Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Book Review: "Miss Elizabeth Bennet", by A. A. Milne

In honour of the late A. A. Milne, who died on the 31st of January, 1956, we'd like to draw your attention to one of his lesser known works:

Miss Elizabeth Bennet : A play from "Pride and Prejudice"

During the 1930s, Milne was being heralded for Toad of Toad Hall, his successful dramatisation of Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows. At the same time, he was intrigued by the number of writers tackling the lives of the Bront√ęs. He toyed with the idea of creating a play about Jane Austen, but realised that everytime he tried to write dialogue for Miss Austen, he was really just writing a version of her most beloved character - Miss Elizabeth Bennet.

So, he changed tack, and wrote an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice instead.

Unfortunately, while the play was in pre-production, someone else staged their own version of the novel.  Pipped at the post, Milne saw the play published for his readers, but gave up on seeing it professionally performed.

The play is a joy to read, capturing the lightness of the original novel, while at the same time adding quite a bit of Milne's dry sense of humour. Some characters, which seem somewhat vaguely defined in Austen's original text, are brought out brilliantly by Milne's version. Mr Bennet, for example, always had a subtle wit in the book, but in the play he is easily the most amusing character.
Mrs Hill: I don't think I ever saw Miss Jane look so lovely.
Mr Bennet (not looking up from his book): I understand that, as a family, we are a bevy of loveliness.

Unlike many early adaptations of Austen's work, this play is not attempting to capture some "worthy" period piece, but rather a fun comedy - the characters you meet here would be perfectly at home in a British sitcom.

Miss Elizabeth Bennet is a delightful play that showcases Milne's deft touch while, at the same time, offering you a fresh insight to Austen's novel. If you are a fan of Pride and Prejudice - or even if you found the book a little dull - you will find yourself smiling as you join these characters on their abbreviated journey.

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