrama, really, but the popularity of such characters is intense. The Flash’s power is that he can run really fast, faster than lightning. And there were actually two characters called the Flash.”

He pointed to one of the two characters on the cover. “This one, the one in the helmet with the wings, is the original. He first appeared in 1940 in a series of magazines, but his popularity waned, and the magazine was cancelled in 1949. In 1956, the company that had published the magazine decided to revive the character, but they give him a complete makeover. Different costume. Different civilian identity. Different explanation for how he came by his power. Anyway, in 1960, the publishers decided to revive the original Flash, and have him meet the new one. That’s what the first story’s about. Won’t take you long. Ten or fifteen minutes, maybe. If you’re too tired, you can read it first thing in the morning.”

“There’s some reason you wish for me to read this story?”

“Yeah.”

“All right, Michael,” Jane said. “Good night.”

By force of habit, almost without consciousness, she gave a slight curtsey, which, in its unstudied sincerity, and in its anachronistic formality, O’Brian found thoroughly endearing. Responding in kind, he took her right hand in his, and bent over to kiss it.

“Good night, Jane,” he said. “Sleep well. God grant you pleasant dreams.”



(TO BE CONTINUED)
SubjectAuthorPosted

The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (18th Installment)

Jim D.August 13, 2018 09:33PM

Re: The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (18th Installment)

Amy BethAugust 16, 2018 02:19AM

Re: The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (18th Installment)

Shannon KAugust 15, 2018 05:20AM



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