Monday, August 22, 2011

Bodice Rippers: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Sounds like a bad joke: What do you get when you put together the vicar, the farmer, and the other hot guy with good prospects that haven't panned out yet? I don't know the punchline, but Miss Fancy Day, the heroine of Thomas Hardy's "Under the Greenwood Tree" (mellow-compared-with-Tess-and-Saint Jude) might be able to answer that question. Whoever produced the BBC adaptation of his most subtle book needs to get slapped upside the head with a handful of, oh, a batch of dewey heather or something.

My guilty pleasure has always been a good bodice ripper, preferably based on 18th or 19th century novels. Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen, Edith Wharton. My husband, bless his soul, has put up with every predictable romance scrolling across our TV. There's usually long dresses, up-dos, a good ball scene, and cute men overly dressed in foppish peasant/farmer/aristocrat clothing which is wet from the spontaneous rain storm that always hits right before the mid-point conflict. In the happy stories, the smart heroines (Lizzy Bennett, duh) end up with their guy. In the sad ones, they of course end up destitute and without their children, or in other ways dead altogether (Tess).

There's also always one hot sister who's heartbroken, a crumbling house that can't find enough wood to fill its drafty fireplaces, a poor family down the street who makes our heroine seem nobel when she delivers them a meal, a la Jo March in Little Women, or Emma Woodhouse. In the good adaptations, the extras seem natural. In the bad ones, like "Under the Greenwood Tree", they look like they've been plucked from the local watering hole and asked to put on a hat and fake beard. Oh, and speaking of watering holes, there's always a sad drunk character who is beyond repair but for brief bouts of wisdom. And there's also a sickly person, like some sneezing Auntie (like in every Austen novel) or hypochondriac father or neighbor who gets a terrible cold that's revealed in a long letter to loved ones. Letters that were mailed from far away places, like the next county over. A scorned lover who's pathetically homely, and usually a man of humble origins who needs himself a wife, a la Mr. Collins. There's also permission given to marry, because of course woman can't make up their own minds on such matters. Oh, why? Why? Why?

1 comment:

  1. I love Jane Austen because I'm a happy ending addict. But ever since I saw a horrible adaptation of Mansfield Park I've been afraid of these series. Sounds like I should skip this one too!