This one is for you dad!!

I love Jane Austen, and I am not alone.  My sister and I adore Jane Austen.  We’ve both read her books, both of us, it seems, always returning to our favorites to read them again and again.  My favorite is Persuasion.  I first read that book in the Philippines, the farthest you can get from Jane Austen’s England.  But it worked somehow; I now recall both the book and the Philippines with great admiration.

While I am a lover of Austen, I am not a member of any of the societies.  Did you know there are hundreds of Jane Austen Societies around the world?  Much to my father’s chagrin; they do exist.  There is the Jane Austen Society of North America, one in Australia, Brazil, Buenos Aires, and  of course England.

I’ve had to fight for Jane all my life, because you see, my father, the English Teacher, theater teacher, and actor, hates Jane Austen.  He simply does not like her.  Granted, I’m sure the continual exposure we forced on him didn’t help any.  We were among the major contributors to help further hatred, all the while furthering our own adoration. For example, every Christmas, my sister and I reconvene on our childhood home, and somehow, we always end up watching the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice together.

All 5 hours.

In one sitting.

“Why are we watching this again?  How many times have you girls seen this?”  Good ‘ol tormented dad would inquire; though he wasn’t ever really watching it, he was just trying to find out when we would free his tv form it’s anguish.  “We’ve lost count.”  We would reply.

Jane’s notoriety hasn’t dwindled over the years.  If you look for Jane Austen, you’ll find her.  There are blogs solely dedicated to her; you can sign up for a quote of the day by Jane Austen; there are books about Jane, movies about Jane, dissertations on Jane, there is even a Jane Austen action figure!

Movies based on all of Jane’s 6 major works have been made, and not just once. There are even movies loosely based on Jane’s life and books:  Becoming Jane, The Jane Austen Book Club, Lost in Austen, Clueless, Bridget Jones’ Diary, and Bride and Prejudice…to name a few.

As for her books, people are still reinterpreting her work and the woman.  I’ve come across, and dare admit to reading, Bridget Jones’ Diary, Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, The Jane Austen Book Club, Darcy’s Story, Jane Austen Ruined My Life (my father’s mini-autobiography? Perhaps.), What would Jane Austen Do, and According to Jane. (This small list barely begins to scratch the surface of books about Jane.)  A list of Jane Austen sequels is here; just in case you are interested.

Lately people have begun having fun with Jane.  I’m sure you’ve seen the newest version of Jane’s book around:  Pride and Prejudice and Zombies; Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters; and the latest addition to the fold, a quick spoof on YouTube called the Jane Austen Fight club.  For a good laugh check this out.

The underlying question is this, Why the hell is Jane Austen still so flipping popular 200 years after Pride and Prejudice was published?   Seriously, what does a woman writing about 19th century courtship and marriage have to do with today’s technologically based, instant gratification driven, fast paced life?

From my point of view, her characters are accessible, even after all this time.  Daughters roll their eyes at their mothers’ diva like antics, general gossip among friends is the highlight of the day, the butterflies one feels when she falls in love with a man, a girl having to come to terms with her life when it suddenly isn’t what she had thought it was going to be all along – these themes still ring true today in our lives; we just don’t wear corsets any more.

Perhaps it is the perpetuation of Jane Austen’s books into film that keep her so relevant.  Since 1940 all of Austen’s 6 major books have been made into movies; over and over again.  With each new generation comes a new version of her work in order to keep her fresh in our minds eye.

There are those who don’t enjoy Jane’s continuing popularity.  To placate my father, who is being made to read this particular blog entry by my mother, he is in good company. Type in ‘I Hate Jane Austen’ into any web search and you will come out with pages upon pages of people willing to share their opinions.  My father hates Jane because of “The fact that her males are either shallow, pretty faces or depraved morons, there’s no in-between.”

My favorite litany of why one blogger hates Jane is this:  “I’ve tried.  I really have. But these novels are so artificial, so terribly unreal. Nobody in a Jane Austen novel, as far as I can tell, ever bleeds or farts or craps or sweats or pisses or dies in a way that isn’t just terribly pictureseque and dreadfully wonderful.” (http://lastbestangryman.blogspot.com )

You can’t get mad at a man who is willing to be honest.  It’s difference of opinions that make up this world.  Hell, the list of great writers who hated Jane Austen is just as long as the sequels of her books.  Ralph Waldo Emmerson is quoted as saying “Her characters live in such a wretchedly narrow view of life, that suicide would be more respectable.”

Mark Twain said, “ I go so far as to say that any library is a good library that does not contain a volume by Jane Austen. Even if it contains no other book.”

And in1928, H.W.Garrod wrote the book Jane Austen:A Depreciation, in which he defined Jane as “intolerably sensible”.

Still, I think we need to look at the time and place Jane was living and writing.  She lived in a polite society where women were judged on how well-bred and prudent they were.  Her personal interactions with men were limited, gotta make sure that chaperone is nearby.

Jane herself never married, as her writing made her monetarily independent, but in her time, women authors were seen in the same light as romance writers today.  She was not even a popular or highly praised author of her day.   But she did a few things well, she paid meticulous attention to detail.   If you look at Lizzy Bennet’s character, her attitude toward those around her; the courteous smile she had even for those who were belittling her family, you catch a glimpse of what Jane Austen was doing in her writing.  In Jane’s very English way, she was mocking the society that surrounded her, as well as her own ‘polite’ writing style.

I hold fast to this, I love Jane Austen because there she brings back an ideal of respectability to my life.  Moment by moment, this fast paced world is leaving the politeness of our past behind.  As a self declared romantic, I am glad that there is still a way for me to slow down and contemplate another time.

I leave you with two things:

The first does not come from me.  A blogger comment from one of the many ‘I hate Jane’ rants I read, suggested reading Pride and Prejudice, only this time, imagine the Bundy family from the popular tv show Married With Children as the main cast of characters:  Mr. Bennet as Al Bundy, Mrs. Bennet as Peg and Kelly as Lydia.  It puts into perspective how uncivilized the Bennet family was.  It shows how the rest of the neighborhood thought the Bennet’s were losers.

And for those haters of all things Austen, I am sorry to inform you, but from the buzz on IMDB, it seems 2011 will usher in another telling of Pride and Prejudice, only this time with Zombies.