Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Jane Austen Sequels, continued

Apologies for this long break. I was off on a family reunion to celebrate my grandmother's one hundreth birthday (!!)(she's incredible, still full of energy, fun, and determination) , then recovering from the holiday, then frantically trying to catch up on my writing. Now I've re-emerged to join cyberspace again.

To continue the discussion:
3. Myth: Jane Austen is a trembling old Auntie who needs to somehow be protected and sheltered.

Reality: Jane Austen died young. She died at the age of 42 after a debilitating disease, which took its toll in her last year, but not enough for her to stop writing. Despite Victorian attempts to reduce her to a maiden aunt, scribbling away because she was deprived of the joys of marriage, she was a strong, resilient woman. Despite financial pressures, she refused to marry for convenience, and clearly preferred a career to the humdrum existence of the married woman of the time. She had a keen, razor-sharp wit, cutting and almost cynical. She had an eye for human foibles, weaknesses, and absurdities. She wrote about unwedded mothers, the temptations of elopement and premarital sex (Georgiana is tempted, Lydia succumbs) and about unwanted babies (Persuasion), and she wrote about them without moral judgement. We are hardly returning the favour when we speak of her as a maiden aunt.

Virginia Woolf once said: "anyone who has the temerity to write about Jane Austen is aware… that there are twenty-five elderly gentlemen living in the neighbourhood of London who resent any slight upon her genius as if it were an insult to the chastity of their aunts.” You would think our standards have changed a little, and we would have gotten beyond classifying a 42-year-old unmarried woman condescendingly as an old maid, or maiden aunt.

4. Myth: Jane Austen is more sacrosanct than any other literary figure

Reality:
Unfortunately, when you reach the status of a Giant in the literary world, chances are that you are going to inspire someone to write something in response, imitation, admiration, disagreement, etc.

The “bandwagon effect” of the current Jane Austen sequels is a mix of a Jane Austen revival through film, the willingness of publishers like Sourcebooks and others to recognize that there is a strong market for the sequels, and – this is the most important aspect – the websites and self-publishing opportunities available for Jane Austen fan fiction/sequel writers.

In the sixties, people read Sartre and Camus and wrote (if they were writers) about existentialism, alienation, and the absurd. It was part of the spirit of the age. You could say everyone jumped on the same bandwagon, but if you were on the bandwagon with everyone else, why would you want to jump off?

Similarly, there is something about Jane Austen that appeals to our consciousness right now. For some, the order and propriety of that world is a refuge or relief from our world’s absence of norms and acceptable rules of behaviour. For others it’s the opposite; those rigid rules and impossible restraints are laughable. To some people, the very idea of those restraints unleashes their fantasy world. Perhaps it’s not even about Jane Austen at all, but about how our world relates to hers.
Whatever it is, there are many readers out there who can’t wait for the latest Jane Austen sequel. And why not? It’s fun to see what people have come up with. It’s a tribute to Jane Austen that she can stir the imaginations of so many different people.

Perhaps the search for a “new angle” in Jane Austen inspired fiction has gone too far. Maybe too many monsters are being let loose upon the orderly world of Jane Austen. Or just maybe the monsters hidden within Jane Austen’s world (like the madwoman in the attic of Jane Eyre) are waiting for someone to let them out.