I’m borrowing the artwork from Salon‘s article yesterday, I Dream of Darcy, because I think it illustrates what was both right and wrong about Rebecca Traister’s somewhat sniffy take on the infiltration of Jane Austen into pop culture.

And yes, she mentions The Rules of Gentility in a list of Austen-inspired books that are coming out this summer to coincide with the release of the movie Becoming Jane. (Hey, a mention is a mention is a mention–I can take a bit of snottiness.) And besides, mine isn’t a knock-off–I have a couple of blatant quotes from Austen, and then I left her alone lest an acidic, ladylike thunderbolt should strike me.

As Ms. Traister points out, there have been waves of Austenmania, the last one of which, in 1995, was inspired by the A&E Pride & Prejudice and the lovely and talented Colin Firth. I can think of worse things to happen in movieland. Do Austen movies or series, however carefully crafted, or Austen knock-offs in the form of fantasies about Firth–oops, Darcy–mean that a new generation of readers will flock to read Austen? Or if they flock, will they stay and make it through Mansfield Park? Interestingly enough, the last decade, despite Firth’s wet shirt, saw the decline and end of the two traditional Regency lines (Signet and Zebra).

But Austen’s work endures–her novels have never been out of print for almost two centuries. My feeling is she’s a big enough girl to take any sort of snarky imitation, uppity young movie director’s vision, or scriptwriter’s short cut.

Traister uses one marvelous quote from a letter Austen wrote advising her niece about marriage:

“… there are such beings in the World perhaps, one in a Thousand, as the Creature You and I should think perfection. Where Grace & Spirit are united to Worth, where the Manners are equal to the Heart & Understanding, but such a person may not come in your way, or, if he does, he may not be the eldest son of a Man of Fortune, the Brother of your particular friend & belonging to your own Country.”

Austen was very much aware of the divide between fantasy and reality–it’s a theme throughout her novels: Marianne vs. Elinor, the Gothic sensibility vs. real life, and the pragmatic attitude of most of the women in her novels toward love and marriage. But for reasons that are unclear to me, Traister thinks modern women–or should that be overt readers of romance and/or chicklit?–can’t differentiate between fantasy and reality, hence the huge supply/demand of Austen-related books and movies. And the picture? Well, she has something wrong with her spine, but a most un-Regency-like sash at waist level, and as for that water bottle … someone wrote in to Salon asking if it was a … well, never mind.

Anway, read the article. Let us know what you think and whether you really expect Colin Firth to emerge dripping from a nearby pond.

Want to win a copy of The Rules of Gentility? Pam Rosenthal is offering copies as prizes in her latest contest, www.pamrosenthal.com.

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