Back in May, I wrote about the announcement that Masterpiece Theatre will broadcast adaptations of all of Jane Austen’s six novels, plus a new drama based on her life — the first time in television history that her books have been broadcast as a complete collection. At the announcement, celebrated screenwriter Andrew Davies told a humorous story (I’m not sure if it was a real story or a joke, or if I’m even getting it right) about a screenwriter pitching adaptations of Austen’s books around Hollywood, and one agent going nuts over it, wanting to know who this Austen lady was, how he could get in touch with her and how many books she had. It was meant to exemplify just how popular Austen remains. Rather, how popular and enticing she is to film audiences, at least, if a story that came out yesterday is to be believed.
According to David Lassman, a frustrated author and director of the Jane Austen Festival in the English town of Bath, he sent off manuscripts featuring several chapters of Austen’s most famous works, Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, to almost twenty publishers and agents, claiming it was all his work. To his great surprise, all of the publishers rejected the manuscripts, and most failed to catch his plagiarism.