The English novel throughout this century has been deeply influenced by its great predecessors. Yet increasingly students just encounter the great classics through 'Classic Drama' on television. A teacher in a comprehensive school considers the effect of the dramatisation of one of the greatest novels on her students.
More than ten million viewers were riveted to their screens last autumn, for the final episode of BBC Television's production of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, produced by Sue Birtwistle. Somewhat to my surprise, I found myself among that number.
Secondary schoolchildren in England and Wales sit two sets of examinations, the G.C.S.E. (General Certification of Secondary Education) at 16, and 'A' (Advanced) level two years later. As an 'A' level teacher currently studying Pride and Prejudice with a mixed group of students, I prepared to watch the first episode with some resignation. It had to be endured, since I had encouraged my students to watch and must be in a position to discuss the production with them, but I did not anticipate much pleasure in the prospect. The thought of watching a great classic novel, which one knows intimately, simplified and popularised by a medium that relies upon over-statement and explicitness made the heart sink.
In the event, despite caveats regarding the relative beauty of Jane and Elizabeth, the insertion of unnecessary new …