"What happened, I think, is that someone said they wanted it to be sexy. What they meant was the kind of sexuality that's in the book, the sexuality of repression.When you read the book, you know that everybody's horny -- all that flirtation and dancing and conversation, but nobody's going to get laid."
"I thought to myself: 'This is where he wants to go across the room and punch someone. This is where he wants to kiss her. This is where he wants sex with her right now.' I'd imagine a man doing it all, and then not doing any of it. That's all I did."
Lacy's vintage smut was is hard act to follow. And so, in a tight situation, who best to help me out but that sublimely sexy writer Jane Austen?
More precisely Jane Austen as channeled by screenwriter Andrew Davies as channeled by Colin Firth, as he spoke in various interviews more than a decade ago, trying to explain how he worked up the mojo to play Mr. Darcy in the 1995-6 TV adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, soon to be showed once again in the current PBS Jane Austen fest.
Repression. What a concept.
And it works, too. Extraordinarily well. Skimming over the text of Pride and Prejudice, it's not the least bit of a stretch to to plug in Mr. Darcy wanting to kiss, have sex, etc.
Like at this moment:
...the pianoforte was opened; and Darcy, after a few moments' recollection, was not sorry for it. He began to feel the danger of paying Elizabeth too much attention.Or this:
But no sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she hardly had a good feature in her face, than he began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes. To this discovery succeeded some others equally mortifying.
Oh yes. Mortifying will do very well indeed. In romance, we love a mortified hero, not to speak of one who "begins to feel the danger..." And we especially love it when the author has first introduced him in all his smug, hunky, thoughtless toughness and now shows his inner writhings and torments.
I've read that it was during the era of the bodice-ripper that this outer-to-inner revelation becomes popular romance convention. You know, stuff like (I'm improvising here), "He'd sailed the seven seas, plundered the Spanish Main. No one could master him at arms and yet... she... she.. this meek little chit of a tradesman's daughter. Why did she set him all aquiver... afire?"
Needless to say, it works better as filtered through Austen's her gorgeous little understated ironies. But it shows you why there are those who insist (especially when they feel they have to stick up for the genre) that Jane Austen was a romance writer.
I suppose you can say that she was, in this way, at least in her spare time when she wasn't inventing the modern novel. She didn't invent the moment when the hero reveals his hot inner anxieties and arousals (I think it might have been Richardson who did that, in Clarissa) but she did it so deftly and demurely that she can take your breath away.
And provide stage directions for guys in waistcoats and tight pants for the next couple of centuries as well.
Note: I took the Firth quotes from this article. And while you're at it, you won't regret reading this wonderfully witty piece on Austen by Martin Amis.
So, are you doing the TV Austen fest?
Do you agree that Austen might have been an influence on the bodice-ripper authors? Or do you think I ought to be pilloried for suggesting such a thing?