Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Teaching Jane

I’m so glad to find this article, as it shows how ‘Becoming Jane’ is accepted at scholarly level, though not by all scholars, of course. Kudos to Prof. Miriam Wallace of the New College Florida for the new ‘Becoming Jane’ class, and to Jessica of Brandeton for the article. Though… ehm, Jane Austen was not a Victorian authoress…

Jane Austen's timeless sensibility Popular culture finds Victorian author's life gold mine of fantasy

By Jessica Klipa,

It is a truth universally acknowledged that women, old or young, wed or unwed, are in want of the ideal romance.

Though an obvious revision of the opening lines to Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice," it's precisely the reason she has become all the rave in modern popular culture.

Enchanted by English culture during Austen's era and captivated by witty characters like Elizabeth Bennet, her fans around the world know no limits when it comes to immersing themselves in her work through all forms of media: blogs, books and movies.

Interest is stirring anew with the Oct. 5 release of a new movie, "The Jane Austen Book Club," based on a book by Karen Joy Fowler.

The movie centers on a group of men and women who meet to discuss Austen's works and begin believing their love lives resemble the plots in novels.

Given Austen's enduring popularity, New College professor Miriam Wallace decided to teach a class titled "Becoming Jane."

Though portrayed as sexy and attractive in modern films, Austen was known to have had only two men show interest in her, neither of whom she married, Wallace said.

"It's not enough for her to be a great writer. She has to be one of her romantic heroines. I don't think she was," she said.

Theaters showing films of her works in the past 10 years seem to have merely whet her fans' appetites for more of the same romantic fantasies.

In "Becoming Jane," starring Anne Hathaway, Austen was a portrayed as a young woman who experienced a passionate romance, yet went on to accomplish her dream of becoming an author.

Austen died in 1817 at age 41. Readers and fans tend to be emotionally drawn to an elegant, simple life from that time period.

"What we need from Jane Austen is a picture where the world is smaller and the rules of courtship are clearer," Wallace said.

But life then for women in England was actually more restrictive.

As a literary critic, Wallace said she takes joy in bringing everyone back to reality of a women's position in that time period.

New College student Sarah Southwick began reading Austen's novels in middle school and enjoyed watching "Becoming Jane," which she thought was "heart wrenching."

Southwick, though, said she believes the movie erroneously depicted heartbreak as the reason Austen wrote "Pride and Prejudice."

"I feel like anytime something gets converted into pop culture, it gets oversimplified a little bit, which I think is why this class is important and why I enjoy taking it," she said.

Student Madison Sharko said she believes even more interest in Austen's life and work is likely, but she said fans who do things like dress up in mobcaps the night of the premiere take it a little too far. It's likely that Austen herself would have a witty comment to add.

"It's not Harry Potter," she said. "It's Jane Austen."

Fans of Austen's work have risen to a new level of creativity in immersing themselves in her characters.

Aside from published spin-offs from Austen's work, including "Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife: Pride & Prejudice Continues," "Mr. Darcy' s Diary" or "Lost in Austen: Create Your Own Jane Austen Adventure," books on how to set up a dinner party or dress in English attire also are available.

Jody Mailer, the only male in the New College class, offers a fresh perspective simply because it's the first time he has read a novel by Austen.

So far, he hasn't determined what makes her work so popular, but he said he does believe that it can be enjoyed by either gender.

"Regardless of whether you are male or female, you can relate as a modern reader to her sarcastic wit," he said.

Jessica Klipa, Herald reporter, can be reached at 708-7906.

Pic 1: from UCSB website

Pic 2: Miriam Wallace, from the NCF website

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