Sense and Sensibility adaptations: Janeite Movie Marathon!

Sense and Sensibility Movie Adaptations all over the place.

Last week I rented the 2007 BBC adaptation of Sense and Sensibility from Scarecrow Video, which came with a bonus disc, Miss Austen Regrets. When I checked out Sense and Sensibility, I was blissfully unaware that the bonus disc was included in my rental. Scarecrow Video came through for me yet again. Needless to say, I was very happy when I got home. Two movies for the price of one, amazing. Extra surprise Jane Austen-based movie to feed my addiction, priceless.

I also found a movie with Aishwarya Rai,  advertised on the cover as a Tamil “Kollywood” adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, called I Have Found It. I figured that renting two different adaptations of Sense and Sensibility would make for a fun-filled movie marathon.

I got both of them from the Literature section of Scarecrow’s vast room selection.

Literature room at Scarecrow Video, Seattle

I watched the two BBC movies first , and loved them both.

Let’s start with the BBC version of Sense and Sensibility. This same version of Sense and Sensibility was playing every Sunday on Jane Austen Season when I was staying in London, Spring 2007. I have also seen bits and pieces on PBS Masterpiece Theatre in the states, but it was really nice to view the film in its entirety. The whole movie felt right- it felt like being in the novel, with rustic simplicity of the English countryside in the background.

My favorite things about this version:

  1. The Casting. Most of the characters really seemed authentic to the period, and behaved in believable ways, or as their characters might be expected to from what we know of them. It took me a while to warm to some of the secondary characters, but it was not long before I fell in love with them too. In my opinion, the cast in this newer Sense and Sensibility just felt right. For example, Mrs. Dashwood was cast wonderfully. She was just aristocratic enough to be polite in rough situations, and to whether the family crisis with class, while still not quite understanding the financial predicament that her family was really in.
  2. The script. The words in the script were chosen very well, and it seemed enough like the sentiment and tone of the novel without being a recitation of the novel.
  3. Costumes. Marianne and Eleanor were dressed very believably, and so were the other characters. They were not so worried with appearances, especially when they moved to the cottage. Marianne dress was simplistic with a touch of whimsy to match her character’s personality, and Elinor’s sensible and more rustic dress suited her character as well.
  4. Marianne. I was bracing myself to hate this new version of Sense and Sensibility’s Marianne, since I loved the 1995 version with Kate Winslet so much. Although Kate Winslet is one of the best actresses in the world, (and I still love the older version of S&S), I thought this Marianne (Charity Wakefield), knocked her role out of the park as well. She was not only NOT disappointing, but was instead very much like Austen’s Marianne.

Marianne from the 2008 BBC Adaptation

This new Marianne looked and acted as I’d imagined her character when I read S&S for the first time, and it was refreshing to see her vs. Kate Winslet’s version of Marianne. Kate brought more fervor and passion to the role, but Charity Wakefield brought more subtlety, and I think was closer to the correct age of the character when she played her. Her hair also seemed more natural, and Kate Winslet’s blond curly wig in the 1995 version just drives me bonkers when I watch it because it doesn’t even look like real hair.

Three rainy versions of Marianne

  1. The awkwardness. This awkwardness, created by the crass country company and the impropriety of the new connections is downplayed by the social skills of Elinor and her mother; although Marianne handles it somewhat less gracefully, she also confronts the rudeness more directly and changes the behavior of her “attackers.”

What I didn’t like about this adaptation:  honestly, I can’t say much about that. Besides missing Kate and Alan Rickman simply for nostalgia’s sake,  I enjoyed this new adaptation thoroughly. It was one of the first times I’ve really been able to sit and watch an adaptation without critically analyzing it. I think this is because it felt so comfortable to me. As I said, the film makers really did a wonderful job with it, and the music was spot on to convey the tone of the different scenes, none of which were hyperbolic or as dramatic as the older movie version. I was impressed. I would recommend watching this movie with a cup of warm cider, since the scenery gets a bit chilly and wet.

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Now, I Have Found It, although intriguing on the exterior, was a little too far out there for me. I was definitely in the right mood for a long Bollywood-esque movie, which I later learned (thanks M.) is different from Kollywood, and prepared myself to sit for hours on the couch enjoying musical numbers and Janeite references. However, I was pretty confused during the first 30 minutes of the film. It starts with footage of a war, and gun fighting, which of course was never a part of Sense and Sensibility.

