It doesn’t seem wise or mentally economical to shine any extra light on this nonsense, except to say, suuuuuure. You just keep thinking your big manly thoughts with your big manly brain, and we’ll just sit over here with our narrow, sentimental view of the world and eat ice cream from the carton and swoon over how smart you are. Because there’s nothing we women love more than condescension; also, I hope some sentimental lady somewhere takes the opportunity to kick you in a place that I’ve recently heard called “soft and uncomfortable.” That should show you a narrow view of the world.
Ooh, readers, pressing question alert! The press at large—or at least the publicity machine for one (Mr.) AR Grundy, which is surely the same thing, right?—poses a stunning (…or something) dilemma to the world: Could the new Jane Austen be a man? Inquiring minds want—nay, demand!—to know!
Now. First of all, to paraphrase one Dana Scully, please explain to me the scientific nature of “the new Jane Austen.”
The new Jane Austen is…well, a novelist, one hopes. A novelist, perhaps, whose work concerns the social and emotional relationships of families? Families and small towns? Love and betrayal? Friendship? Death and taxes? Marriage and all its predecessors? Or, as one might call it, life?
Does the new Jane Austen use characters? Well-drawn ones, with flaws and favorites and intentions, both good and ill?
Does the new Jane Austen sprinkle his or her prose with sharp, appealing little moments of wit? What about truth? Is there truth in there, either emotional or spiritual or social, hidden among the plot and the characters and everything else that we’ve already established as part of the new Jane Austen’s milieu?
If so, it sure is a good thing this new Jane Austen’s coming up through the ranks—because surely, after two hundred years of international literary history, the only possible choices are the original Jane and this guy.
With all due respect: Yes, it is. If it’s a faithful adaptation of Emma, it’s primarily from the female perspective. It’s about a woman who mostly sticks her nose into other women’s lives. Those women respond, or don’t. Women! Women everywhere! Definitely lady-centric.
Listen. I get it. I know that men don’t generally go to “women’s” movies, though nobody seems to mind taking my lady-dollars when I go see Vin Diesel do his thing. I know that, from a marketing perspective, you and your studio might prefer to step away from the looming Chick Flick label—after all, it’s not like “chicks” have any money, or like to spend time at the theater, or eat concessions, or bring their friends (who, remember, also have no money) along.
But denying the prevalence of women in your film isn’t helping. It’s one thing to emphasize the ways in which Aisha, or Emma, might appeal universally—to say that women aren’t the only ones who find themselves wrong, and that women aren’t the only ones who fall in love, and that the experiences of a fictional woman might still be of interest to those who aren’t women, just as the experiences of a fictional men can certainly be of interest to those who aren’t men. But to say “this movie isn’t about women, so you should come and see it” plays into the exact logical loophole you’re trying to avoid. I think what you want to say is, “This movie is about a woman, and it has characters and a plot, just like man movies!” Or, “This movie is about a woman, but you don’t have to show your Girl Card at the door!” Or maybe just, “This movie is about a woman. Come on in.”
We Austenites can be a boy-crazy bunch.
We make much of Mr. Darcy diving into a pond in a puffy shirt (which isn’t even in the book!). We divide into camps over, say, Knightley and Wentworth, and then further into sub-camps over Jonny Lee Miller and Jeremy Northam (or Colin Firth and Matthew McFadyen, or Ciaran Hinds and Rupert Penry-Jones). We admire the mutton chops and the fancy dance moves of Austen heroes from Sense and Sensibility all the way up to Persuasion. We objectify the pants off those fictional characters—see what I did there?—and have a fantastic time doing it.
And we’re missing half the story.
In Friday’s Telegraph, “novelist and ladies’ man” (heh) Jay McInerney gave us the other side of the coin: the male perspective on the ladies of Austen. Spoiler alert: It seems the menfolk can’t get enough of the fine eyes and dirty hems of Elizabeth Bennet any more than Darcy could; McInerney also reveals things for Emma Woodhouse and, with a charming note of self-consciousness, Fanny Price.
We don’t get a lot of this perspective around these parts; being primarily female and straight, the Austen community in general tends to spend way more time on what’s underneath Darcy’s breeches than what might be going on with those boobalicious Regency gowns.
McInerney goes on to claim some degree of depth in his Austen attachments—he really does love them for their minds, he says, both as characters and as representations of Jane herself. But what if he didn’t? What if this guy fixated—with an unusual sense of publicity and and odd sort of camaraderie—on the rain-drenched Marianne Dashwood, or on Jane Bennet’s mid-storm arrival at Netherfield? What if he sat around writing fan fiction about Lydia and either Wickham or, because it’s fanfic and he can, Mr. Collins or Charlotte Lucas or (crossover alert!) Hermione Granger or Sirius Black? Or all of the above? Would we react to him differently, and to his way of experiencing the Austen universe? How would we approach him as a man and as an admirer and/or objectifier of the women of Austen?
Readers, what do you think? (And while we’re at it, who’s your biggest Austen crush—of either gender?)