Academic journal article Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal

"Completely without Sense": Lost in Austen

Academic journal article Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal

"Completely without Sense": Lost in Austen

Article excerpt

THE MAGICAL DOOR, a staple of myth, children's literature, sci-fi and films, game shows, and time-travel tales, metaphorically holds realism, even the real-ism of fiction, at bay. Through that door an adventurer could find Romance--escape from boredom, loneliness, disillusionment, and unfulfilled dreams--or, alternatively, Disaster. In Lost in Austen, Elizabeth Bennet time-warps herself through a magical door and lands in a flat in twenty-first-century Hammersmith, where Amanda Price, a thoroughly modern Ms., routinely escapes from her boring job and unrewarding love life by re-reading Pride and Prejudice. On the night that Amanda's beery boyfriend pops the top of his bottle and burps out a "proposal"--"Marry me, babes"--, Amanda inexplicably finds Elizabeth Bennet, dressed in nightgown and nightcap, standing in her bathtub, surrounded by laundry. Elizabeth, who prides herself on her powers of observation, deduces that it is a "Miss Spencer" whose life she has entered (Amanda's underwear carries the Marks & Spencer label). Pointing to the very ordinary shower panel fitted up with all the requisite plumbing, Elizabeth explains that "there is a door ..., a door completely without sense." At this point, Janeites must suspend disbelief. The urge to demand "fictional realism" or "adaptive fidelity" of a classic text must be rejected, for in this series the plot absurdities are more Life on Mars, Cold Comfort Farm, and Kinky Boots than the plot, back-story, and character development of a most cherished 1813 novel.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The next night Elizabeth returns to Hammersmith, this time outfitted in an early-nineteenth-century walking dress. Amanda finds Elizabeth, the character who represents everything that is absent from ugly, urban London life, amusing herself by switching the bathroom light on and off. Elizabeth is captivated by electrical appliances; Amanda, by the magical door. When Amanda steps into the shadowy passage and time-warps into Longbourn, loud with the lamentations of Mrs. Bennet, Elizabeth puts on her bonnet. The door swings closed; the cultural exchange is complete. Amanda Price, dressed in her twenty-first-century "otter-hunting kit"--black leather jacket, red high-heeled boots, low-cut purple blouson top, and tight jeans--exchanges places with Elizabeth Bennet and changes the course of Pride and Prejudice. As Elizabeth disappears into the netherworld of bendy-buses, macrobiotic diets, computers, and global warming, Lost in Austen becomes Amanda's story.

Devoted as I am to Jane Austen's novel, I fretted about the time-travel premise of this new series, even before I discovered that the plot of Lost in Austen includes a new main character--not created by Austen--who creates cultural and meta-fictional chaos. As soon as Elizabeth and Amanda begin to converse, however, Janeites will recognize that the game is afoot. With its complex intertextual connections and irreverent attitude, Lost in Austen is a hybridized rift on Austen's plot and language and on twenty-first-century "lost-the-plot" metafiction and slang. Viewers of this unique "adaptation," a term I am using in a most general sense, will note that jokes thread through the series--there are running jokes about balls, for example, and about fish, buttresses, hairdos, and tooth-brushing techniques. By making visual and verbal connections between popular entertainment (films and sitcoms) and British "high culture" (classic novels), the series not only spoofs the plot and characters of Pride and Prejudice, but also subjects Austen's other novels to satirical commentary; it burlesques Heritage films in general, but skewers more specifically scenes from Joe Wright's film Pride & Prejudice and Andrew Davies's hugely popular serialized Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. This magical mystery tour could be seen by some fans of Jane Austen's novels as a "parody of a pastiche of a mockery of a sham" (Coren 18), (1) but Lost in Austen is a rich intertextual document that comments on such issues as love, kindness, trust, female friendship, feminine desire, and personal and social anxiety. …

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