I didn’t really understand at all how this movie had been even loosely adapted from the novel until at least 30 minutes in when the family loses their home to their brother and his wife (who seems really nice at first, and then suddenly turns into a greedy evil sister-in-law,  an unrealistic character shift). The person who is responsible for the home is the dying grandfather (not father/ husband of the Dashwood women), so that threw me off.

Once I finally figured out which character was supposed to refer to which, I didn’t feel that the sentiments of those characters were in any way matching. I was also disappointed in Aishwarya Rai’s portrayal of a young and excitable “Marianne.” Her acting was too controlled and had no emotion, the opposite of Marianne. She kind of just acted like a spoilt brat through most of it.

Aishwarya Rai

The cover says that the film is about two sisters who are opposites, (ahem, one with “Sense” and one with “Sensibility”) but it really seemed to be primarily focused on the Colonel Brandon character, and his struggle loving the Marianne character unrequitedly. He is also a war vet (hence the first part of the film), is a raging alcoholic when first introduced on screen, and has lost his leg. It seemed a bizarre representation of his character, and although I appreciated a more imaginative Colonel Brandon, the Marianne character still seemed to keep him grounded and sober, while in the novel he is the steady one who rubs off on her more.

So, not only did the director choose to focus on the man and his plight, making the female story less impactful, but the gender roles between Colonel Brandon and Marianne’s characters were reversed as well.

I could go on and on about this movie, but really, it doesn’t seem worth it. If interested, I found this fairly entertaining and pretty thorough summary of the film. I think that Jane Austen’s works are so fabulous because they are open to various interpretations. However, this one really missed the mark, and I think that it is almost nothing like the novel. In fact, they may have just referred to already popular and already very famous Sense and Sensibility to sell more movies.

If you value your time and sanity, don’t watch this movie. I would not recommend it to anyone, not even to someone with loads of time on their hands, and will never suffer through it again myself.

Until next time,

Miss E

St. Trinian’s

In my last post I talked about doing a movie review soon. They seem to be fun for readers, and they are fun for me too 🙂

So, one of the movies I got from Scarecrow’s England section last week was St. Trinian’s. I didn’t have a hard time picking this one. It looked kind of chintzy, and definitely cheeky. I was attracted to the actor list. I mean, what self-professed Anglophile (aka England-a-holic) could resist a movie with both Colin Firth, Rupert Everett, Stephen Fry, and Russell Brand. When I choosing my movie, I sure couldn’t.

Bonus points in my book- it’s also about education. St. Trinian’s is a school, after all. I also found the tagline intriguing, “taking higher education to a new low.” And, since I study gender and the story is about a girls’ school, and there is a cross-dressed character, I figured there would be some potential discussion of gender dynamics within the story.

Movie Cover

I would definitely recommend the movie if you have watched a lot of English films or have lived in England, because it definitely requires a certain knowledge of the culture. For example, one of the most funny parts of the movie was the satire of the English social/ class youth groupings, like chav, posh, and emo.

I really enjoyed it. Of course, the movie was absurd, but that was pretty much the whole point. I mean, when Rupert Everett is playing an eccentric school mistress in drag, that kind of sets the tone for the rest of the movie. I Enjoyed his role in this film though, and Colin Firth’s. It’s always both startling and refreshing to see Firth out of his Darcy-esque roles for me. In St. Trinian’s he plays a hard nosed political reformer who is trying to shut down the school.

Interestingly, he’s also a former lover of Miss Fritton (Everett), and they have some hilarious scenes together in the movie.

I give the movie a 4/5 on the funny scale. I was laughing pretty hard throughout most of it, but a lot of that was because it resonated with my sense of the ridiculous and also with some of the experiences I had in England. I was also in the right mood when I watched it. I was in the mood for irreverence, and this movie is nothing if not irreverent. I thought the story line was a bit weak, and the idea of having a girls’ school where “everyone is accepted” for their quirks is just hard for me to suspend disbelief for, even though I enjoyed it.

