Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Secret Austen

Let's admit it: Jane Austen has permeated our culture in a way that no other author has.  Okay, so we have Dickens's A Christmas Carol floating around every Christmas.  And Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre is a big favorite.  And Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights has a fanbase (though I can never figure out why--why?!).  But, love her or hate her (I, for one, simply adore her), Jane Austen can--and will--slink onto your bookshelf, your TV screen, your local movie theatre somehow, even though she's long, long gone.  So what that she was born 236 (and six days) ago?  She's still totally modern!  And she somehow keeps popping up in twentieth and twenty-first century pop culture (without containing the words "pride", "prejudice", "sense", "sensibility", "mansfield", "northanger", "emma", or "persuasion").  If you're a Janeite itching for something that doesn't involve empire-waist dresses and with fewer cravats, this Janeite recommends you check out some updated, but heavily Austen influenced, books and movies:

1. You've Got Mail (1996 film): Written by Nora and Delia Ephron (the former of whom is going to turn Lost in Austen into a film--woohoo!  And the former is a YA author, so basically they both win awesome points by me), this has got to be one of my favorite movies ever.  Okay, so, on the surface, this film about really, really old technology and AOL chatting in its most primitive days really doesn't seem like the most Austen-influence thing ever.  The heavy influences and allusions to Pride and Prejudice are simply staggering.  Basically, replace GBP with bookstores and throw in an ancient Internet system, put Meg Ryan in Elizabeth Bennet's place and Tom Hanks in Mr Darcy's, and thus results You've Got Mail.  (Also: watching Hanks chuck a copy of a Firth/Ehle edition of P&P across a table in favor of some booze is just freaking hilarious.)

2. The Lake House (2006 film): Time-travel and a funky boxy-ish--no, this is not Doctor Who.  Calm down, Whovians.  I'm talking about the last time Reeves/Bullock worked together on a movie, and it wasn't on Speed.  Okay, so I'm including this on the list because, uh, a really old copy of Persuasion is almost waved across the screen to tell the audience, "THIS IS ONE OF OUR INFLUENCES AND AUSTEN IS AMAZING."  In this very underrated flick, Keanu Reeves is more or less the Wentworth counterpart (and instead of one amazing letter at the end, it's a series of a lot of shorter ones) and Sandra Bullock is, I suppose, Anne Elliot.  As if the writer of this movie couldn't scream Austen enough, they even had Bullock read out of Persuasion: "There could have been no two hearts so open, no tastes so similar, no feelings so in unison, no countenances so beloved." Heart!

3. I Capture the Castle (1948 novel, 2003 film): If you thought Dodie Smith was always preoccupied with spotty dalmatians, you're wrong--in fact, she's quite the Janeite!  I Capture the Castle is simply speckled with Austen references--at the very start of the novel, one character asks the protagonist about living in an Austen or a Bronte novel kind of life: "Which would be nicest--Jane with a touch of Charlotte, or Charlotte with a touch of Jane?"  (If you're not squeeing already, read the book and I dare you not to squee during the whole of it.)  Frankly, I haven't seen the film and can't be much of a judge whether it is accurate or even any good at all (though it seems to have low reviews--however, Romola Garai stars in it!  Of course, that merit doesn't necessarily make it any good--Angel was a disaster and had her as the star...but that's another rant-y tangent).

 4. Harry Potter: Did you know that along with C.S. Lewis, Jane Austen is J.K. Rowling's favorite author?  In fact, she once spoke of her favorite Austen novel, Emma, that "I have never set up a surprise ending in a Harry Potter book without knowing I can never, and will never, do it anywhere near as well as Austen did in Emma."  And Argus Filch's beloved cat, Mrs. Norris, is named after none other than Mansfield Park's annoying aunt, Mrs. Norris.

5. Rudyard Kipling: Okay, okay--so I cheated here.  Rudyard Kipling is not a book or a movie, but a person--aka "the dude who wrote The Jungle Book".  So Baloo dancing to and singing "Bare Necessities" frankly has nothing to do with Marianne Dashwood weeping "Willoughby, Willoughby!" whilst longingly watching Combe Magna, but the creator of the former character was a huge fan of the creator of the latter character.  When I say huge, I mean huge--to the extent that the guy is the one who popularized the term "Janeites", the word Austen-maniacs (like yours truly) call themselves, through a story about a bunch of veterans (dudes, obviously) who are really big Austen fans (to be honest, I haven't read it...yet; and apparently another famous Austen fan, C.S. Lewis, actually blasted the story--but that's another tangent I won't get into) and even wrote a lovely--and perhaps even tear-inducing--poem entitled "Jane's Marriage" (yes, that Jane).  I could really write a whole 'nother post about Austen's other big author fans, but Kipling is probably the most prominent (as in most influential) of them all.

Sneaky Miss Austen!  She just turns up everywhere in culture--where else have you folks seen her (that is, in places not directly related to her works)?

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