Lately, it seems lately like we all want to get inside of literature: to have our own holodeck or other scifi virtual reality device. It’s the promise of escape.
So I think the most interesting takes on the Jane Austen novels are the ones where people from our world, the “real world,” enter the world of the books. And what ensues? In Jasper Fforde‘s books, Jurisfiction agent Thursday Next works in a kind of meta-book world (lord, I said “meta”—just shoot me now), where she devotes herself to keeping literature the way we know it. In First Among Sequels, Thursday has to prevent Pride and Prejudice being turned into a reality book, where the characters have to perform tasks and will be voted out by chapter. She succeeds of course; Fforde is not attempting realism here, though his wry look at the silliness of the world around us is well worth getting into.
Have you seen Such Tweet Sorrow? It’s a real-time tweeting of Romeo and Juliet, a collaboration between Mudlark and the Royal Shakespeare Company. So it’s almost like Romeo and Juliet: The Reality Show, and given the plot of Romeo and Juliet, no, they don’t encourage the actors to turn up the drama! It’s as authentic to the play as possible. I think it’s the next step in bringing literature into a virtual world setting.
Then I had a vision: Could we find volunteers to live out Pride and Prejudice and tweet about it in real time? Or live it as a reality show? I feel dizzy—can I really have made this up myself? Someone tell me people have already done this! Readers, I know you would sign up! Wouldn’t you?
Why, even now, you can take tours of filming locations for the 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice and have supper at Longbourn. If you’re Sandy Lerner, co-founder of Cisco Systems and Urban Decay, you can even put on a ball at Chawton House and have Mr. and Mrs. Darcy come host it. As Ms. Lerner says, “Life is short. Why watch other people doing stuff?” She would sign up for a virtual Regency machine, I’m sure.
I’ll admit to mixed feeling about pretending to live in the Regency in general or inside a Jane Austen novel in particular.
For one thing, I like to dress up and drink tea and all, but in the end, how much does that have to do with Jane Austen and why you read her? Maybe I would get a romantic thrill from being trotted around the dance floor by a tall, silent man, all while displaying wit and cleavage. Maybe I just wouldn’t want to admit that part of that thrill was based on a scene from a novel, i.e., from someone else’s head. I am a snob about my fantasy worlds. (I like them to be my own.) And I read Jane Austen because she’s funny, not because she wore Empire dresses.
For another thing, if I was actually living in a novel, I think my adventures would go a lot like Amanda Price’s. Lost in Austen has, dare I say it?, a realistic take on living your fantasy: Pride and Prejudice addict Amanda Price finds herself inside the book, which Lizzie has vacated for modern life, and she wreaks havoc on the plot, all while trying to restore it to what she knows it should be. Kind of like a baby with a birthday cake. Kind of like an Austen fan’s nightmare. Not the same thing at all as reading the book, and having it be in your own head.
So, what do you say? Meet me in Holodeck 3 for the ball at Netherfield? Or will we apply the lessons of Jane Austen to this life? I must admit the holodeck does sound more fun. But then, doesn’t it always?
If zombies can invade Pride and Prejudice, I don’t see why it can’t invade reality shows. And so, without further ado:
The Real World: Five sisters. One crazy mom, one sarcastic dad. Hot, cold men! What dumb decisions will expose the sisters to our scorn? Who will make it through to their wedding days untouched by scandal? (See Jasper Fforde’s sneak preview in Thursday Next: First Among Sequels!)
The Bachelorette: Oops! Lizzie voted Mr. Darcy off the first week after the ball at Meryton. Guess she’ll have to marry Mr. Wickham after all.
The Bachelor (in Reverse): Who will marry Mr. Collins? No one wants him, but someone has to take him! Jane? no. Lizzie? Unh-unh. Maybe Mary? But in a sudden shocking development, the axe falls to Charlotte Lucas!!! Victory for the dark horse outsider! (And Mr. Collins’ proposal to Lizzie shows up on America’s Funniest Home Videos. Who let Mrs. Bennet use the video camera?)
What Not to Wear: Miss Bingley abhors the shabby chic look for Lizzie, but the guys kinda like it. Hair by. . . well, there’s nothing to be done about it anyway.
Iron Chef America: Lizzie prefers a fricassee to a ragout, a stunning upset at Netherfield Stadium! Mr. Hearst and Alton Brown are speechless.
American Idol: Lizzie plays the piano, but is dissed by Lady Catherine, who talks during the show. Miss de Bourgh wins for her abstract performance piece: “Taste, Had Her Health….”
Mythbusters: Mr. Darcy blows all Lizzie’s myths out of the water! Unfortunately, no real explosions were involved, but there were fireworks when he proposed to her on a previous episode.
Extreme Makeover: Heart Is Where the Home Is Edition: Can anything possibly change Mr. Darcy from a rude, life-destroying snob to a gentle, self-sacrificing hero? Only the long galleries, elegant furnishing, and spacious grounds of his beautiful estate, Pemberley.
The Bachelorette, Season 2: Where can you look to avoid the scandalous news that the winner of Season 1, Mr. Wickham, has run off with a long-priced candidate from The Bachelor, who is, get this, Lizzie’s OWN SISTER!!! The blogs have a field day, and the Wickhams make a special guest appearance on House Hunters.
Worst Cooks in America: Lady Catherine tries to cook Lizzie’s goose by insulting her to her face and to Mr. Darcy. She fails (LOL) and they get married after all. Lady Catherine wins as the worst cook in America!
Readers, what other reality shows can Miss Austen cannibalize? If you don’t like one, vote it out of the book!