“Friendship is certainly the finest balm for the pangs of disappointed love.”—Northanger Abbey
Today is the 237th anniversary of Jane Austen’s birth, and we’re rapidly approaching the 200th anniversary of her most famous novel, Pride and Prejudice.
Like all Austen fans, I could go on and on about Jane, but I’ll keep it short: How many authors are still popular 200 years after they’re first published? Not many, that’s for sure.
Way to go, Jane!
Anyone who follows the literary world probably knows by now that Nobel-winning author VS Naipaul has embroiled himself in yet another literary controversy by claiming that women writers are inferior to him because they’re, well, not men. The outcry from women writers has been predictable, with Booker prize-winning New Zealand novelist Keri Hulme calling him a “misogynist prick” and a “slug” whose works are dying.
Women have a narrow view of the world, Naipaul claims, and write “sentimental tosh.” He even dismisses Jane Austen’s “sentimental ambitions.” This seems to indicate that either he has not actually read Jane Austen, or that he’s a much better writer than he is a reader. Like her or not, it’s difficult to argue convincingly that Austen was sentimental. In fact, she skewered sentimentality wherever she could.
As for a narrow view, yes, Austen took a narrow view in her books, quite deliberately. Some authors, male and female, choose to focus on a narrow slice of life, some range wider. To say that one view is inferior to the other is ridiculous. Authors get to choose about what they want to write about. We get to choose whether we want to read them or not. Austen homed in closely on narrow groups of people to make larger comments about the society in which she lived, particularly the status of women in Regency England.
You have to give Naipaul points for having chutzpah. He has previously pissed off Indian writers and author Paul Theroux (though the two have since made up), among others. And to claim that no woman writer is as good as he is–well, it’s really for other people to judge that, isn’t it? We’ve been reading Austen for 200 years. We can only guess whether anyone will be reading Naipaul 200 years from now.
More to the point, women buy most books (regardless of the gender of the author), at least in the United States. Women read more than men do, and read across a wider range of genres and topics. Men often tend to avoid reading books from a woman’s point of view, while women read plenty of books written from a man’s point of view.
So who, exactly, has the narrower view here?
Here’s your chance to help choose the winner of the Bad Austen contest, a writing competition in the grand tradition of the Bulwer Lytton, Bad Hemingway and Bad Faulkner contests.
To enter the contest, which ended March 1, participants had to pen a scene, 800 words max, in the style of Jane Austen, and make it as entertainingly bad as possible. The top entry will win $250, and the best entries will be collected in a book.
Here’s hoping that like those other contests, Bad Austen will become an annual event.
In the meantime, cast your votes for some deliciously terrible Austen-inspired prose at the Bad Austen site.
It’s been quite a week for Colin Firth. The 50-year-old British actor got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He won Best Actor honors at both the Golden Globes and the Critics’ Choice Awards for his performance as the stammering King George VI in “The King’s Speech.” And critics and fans predict that he’ll take home the Best Actor Oscar in March. (The nominations won’t be announced till January 25, but Firth is sure to be on the list.) UPDATE: Colin Firth did indeed win the Oscar for Best Actor, though the Academy passed over Geoffrey Rush for supporting actor.
For three decades, Firth has given solid performances, ranging from comic to tragic, in a wide range of films, including “Valmont,” “Bridget Jones’ Diary,” “The English Patient,” “Shakespeare in Love,” “Love Actually,” “Fever Pitch,” “Nanny McPhee”, “Mamma Mia,” “Girl With a Pearl Earring” and “A Single Man” (which garnered him an Oscar nomination and a BAFTA win in 2009 for Best Actor).
But the role for which he has been most famous is that of Mr. Darcy in the BBC’s beloved 1995 production of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” Firth brought Mr. Darcy to life, and sent legions of female fans into a swoon when he emerged from a pond in a wet shirt. He followed up with a modern version of Darcy in “Bridget Jones’ Diary” and “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason.” For many (mostly female) fans, Colin Firth is Mr. Darcy, and vice versa.
James McAvoy will play Mr. Darcy in the screen version of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” according to Scotland’s Daily Record, although other news sources and websites merely say that he’s “in talks” to play the part.
No one knows yet who’s playing Lizzy. Natalie Portman originally had the role but withdrew, though she’s still a producer. Scarlett Johansson was rumored as the lead, but the Daily Record claims Anne Hathaway is “top contender” for the role.
One can only hope that the two pair up in another Austen-inspired film. McAvoy and Hathaway lit up the screen in “Becoming Jane,” the charming 2007 chick flick based on Jane Austen’s romance with young lawyer-to-be Tom Lefroy.
The talented McAvoy has played everything from Lefroy to a violent assassin in “Wanted,” so slaying zombies while wearing a cravat should be right up his alley.
“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” Seth Grahame-Smith’s literary mashup of Jane Austen and undead mayhem, was one of the surprise bestsellers of 2009. The movie, directed by Mike White, is expected to be released in 2011.