Apparently, England and the UK loved it. According to the site for the movie, this was one of the highest grossing indie British films in history. It is based off a classic English film that I need to go rent now.

Watching this movie may inspire you to go drink a bottle of moonshine or rob a bank, but it is damn entertaining.

If you are in the mood to laugh, and enjoy British humor, or if you are really stressed out in school, I would recommend it. Also, check out their site first- it’s pretty informative and should give you a great idea of what the movie is about of if you’d be interested.

Let me know if you do watch it- I’d love to hear what you think!

Miss E

The Brownings’ Books

Hello!

I recently found a used book store over in the University District at Magus Books, and had a lovely time browsing the shop for quite some time.

I was most excited when I found two old twin books from the same publishing run, Oxford 1932, for a very good bargain. One is Robert Browning’s Poems, and the other is Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Poetical Works.

They are so fun I wanted to share them with you. Ta da!

The Twin Books

The gold insignia on the cover of each, very simple and elegant.

Don't they look lovely there?

I was interested in them originally because not only are they beautiful and well-looking together, but because of the titles. The super nerd in me noticed immediately that the titles are gendered.

Robert Browning is a “Poet,” also known as a man, and therefore has “Poems.” Elizabeth is a woman, and therefore has “Poetical Works.”

Apparently, despite finishing my masters, I am still interested in examining the language of gender.

Not only does the second title sound more whimsical, it implies that the works are more sentimental, or more feminine. It could also imply, because it is similar but longer than the word “poems” that her work is “Poem- ish.” At first it doesn’t seem like an important distinction, but the more one thinks about it, the more of an interesting move the distinction becomes.

The covers and books in most other manners look about the same. Here are some pictures:

Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Title Page

Robert Browning's photograph and Title Page

As you can see, Robert’s title page has more wording, and is more specific about the works included in his volume. Elizabeth’s has less specific information under the title, and just says “With two prose essays.” So, his work was definitely given a bit more title page respect, although I am not sure that EBB was as well known until later.

I am wondering- does any scholarly reader or historian know when EBB was becoming more popular in the 20th century? I know that manuscripts I read certainly painted this couple as one of interest, and there seemed to have been a very large following of both RB and EBB, so I’m wondering when reception shifted. Of course, there was major bias in the discussion of EBB’s work in periodicals and etc., because she was not only somewhat foreign and seen as eccentric, but was also a female writer.

Btw, the text in both books looks the same:

Inside the Books

Both have sort of a newspaper or periodical quality to them, and are somewhat biblical in their formatting.  Both books have similar font, and the same layout throughout. EBB’s is shorter altogether in page length, but many of her most famous poems like “cry of the children” are included.

Hope you enjoyed my discovery, and if you know the answer to the above query, please pitch in through comments!

Cheers,

Miss E

Movie Store!

So, challenge to myself is that I am trying to post at least once a week. This past one has been busy, but I still wanted to post tonight.  Since the last post was extra long, I felt it was time for a fun short post for you!

I have really missed going to the video store. It used to be a family tradition of ours, and was really enjoyable. For me, it is also easy to just watch netflix  or hulu for like 3 hours and lose track of my day, so I’m not a big fan.

When I go to the movie store, I feel more involved with real life somehow. The media is more difficult to access, and it is a whole endeavor, making the movie itself seem much more special. Browsing the titles and seeing other people from your town looking for movies to rent adds to the movie viewing experience by making the choosing process more sensory and social.

I haven’t been to a video store in almost 3 years, until the other night, when a friend called me and asked me to meet him. It felt almost surreal, as I didn’t even know video stores still existed. However, in Seattle, they do.

We met at Scarecrow Video, and spent an hour just browsing titles. It was amazing. They have such a huge selection of dvds from all genres and many different countries. I was very impressed to see the Literature room, and they even have an “England” section. Joy.

The "Englad" Section of Scarecrow Video

The layout of the store was fun and interactive, and the shelves have bright colors. It’s like being in a used bookstore, except with movies. Awesome.

The workers were friendly and answered all my questions. I even made an account. It was good to see a small local business thriving in such a difficult niche. So, the next time you see a movie review here on Looking for Pemberley, there is a good chance that I will have rented it here.

