Austentatious!

The other day I ran across an article by writer Elizabeth Kantor entitled “Why Jane Austen Would Approve of On-line Dating.”  While I read the article with interest, the question in the back of my mind the whole time was, why should we care what Jane Austen would think?  After all, how relevant can her commentary be on today’s social issues?  And for that matter, why not Eudora Welty, or Edith Wharton for that matter?  Both keen observers of society and chroniclers of the human condition?  What is it about Jane Austen that has not only endured for so many years, but has in fact flourished?  Look at all the Austen-inspired  novels.  Look at all the movies done over and over again.  Look at the movies made of updated Austen novels (such as “Clueless”).  I confess that I do not know why Austen remains center stage and her work is constantly re-invented, while others retreat quietly to the back bookshelves of academia… I submit, however, that the next generation may be the one which indeed finds it has had quite enough of Austen.  Why?  Because I do not think that the generation of readers which we are raising today will have the interest nor the “staying power” to find the subtleties of character and slowly plodding plots of Austen engaging.   I hold this opinion only because I have watched the trend in Young Adult novels move away from character-driven stories to more and more high-adrenelin plot driven ones.  The novels that are selling, the “commercial successes” must always has a hook, or a gimmick.  What will readers who were raised on vampire romances and dystopian worlds facing death at every turn find engaging about a plot centered around the frustrated romance between a proud woman and haughty gentleman?    May I be proved wrong.

Now, for fun.  Did you know that Austen never wrote from the point of view of a man?  She perhaps held the “write what you know” adage in high regard and lived by it.  Since it seems we will never tire of Austen, I started to compile a list of Austen-themed novels.  Even the vaunted mystery writer P.D. James was not immune, as she offered her own “Death Comes to Pemberley” last year.  Here’s the start of my list–add more of your own!

Jane Austen Ruined My Life by Beth Pattilo

A Weekend with Mr. Darcy by Victoria Connelly

Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart by Beth Pattillo

What Would Jane Austen Do? by Laurie Brown

Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler

According to Jane by Marilyn Brant

Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler

The Importance of Being Emma by Juliet Archer

The Man Who Loved Pride and Prejudice: A Modern Love Story with a Jane Austen Twist by Abigail Reynolds

Austenland by Shannon Hale

Jane Austen Made Me Do It: Original Stories Inspired y Literature’s Most Astute Observer of the Human Heart by Laurel Ann Nattress

Dreaming of Mr. Darcy by Victoria Connolly

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7 Comments

Filed under Book Review

7 responses to “Austentatious!

  1. Today at the 39th Annual Shhep and Wool Festival i spotted a magazine entitled Jane Austin Knits – styles inspired by her novels – huh.

  2. Faith

    Lisa,
    Although I also read a lot of these young adult, high-adrenaline, plot driven novels, I have no trouble recognizing and appreciating the superior writing of Jane Auston, Henry James, George Eliot – and others too numerous to mention. It’s almost a relief to relax into one of their novels after a steady diet of the others.

    Since it seemed you were writing about our daughters’ generation, I asked my daughter, Anna (19 years old), what she thought about “Austentatious.” With her permission, I’m posting her reply:

    I would say for the most part that this is true for the general tween-teen-young adult population. Many don’t even like to read (shocking! I know right), or if they do read it’s books that have already been proven successes and have integrated themselves into popular culture (so they don’t want to be left out of what people are talking about). But I think she makes a valid point that we are from a generation that wants things fast (internet, stories, cars, answers, etc.), and because we are so used to getting instant gratification from these things, it’s hard to slow down and read something that makes you wait and uses older language. However (and this is a big HOWEVER), there seems to be some special exception for Jane’s work. The people that I speak to about Pride and Prejudice (almost all female) love it, in fact they adore it. I think that this work gets passed from generation to generation very lovingly and so the people it gets passed down to love it too. I do think though that this is more of a subculture, like the people who watch Firefly or Anime (but that just makes them love it even more). Austen’s themes are totally universal in Pride and Prejudice and every girl wishes for a romance as great as Elizabeth and Darcy’s. So while the general teen population will love the death and excitement of things like The Hunger Games, some will also pick up Pride and Prejudice and fall in love (as every girl wants to). So to sum up my very long response I do not believe it will be forgotten or dubbed as a boring story. But these are just my thoughts 😉

    Faith (and Anna)

  3. As I said “may I be proved wrong” and it seems based on Anna’s observations, perhaps I am. But Anna’s remarks do confirm one thing: that Austen has that mysterious something which has endured across many generations. I think it is more than just a good romance, after all, there is plenty of that available without the added challenge of unfamiliar customs and language found in her works…so WHAT IS IT about her stories, (characters, social commentary??) that reaches across centuries and endures?

  4. Suzy

    You forgot “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”! And that answers your question about those readers raised on vampire novels – Austen is still relevent to them, they will just merge the two worlds. 🙂

  5. As far as the Pride, Prejudice and Zombies is concerned it was merged badly. What is worse is that the writer, Seth Grahame Smith, had never read Pride and Prejudice and the idea for the zombie book was his editors, (who liked the idea because Austen’s book was in the public domain so, no royalties to pay). These books are puerile, badly written and and lacking any originality. Interesting article. By the way, I am an Austen fan and do hope your prediction is wrong regarding this generation being where Austen’s work becomes less relevant.

    • Christopher, from your lips to the Publishing Industry’s ears! The axe I’ve been grinding lately is the this: publishers are picking up the same stories– ones that ensure “commercial” success, so what are we left with? Fifty Shades and a book shelf full of paranormal romances and dystopian survival games. Into the void comes the Indy press movement…but that is a minefield still (some great, some awful). Question: Would a modern Jane Austen get published today?

      • I don’t think Austen would be published today. Not due to any criticism of her writing but because her writing would seem anachronistic. By that I mean, her writing would appear dated, lacking any knowledge or understanding of the feminist movement and its impact on the modern world. Her books wear their Regency period life very squarely on their sleeves (if you will pardon the pun). Austen’s books are beautifully and intelligently written but most people who read her books are consciously or even unconsciously aware that they have to be read in the knowledge of time they were writtien and what a woman’s place was during the late 17th century and early 18th century.
        As for Fifty Shades. Don’t get me started. But you have so, Below is what I wrote on my sister’s facebook after she announced that she loved the book:
        “With all the hype and fuss that surrounded it I had to read it for myself. I’m talking about Fifty Shades of Grey. This book is drivel, derivative, poorly executed and it’s original source seeps out of every page; i.e. a Twilight fanfiction website.
        I can see why immature pubescent girls may enjoy this rubbish in the same way they enjoy the Twilight books and films but why does it appeal to anyone over the age of 13?
        What makes it worse for me is that if a man had written this book he would have been accused of misogyny and hung, drawn and quartered in Trafalgar Square by every right minded woman.
        Since when did abusive, controlling behaviour become sexy?
        As a piece of erotic fiction it just doesn’t work. There is barely a plot, the dialogue is clunky and is ridden with so many cliches I had to shower many, many times to get rid of the stench.
        I watched an interview with the writer who proudly stated that her book was being read by people who don’t normally read books. She said this with a sense of pride. Possibly that is because it reads like it is written by someone who doesn’t read books. In fact it reads like someone whose main source of reading material is celebrity magazines and their ilk.
        The book does have one redeeming feature; it can be recycled into something worthwhile and helpful.”

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