The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Book poll boost to Arundhati and Ash

London, May 12: There is good news for Aishwarya Rai in a poll of Britain’s favourite female authors — Pride and Prejudice has come top.

The poll also carries good news for Arundhati Roy — her Booker Prize-winning novel, The God of Small Things, has come 20th.

While Arundhati has always made it clear she will never allow her novel to be made into a film, Jane Austen can apply no such sanction over her classic written in 1813.

This weekend at the Cannes Film Festival, where Aishwarya is a jury member, the queen of Bollywood will team up with Gurinder Chadha, the queen of the British Asian film industry. They are expected to give a joint press conference to provide details of Bride — yes, Bride — and Prejudice, the English language, Bollywood musical version of Pride and Prejudice.

The success of the book in the poll ought to provide the film a certain following in Britain — and not only among Indians. Aishwarya will play an Indianised version of Elizabeth Bennett, the book’s heroine, in the film.

The poll of 6,000 people, nearly 70 per cent of them women, was carried out by Orange, which operates cell phones and awards an annual prize for women writers. The BBC, incidentally, is conducting a separate poll, called The Big Read, to discover the nation’s favourite novel.

One of the most commercially successful authors in the world, J.K. Rowling, managed only 13th place with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

The current darling of the British literary establishment, Zadie Smith, came 12th with White Teeth — this has been turned into TV drama starring Om Puri and Archie Panjabi. Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’ Diary was 23rd.

Overall, the British retain their love for classics. Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, published in 1847, came second, while Wuthering Heights, published the same year by her sister Emily, was third.

George Eliot’s 1871 novel Middlemarch was fourth, while fifth place was taken by Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca.

Literary experts pointed out that only three 20th-century books got into the top 10. Four books by Jane Austen and three by George Eliot made it into the top 50.

Margaret Reynolds, a reader in English literature at the University of London, said: “All of Austen’s first paragraphs mention money and her books are about women’s struggle for status and social power, which is an issue which has great resonance in contemporary life.”

One man, Nicholas Clee, editor of The Bookseller, said the list was incomplete.

“There are a raft of highly popular women writers who are conspicuous in their absence from this list,” he said.

“For example, I would expect to see Beryl Bainbridge, Anne Tyler, Muriel Spark, Penelope Fitzgerald and Joanna Trollope featuring at least somewhere and the fact that they do not suggests to me that the list is not representative.”

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