Shopping for new films to review,

Miss E

The Case Against Mr. Bennet

Mr. Bennet is a very benevolent character in the Pride and Prejudice movies, such as the BBC adaptation with Colin Firth and the newer Keira Knightly version.

As much as it pains me to announce this, after re-reading Pride and Prejudice again as an adult, I really didn’t like Mr. Bennet. I think that in the movies he’s a lovable father, which would explain fan reactions and his place on the “Best Father’s List” in many people’s books.

In the movies he’s portrayed as a great guy, and pretty funny. I currently think perhaps all this Mr. Bennet love is a bit much. In fact, I think Mr. Bennet is kind of an ass hole.

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Here’s my reasoning. In opposition to his various popular movie personas, Mr. Bennet of the novel itself is often painted as a defunct father figure, and honestly a pretty horrible partner in marriage.

He remains emotionally detached from his family throughout the novel, sometimes with dire consequences. As a substitute for parental involvement, he seeks solitude in his library.

Instead of being concerned about the entailment of his property and its consequences on the people under his care, he ignores his responsibilities as a caregiver and also as a patriarch of the landed gentry in Regency England.

As a result, not only are his daughters at risk of becoming destitute, but every person who relies on his estate. That’s just plain irresponsible.

Little bit of research for you: Frances Chiu points out how a critique of state authorities turned into a general decline in paternal authority in the Eighteenth Century, as highlighted in John Millar’s Observations Concerning the Distinction of Ranks in society (1771), which displayed negative examples of paternal aggression and power (5). Chiu and others discuss the fact that a more moderate form of parenting was being propagated throughout the period (Chiu 6, Stone 433). She asserts that with the colonial project underway, parenting in England became an attempt to avoid “barbarism,” while paternal aggression and severity became increasingly associated with the barbaric, un-English other.

 

From BBC.CO.UK

However, Austen kind of critiques that parenting style through Mr. Bennet. In the novel, Mr. Bennet is not only too mild, but generally he’s completely checked out.

In opposition to the fear of the ‘bad’ authoritarian and controlling father figure that permeated English dialogues on parenting, her portrayal of such a negligent father, and the consequences of his lack of discipline, instead illustrates the consequences of extreme leniency.

Elizabeth’s emotional needs are ignored by the only parent with whom she may have developed an attachment to, and from whom she requires a sense of safety and respect.

When Mr. Bennet asks about her supposed engagement to Mr. Darcy, we are told that “Elizabeth had never been more at a loss to make her feelings appear what they were not. It was necessary to laugh, when she would rather have cried. Her father had most cruelly mortified her, by what he said of Mr. Darcy’s indifference, and she could do nothing but wonder at such a want of penetration.” This moment is painful for me, since he is one of her only supposed allies, and just doesn’t get it.

But he usually just kind of can’t be bothered. Austen shows that his inability to participate in the family circle and his attempts to make a joke of his responsibilities make his family more vulnerable to the ridicule of society (Mr. Darcy, and the Bingleys for example), and also leaves them open to the invasion of Mr. Collins and all of his absurdity.  Patriarchs of households were expected to actively partake in protecting their family during this time period.

More research on the subject: Naomi Tadmor develops an understanding of the concept of “family” in the time period. From studying how the word ‘family’ is itself used in different texts and diaries from the time, she constructs how the idea of a family and its function was viewed in the culture of Jane Austen’s contemporaries.

Her research shows that the idea of family included all members of a household under patriarchal authority, whether they were related by blood or by contract. Her study of patriarchal responsibility contrasts with Mr. Bennet’s lack of filial dependability.

By examining views of family and responsibility during this time period, it becomes clear that Mr. Bennet’s failure to ensure his family’s financial and emotional safety affects even more people than just his wife and daughters –it extends to every servant or housekeeper living under his roof.

Despite all of the people who rely on him, Mr. Bennet just doesn’t really give a shit most of the time. He is farcical at best and lazy at worst.

He stands up for Elizabeth not marrying Mr. Collins, but gives Darcy consent to marry Elizabeth mostly because he is intimidated by him, not because he believes him to be a good person, or believes Elizabeth to be in love with him.

He states, “I have given him my consent. He is the kind of man, indeed, to whom I should never dare refuse any thing.”

