Jane Austen? The best author of all time? Really?
Don’t worry, our favorite Regency authoress is as timeless as they come—she’s just a little misunderstood.
You might know Jane Austen as the romance novelist who invented Mr. Darcy. And yet, she wrote a blistering satire that still resonates with audiences today. Why else do we have so many modern adaptations?
To say someone is “just” a romance writer is to dismiss a widely popular and successful genre that has existed since before the Middle Ages.
If the measure of a “good” book is one universally enjoyed, look no further than Pride and Prejudice. Collin Firth’s wet shirt is legendary, even if you’ve never cracked the cover.
Millions of historical fiction, romance novels, bodice rippers, and epistolary novels borrow from Austen’s themes, plots, and character traits from her Regency-style novels. Georgette Heyer, an immensely popular author of the 1940s and 50s, sparked a trend that continues to this day.
Every year we get a new miniseries, an indie flick, or a full-length movie that in some way references, re-adapts, or re-uses Austen’s work.
Whether it’s a six-hour BBC adaptation or the YouTube Lizzie Bennet Diaries, Jane’s characters have been loved by millions of people in various formats.
Then, there are the spin-offs. From Clueless to Austenland, there is no limit to how you can re-purpose Jane’s work. My personal favorite is Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Jane would have loved it.
That doesn’t even include the dozens of festivals, cosplay groups, and fan meetups that let Jane’s readers dress like her, act like her, and live like her, even if just for a day. And then there’s the fanfiction: millions of words have been written by fans as they participate in her genre in their own creative way.
Also, there are countless games that allow us to enter Jane’s world; for instance, the board game “Marrying Mr. Darcy” which shows us just how much we want to be a part of it. I once spent over two hours playing an internet game that allows players to participate in “I Spy” in Jane’s drawing-room, parlor, and garden.
Perhaps by now, you’re arguing that Austen was a woman’s writer, so her work is irrelevant to almost half the world’s population. However, you don’t have to be a woman to appreciate the subtle, clever, and biting critiques of human nature in her books. Although her main characters happened to be women, her books portray both men and women as dynamic and flawed individuals searching for happiness. Who doesn’t want that?
You also don't have to be a woman to relate to the struggles of class, race, and identity cleverly hidden in her plots.
Even though some of her satire is lost on modern audiences, it applies easily to a variety of issues we face today. Jane focused on the daily interactions of ordinary people from a variety of social classes. Her characters hailed from all walks of life, and the “winners” and “losers” in her stories demonstrate a subtly layered critique of a social system that still exists today.
While many fans read her for the happy ending, her works are ultimately subtle, witty, and absolutely scathing social critiques that we continue to replicate, duplicate, and imitate in every possible way. Jane Austen preaches universally acknowledged truths through story form.
If Austen were “just” a women’s writer of romance, wouldn’t she have passed into obscurity, like her idol Mrs. Radcliffe? Instead, not only does she live on through her words, but her very essence radiates and inspires new, hungry readers every day. I think she’s here to stay.
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About The Blogger
Sarah Beach is a writer, editor, and researcher with an intense need for herbal tea. She writes about a variety of subjects, including social media, mental health, memes, and holistic wellness. Sarah is a graduate student in the field of Communication Studies and teaches rhetoric. She is also a registered Reiki practitioner and enthusiastic ukulele player. When she’s not writing, you can find her wandering aimlessly outdoors or watching period dramas.
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