Several Alert Janeites sent us a link from Salon about the Jane Austen Fight Club video (which has really blown up HUGE) and JA mashups in general. The article was fine, and then the author had to go and drag out that tired old blah blah bonnets blah tea blah dressing up blah crazy cat ladies blah de blah.
Granted, we have a Jane Austen problem. Austen, like Jesus, is most misunderstood and misrepresented by those who claim to love her best. Somehow, a writer regarded by previous generations as among the greatest novelists of all time, widely read by both men and women, has lately been cast in the role of the grandmother of chick lit. Nostalgic fetishists of tea sets, balls, empire-waist gowns and Colin Firth choose to see the milieu of Austen’s novels as a theme park for genteel romance instead of as the unforgiving shark pond it actually was.
So let us get this straight: putting on an Empire-style gown precludes one from “truly understanding” Jane Austen? So what is the appropriate outfit, then? A tweed suit? Jeans and a flannel shirt and Birkenstocks? (We have two-thirds of that outfit already, so we’re hoping for that one.) What are the rules? For this statement implies that there are some rules. To be admitted to the Truly Understands Jane Austen Club, one is not allowed to wear a high-waisted frock or admire a certain British actor? Is it okay to fetishize Matthew Macfadyen, then, or David Rintoul, but not Colin Firth? Really, we just want to know, because we certainly don’t want to break the rules.
We are really weary of the perception that one cannot have fun with our fanship of Jane Austen without being perceived as lightweight or as not understanding her properly. Our notion of fun might be different from someone else’s idea of fun, but it doesn’t shut off some vital portion of the brain that is necessary to understanding Jane Austen. Really, we “get her;” we get her to the extent that we understand she would have wanted us to enjoy her novels first of all.