After hearing her reasons for being in love with him though, he says, “I could not have parted with you, my Lizzie, to anyone less worthy.”

Yet, he had already given his consent to Mr. Darcy, before hearing from Elizabeth……sigh.

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Mr. Bennet does not set a strong example for his children, leaving them without his emotional support, but also without a reasonable parent to rely upon. During the time, it was advised “that parents lead by example rather than resort to corporeal punishment” and this was especially true for fathers of the period in their role as patriarch (Stone 433). Yet another strike.

As the head of his household and everyone under his roof, his reaction to Mr. Collins, the future owner and manager of the Bennet’s home, is inappropriate, and incongruous with the severity of the entailment. He hopes Mr. Collins is ridiculous for his own personal amusement, even while aware that the same man will one day be in charge of his daughters’ fates.

After Mr. Collins makes himself thoroughly ridiculous to the entire party during the ball, “Many stared. – Many smiled; but no one looked more amused than Mr. Bennet himself, while his wife seriously commended Mr. Collins for having spoken so sensibly.” In this scene, Elizabeth is shocked and horrified, whereas Mr. Bennet is shown to be thoroughly enjoying his family’s embarrassment.

He treats the mortification of his cousin and his wife’s reputation as something to be laughed at, even though he should, we would expect, be as mortified as Elizabeth, if not more so. Mr. Bennet’s inappropriate reaction to this scene might easily be forgotten, except when Elizabeth’s feelings are taken into account. Because of this failure, Elizabeth consistently attempts to shoulder the burden of responsibility to influence her father, although her position is limited.

Elizabeth asks her father of Mr. Collins in earnest: “Can he be a sensible man, sir?” to which he responds in jest, “No, my dear; I think not. There is a mixture of servility and self-importance in his letter which promises well. I am impatient to see him” (60). When he meets Mr. Collins, his “expectations were fully answered. His cousin was absurd as he had hoped, and he listened to him with the keenest enjoyment, maintaining at the same time the most resolute composure of countenance, and except in an occasional glance at Elizabeth, requiring no partner in his pleasure” (64).

Although there is a sarcastic humor in his tone, it doesn’t really make the danger any less real for his daughters and dependents, who would have been really screwed if he died. Throughout the text, his inappropriate behavior is damaging to his wife and children, and places his family in a vulnerable social position.

Interestingly, Darcy steps in and acts the true patriarch of the Bennet household by protecting Lydia’s reputation, through talking with Bingley about Jane to secure both their happiness, and by marrying Lizzie despite her ‘bad father.’ After Elizabeth marries him, Mrs. Bennet is shown to be happier, although not smarter, Mr. Bennet begins to travel, and Kitty spends a lot of time “in society so superior to what she had generally known” and was much improved. Lydia is with Whickham and out of everyone’s way, and even Mary, we are told, is no longer as miserable as she was when all of her sisters were there, as she is “no longer mortified by comparisons between her sisters’ beauty and her own.”

When Mr. Bennet is no longer the dominant male influence in the family, Elizabeth and the other characters in the novel are shown only to have gained.

Mr Bennet, I must say I am very disappointed in you, and that I like you much better as a movie character.

A bit annoyed,

Miss E

 

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Hey look, some references 😀

Chiu, Frances A. “From Nobodaddies to Noble Daddies: Writing Political and Paternal Authority in English Fiction of the 1780’s and 1790’s” Eighteenth- Century Life. Vol 26.2., Spring 2008. Print.

Morris, Ivor. “Elizabeth and Mr. Bennet.” Persuasions On-Line. 25:1 (Winter 2004). Web.

Tadmor, Naomi. Family and Friends in Eighteenth-Century England, Household, Kinship, and Patronage. Cambridge University Press, 2001. Print.

Trumbach, Randolph. The Rise of the Egalitarian Family, Aristocratic Kinship and Domestic Relations in Eighteenth-Century England. Academic Press, New York, 1978. Print.

Stone, Lawrence. The Family Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800. Harper & Row, New York, 1977. Print.

My Defense of Bridgett Jones

 

Generally, I consider myself a traditionalist in many ways, especially in relation to literature. I tend to stay fairly canonical a lot of the time, and my interests are primarily in the 19th century, so you know, that type of traditional. For example, although I do plan on reading and reviewing books like, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies for this blog, I don’t expect to like them.

