Friday, February 15, 2013

Is Jane Austen Overhyped?

Portrait of Jane Austen, 1873.

Evaluating her literary merit amid the anniversary reverence.

Portrait of Jane Austen, 1873 Courtesy of University of Texas/Wikimedia Commons

Enough! Please! We get it. I’ve written it myself several times. Jane Austen is a serious—and seriously great—figure of seriously great literature. Don’t diminish her work by calling it chick lit! Did I mention she’s a very, very, serious (but brilliantly comic and satiric) author?
But it’s begun to seem like she’s now assumed the role of the designated highbrow writer for light readers. It’s not that she’s overrated. It’s that she’s in dire jeopardy of being overhyped—and dumbed down in the process.
I know that sounds elitist, and I hasten to assert that my admiration for her fiction is deep, sincere, undiminished. But I’ve begun to feel—in the midst of the tsunami of schlocky, rapturous, over-the-top, wall-to-wall multiplatform celebration of the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice—that it’s all a bit too much. Something quiet and true about Austen is being lost in the trumpet blasts and the spin-offs.
Did you see the story in the Wall Street Journal recently? Cleverly titled “Austen Power,” it highlighted some cringe-making, Austen-derived phenomena linked to the Pride and Prejudice bicentennial:
—EROTICA: Linda Berdoll’s sequel to Pride & Prejudice would make Jane Austen blush.
—WEB: On YouTube’s ‘Lizzie Bennet Diaries’ the characters have Facebook and Twitter feeds,
—TV: On the fantasy show “Lost in Austen” a fan swaps places with Elizabeth Bennet.
—FILM: “Austenland” just sold at Sundance, follows an Austen fan who falls in love at a theme park.
And finally, I guess inevitably: Pride and Prejudice and Kitties. “For those who like their Regency romances with funny pictures of cats.” (This is not my joke. Alas.)

Full article at Slate

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