Not-So-Plain Jane

By Ball, Sarah | Newsweek, March 8, 2010 | Go to article overview

Not-So-Plain Jane


Ball, Sarah, Newsweek


Byline: Sarah Ball

Textually speaking, it's tolerable menfolk Lizzy finds in short -supply--not loyal girlfriends. Elizabeth Bennet, the pride of Pride and Prejudice, is steeped in enough estrogen to last a lifetime of Yoplait ads. Besides her meddling mother, gaggle of sisters, and loyal best friend, there's her 200-year-old fan club of female readers, rivals to Potter nuts and Trek fiends in fervor. So where is the sisterhood in her hour of need?

For too long, even orthodox "Janeites" have blithely accepted the appropriation of Jane Austen's books, so long as it meant more to greedily gobble--a far cry from strict constructionists of Shakespeare or, say, the Bible. Modern Austen pastiche is practically an industry, and business is booming. Quirk Classics saw a surprise sales coup (1 million copies in print) with last spring's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which naturally has given birth to a sequel--actually a prequel: Dawn of the Dreadfuls, out March 23. For less gore and more porn, look to January's Pride/Prejudice, a bisexual, tryst-filled retelling of Lizzy and Mr. Darcy's love story, or Mr. Darcy, Vampyre, last summer's retooling in the throbbing tradition of Twilight. In -theaters next year, Zombies will star Natalie Portman as a nunchuk-wielding, undead-slaying Lizzy.

In the beginning, which is to say way back in 1996, there was a crumb more restraint. Fizzy adaptations such as Bridget Jones's Diary contended that a version of Lizzy could chain-smoke and eat too much Christmas Stilton without negating Austen's sardonic comedy of manners. In the economic doldrums, it is the eminently bankable Austen's blessing and curse to be constantly applied and misapplied. Jane-anything sells out; the BBC miniseries version of Pride and Prejudice was still in Amazon's top 100 DVD sellers as of last week, 15 years after its release, and a ponderous cookbook of Austen-era food fetches $55 for recipes like Fried Cowheel and Onion. …

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