I have been watching the BBC’s 2008 adaptation of Sense and Sensibility this week – an unusual version for its focus on the male characters, especially Colonel Brandon, played by the excellent David Morrissey. And so this week’s fifty-word stories have a distinct Regency element – although fifty words is perhaps rather short to accommodate a complete Jane Austen style romance. Microfiction romance – a new challenge for me, perhaps.
I’m not the first to think of compressing classic fiction into tiny stories. I read a thin book called Shrinklits when I was in my teens – it’s still on my shelf now – which is hilarious as well as impressive for condensing Moby Dick and other tomes into a very few words indeed. Take this snippet condensing the epic poem Beowulf, for example:
Monster Grendel’s tastes were plainish
Breakfast? Just a couple Danish.
-Maurice Sagoff, Shrinklits, 1994.
Everyone loves the idea of not having to read through a massive stodgy story to get to the good parts, and a 2010 competition challenged entrants to continue Sagoff’s condensation work. They’re not fifty-word stories / microfiction exactly because they’re in verse, but they still fit my tiny fiction criteria. Pride and Prejudice gets a new shrinkage!
People have many opinions about fanfiction, but Jane Austen has had countless adaptations over the last 200 years. There’s no sign of readers – or viewers – tiring of reimaginings of her stories.
I find her women characters infuriating at times, but her plotting makes it clear why Fanny or Anne or Elinor can’t just act on what is in their hearts, but must stand by and watch as disaster separates them from the men they love. I like an adaptation that shows that – for me, it’s why modern takes on Austen are so hard to get right. Women today are not bound by the social constraints of Regency England. Anne could ask Captain Wentworth; Marianne would be free to have a relationship with Willoughby even if it did not end in marriage. The Bennet sisters could all get jobs.
That’s why I like adaptations which include all the required rules of period and setting to explain why characters act as they do. Fans swoon over the noble and honourable male characters, but that nobility is born of men’s total responsibility for their womenfolk. (Men who shirk that duty are portrayed by Austen as villains, yet as she shows, they don’t receive much punishment for their actions, beyond an unhappy marriage.) Bringing the stories into modern times, men no longer have that responsibility, and attempts to demonstrate honour in the modern day often feel contrived and inconsequential. There are some worthy efforts, however.
I’ll get back on my soapbox about men and women, romance and honour another time. Meanwhile, here’s my fantastical fifty-word take on Pride and Prejudice:
Having first seen him in The City and The City and now Sense and Sensibility, I am now watching David Morrissey in Britannia. It’s great to find a new actor to follow, especially one who’s been as busy as Morrissey. And the mashup of his portrayals in my head is inspiring some mashup Austen/Mieville fanfiction, which ay never see the light of day but which is great fun to write.
That’s it for this week. What do you think? Let me know in the comments!
Also published on Medium.