Is Jane Austen So Popular Because Her Books Are Kinda Just Highbrow Twilight?


Why are women so obsessed with Jane Austen? This year marks the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice, and the Wall Street Journal reports that novelists/scholars/biographers/filmmakers are ON IT.

Expect an overwhelming flurry of books:

More than a dozen books about the author will hit bookstores in coming months, including a new biography, a book that explores her cult status, two studies of Austen-era England and two books about Austen and economics.
Next week, Bloomsbury Press will publish “What Matters in Jane Austen? Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved,” by English professor John Mullan, which explores Austen’s characters’ attitudes toward money, sex and other touchy subjects.
In April, Princeton University Press will release “Jane Austen: Game Theorist,” a political-science professor’s argument that Austen’s plots hinge on game theory, a strategic approach to human interactions that has been deployed by economists and military leaders.
Budget-conscious Austen fans can pick up personal finance tips this April with “Jane Austen’s Guide to Thrift,” a book by two English professors that joins a growing body of Austen-themed advice and self-help books, including guides to romance, manners, cooking and entertaining.
…as a novel set in contemporary times by the best-selling novelist Curtis Sittenfeld.

As well as movies and TV shows:

CBS has acquired a script for a modern remake of “Sense and Sensibility,” from “Boardwalk Empire” writer Margaret Nagle. Lifetime is partnering with actress Jennifer Love Hewitt’s production company on a contemporary retelling of “Pride and Prejudice.” Screenwriter Jerusha Hess and novelist Shannon Hale recently adapted Ms. Hale’s novel “Austenland,” about a lonely Jane Austen fan who falls in love at an Austen theme park, into an independent film starring Keri Russell. The film, produced by “Twilight” author Stephenie Meyer, was shown at the Sundance Film Festival last week and acquired by Sony 6758.TO +8.49% Pictures. It’s tentatively scheduled for a late-summer release. One of Ms. Ephron’s last projects was a screenplay based on “Lost in Austen,” a popular British television series about a current-day Austen fan who magically switches places with heroine Elizabeth Bennet. The film is in development at Sony and is being produced by “American Beauty” director Sam Mendes.

Back up, let’s repeat/process that: Stephenie Meyer produced a movie about “about a lonely Jane Austen fan who falls in love at an Austen theme park.” Triple gag.

How come Austen’s popularity continues to climb? The WSJ thinks it’s because her novels have universal themes and storybook endings, which “give her novels both highbrow and lowbrow appeal.” In other words: do people seek out romance that makes them feel smart? It sounds more impressive to say you’re obsessed with Mr. Darcy than Edward Cullen or Christian Grey, but let’s be real: all three heroes are famously swoonworthy because they’re arrogant, aloof babes who are secretly sensitive and end up saving the day when they’re unexpectedly overcome by love.

Before I get stoned by outraged Austenites: it goes without saying that Austen is way wittier and more talented than her modern day counterparts. She wrote incisively about money and class, not just romance, and there’s no shame in writing about love and marriage — especially given that, in Austen’s day, the decision of whom to marry was fraught with major social and financial ramifications. I have a ton of incredibly intelligent friends who love Austen and got a lot out of her commentary. But she just never did it for me, even though I’m such a sucker for novels about women and the reality of their social situations — Madame Bovary, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, etc. I always found Austen’s female characters one-dimensional and lacking in passion and energy; I prefer the Brontë sisters for dramatic love affairs (edit: by “dramatic” I don’t mean “romantic,” but “horrifically overwrought”) and my all-time favorite, Edith Wharton, for crossed-signals romances amongst gentlefolk. Of course, Wharton’s novels are actually cynical (read: realistic) and the opposite of romantic, which is why Stephenie Meyer won’t be producing a movie version of The Custom of the Country (Best one! Trust!) anytime soon.

[WSJ] (h/t The Cut)

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