Tuesday, February 9, 2010

It is a Truth Universally Acknowledged...

With Valentine's Day just around the corner I thought I'd devote a post to one of my favorite writers of romance: Jane Austen. Romance novelists and writers of romantic films owe a lot to Jane Austen.  In any love story where a girl and guy meet and loathe each other on sight only to fall in love later we are reminded of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. Without Jane Austen there would be no Bridget Jones, Clueless or a host of other novels and films.

I first encountered the works of Jane Austen when I had to read Sense and Sensibility for a class on 19th Century British Literature. I am ashamed to say that I did not finish the book (I was a terrible procrastinator in those days) but instead watched the movie. What really made me a fan of Jane Austen was the 1995 BBC miniseries of Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth. After watching that I became an instant fan and I read the other novels although it took me a few years to get through Emma and I didn't read Northanger Abbey until 2007.

My favorite love story from Jane Austen is not Pride and Prejudice although it is really enjoyable to read the interactions between Elizabeth and Darcy. For me, the most romantic story is that of Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth from Persuasion. Anne first meets Captain Wentworth when she is a teenager about eighteen or nineteen years old. She falls in love with him but when he proposes she is persuaded by a woman whose opinion she trusts to turn him down. Captain Wentworth at the time has no money and although he has career aspirations it is not enough for Anne's haughty family. Years later Anne is still single when she meets Wentworth again. He is now well-to-do and looking to settle down but Anne believes it is too late. Persuasion was the last novel that Jane Austen finished before she died and it was published after her death. I can't help but wonder if perhaps she was experiencing regret over any of the opportunities she had for love when she wrote the novel.

Of the heroes in Jane Austen's novels Mr. Darcy is by far the most popular and loved and a lot of women have literary crushes on the arrogant but smoldering character. There have been so many books written about Mr. Darcy from direct spinoffs to paranormal romances like Mr. Darcy, Vampyre by Amanda Grange.  Pride and Prejudice continues to be Jane Austen's most popular work and now there are some interesting variations:

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith, a zombie mashup novel

Pride and Prejudice (graphic novel marketed for YAs)

Pride and Prejudice (marketed for YAs with a Twilightesque cover)

While Jane Austen's works continue to be mashed together with zombies, horrible sea creatures, mummies, and werewolves, there are also some very fun modern adaptations and spin-offs of her novels. Some of my favorites include Austenland by Shannon Hale, Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler, The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler, and Me and Mr. Darcy by Alexandra Potter.

Austenland by Shannon Hale 

Austenland is about a young woman obsessed with Mr. Darcy who receives a trip to a special resort in England where guests dress and act like people living during the Regency era. While there, Jane has the opportunity for love if she doesn't let Mr. Darcy get in the way. This fantastic and funny novel based on Pride and Prejudice takes a look at the unhealthy expectations we sometimes place on romantic relationships.

Some YA novels inspired by Jane Austen:

Prada and Prejudice by Mandy Hubbard
A teen vacationing in London trips on her brand new Prada heels and falls, waking up in Regency England on the estate of a handsome young duke. This humorous novel is inspired by Pride and Prejudice.

   The Espressologist by Kristina Springer

Jane works in a coffeeshop and for fun she writes down character traits of people who tend to buy certain coffee drinks. After she successfully matches a couple based on their choice of drink, Jane's best friend Em asks Jane to find a match for her and Jane's career in "espressology" is born. Then Jane's boss decides to use espressology to boost sales and things get out of control including Jane's feelings for Cam, the boy she set up with Em. The Espressologist is a sweet novel inspired by Emma.

Miss Match by Erynn Mangum

Lauren believes that she is responsible for getting her sister together with her husband and she decides to use her matchmaking talents to find someone for her youth pastor. Unfortunately things don't go smoothly according to plan. Lauren also has the chance for romance herself.  This is a cute and funny novel based on Emma.

If you have never read a Jane Austen novel, now is the time to start! There is even a Jane Austen Reading Challenge hosted by Haley at The Life (and Lies) of an Inanimate Flying Object. If reading a Jane Austen novel sounds like too much, try one of the great film adaptations of her books. I recommend Pride and Prejudice with Keira Knightley and Matthew MacFadyen, Sense and Sensibility with Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet or the new version of Emma with Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller. For fun you could even try watching Bride and Prejudice, a Bollywood-inspired version of Pride and Prejudice set in India, or Lost in Austen about a young woman who finds herself sucked into the story of Pride and Prejudice.

Sadly the woman who penned some of the most memorable romantic stories of all time never married herself although it is rumored that she had more than one opportunity to do so. Had she married, it is likely that Jane Austen would not have been able to write those beloved novels that we enjoy reading.  So this Valentine's Day, raise a glass to Jane Austen who is in some ways the mother of the modern romance novel!

If you are a Jane Austen fan, which of her novels do you find the most romantic? If you could spend the day with any of her heroes, whom would you choose?


  1. Great post! I love Jane Austen - and Persuasion is my favorite as well! And of course I've watched the BBC P&P miniseries many, many times. Thanks for all the great info - I will definitely take a look at some of the spinoffs you mentioned!

  2. Yay for posting about Austen! Persuasion is my favorite book, too. I love it when I meet people who love P. over P&P. :-)

  3. Without a doubt, Elizabeth Bennet! Pride and Prejudice is just a wonderful book. But I also adore Persuasion. As to least favorite (not because it isn't a wonderful book, but because the heroine is just too aggravating sometimes) I would say Mansfield Park. Thanks for posting all this!


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