 

I love Jane Austen, and, as you already know, I love Pride and Prejudice and its characters.  I feel like putting random un-dead elements into a story that has wooed readers successfully for around 200 years is just unnecessary and gratuitous.

However, in contrast with my traditionalist beliefs, I have developed what I now feel free to term an  undying love for the movie-adaptation-of-a-modern-book-adaptation- of-Pride and Prejudice,  Bridgett Jones Diary.

I have been sick this week, and watched that movie three times. Every single time, I found myself laughing with Bridgett during her missteps and triumphs, and oohing and aweing  when Mark Darcy (Colin Firth of course) comes over to make dinner with her.

I can see how some parts of the movie are problematic, but what isn’t problematic for those of us who analyze? I honestly and unabashedly love this movie, despite those problematic elements. I could probably watch it every day. It never gets old. Trust me, I definitely expected to stop enjoying it after the first 50 or so times I saw it, but it just keeps staying awesome.

I don’t know why I have been embarrassed to proclaim my love of this movie around my academic friends. Maybe it seems silly, or maybe I keep hearing that Wambats song with the lyrics “this is no, Bridgett Jones” when I think of it, or feel like maybe I’m supporting capitalism or heteronormativity when I watch it and root for Bridgett to get her dream man. I’d like to respond to this anxiety in two ways.

1). The critique I hear from a lot of people is that Bridgett is just an annoying character who perpetuates the stereotype of the woman who wants to marry. I may be totally prejudiced, but I don’t feel like those people really get it, kind of like I how people who say that Austen’s books are basically marriage plots and that’s it just don’t really get it.

I would argue that Bridgett is actually showing how many modern women actually feel, since we are still pressured to marry, as I have discussed before in previous posts.  Everybody wants love and companionship, so that’s not a new concept to work with, and it does seem like the Bridgett Jones filmmakers empathize with the stigma of the “single woman” in this movie. At one point, for example, Bridgett gets asked at a dinner party why there are so many unmarried women in their 30’s these days, and Bridgett, taken aback, responds with an uneasy joke first, then a jab at the high divorce rate in Great Britain. And of course, I love that Darcy stands up for her and backs up her critique of a smug faith in marriage.

2). Now, you may wonder how this representation of Pride and Prejudice is OK with my Pride and Prejudice purist beliefs. To me, Bridgett does not represent Elizabeth in a lot of ways, but I think her character is a clever play on the class difference between Elizabeth and Darcy.

Bridgett is obviously a bit “chav” as some English people would say. In other words, her family, although middle class, behaves without tact. What I find interesting about Bridgett is that she also behaves this way much of the time. What I really love about the movie is that dialogue about class in England, which although it looks very different currently from what it did back in the regency times, is still a topic of interest.

Her friendships also show her habits, her behavior, and her priorities to be totally different in many ways than Mark Darcy, something I think highlights the real class disparity between Darcy and Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice. In the film, Mark Darcy is a well-educated and kind of elitist lawyer.  Bridgett and her friends behave “irresponsibly,”  but believably, and definitely with a different set of priorities than Mark Darcy’s crowd.

Beyond the fun that occurs with this contrast, I also love Bridgett herself. I love how she just can’t help saying what’s on her mind, even though it’s probably embarrassing. Although Elizabeth had a quick tongue, it was more one of quick wit and biting sarcasm than of verbal incontinence and social awkwardness. However, they are both in earnest when they speak, something that I admire.

When Bridgett Jones speaks, she means what she is saying. She really feels strongly about it at the time, even if her opinion might change or be open to influence later. Although I love Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice possibly more than any other protagonista, I think that Bridgett is a very relatable spin off, and she is probably my favorite “leading lady” from a modern movie.

I think that  I love the character Bridgett Jones, not in spite of her differences from Elizabeth Bennet, but because of them.

I’m fine with them because Bridgett Jones is a fully actualized character of her own, and I am happy to see her figure things out through what seems to be a pretty painful process (even though it gives the viewer a sense of comic relief).

Like Elizabeth she has character development, and although she is at times silly, as is her movie genre (romantic comedy) in general, sometimes that is exactly what I’m looking for in life.

