My fellow Austenites, you may have seen that there’s a new Jane Eyre movie out. I can’t honestly say I’ve seen the movie, though at least, unlike some reviewers, I’ve read the book. What I did see was this article from the Washington Post, which neatly pits the title “Jane Eyre Movies Rekindles Austen vs Bronte, the Battle of the Bonnets” against the plaintive cry of “can’t we all just get along?!” Way to play both sides against the middle, Monica Hesse!
It’s been noted that Ms. Hesse’s pacifistic tendencies sound a little ironic after 1 1/2 pages of warmongering, but I do think she has a point. We can like more than one female author at a time. Even more than one English 19th century female author. Just because Charlotte Brontë talked smack about Jane Austen doesn’t mean we have to pit Team Brontë against Team Austen for all eternity. Mark Twain talked smack about Miss Austen too, but you don’t hold a grudge against him, do you? (at least until now . . . ) Partly, I think, it’s that Austenites SO WISH Jane had had a chance to return fire. What would she have said about Charlotte? Minds can be devoured by this thought! We want to say it for her, something, anything!, but none of us are Jane Austen, alas, so we really can’t.
I’m really of many different minds on this topic.
- Of course we can like both Austen and Brontë if we want, and George Eliot too! It’s probably less weird than liking both Oscar Wilde and J.R.R. Tolkien (which I do).
- But it’s fun to get into literary fisticuffs with the ladies and gentlemen of Team Brontë. People caring passionately about literature, especially without killing each other, how cool is that?! (Just ask Jasper Fforde.)
- On the other hand, if the moichendisers want to make Brontë consumerism the new thing and give us a break, it would be a relief. (Jane Eyre party games! Burnination for all!)
- Clearly, this means that in addition to taking Action Jane to Chawton and Bath in my upcoming England trip, I’ll have to take her to Haworth as well. To DOMINATE . . . er, see how the other half lives. Yeah, that’s right.
By the way, the moratorium on Jane on Jane mud wrestling in the title of this post does not refer to Jane Austen clones. We reserve all rights to the Jane Austen clone wars. Just so you know.
Whether you call it literary breaking and entering or the greatest publishing scheme of the new millennium, surely the Austen mash-up trend rates some thought from the Austen community, right? And yet. Love it or hate it, readers, this market isn’t living up to its potential. In fact, we at Austenacious have come up with a new technique by which publishers could amuse/alienate twice as many readers with each attempt! Not all mashups need involve Jay-Z, the walking dead, or anything trendy at all, really: by mashing Austen novels up with other classic literature, we see the rationalizing force of Jane on some decidedly harebrained stories, as well as some extra adventure for the ladies and gentlemen of the Austen canon. What could possibly go wrong?
A few examples:
Detective Sherlock Holmes investigates a murder in Grace Church Street, Cheapside, London: a sweet-tempered newlywed from the country has offed her uppity sister-in-law, a fact he deduces from traces of poisoned wedding cake (a double wedding!) and the fact that neither the guilty party nor her equally nice husband can lie worth a darn. The murderer’s smarter but less-pretty sister may have aided and abetted.
On one of her many walks, Marianne Dashwood falls down a mysterious hole, drinks potion left by a stranger, shrinks (which is what happens when we drink potions left by strangers), and ends up in a magical and dangerous fantasy land. There’s bird-head croquet with Lady Middleton and tea with Johnny Depp. Eventually, she finds it was all a dream and that she has learned precisely nothing about controlling her emotions or anything else remotely useful in life.
The Bennet girls encounter four Civil War-era sisters from a Transcendentalist family in Massachusetts; a good time is had by all, including many picnics, though the youngest from each family duke it out for the attention of all eleven (combined) relatives. The eldest sisters atone for all wrongs by sheer force of their goodness, as the third-oldest play a duet on the piano.
Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth visit a lighthouse either near Lyme or the Isle of Skye, an experience colored by an unreliable narrator and the problems of memory and perception. Nothing else happens, but it’s significant. Later, the author walks into a river with stones in her pockets.
Haters Gonna Hate Edition, Parts I and II:
Catherine Earnshaw wanders the moors until a chance encounter with the post-Northanger Abbey Catherine Morland persuades her to give up the obsession with Gothic bad boys. Heathcliff gives up. The sun comes out, and everybody realizes things weren’t so bad after all.
In a fit of pique, Emma Woodhouse runs off and finds adventure on the river and/or in caves (possibly around Box Hill), and teaches generations of American high school students about racism and the dangers of picnics.
Emily Bronte and Mark Twain, née Samuel Clemens, each die a second death of embarrassment and rage. Jane, in an impressive show of self-control, manages not to laugh in public. A new literary sub-genre is born.
On this special day, I’d like to thank you for introducing me to many fine authors throughout my childhood, all of them sarcastic, most of them British, and one of them Jane Austen!
I’d also like to thank you for not being a Jane Austen mother. I’d like to thank you for not giving me away in childhood, like Fanny Price’s mother (and thank goodness you didn’t have to). I’d like to thank you for not sitting on the sofa playing with your pug dog while my evil aunt ruined my childhood, ala Lady Bertram. And I’m certainly glad you didn’t die in my formative years like Mrs. Woodhouse and Lady Elliot. Though, if you had been like Lady Susan, I might have wanted you to! Most of all, I’m glad you didn’t try to force me into marrying my own cousin, because he may be cute like Mr. Darcy or ugly like Mr. Collins, but either way, EWW! You haven’t even been explaining all about my love life to anyone who would listen, like the amiable Mrs. Bennet. Geez, Mom, how do you expect me to get a husband, anyway?!
That’s right, you didn’t ever pressure me one way or another. Like Mrs. Dashwood, you were always supportive but discreet, respecting my privacy. It’s just lucky Mr. Fitzpatrick didn’t turn out to be the Willoughby type. (For the record, gentle readers, Mom’s reaction to my announcement that I was getting married was, “Do I know him?” Sarcastic through and through, that’s my aged relative!)
To the other mothers out there: take a moment to reflect on your behavior. Have you emulated any of Jane Austen’s mothers? If so, which ones? Because if you’ve taught your daughters to read Jane Austen (and I hope you have), they’ll know how to deal with you!
Likewise, daughters, thank your mothers for any non-cousin-marrying behavior. It’s hard to be a mother, so they tell me, and Jane Austen certainly showed us how low the bar could go.
So, Mom, happy Mother’s Day! I hope you enjoy our traditional out-loud reading of “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses” by Mark Twain. We can certainly follow it up with some P. G. Wodehouse or Jane Austen if you want!
Your loving daughter,
Photo credit: ©2009 Heather Dever. All rights reserved.