Sunday, July 10, 2016

But ... That's Not In the Book!

I'm now on page 43 of Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. I'm slow because I only read at night before I fall asleep, and some nights that's all of three minutes. Off the top of my head, here are things that are in that lovely movie with Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, that are NOT -- I repeat not -- in the book.

1. Margaret hiding under the table, or indeed Margaret being painfully shy at all
2. The dear love of the old family atlas involving Margaret and Edward
3. Swordplay, or any play at all, between Margaret and Edward
4. A treehouse
5. The asking for keys to silver and the wrapping of servants' presents
6. Elinor and Edward going horseback riding
7. Edward trying to tell Elinor about his prior engagement but failing to do so
8. Marianne playing morbid music in minor keys and Elinor asking her to stop
9. The handkerchief given from Edward to Elinor

In fact, I'm hard-pressed to say exactly what did happen at Norland during the 6 months the Dashwoods remained there. Two dialogues are preserved from book to movie:

1. John and Fanny discussing how little help they can feasibly give to the women, which is kept nearly verbatim in the movie to good effect, and
2) Elinor and Marianne's conversation about Edward and about Elinor's feelings for him. However, in the book the two girls' emotions are quite differently represented. The text is preserved accurately:

"I do not attempt to deny ... that I think very highly of him, that I greatly esteem, that I like him," Elinor says.

But at this point, Marianne does not make fun of her and mimic her. Marianne flies into a rage. She "burst forth with indignation."

And Elinor's response to this, unlike in the movie, is to laugh at Marianne. She's used to her sister's violent, passionate reactions, and she takes them in stride and laughs at her. In the movie, Emma Thompson presents Elinor as being a bit affronted by Marianne's ridicule. She becomes stiff and reticent. Not in the book!

Movies by definition rely on dialogue and lots of it. Austen's books are not full of dialogue, so of course they must be adapted for the screen. I'm amazed, however, at how many scenes in the movie are absent from the novel line altogether -- they're not described at all. Austen describes a lot, but she describes not scenes and events but attitudes and emotions and interactions. She does the exact opposite of what fiction-writing teachers advise their students with great fervor: "Don't TELL me; SHOW me!" But Austen loves to describe, and that she does.

A few other inconsistencies are worth noting. Did you know that Marianne did, in fact, have a fine piano to play at Barton Cottage? It was the only piece of furniture that they took with them from Norland, and sad were John and Fanny to see it go! Did you know that Elinor is quite skilled at art and sketching? Her drawings hang on the walls of the cottage when they move. Her artistic gift is made as much of in the book as Marianne's skill in music. Thus far, Margaret's personality is totally undeveloped. For some reason the movie-makers decided to make quite a bit of her! Did you know that Marianne is 17, Elinor is 19, Mrs. Dashwood is about 40, as is her cousin Sir John Middleton? Sir John is married to a lady of about 27, and they have four children. The lady and the children are culled out of the movie altogether, and he's presented as a batty old bachelor. The ages of the movie characters don't really make much sense to the viewer. Marianne seems youngish, maybe 21. But Elinor (because Thompson was 36 when the movie was made) seems much older. Mrs. Dashwood is gray-headed and seems nearly 60. Sir John is about the same, which means his mother-in-law, Mrs. Jennings, ought to be at least 80, but she doesn't seem to be. Could they find no one but Thompson to play a believable, level-headed 20-year-old girl? 

And the scene where Marianne falls and Willoughby rescues her? Ah yes, it is in the book! Yay! But it happens in the back garden, on a slope. And he's on foot, not on a horse. So he carries her in the backdoor -- the movie-makers clearly had some grander romance in mind than Austen did.The conversation with Sir John about Willoughby where the Dashwood ladies grill him on who this handsome young man is -- that dialogue came from Austen's pen. Sir John is just as funny on the page as Robert Hardy portrays him on screen. Just delightful!

I do love the movie; it's a fine movie. I'm just surprised at how far it strays from the book, both in things added and in things left out. I promise not to give you a blow-by-blow account of the discrepancies, but I might have to write about it again if some alarming difference comes to light.


  1. We can count on you, M.K., to do a thorough job on this kind of project! I'll be interested to hear what else you find of interest, and confident that there will be *sometihng*!

  2. If you ever come to England, try to visit this plac ein Salisbury where they filmed S&S - - we went last year aqnd I was thrileld to see Emma and Rick's costumes on display. xx

  3. I was surprised too when I read it. So many differences. Have you seen the later TV adaptation of it, in some ways it is more true!

  4. I pick up Austen now and then, but I find that I slog through it. I just can't seem to finish. I suppose it's time to try again. I understand the discrepancy issue,though, having taught so many novels over the years and then seeing the movies. (You surely are thorough in your analysis here, by the way!)

  5. I didn't think of Margaret (in the movie) as being painfully shy at all. I think she hid because she was angry that someone else was taking over and she didn't want to speak to them. But, yes, I suppose they use a lot of artistic license when turning a book into a film. I do love the movie, but I'd love to read the book...just as soon as I finish a bunch of others! :)


Hello! I hope you leave a word ~ I will get back to it as soon as I can!