This year we commemorate Jane Austen’s death. We certainly do not celebrate it. We feel a sense of unfairness about it, not only for our selfish sake–for being cheated out of, based on the lifespan of her parents and most of her siblings, thirty or forty years’ worth of Jane Austen novels–but naturally for Jane’s own sake. She died just before she would have reached real success–the success enjoyed by her contemporaries such as Burney, Radcliffe, and Edgeworth, all of whom she has utterly eclipsed in the intervening centuries. It is just horribly unfair. Jane gave the world such joy and never really had the opportunity to enjoy real fruits from her labor (by which we mean money. From what we can tell, Austen was never big on the whole adulation thing).
We also have great affection for time-travel stories, but within certain parameters. The method of time travel must make some kind of logical sense, and those who travel must acknowledge the butterfly effect: that even a small action in the past can change the future. Our favorite time travel novel is Time and Again by Jack Finney, which fulfills both requirements.
Thus we were naturally excited to hear about The Jane Austen Project, which not only used our beloved time-travel trope, but also included Jane Austen. Because what Janeite wouldn’t want to meet Jane Austen? That being said, this delightful premise could go horribly wrong, too; though in the able hands of Kathleen A. Flynn, we have nothing to fear. The Jane Austen Project fulfills the Editrix’s requirements: the method of time travel is not minutely described, but has rules and follows them, and isn’t completely silly; and the possibility of changing history is an important consideration to the plot.
By Jeff Kubina (Maryland Renaissance Festival) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
A couple of weeks ago we were having lunch, and had brought the book we were reading, Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld. A co-worker joined us, and asked what we were reading.
Editrix: It’s a modern-set retelling of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
Co-worker: Pride and Prejudice…which one is that?
Editrix, at a bit of a loss, not knowing how well she knew the novel: Er, well, it’s about Elizabeth, and Mr. Darcy, and, er, he’s proud, and she’s prejudiced…
Co-worker: Keira Knightley or Gwyneth Paltrow?
Editrix: Oh. Keira.
It’s good to get out of the Janeite bubble sometimes. Things become so simple.
P.S. Hey Internet! What’s up?
This interview is part of the Love & Friendship Janeite Blog Tour celebrating the release of the novelization of the film Love & Friendship, itself an adaptation of Jane Austen’s novella Lady Susan. We conducted it in the spirit of the novel (check out the link to Austenprose above for more information about it) and Mr. Stillman was kind enough to play along.
We have read Mr. (or should it be Signor?) Martin-Colonna’s little effort in refuting what he considers libelous untruths about Lady Susan Vernon. Firstly, we feel that we must register a protest in defense of the Divine Goddess whom Mr. Martin-Colonna has been pleased to refer to as the Spinster Authoress, being a member of that race ourself. We Spinster Authoresses must not desert one another; we are an injured body.
Mr. Martin-Colonna being a man, he very possibly does not understand his privilege: Men have had every advantage of women in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. Thus, women have had a disadvantage from the beginning, and we think deserve some protection from such boldly offensive behavior as Mr. Martin-Colonna’s towards Miss Jane Austen.
Also it seems to us that the “Spinster Authoress” upon whom Mr. Martin-Colonna has heaped such scorn would have pointed out that he (that is, Mr. Martin-Colonna), like many men, at least when it comes to Lady Susan, tends to use a different organ for thinking than that which the Creator provided for the purpose. But perhaps we are speaking out of turn.
And now to the questions for Mr. Whit Stillman, whom we presume to be the editor of Mr. Martin-Colonna’s energetic defense of his aunt, Lady Susan.
An Initial Reply:
First, in the way of a preface, I have greatly enjoyed following my interlocutor on twitter and blog. [*blush* –Ed.] Those working on the film found especially helpful the wealth of research and insight on the websites devoted to Jane Austen and to the Georgian and Regency eras. Continue reading
Early in Joanna Trollope’s modern-set rewrite of Sense and Sensibility, Fanny Dashwood sweeps into Norland, which she is going to run as a commercial concern (a B&B), and tosses out the rumpled, genteel, shabby-chic furnishings, replacing them with shiny sleek modern decor.
And they say irony is dead.
When we first heard about what Harper is calling The Austen Project, we were intrigued by the idea, but had a difficult time figuring out what Harper was trying to accomplish. Continue reading
The publication of Jo Baker’s new novel Longbourn generated the same sort of excitement as the arrival of a single gentleman of good fortune. It has been described as being a cross between Pride and Prejudice and Downton Abbey. When we heard this premise, we were all admiration. What a brilliant idea! Two of the most wildly popular and well-known popular culture properties–now together! It might be the greatest idea since some genius combined chocolate and peanut butter. The Commercial Publishing Industrial Complex has predictably lost its mind over it; frankly, we are astonished that its publication did not rip open the fabric of the universe, creating a giant black hole that sucked us all into it.
While this soundbyte selling point makes it simple for publishers and booksellers, we think it has done the authoress a disservice. We think Ms. Baker was shooting for something less mercenary and more ambitious: the Wide Sargasso Sea of the Jane Austen oeuvre; by which we mean a paraliterature title that strives for literary achievement as well as, or perhaps even more than, popularity. We have long wondered why no one has written such a novel. Sadly, Longbourn did not work for us, either as ambitious literary fiction or as a P&P/Downton mashup. There is nothing of the elegance of Downton Abbey, and a Pride and Prejudice that we do not recognize. Continue reading
The rewritten, modern-set Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope is due out later this month, and other distinguished authors have been lined up to rewrite Jane Austen’s novels for modern consumption: Val McDermid for Northanger Abbey, Curtis Sittenfeld for Pride and Prejudice, and Alexander McCall Smith for Emma, with two more authors to be announced later this year for Mansfield Park and Persuasion. Harper is calling this six-book series the Austen Project.
Our own feelings about this project are decidedly mixed. We are pleased by the accomplished authors who have been asked to participate, but frankly there are some red flags here in our opinion, the first of which is the fact that they apparently aren’t even changing the names of the novels. That seems to us potentially confusing to readers at best and disrespectful of Jane Austen at worst.
And really, do they think this is something new? They can’t possibly be pretending not to know about the dozens and dozens of modern-set Austen rewrites, both by authors attempting to be literary and those simply seeking to entertain. It’s like those attention seekers who proclaim that I AM WRITING PRIDE AND PREJUDICE WITH TEH SEXYTIMES IN IT like no one’s ever done it before; and then they wonder why we swing the Cluebat. We truly hope we won’t have to with this project, but we’ve noticed that what Janeites want and expect and what the Commercial Publishing Complex delivers tend to be very different things. Compare and contrast, for instance, the reception of Death Comes to Pemberley by the Greater Public and the mainstream media (good) and the reception in the Janeite community (reviled).
That being said, we will give Ms. Trollope’s S&S retelling a try, and report back to our Gentle Readers. It doesn’t really matter whether or not these books are any good, either; we (meaning Janeiteville, and the reading public in general) will be inundated with hype over the books. Brace yourselves.
It took Amanda Grange a long time to reach the sixth of Austen’s heroes for her series of retellings (and took us an even longer time to write this review. We are a bad Editrix and we feel bad). We are pleased to report that it was been worth the wait. In Henry Tilney’s Diary, our favorite Austen hero gets his turn in the sun, and proves to be as delightful as we had hoped. Witty, intelligent, a loving son and brother, all of Mr. Tilney’s best assets (and they are legion) are shown to full advantage in this enjoyable retelling of Northanger Abbey, done with Ms. Grange’s usual scrupulous attention to the original and an extra dash of Tilneyish wit and style. And doesn’t that make everything better? Continue reading