Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Article on Jane Austen's works in the Tampa Tribune

Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet.


Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet

As I enjoy my continual battles with my new wireless network (and loss of connectivity), I had the chance to spy this article in the Tampa Tribune, from the 4th of September. It is an interesting article, albeit a bit snarky... so if you are offended by it, please do not "kill the messenger!" - contact Miss Henry!

What Makes Jane So Becoming?
by Amanda Henry (Tacoma Tribune correspondent)

A flood of new movies, miniseries, books, and more is a reminder that Jane Austen’s appeal never seems to fade… at least, not for long.
You have to feel bad for the makers of the 1998’s "Jane Austen’s Mafia!"
The title of the "Godfather" parody was almost a good joke, appearing as it did on the heels of the last wave of Austen mania, largely formented by the 1995 "Pride & Prejudice" mini-series. But it would have made more sense to the average "Naked Gun" fan this year, when Austen-themed entertainment has claimed a greater market share than ever, with feature films and books galore, televised adaptations in the works, and even funky finger magnet.
The seesawing currency of Austen’s work may follow a random cycle – a sort of literary El Nino. Or perhaps this passionate embrace of a subtle, centuries-old body of work is symptomatic of large cultural forces? Let’s go with the latter explanation, since this would otherwise be a very short article indeed.

Here, then, are a few off-the-cuff diagnoses for an Austen-obsessed world:

1) The Bard is Hard

Once upon a time, Hollywood was all about the William, as in Shakespeare. But what with all the bodkins and contumely and other verbal roadblocks, his plays can be challenging for an industry – and a public – in which the text message is considered the height of wit.
Enter Austen, who is also British and venerable and likes a good romance but tends to write in a more recognizable strain of English prose, with no iambic pentameter in sight. As an added bonus, Austen novels are much less likely to end in a bloodbath, making them much more attractive to the crucial teenage girl market.

2) Empire Waists Rule

There’s a reason so many maternity outfits feature the Empire cut, in which the "waist" hovers in the general vicinity of the bosom (see the "muumuu" or "tent dress"). This is among the most forgiving of silhouettes, especially when paired with a voluminous, floor-skimming skirt. You can hide just about anything in that kind of outfit, so who’s to say whether you’re looking a svelte or have been hitting the pudding a little hard? Regency-era fashion is the equivalent of wearing sweat-pants – with cleavage.

3) Leisure: It’s not just for suits

Oh, to live in a time when your major concern was not getting too many freckles! With servants to see to your food and garb, and an inherited income, there’s no need to drag yourself out of bed for a 9-to-5 grind. Instead, enjoy a leisurely breakfast, do a little reading, dabble at the piano or painting, and gossip with the neighbors. Write actual letters – by hand. For variety, you might shop or attend the occasional ball.
Imagine a world with no deadlines, nor ringing phones, and not overstuffed inbox. Boredom: the ultimate luxury.

4) From Cliff Notes to Barbara Cartland

If you’ve only encounted Austen in movie or mini-series form, you may be laboring under the delusions that she wrote romance novels with comic undertones. In fact, the retiring minister’s daughter was in incisive social satirist, flaying her characters for a variety of foibles, from hypocrisy and sentimentality to arrogance and pretension.
Far from a simple-minded bodice ripper, Austen posses a profound understanding of human nature and keen psychological insights. Just don’t tell the swooning masses

5) Every guy’s crazy for a sharp tongued woman?

Aside from the few devoted masochists and successful subjects of hypnosis, have you ever met a man who rejoices in the biting comments of significant other? No. That’s why words like "shrew" and "harridan" aren’t terms of endearment. Maybe if we could flash-forward 15 years, Mr. Darcy would be sulking in the garage with his model cars after a particularly acute tongue-lashing from the Mrs. or yelling at her to stop nagging him about the lawn. Yet in the enchanted here and now of the novels, Austen heroines are celebrated for their vivacity and spunk – in short, for telling it like it is. Now here’s a fantasy that could only exist in fiction: a man who could handle the truth.

6) Al Gore is making everyone weird

Before he started saving the world, one celebrity-studded event at a time, the ex-vice president allegedly invented the internet. And I think we all know that the most dramatic effect on said World Wide Web has been to convince people with bizarre and often embarrassing predilections that they are perfectly normal because there is a chat room full of like-minded folk to share their extreme dorkiness.

In the days of yore, people who had difficulty accepting certain facets of reality – such as the century in which they were born – were relegated to Renaissance faires, role-playing games, and the odd gathering of re-enactors. No one would advertise the fact that they were so obsessed with, say, a work of fiction that their nominally adult lives had become little better than a game of make-believe. Now such eccentricities is a badge of honor on message boards and online forums, in which fandom is a competitive sport:

"I named my cat Mr. Darcy… Well, I named my first born child Pemberly… I love Jane Austen so much that I’ve read the atrocious faux sequels, seen "Becoming Jane" 20 times, and plan to quit my job in November to watch the new British adaptations, because there was no such thing as TiVo in Jane’s time…"

Ahem... the website is TBO.com, and her name is Amanda Henry, a Tribune "correspondent" (as I duck the tomatos launched at me for re-publishing this piece!)

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