Let’s Hear It For The Ladies, All My Pre-Victorian & Victorian Ladies

May 9th, 2011 | By | Category: Columns

Period pieces. They seem to be everywhere these days: BBC, ITV, AMC, HBO, HWC[1] . Modern writers like Sarah Waters and Michel Faber have had their Victorian era novels adapted to television, Upstairs Downstairs was re-launched, and a series written by Julian Fellowes has found a wealth of success (DOWNTON ABBEY!!! DOWNTON ABBEY!!! HAVE YOU SEEN DOWNTON ABBEY YET?!!![2]).

I should be happy. Why, if this keeps up, everyone will have a quizzing glass. The horse and buggy will make a comeback. And visitors to my house will be required to leave their card with my shirtless manservant Keith (Creative Liberty), who will then spray whip cream on his chest (Creative Liberty) and walk the card up to my platinum boudoir where I will decide if I would like to entertain said visitor while dipping strawberries into his chest-cream (Creative Liberty. Except the strawberries.)

But I am not happy, dear readers. In fact, my emotions are as withered as the strawberries stuck on Keith’s chest. Because while this recent flurry of adaptations and creations are all well and good, I have a distinct feeling that media making types will still want to continue to re-create a film based off Dickens, or a Bronte book or Jane Austen novel. “But sometimes those adaptations of adaptations have zombies!” you may say. And then I would slap you and say, “You can only reanimate a corpse so many times. Just ask Dr. Frankenstein. And my parole officer.”

In fact, there are actually one or two, or hundreds of period piece books producers could adapt into TV and film. And since producers totally read my column (Hey Bill from Sony Pictures! How is that eczema flair up?), I think you will soon see the works of these great authors on your TV/movie/iGadget screen!

Now, while I could name a few obvious authors (Thackery) or ones with names that are just fun to say (BALZAC!), I made this list specific. Indeed, this list is narrower than your mother’s eyes when she found your erotic Batman fanfiction.

Here are four pre-Victorian and Victorian female writers who have got the goods to get adapted.[3]

Susanna Rowson

Bio: Susanna Rowson’s life is ripe for a period piece adaption alone (she definitely would have had a TV movie of the week, or appeared on Maury Povich). Supporting her family as a governess, Rowson also sustained herself through the years as an actress, playwright and founder of a boarding school. She also enjoyed talking sass to high ranking government officials (she and Mark Twain would have been BFFs).
Works: Rowson wrote a good chunk of plays and novels. Her most famous book was Charlotte Temple, a story about a young woman who is seduced by a British soldier.
Who should direct: Well, the main character, Charlotte Temple, is a young woman of fifteen. What’s Roman Polanski up to?

SPOILER: She dies.

Frances Burney

Bio: If you ever want to feel like a lazy, pointless slob, delve into the five trillion (Scientifically Accurate Number) novels, non-fiction, journals and plays Burney produced. Seriously, this lady had more works in print than RuPaul has wigs. A talented satirist (one of her plays was called “The Woman Hater”), Burney is a perfect replacement for people hooked on Jane Austen adaptations and torture-porn (a.k.a “Romantic Comedies”).
Works: Burney’s novels, Evelina, Cecilia, and Camilla are a strong blend of social commentary, romance and bosom heaving.
Selling Point: Burney’s novels are perfect vehicles for that ingénue who studios can’t decide if she can act (Scarlett Johansson in Girl with a Pearl Earring) or is just really good at pouting and arching her back (Scarlett Johansson in everything else). Throw in a period piece veteran like Hugh Dancy or That Stage Actor Guy From Scotland Who Everyone Thinks Is Irish[4] and I promise a hit that will be sure to be nominated for a ton of Emmys. (Note: It will lose in all categories except for Costume Design and Snotty Expressions)

Frances Burney: Playwright, Author, Large Hat Interpreter


Annie Sophie Cory

Bio: Cory was born with writing in her blood (her father was an editor) and sassy in her heart. Known for her “sensual” novels, Cory was the Nora Roberts of her time. Her novels, such as Anna Lombard, focused on women in far-away lands like India, having sexy times and brooding staring contests with burly soldiers and male model servants. Hopefully these ladies got a tax break for their services.
Selling Point: Adaptations of Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, Affinity and Wide Sargasso Sea are proof that the small screen enjoys a good romp in an exotic location like Jamaica or Millbank Prison. Also, Indian stuff is hot right now! Bollywood, chai, those long scarfs I don’t wear because I keep catching mine in a car door…

Ann Radcliffe

Bio: Poor Radcliffe. Living, she was the world’s J.K. Rowling, but ask any modern person and she’s just that lady that Jane Austen makes fun of in Northanger Abbey. Radcliffe influenced many writers such as Edgar Allan Poe (aww yeah!), Sir Walter Scott (aww yeah!) and Marquis de Sade (booooo!).
Works: There’s not a lot known about Radcliffe, but like Ted Bundy, there wasn’t a dark hallway she didn’t like. Her novels, such as The Mysteries of Udolpho, are full of mystery, castles and weirdos with fancy names. What’s not to love? (Hint: Men named Montoni.)
Who Should Direct: Guillermo Del Toro or Tom Hooper would do any of Radcliffe’s works justice. But since they are so big and important and we aren’t speaking because of all those prank calls (I know it was YOU Del Toro, I have caller ID!), I’d suggest someone who is finely tuned to psychological horror. But if Gary Busey is too busy, I’m sure we could find someone just as credible.

As the cover indicates, this book is a LAUGH-A-MINUTE!

And that is just the few pre-Victorian and Victorian lady writers who deserve some adaptation action. Seriously, I had like five more! But I’m an underachiever. In fact, Keith wrote this whole thing. BALZAC!

1Hunks Wearing Cummerbunds. A channel exclusively playing in my own head.
2Period piece nerds have wet their pants over this series.
3If you’re mad that Baroness Emma Orczy, George Sand, Anna Sewell and/or George Eliot were not on this list, well then that is awesome because you are just as big a period piece book whore as me. Congrats, lonely other person!
4I love that guy!


As a self-proclaimed period piece nerd, Eileen wants you all to know that corsets should only be applied by a registered technician. She’ll be right over.

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