Are we at peak Jane Austen? Have Austen adaptations jumped the shark? What did Jane Austen know about corpse-lovers? Catherine Engh, Cailey Hall, and Caroline Winter discuss the recent film version of the Austen mashup Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
Jane Austen was in the news again last week—I know this, because when I log onto Google News, it offers tailored entries based on my previous web searches and sticks them right at the top of the feed. I honestly don’t know whether to be delighted or terribly disturbed by this fact. But artificial intelligence issues aside, I found this most recent bout of Austenmania to be quite a curious one.
It’s not a rare occasion these days that Miss Jane appears in the news, especially during this decade that celebrates “200 years since…” each of her famous tomes, published during the 1810s. Austen’s popularity endures: in 2013, Britain announced it will finally commemorate her in currency (Austen will appear on the 10-pound note, beginning in 2017) and last month she even got a musical in Chicago.
The most recent news cycle that got my attention (to be fair, it was hardly a sidebar item) highlights a new book that claims to make a striking and long sought-after discovery: the “true” identity of the real-life Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy—and (sadly) it’s not Colin Firth. Continue reading Will the Real Mr. Darcy Please Stand Up?
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune… must be in want of a wife.” One of the most well-known lines in literature has been reiterated once again—except that this time, it’s plastered on a bright fuchsia T-shirt.
So begins The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (2012-2013), an Emmy-winning web series that reworks Pride and Prejudice for the modern age, featuring an endearing but sarcastic twenty-something Lizzie Bennet played by newcomer Ashley Clements.
Here are the facts as I know them: 1. There are never enough hours in a day; 2. I have students who still think I don’t know that changing their font from Times to Courier adds at least a page to their essays; 3. The long 19th century is such a joy to study.
I didn’t always know these facts. When I was an undergraduate English major, using Courier in every paper I wrote about books that I only partially read, I was aimless. I took classes in order to get my degree, I earned A’s, and I didn’t minor in anything. You could say that I wasn’t the most pragmatic person on the planet. At the time, I wasn’t fully focused on school or my future; my older brother had left for Israel instead of attending law school as he had originally planned, and I struggled, trying to understand his decision. Later, as I pondered what I might do after my B.A., I was torn between graduate school and law school. A Romanticism seminar in the fall of my senior year tipped the scales.
One of the first books that we read was Frankenstein, the first assigned book of my undergraduate career that I read cover to cover. What sold me on Mary Shelley’s work wasn’t the fact that she wrote in response to a ghost story competition—instead, it was an anecdote shared by my professor. He told us how he had inscribed the creature’s words: “I will be with you on your wedding night” in a card at his friend’s wedding. How clever, I thought. I, too, wanted to be that witty, literary friend at weddings, but I realized that I should not and could not quote a book that I had not read. It was the first time that I fell in love with a canonical work.
We read a lot of other interesting works in class, and– in case you’re wondering–I did actually read them in their entirety. However, it was the last assigned work of the semester that changed my life. But Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice didn’t grab my attention right away. So, to make it more animated, I began reading it aloud to my cats with different voices. Soon, I was invested in the characters. And then I brought my interpretation of the novel to class: I said there was an erotic attachment between Darcy and Bingley. My classmates reacted with violent disagreement. They took it personally—that is, they were uncomfortable with any reading of a famously heteronormative text that involved queer desire. In all honesty, their disagreement delighted me. It motivated me. It led me to attend office hours and read literary theory for the first time. I read Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Freud, Lauren Berlant, and Michael Warner. I wrote multiple drafts of my end-of-semester paper. And I realized that—just as my brother had done something unconventional that he loved—I loved writing about literature that I had actually read and thought about in unconventional ways; I needed to read for intellectual engagement, not just for pleasure or for finishing an assignment.
I didn’t know it then, but I had stumbled upon the subject I am most passionate about, the deconstruction of heterosexist interpretations of texts. You could say that Pride and Prejudice was my patient zero. As a MA student, I continued working with Austen; the next text that I plunged into was Persuasion, and then it was Emma. In my M.A. thesis, I argued that the heteronormative relationships depicted in Austen’s three novels are built and premised upon queer desire.
As a Ph.D. student who will enter into her final semester of coursework in January, I am actively compiling my exam lists and just as actively kicking myself for not actually reading for my first three years of college. The list of works that I’ve read, while growing, is woefully underdeveloped, and I see my exam lists as an opportunity to atone for my undergraduate sins. Even though I’ve been exposed to theory and a variety of tropes and texts, I remain interested in looking at texts—especially famous heteronormative love stories—and analyzing the ways in which desire functions. My dissertation will be a transatlantic study of desire and will further the ideas that I’ve been so passionate about since that seminar on Romanticism in my senior year of college.
PS. In case you’re curious–I have read Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner and therefore feel okay about using parts of Hogg’s title.