Thursday, April 10, 2008

Not a Plain Jane...

I was first introduced to the subtly delightful snarky wit of Jane Austen (or "A Lady", as her books were signed during her lifetime) during my senior year of high school, in Mr. Doherty's AP English Class. We read a whole string of classics by British lady authors, but Pride & Prejudice was by far my favorite. That was also the year that the BBC released its notable TV miniseries starring Jennifer Ehle and the imcomparable Colin Firth, although it didn't make it to the US until I was in college.

Speaking of that miniseries, all I have to say is that had Jane been writing today, I totally believe she would have included that swimming scene with Mr. Darcy in the pond outside his home while Lizzie and her aunt and uncle were visiting (snooping). I mean, come on...semi-naked wet Mr. Darcy? Yeah, that would totally be in the book. You and I both know it.

Colin Firth...mmm...

Where was I again? Oh yeah. Jane Austen.

This past Sunday marked the end of the Masterpiece Theatre series "The Complete Jane Austen" with the conclusion of the two-part remake of "Sense & Sensibility." I have to say that I'm really sad to see it go. Why couldn't she have written more than 6 novels? Didn't she know that 200 years later, people wouldn't be able to get enough?

So why do people (females, especially) love Jane Austen? In the last few years we've seen The Jane Austen Book Club (both the novel by Karen Joy Fowler, and the movie), the film Becoming Jane, the Bollywood extravaganza Bride & Prejudice, the Keira Knightley film adaptation of Pride & Prejudice, the aforementioned Masterpiece Classics series on PBS, a novel called Mr. Darcy's Daughters, a novel called Mr. Darcy's Diary, The Second Mrs. Darcy: A Novel, Letters From Pemberley: The First Year, Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife...and that's just in the 2000s alone.

In the 90s we got the famous BBC ode to Colin Firth (sigh!), two different Emma films in 1996 (a Hollywood version starring Gwynneth Paltrow and a BBC version starring Kate Beckinsale), the Bridget Jones books (the first one is a remake of P&P...great casting on the part of the movie producers by having Colin Firth play Mark Darcy...and the second is a remake of Persusasion), not to mention Clueless, a loose adaptation of Emma.

And that's just in the last 13 years.

I think Henry Tilney, the hero in Northanger Abbey said it best:
"The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid."

So why is Jane Austen so popular? What do modern women (and men...Mr. Brice amazed me last week when he predicted that Marianne Dashwood would marry Colonel Brandon because "he's the brooding guy...and the brooding guy always wins in the end of a Jane Austen story"...I was all "Who are you and what did you do with my husband?" He clinched it when he started expounding on how Lizzie Bennett is like a combination of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood) see in these stories? Can something written more than 200 years ago still be relevant today? And if you were a Jane Austen heroine (or hero), who would you be?


  1. Jane Austen was very good at noticing people--their mannerisms, their motivations--and despite time, people don't change that much.

    I love Jane Austen. Emma will always be my favorite--and I loved the Clueless version.

  2. I've never read the original. I know I should, but it just hasn't happened yet. I have seen most of the movies and I adore those.

    I think Jane Austen continues to be popular because her themes are relatable, no matter the age or year.

  3. It never ceases to amaze me that Jane Austen never married. And yet, she writes about love so eloquently.

    The theme of poor heroines getting their happy ending despite not having a large dowry shows up in almost all her books. Definitely her way of writing her own happy ending, even though her own life was rather sad.

    She was an amazing observor of mannerisms.

  4. I have never read Jane Austen. Never. And I was an English major.

    However, after watching the Jane Austen Book Club, I have decided that this is the summer of Jane Austen for me.

    Okay, another admission...I did not enjoy Pride and Prejudice AT. ALL. I know I am the only person in the world who feels this way, but I really couldn't stand it.

    But I loved Emma (Paltrow version) and Sense and Sensibility. That is when I fell in love with Alan Richman for sure.

  5. You know, it seems a lot of people haven't read Austen before, but I managed to shame my girlfriends at work into reading them, and they're totally loving it!

  6. I agree--Jane looked beyond the surface into the heart of people, and when it comes down to it, people today behave as they did 200 years ago.

    I also think some of it ties into peoples' fascination with the era. Well, it does for me, anyway.

    I took a grad course where we read all of Jane Austen's novels. I loved it so much. Picking through her words, seeing her rhetorical strategies really gave me a greater appreciation for her skills as a writer.

  7. Jennifer12:14 PM

    On the Becoming Jane DVD, there is a feature discussing the continuing popularity of Austen's work. One of the interviewees best explains the appeal of Jane Austen, saying that she is as relevant to popular culture as to scholars. That is, teenagers can find as much to like (or dislike) in her stories as adults with many years of research behind them.

    Unlike some authors, whose works seem to pertain only to one particular time or place, Austen's writings span centuries. Her themes of love, family, and society are just as relevant today as they were in her time.

  8. Great post, Amanda! i love Jane Austen too! I've never seen the movies but I really want to. Haven't read all her books, but it's on my list;))

  9. Her dialogue always reminded me powerfully of Shakespeare. I had not read a word of her til college. A favorite professor (hellooooo Pez, wherever you are!!) assigned her and then removed her from the syllabus.

    But I had already plowed through Pride and Prejudice in an afternoon and had stars in my eyes.

    Been a fangirl ever since. :)

  10. Jennifer, I haven't seen Becoming Jane, but I know I need to!

  11. I read Pride and Prejudice about a year ago (maybe two?) and it's the only one I've read so far (although I have at least one other one in my TBR pile). Loved it! It wasn't a quick, easy read (you can't really "skim" parts) for me but I totally loved it. And loved the Colin Firth movie version.

  12. Anonymous2:53 PM

    For years I tried to read Austen's works and never got beyond the first page or so... until I started watching the PBS/BBC movies based on her books. I really loved the movies (especially Mansfield Park and P&P), and once I had the characters and storyline already in my mind, the books became very accessible. I'm now a Jane convert!

  13. Anonymous, I haven't seen Mansfield Park, but I totally need to! My mom says it was her favorite (well, other than the 3-part P&P) of the movies they ran during the PBS series.

  14. *lol* The Insight Edition of P&P also brought up that Austen would totally have added the dripping Colin Firth moment to the book if she'd only thought of it.

  15. We forget that Jane was writing in a time similar to our own - a time of political and economic uncertainty, with her country involved in a difficult and divisive war. We forget all that because Jane makes us forget - she focuses only on the individuals in her immediate vicinity, not on big philosophical issues or political movements.

    She's like a painter painting on a very tiny canvas, but doing so with great love and immense attention to detail. Because of that attention to the details, her characters and their problems feel completely real and alive to us today.

    Also, her heroes are dead sexy and everyone lives happily ever after.

  16. Anonymous4:28 PM

    Hi Amanda,

    I couldn't find a link to email you privately, but wanted to say your workshop was great this weekend at NESCBWI--wish I could have gone out to dinner with you all--sigh.

    Amanda Marrone