Pride and Prejudice
Interview with Janet Munsil, Adaptor
What were the biggest challenges you faced while adapting the novel into a play? How did you address those challenges?
The most obvious thing is that the novel is very long! So it was clear from the start that characters would be cut, and scenes would have to be condensed. And the other challenge is that it's one of the most-read and loved novels in the world, so I wanted to keep as much of the story and the feeling of the story in as possible, so that people in the audience who don't know the book will understand what's going on, and people who love the book (or the movie, or the miniseries) will know that even though some things had to change a little to fit the book on stage, I was respectful of Austen's original story.
How much research did you do before and during your writing of the adaptation?
A couple of years ago I wrote another play set just a little later than this one, also in England, called Influence, which is about the poet John Keats, and how he decided to quit his training as a doctor to become a poet. So I was very familiar with the period and manners and how people spoke and lived in the time when Pride and Prejudice is set. Since I had that in my back pocket, my research was going straight to the novel to read it a bunch of times. I also listened to an audiobook version whenever I was walking around or biking to work. Once I'd soaked it all up, I tried to write the adaptation from memory – that is, my memory of what I thought was important in the story. It was still much too long, but through workshops and rehearsal we came up with something that you could comfortably sit through at the theatre!
Are you an "Austophile"? Have you grown up reading the work of Jane Austen? If so, did this help in writing the adaptation? If not, has this project turned you into an "Austophile?"
I have read her books and love them, but I'm not at all a Janeite (I think that's what they call themselves)! I have always been a big reader of "the classics" for sure. And I've spent quite a bit of time in England and love this era in history. And since I've written this play, I've enjoyed the Bollywood-style movie Bride & Prejudice, the excellent Marvel Comic Book P&P, and the novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which is hilarious – and surprisingly true to the original story. Only with zombies.
How can students and young people today relate to the world created by Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice? What are you hoping they will take away from the play?
This is a story about what young people go though every day – learning who they are, finding themselves attracted to other people, facing obstacles involving parents or distance or money – and maybe falling in love for the first time – possibly with someone you thought you hated. Adults today think things like differences in social standing must seem outdated or foreign to young people – they forget that young people deal with this every day in school relationships. Jane Austen's characters are people that a young reader recognizes right away. And Lizzie is a great heroine, she's smart and funny and down-to-earth, but she can also be difficult, sarcastic and judgmental. She's flawed, and that's why she feels like a real person or even a friend you'd like to have.
In the study guide we are asking students if the term "Chick Lit" is a product of a post-feminist society or if it is just a sexist term – what do you think? Would you call Pride and Prejudice "Chick Lit"?
Yes and no. In the sense that I think more women than men will have read it, and that it's a funny, entertaining story about the joys and difficulties of finding love – then yes, it has things in common with that genre. But Pride and Prejudice is also one of the most widely-read, popular books ever, even today (I read that it's the #4 most downloaded e-book), and I'm amazed at how many people have told me it's their favourite book. It's only through getting really familiar with this story that I've started to understand that it's the template for almost every modern romantic comedy in book or film these days. Life doesn't go the way you plan it, relationships are complicated, and love can sneak up on you.
Anything you would like to add?
After the discussion of whether this is chick lit, I have to say – whether you know the story or not, the character of Mr Darcy continues to be kind of the model of a romantic hero, and Jane Austen has a great depth of insight into how women think – so more guys might want to think about picking up this book!