“Don’t tell me you’re watching this crap again.” My husband, Lala, had just come home from work, after I had spent my day off cleaning the apartment with Netflix for company.
“What crap, what do you mean?”
“The British crap, you know, the crap with the costumes.”
“What do you mean, British crap? And I’ve never watched this version of Sense & Sensibility before.”
The combination of a lightened winter schedule, getting a flat-screen TV for Christmas, and a Netflix account that cannily suggests “Period romances featuring a strong female lead” and “Dramas based on classic literature” has led to some unusual personal indulgences on my part. And it’s only natural I should want to share my enjoyment with my husband. I knew it would be asking too much to draw him into the 1981 “Sense & Sensibility” TV miniseries, or the 265-minute BBC “Pride & Prejudice” of 1980, but he did agree to the 2009 “Wuthering Heights”.
Now, to be honest, I only read “Wuthering Heights” once and I hated it. Didn’t any of these people have anything better to do than run back and forth across the moors tormenting each other? It took two nights to watch, and overall, we were both appalled by Heathcliff’s rudeness.
I much prefer the other prominent Brontë, rereading “Jane Eyre” at regular intervals and indulging frequently in movie adaptations since I was a kid (favorites include the 1997 Samantha Morton version). It wasn’t Lala’s first contact with “Jane Eyre”, or as he calls it (spoiler alert!), “the one with the crazy wife”, and I asked if he’d watch a 2006 TV miniseries with me, which he did. He hadn’t seen enough “Jane Eyre’s” to completely eradicate an early suspicion of Grace Poole as the bedtime arsonist. I enjoyed that sensual new Jane Eyre as much as ever, and, as far as Lala was concerned, the floodgates had opened, launching a series of evenings immersed in the early nineteenth century.
Even if Lala knows that I am watching a certain Austen adaptation for the first time, he can see the books on the shelves and he clearly regards me as the ultimate authority on the films’ plot points – and (just like my father, come to think of it) he is not one to wait patiently for the story to unfold if there’s someone around to cut the suspense. “So she doesn’t like him now, does she?” he asks as Mr. Darcy proposes to Elizabeth Bennet at the Collins’s parsonage.
“Nope, she doesn’t.”
“But he likes her now, doesn’t he?”
“He sure does.”
It happens to be Keira Knightly turning Mr. Darcy down tonight, but I realize how many “Pride and Prejudices” Lala has watched with me: “As I remember,” he continues, “she’s going to regret turning him down.”
He’s less familiar with “Emma”, but he’s well acquainted with the romantic reversals that populate Austen’s world. “Is she making a mistake?” he asks as Emma oh-so-emphatically rejects Mr Elton.
Lala can make a knowledgeable comparison of Wickham and Willoughby, and sensed Wickham’s character from the first: “she should lose this guy,” he announced of Elizabeth. “I don’t trust him.”
Sharing quality film adaptations of my favorite novels with my husband has led to some of my deepest appreciations for the bonds of marriage, but being so well acquainted with the plots of these movies often leaves my mind free to wander.
In recent years, I’ve taken to wondering more and more why Rochester didn’t just get a divorce, for Pete’s sake. I also wonder what Jacob Zuma, the president of my husband’s home country, would think of Jane’s despair in the face of bigamy – under Zulu tradition, he just married his fifth wife. He has divorced one wife and another has died, but he lives in apparent joy with his three remaining wives, and he’s rumored to be engaged to yet another woman. (Zuma announces that American politicians only “pretend” to be monogamous, while he prefers to love his many women and children openly – I have to admit he’s got a point there.)
There are serious questions to ponder on the making of Austen films. Are the actresses who play Mary Bennet and Charlotte Lucas really unattractive, or are they just arrayed and coifed in a drab way compared to Jane, Lizzy and Lydia? What is it like to go to an Austen film casting call and definitely learn that you’re a Charlotte and not a Lizzy? If you don’t clinch the role of Charlotte, can you comfort yourself with the knowledge that you are just too pretty for the part? And is there some kind of special labor union for all those people who dance in the background while Marianne confronts Willoughby, or Lizzy spars with Mr. Darcy?
Lala and I progressed to the 2008 BBC “Sense & Sensibility”, and he admits to a growing affinity for Austen and Brontë. “They’re not my favorite shows but they’re still nice educational stories,” he says to me. “That’s your heritage right there.” Still, I was surprised one morning, when 2010 BBC “Emma” happened to be on. As he was going out the door, he turned the TV off. “Hey!” I said. I didn’t think he still resented the crap with the costumes so much that he would deprive me of it so peremptorily. “No, Babe,” he said, “I think I want to see the rest of this. You should wait to watch it, so we can finish it together later.” If anyone else has a husband who is more fun than this, please let me know.