In other words, I may not quite be ready for Zombies in Pride and Prejudice, but I am totally accepting of this dash of Pride and Prejudice, or nod to it, in a modern interpretation.

Have to go now- I have a movie to watch.

Miss E

Why Does Austen’s World Appeal So Much to Modern Ladies?


Because not that much has changed in terms of gender expectations and role fulfillment. Gender dynamics are largely the same it seems, even though women are now able to own property and have the right to vote.

We tend to think of Jane Austen’s time period, around the late 18th and early nineteenth century, as charmingly antiquated. Despite the changes that have occurred since the 18th century, it seems culturally significant that Austin’s male protagonist has regained popularity in recent years.

A friend recently told me that her little nephew asked her if she was in college. When she told him that she had already graduated years before, he said “Oh my gosh! We need to get you a husband! You should join an internet dating site!”

I other words, a person as young as 9 years old was concerned that a woman of my friend’s age was unmarried.

This issue is also discussed in all Austen novels. The social need for marriage is pressed upon the female characters, and they are forced to weigh their own desire against the desires of the world. The reason many of Austen’s novels are considered “happy endings” is because we are excited that the protagonists’ desire won despite the pressures bearing against them.

In the 1850’s, a man by the name of William Rathbone Greg wrote an essay titled “why are women redundant?” It was thought that there were too many single women of a certain age in England at the time, and this evoked anxiety in a heteronormative, marriage-driven society. Greg’s attempt to solve the problem was to come up with a plan to ship all of the “quite abnormal” number of unmarried females overseas to the Americas so that they could fulfill their proper gender role and marry. Women were seen to be a problem to be dealt with- if they did not marry, the entire social structure might have crumbled, according to Greg and probably Mrs. Bennet from Pride and Prejudice.

These fears of staying single were grounded in harsh reality for the women in Austen’s time. In Persuasion, this fear of the unmarried woman, or “superfluous woman” is discussed in detail. Anne Eliot, the protagonist of the novel, is 27 when the book opens. She is seen as a problem, a liability, as one who has passed her peak time for being auctioned off to the highest bidder in the marriage arena. She is plain and “old,” two things that damage her chance of fulfilling her gender role.

In today’s world, there are plenty of unmarried women. But oftentimes, they are still seen as a “problem.” I mean, how much has really changed since 1851? Do we not still live in a heteronormative, marriage and babies driven society? Most women I know, even the independent and educated ones, still feel pressure from family and friends to “settle down,” and many wish to marry for various reasons. I currently work with a 21 year old who is being pressured by her family to marry as soon as she can. She often talks about how worried she is that it won’t work with her current boyfriend both because she likes him and also because she’s “running out of time.”  Time for what, exactly?

I often here snippets of conversations that sound like the Eliots from Persuasion. People judging women on their age, and how much time they have left to fulfill what they were apparently purposed to do, how shabby they look, how they will never “find a man,” etc. Unfortunately, I am 26, and all these people talking about running out of time are, quite frankly, freaking me out.

This is becoming more true now because I am feeling more and more inclined to become a redundant woman and do whatever I want without obligation to a partner or children. If that’s how I end up living my life, I can think of at least 30 or 40 acquaintances off the top of my head who would feel uncomfortable having me around.  As a single woman of a “certain age,” I am still a liability. Perhaps not as much as in the time Jane Austen was writing, or even William Greg, but still, a liability nonetheless.

In Jane Austen’s world, at least to contemporary viewers, there seem to be certain rules that guarantee a chance at a proposal. If you were of a certain age, and a man called on you, or danced more than a few dances with you, it is significant in terms of the likelihood of proposal.

For the multitudes of heterosexual women who are trying not to be superfluous or redundant, who are dating men and looking for “Mr. Right” or “Mr. Future Husband” in every man they meet and constantly failing to find him, the predictability of 18th and early 19th century courtship can be very appealing.

I am not implying that all women feel this pressure to avoid living what Greg terms an “incomplete existence” and therefore are attracted to the courtship in Austen’s world. Do I think it could be a factor in some of the more recent popularity? Yes. Do I think it is important to study both Jane Austen and the potential cultural undercurrents that make her work extraordinarily popular right now? Yep.

Yours redundantly,

Miss E