Posted by: Robin | April 14, 2008

Mourning Jane

Jane AustenIt’s 8 p.m. (EDT) here in the U.S. In an hour Masterpiece Theatre will be on PBS here, but I will be going through withdrawal. The Complete Jane Austen is over. It was the first time versions of all six of her published novels were broadcast in succession. Granted a couple of the novels were super-compressed to fit in ninety minutes, but the four new versions and the rebroadcast of the older versions of Pride and Prejudice and Emma were a literary-cinematic feast. Even the biographical episode was very good and more on the mark than the recent film Becoming Jane. My book Complete Novels of Jane Austen has mysteriously disappeared from my bookshelf, so I can’t even ease my way with reading my old favorites.

Many have tried to explain the resurgence in Austen’s popularity over the past twenty-five years. Likely many of those behind the surge discovered Austen during puberty as I did and imagined themselves being strong, witty young women like Elizabeth Bennett with our own Mr. Darcys waiting. And then they returned to the novels a few years later and found something more. During my literary studies I had a bad case of Austen envy of those scholars who’d gotten there a generation or two earlier and amply plowed the field, leaving little ground unturned unless one was willing to go to extremes that stretched Jane’s “little bits of lace” out of shape. I esteemed her too much to focus on anything but her words, so I chose to dance around her and focus on other authors of the same period, particularly women (mostly Gothic writers). That way I could often draw her in through allusion. Reading deeply and analyzing the work of her peers have given me an even greater appreciation of how unique and rare her novels were. Wordy and more often than not ponderous was the style of the day. Even the James Patterson of the day, Sir Walter Scott, was not immune. Only one author came close in lightness of touch, Fanny Burney, though she did not have Austen’s gift for three-dimensional characters whose conflicts arise from human interactions and attitudes that are timeless and universal.

Limited as this is, I at last admit I have been a closet avid student of Jane and get to express that there is no one like Jane Austen. I mourn with legions of fans that she ventured publication so late and died too soon.  Oh, PBS, could you not have stretched it out just a wee bit longer?



  1. I agree I agree!!! I wish we could have had just a little bit more (okay, alot more) of Jane Austen on PBS. I wish the 1.5 hr films were extended at least another hour each and then all repeated one more time. I am a hopeless addict!

  2. Aren’t we glad there are DVD’s of these Austen adaptations that we can re-watch time and time again, as well, I’ll just re-read the novels all over. Recently I’ve also started listening to audio books on CD’s in my car.

    BTW, last week’s A Room with a View is written by an Austen admirer, and some say, Jane Austen successor, E. M. Forster.

  3. I am still catching up with them on tivo, but I continue to question what is so remarkable about these stories that make them such a delight for me. I have batted around thoughts for my own blog post about it. We’ll see if I write it. But your thoughts seem to hit the mark, Moms.

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