…in a civilized sort of way.
Readers, today I find myself in need of a good insult. To use, not to receive. And not to use out loud, of course—moi? More like to bandy about in my head as I alternately fume in my car and worry about an impending (though mercifully brief) conflict with a difficult person. In this situation, I suspect two things: first, that Jane has provided us all with a wealth of subtly cutting remarks sprinkled throughout her canon, and second, that you folks are imminently qualified to point them all out to me.
So, Austenites (can I call you Austenaciousites?), tell me: what’s your favorite Jane-ian insult, and who delivers it?
Let’s hear it, you lily-livered bits of leftover scone!
(See? This is why I need your help.)
So, why do women like the world of Jane Austen?
Is it because, having both boobs and X-chromosomes (two of each, generally), we just can’t get enough of the “structured undergarment eaten by ruffles” look? Maybe it’s to do with the steady diet of finger cakes—mmm, nutritious!—and pianoforte music! Surely we’d rather spend the day embroidering in poorly lit rooms than work hard at careers we love, and obviously, we live to obsess over the socio-romantic dynamics of our neighborhoods—or we would, if Jane didn’t use such gosh-darned big words! Golly!
You’ve shown me, good sir, that “the ideals of civilized and refined living these stories represent” must be what keeps me coming back for more of Austen’s work. Do you think I could grow up to live in a world where women can dance, draw, sing, play now-obsolete musical instruments, and spend their energy worrying about the fact of their own financial dependence? Do you really think so?
I always thought women loved Jane Austen because she tells the truth about the human experience. I thought women loved Jane Austen because her characters are timeless. I thought women loved Jane Austen because she offers insight into what it means to love and be loved, as a lover or as a friend or as a sister or as a member of the community at large. I thought women loved Jane Austen because her novels are funny and poignant and deceptive in their simplicity.
I thought men loved Jane Austen, too.
Guess I was wrong.
Okay, not really. More like: Jane Austen hates other people on Twitter.
At its best—i.e., in her own hands—Twitter sounds like Jane’s kind of thing, the kind of program that might have suited her style and benefited her business: bits of wit delivered to a mass audience, “editors” and “publishers” and all others unaware of her genius be damned. After all, we’d have followed her: wry humor, subtle sarcasm, and bits of local gossip? Sign us up!
It’s all those other Twitterers (Tweeters?) who cause the trouble. Some people really shouldn’t be tweeting in the first place; one look at any of Austen’s novels indicates that, had the technology of the time caught up with the human instinct to share mundane life details 140 characters at a time, she would have picked the over-sharers out of the crowd without a second thought. Just think: Mrs. Bennet with an iPhone (“Waiting 4 hunky rich neighbor to show, can smell the $ now!”). Mr. Collins discovering Twitterific (“Wife encourages me to garden AGAIN, guess she likes the outdoorsy type!”). Even Catherine Morland might not, engaging heroine or no, have been the world’s most fulfilling Twitter correspondent (“Twilight OMG!!1!”). As it is, Jane had an ear for—by which I mean “mocked mercilessly and with great glee”—the indiscreet and the overly familiar; imagine how much worse things would have been for her with 24/7 wifi and a pop-up qwerty keyboard.
In terms of her work, constant microblogging would certainly muck up Jane’s stories. Not sure if one Mr. Wickham is a catch or a cad? “Let’s check his Twitter for skeevy drunk-tweets” may save poor Lydia a heap of trouble, but it ends Pride and Prejudice far too quickly, and then how will Mr. Darcy prove his boundless kindness, discretion, and general uprightness of character? Even if Wickham and Lydia—just to use an example, of course—were able to spirit off into the English night, there’s not much point in sending out the search party if we know exactly where they were and what they were doing at 10:17 and again at 10:24 and again at 10:27. (Indiscreet and over-familiar: your poster children have arrived.) No, far too much is lost in the land of Austen when characters are too easy to find and too eager to tell us what’s up.
So, Twitter: Jane Austen hates you. Not so much from some place of anti-tech “get off my lawn!”-itis as from knowing people—like, humanity—too well and from liking to tell stories where information is sometimes withheld for whole chapters at a time (WHAT?). Good thing she’s got that nice, loopy penmanship to fall back on, no?
OMG, really? What’s with this fad of mashing up literature and disaster/monster porn?
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies got a ton of publicity, but, let’s just say it: it wasn’t very good. There was lots of obvious guy humor about balls (and how could they miss the intercourse jokes, if they’re going that route?) and only one scene that really spoke to our hearts: Lizzie kicking ass as a ninja. This, I can understand. We of the female persuasion all want to be Elizabeth Bennet, so they say, and who doesn’t feel a girl-power thrill at some Buffy-style action? But it was clear the author didn’t have any love for or understanding of the original book. It could have been any old book with a slightly prim reputation, and that’s where things go off the rails: if ”time for tea” vs. ”braiiiiiiins!” is your only joke, then 320 pages are going to seem really, really long. After a few battles with the undead, well, what’s the point?
Now there’s Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, wherein the Dashwood sisters move to an island and, apparently, fight off the evils of the deep. WTF? For one thing, if this had to be done, why not Persuasion, which already takes place (partially) near the sea? Could Captain Wentworth not have taken on the kraken? If, that is, it had to be done at all.
You know why it had to be done: it’s because zombies and monster/disaster porn are really, really popular right now. And it must be funny, right?, to contrast it with that very feminine and oh-so-coincidentally popular franchise of Jane Austen. And I think a lot of Austen fans are, like, “Hey, it’s Jane Austen and it’s popular! Go you!” But we deserve better. I mean, it’s all so obvious. And Miss Austen, boys and girls, did not dig obvious.
She had no problem with monsters in their place, being very fond of gothic novels, especially The Castle of Otranto, I think—in Northanger Abbey (and Pride and Prejudice) she ridicules people for saying they “don’t read novels,” which was evidently the “I only watch PBS” of the day. But she was very definite that monsters didn’t belong in her place – had no part in the reality she was trying to portray in her books.
I see the appeal, I really do. For example, right now I’m imagining Captain Wentworth and the intrepid Anne in a fight to the death with the aforementioned kraken. But mash-ups only work if you’re creating something new, bringing deeper humor or insight to Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, zombies, and sea monsters. And, call me crazy if you like, but I find it hard to imagine anyone bringing deeper humor or insight to Pride and Prejudice than is already there. Zombies, who knows?