Why DOES Jane have to look good, anyway?


Michael Gove points out in The Times that Jane Austen doesn’t really HAVE to look good to sell books.

Jane Austen has never been hotter. ITV, our most populist terrestrial channel, is giving up its peak Sunday-evening slots to adaptations of her novels. Anne Hathaway stars as Austen, alongside Maggie Smith, in the big-budget Hollywood biopic Becoming Jane, while Pride and Prejudice is to be remade as a time-travel saga. And the novels themselves are shifting more quickly than you can say Bridget Jones.

Yet despite all this, publishers have still felt the need to give Jane a heat magazine-style makeover. The traditional portrait of Austen on the cover of her novels has been retouched to remove her lace nightcap, enhance her cheeks with some beauty-salon rouging and, to complete the Beckhamisation, hair extensions have been added.

Why, you have to ask, is this sort of treatment necessary? Haven’t the publishers asked themselves why Austen’s novels are so popular at the moment?

The controlled irony, precise social observation and acuity of Austen’s writing offers us a refuge from the moronic inferno of modern trash culture.

Haven’t seen the new movies yet, have you? Ooops.

There is, of course, a great irony in all this and one that Austen would instantly recognise. The whole of her literary output constitutes an extensive, nuanced yet repeated warning against judging by appearances.

For the win!