My guilty pleasure-reward for making it through this particular semester is indulgence in a few Austen-esque books: Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible and Among the Janeites: A Journey through the World of Jane Austen Fandom by Deborah Yaffe. Eligible updates Pride and Prejudice by removing the story of Elizabeth and Darcy and their plot-driving families to the suburbs of Cincinnati, where they encounter complications brought on not only by their pride, prejudice, and genteel poverty, but also by a range of modern challenges (and opportunities): everything from artificial insemination to anorexia to a reality television wedding extravaganza. I think I got most of the updating, although I’m not quite sure of the significance of the spider infestation in the Bennet Tudor (Revival). Eligible is the fourth adaptation of HarperCollins’ Austen Project, which has commissioned contemporary authors to “reimagine” six Austen novels: I’ve also read Joanna Trollope’s Sense and Sensibility and am looking forward to the reimagined Persuasion, my favorite Austen. The Austen Project apparently aims not only to update but also to upgrade the usual Austen fan fiction genre, which has produced countless titles since Colin Firth/Darcy emerged from the Pemberley lake in the iconic 1995 BBC miniseries.
British covers of Trolloppe’s Sense and Sensibility and Sittenfeld’s Eligible; my stack of real and inspired Austens; my favorite recent editions, from the Folio Society.
I’m not quite sure that I represent the target audience for all these Austen adaptations, even though I was right there, holding my breath, when Elizabeth encountered a damp Colin/Darcy striding from the lake. I’m probably too old or too traditional or both: while I got Clueless and Bridget Jones’s Diary, I didn’t really understand the point of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies in either text or film form. But I am really interested in the culture–and the economy–of “Janeitism” because it seems like a very vibrant one, offering up many new and varied products every year. I haven’t started Yaffe’s Among the Janeites yet (I’ve been too busy with Eligible) but I’m hoping it will give me lots of insights into this world. You would think that the word “Janeite” is a new one, but actually it goes all the way back to the first big revival of her works, following the publication of her nephew’s Memoir of Jane Austen in 1869, which inspired the appearance of several illustrated and introduced editions in the 1890s. From then on, it wasn’t quite the Austenworld that we live in now, but she was regularly in print (you can see a nice succession of Pride and Prejudice covers here) and occasionally on the screen. Austen adaptations have clearly surpassed those mediums in the twenty-first century, and I can’t help but wonder, what would Jane think?
Stills from Austenland (2013), which was not very good, Death Comes to Pemberley (2015), which was quite good, and a film opening this week, Love & Friendship, based on Austen’s posthumously-published epistolary novel, Lady Susan; Jane thinking, illustration from the 2013 Folio Society edition of Pride and Prejudice by the Anna and Elena Balbusso.