We Need to Enjoy Jane Austen on Her Own Terms

The Evening Standard (London, England), September 9, 2014 | Go to article overview

We Need to Enjoy Jane Austen on Her Own Terms


Byline: Melanie McDonagh

ANOTHER new book on Jane Austen turns up on my desk, this time written by her great-great-greatgreat-great niece, Rebecca Smith. It's called Jane Austen's Guide to Modern Life's Dilemmas: Answers to your Most Burning Questions About Life, Love, Happiness (and What to Wear). On the front is a lady with a Regency gown with a laptop: this, then, is the Wit and Wisdom of Jane Austen brought to bear on the 21st century. Inside there's a selection of questions along the lines of How Do You Balance Children and a Career (not one Jane personally had to deal with) and How Can I Make Time for the Gym on My To-Do List and a reflection on what Jane might have said had she not, unfortunately, died nearly 200 years ago.

It'll go nicely with The Wicked Wit of Jane Austen, Jane Austen on Love, Jane Austen's Guide to Romance (The Regency Rules); Jane Austen's Guide to Good Manners; In the Garden with Jane Austen; Tea with Jane Austen; Dining with Mr Darcy; Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends; Dear Jane Austen: A Heroine's Guide to Life and Love. The list is by no means exhaustive; there are 17 pages on Amazon of books by and about Jane. And that's not even thinking about the merchandise (you can get Jane Austen plasters) and the films not just the ones with empire line frocks featuring Gwynnie Paltrow and Keira Knightley, but the spin-offs, good (Clueless) and bad (Austenland).

I can't think of any other author who's been co-opted by the modern world quite like her. She's everyone's go-to author; a genius in her own day and branded and processed for our own. But the effect of the blanket coverage, the websites, the blogs, the spin-offs, has been to render her unreadable. The reader can't pick up Pride and Prejudice any more: the Austen industry gets between us and the print. …

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