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.
And sign up for the Riskies newsletter at email@example.com for the latest wet Firth sightings.
Sigh! I found this article confusing at times. I quite understood what she was saying about some modern writers confusing what Jane Austen had to say about marriage and romance, but I also thought she didn’t quite understand that most modern women who love Jane Austen don’t necessarily want to live during that time period. We’re mourning perhaps a loss of civility between the sexes. And no I don’t expect Colin Firth to come dripping out of a pond, although I wouldn’t toss him back if he did.
First of all, congrats on the mention, Janet! Definitely an interesting article, though I don’t agree with all of it. I have a few empire-waisted dresses in my closet and some bits of Regency-esque furniture, but after wrting about the Regency-era for twenty years, I know way too much about it to have any desire to live there :-). What resonates so storngly for me in Austen’s novels is not romantic escape but a clear-eyed look at the complicated, difficult, and often decidely unromantic condition of being a single woman in search of a husband (which, come to think of it, is pretty much the same thing I loved about “Sex & the City” :-). That the heroines find true love doesn’t negate the complexities and difficulties of their situation (or the risk of ending up a Charlotte Lucas or a Miss Bates). I liked the recent Pride & Prejudice movie (I liked different things in most of the Austen film adaptations) but the last scene (added on for the American release) bothered me. It was very romantic but somehow having Darcy call Elzabeth “Mrs. Darcy” in such a romanticized way negaged (for me) the irony in the story . Part of what makes Elizabeth such an intriguing heroine is her refusal to play the husband-seeking game, so the emphasis on her as “Mrs. Darcy” at the end rang false to me. If that makes any sense.
Congrats on the mention, Janet! But the article made me realize what a dilemma Jane Austen poses for literary snobs. They’re supposed to admire her books and yet there’s this embarrassing fact that each has a love story at its core.
Tracy, I agree with you about that final scene in the last P&P. It just didn’t fit.
Interesting article! It reminds me of something I read recently on Austen Blog, which said there are no other authors whose fans are so often scolded for not appreciating their work the “right” way! I think you’re right, Elena–here is a “classic” author, yet her books revolve around women and their concerns! Horrors! What to make of it all? 🙂 (And of course there is the obligatory patronizing tone so often used towards things predominately enjoyed by women. As if we can’t possibly just have some fun with our movies and our Austen action figures, because we are too stupid to know the difference between “fantasy” and “reality” and might hurt ourselves. We should all just sit quietly in the corner and read “Madame Bovary” and think about the error of our frivolous little ways)
Okay, deep breath. 🙂 This sort of thing makes me want to kick something, or pitch one of those Marianne Dashwood-ish tantrums!
When I watched the P&P DVD at home, I just turned it off where I thought it should have ended–where Darcy and Elizabeth are holding hands as the sun rises behind them. No lame “sitting outside in our underwear” bits. 🙂
What sauce for the gander… to turn a cliche around… I suppose boys and men have the vast capacity to clearly demarcate where reality ends and fantasy begings in “Star Wars,” “Matrix,” “Spiderman,” Grisham, Brown, and all the other action/thriller movies and books. Rrrrrigght! But women? Oh no, put up huge warning signs lest we go off our pretty little heads. Grrrr.
Congrats on the mention! I’m flying over to Pam’s site to see if I can win a copy of Rules….