Guest Blogger: Charlotte English—Those Magic Words: “Jane Austen”

Happy Monday morning, readers!

Today's Guest Blogger: Charlotte English

Today’s Guest Blogger comes to us from the Netherlands. A British transplant, thoroughly English, Charlotte recently moved and is enjoying a new environment away from home. She and I have become friends first through Twitter and then e-mail. We are, shall we say, modern-day pen pals. (Writing folks just seem to find each other and yes, there are great benefits to using this social media platform!) I am so pleased that she’s agreed to write about Jane Austen today, as Ms. Austen is probably my all-time favorite. Charlotte’s blog, Words About Words, features a multitude of articles about writing, with particular emphasis on fantasy/science fiction, her personal favorite and genre. Like me, she is getting ready to publish her first novel. To learn more about Charlotte, visit her site at Words About Words and check out her latest blog posts and hear about some of her observations and adventures. And now I give you Ms. Charlotte English…

It would be difficult, these days, to find someone who has genuinely never heard of Jane Austen. If they haven’t heard (or remembered) the name, they would probably still recognise some of the names of her books. She is a household name. Almost every year brings a new adaptation of at least one of her books. She has been called the Mother of Chick Lit (whether this title is at all accurate is a matter of opinion). Bookstores are filled with endless biographies about her; interpretations of her works; discussions of her social world and theories about her love life. Even for a confirmed fan, there’s maybe just bordering on too much going on in the world of Jane Austen these days.

Particularly since there’s been a new trend emerging in the last few years: Jane Austen inspired. Jane Austen themed. Jane Austen derived. There are endless romantic novels about modern women somehow transposed into Austen’s time, or about heroines who encounter her characters come to life. There was the TV series “Lost in Austen,” which ran along similar lines. And she and Georgette Heyer between them are credited with spawning an apparently undying craze for Regency Romances.

And, what I find most interesting of all, there’s now a growing taste for crossovers between Jane Austen (or JA inspired) and other literary genres.

The direct combinations are both brave and rather presumptuous. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was a massive success, followed by Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and so on. It was widely said that the passages that were added were sensitively done; that the new books were virtually seamless and really felt like reading a JA tale about zombies. I was unconvinced, but there it is: if JA was writing today, and she happened to want to write about zombies or sea monsters, these books are on record as convincing examples.

Moving on from zombies, who could have guessed that JA and fantasy could make such a good combination? I’m thinking of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke. It’s set in the Regency and written in a fitting style. It was even published in a three-volume set at one point. And yet it’s about magicians. How brilliant is that? The best part is that it actually works.

There’s also Jane Austen murder mystery, Jane Austen science fiction, Jane Austen reinvented for the current literary fiction markets… I’m just waiting for JA Monopoly and Cluedo board games, and a Regency-themed PC game about matchmaking (or has that already happened?). Everywhere I go I hear about ‘the type of book Miss Austen would have written’, a claim being applied to increasing numbers of books (many frankly unlikely). Her name has become the ultimate designer label: guaranteed to sell anything. The magic words.

I can’t make up my  mind how I feel about this. On the one hand it does encourage the generation of a very great deal of rubbish. To liken truly inferior work to JA seems deeply insulting and faintly sacrilegious. It’s a marketing ploy gone mad.

On the plus side there are a great many real gems emerging as a result of these crossovers and tribute projects. Why is it that this trend runs on and on and never seems to die? I think that those six books tap into some enduring, ultimate questions that are still as valid today as they were two hundred years ago. Apply those frameworks to any kind of tale and the combination can be made to work (more or less).

What do some of Miss Austen’s devoted readers think? Are the JA tributes a good thing or a travesty? Are you incensed or excited at the prospect of a new Austen crossover book or TV series? And why is it that we can’t ever get enough of Miss Austen?

10 thoughts on “Guest Blogger: Charlotte English—Those Magic Words: “Jane Austen”

  1. My pleasure! Steph’s Scribe is thrilled to have you!

    🙂

    Two of my favorite contemporary Jane Austen spinoffs have been the novel The Man Who Loved Jane Austen by Sally Smith O’Rourke and of course, The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler (movie was pretty decent, also). I have another one sitting on my book shelf that I haven’t gotten to yet titled Me & Mr. Darcy by Alexandra Potter. The Man Who Loved Jane Austen was incredibly far-fetched, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. What’s the biggest shame about Jane Austen is that she died in her early 40s and probably had so many more stories brewing.

  2. SInce I am not a devoted Jane Austen reader, I like the fact that there has been contemporary interest in her work. I would have never been introduced to her had I not been encouraged to see the movie versions of some of her most famous works. It is on my bucket list to read those novels if I ever have the time. Thanks for the blog.

  3. Congrats Charlotte on the guest blog. Your thoughts are much like my own were regarding if these were a complement or an Insult to Jane Austen. Remember when I first saw Pride & Prejudice & Zombies I kept debating with myself if their including Jane Austen as an Author would be considered by her as a complement or a gross missrepresentation.

    I still keep wondering if Seth really just envisioned what Elizabeth’s reaction to Darcy, and particularly his Aunt would be like if she was wielding a Katana 🙂 then he just added Zombies as a reason to give her one.

  4. Oh Clueless, yes! That is a great example of how well the story of Emma works even if transposed to a completely different, modern setting. They really are timeless tales.

    Steph, I read “Me and Mr Darcy” when somebody gave it to me as a gift. I won’t say what I thought of it yet – I’ll be interested to hear your opinion once you’re finished and see if we thought the same! Meanwhile I’m going to put The Man Who Loved Jane Austen on my reading list.

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