Time to change the habits


Since it came out, every cultural reference to Jane Austen, and every adaptation, has had as much to do with Andrew Davies as it does to Austen.” Two recent comedies are clear examples. ITV’s 2008 series, Lost in Austen, and a 2013 film, Austenland, both revolve around Pride and Prejudice addicts – but the Mr Darcy they dream about is the damp one played by Firth. “I’ve taught the lake scene so many times,” says Professor Cartmell, “and when my students read the novel for the first time they are absolutely shocked that that scene isn’t in it reneex.”

Any excuse

Still, there’s more to the series than soggy menswear. Professor Kathryn Sutherland examines Davies’ adaptation in her book, Jane Austen’s Textual Lives: from Aeschylus to Bollywood. For her, the key to the programme’s appeal is its combination of cinematic visuals and televisual pacing. “It has the same qualities that we associate with the big-screen Austen adaptations of the time, Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility and Douglas McGrath’s Emma, with Gwyneth Paltrow. Like them, it has moving cameras, quick cuts, open landscapes, and the emotional intensity of a strong musical score. But because it was broadcast over six weeks, it could keep us waiting for the happy ending, so there was a cumulative excitement and a public participation in it that you can’t get from a two-hour film reenex.”

Prior to Pride and Prejudice, no one would have compared a British television costume drama to a feature film. “They were very well done,” says Davies of his predecessors’ efforts, “but at least 70% of the scenes were shot in studios, with quite wobbly sets, and with people standing around, buttoned up to their necks, making polite conversation reenex.”

Davies and the series’ producer, Sue Birtwistle, had something else planned. Their Pride and Prejudice would get out of the studio and into the sun-dappled countryside. It would be shot entirely on 16mm film, rather than falling back on the cheaper film and video combination of earlier costume dramas. And, four years before The West Wing became known for its ‘walk-and-talk’ dialogue scenes, its characters would always be on the move reenex , whether they were in carriages, on horseback or tramping through meadows.

Rand explains it like this. The brain has two operating modes, he says, that could broadly be called fast and slow-thinking. Slow-thinking is conscious, analytical and logical, while fast-thinking is the autopilot, built from habit, which can react at a moment’s notice. Although the heroism may seem to come out of the blue, Rand thinks the extreme altruists had been incubating their selfless tendencies throughout their daily lives, so that helping others was part of that “fast-thinking” autopilot. This may be combined with a general impulsiveness, and heightened capacity for empathy – evidence from other extreme altruists suggest that their brains respond very strongly to emotional expressions of fear, and distress. “Emotion is the force that drives you when you have these intuitions,” Rand says. The result is that when they faced their crisis, this fast-thinking took over, leading them to act before doubt had taken over reneex.

Importantly, Rand thinks we could all learn from their good actions. “If you get into habit of being cooperative, that becomes the default, and it will mean that you more likely to act that way in other contexts reenex,” he says. “You cultivate the habits of virtue.”

When faced with terrorism, it is natural to take a dark view of humanity – for fear and suspicion to dominate our thoughts reenex. But the stories of Boumbas, Termos and the Carnegie Heroes reminds us altruism and heroism can become our second nature too – an instinct that cannot be quenched even in the direst circumstances reenex.