Alert AustenBlog Reader Lorraine wrote to tell us about an article in the Chronicle Review by Deborah Kaplan about non-academic Janeites’ enjoyment of Jane Austen compared to the scholars. (Is it just us, or is this a theme around here this week?) Professor Kaplan reviews three books of essays not about Jane Austen’s work but about those of us who consume them in all their forms–text, reimagined text (such as Bridget Jones) and films.
The Austen boom has occasioned much commentary, but the significant impact that it has had on scholarship about the novelist has received little notice. Beginning about 10 years ago, academic critics have been in demand as cultural commentators on the Austen craze, asked by journalists to explain the novelist’s new appeal (“Why now?”). After screenings of Persuasion and Mansfield Park, I made presentations to two film-club audiences in my hometown, both of which were 10 times larger than most of the groups to whom I had ever delivered papers at scholarly conferences. Academics around the country were having similar encounters with large numbers of Austen admirers. Affected by them or by the film and novel adaptations themselves, and supported by the growing field of cultural studies, their views of Austen and her novels began to change.
It didn’t happen all at once or to everyone, as the scholarship itself shows. The essay has so far been the dominant form for critical analyses of Austenmania. Although many were first published individually in diverse periodicals including Literature/Film Quarterly and Persuasions, the journal of the Jane Austen Society of North America, edited volumes of essays began to consolidate the new work in 1998 when Linda Troost and Sayre Greenfield published Jane Austen in Hollywood.
One part that we particularly enjoyed was Professor Kaplan’s suggestion that the online debates about Jane Austen are as important as the scholarly debates:
Many scholars are now alluding to Austen Web sites, especially “The Republic of Pemberley,” as well as to various online conversations about the novelist, but we could learn a good deal more about the reception of her novels with sustained explorations of the numerous responses that have been collecting in cyberspace (“I’d rather be blogging Jane Austen.”).
Well, who wouldn’t?
Thanks for the heads-up, Lorraine!