Jane Austen in Space

To mark the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death (which was July 18), the current issue of the New Yorker predicts a variety of Austen adaptations that the next 200 years will bring. Writer Blythe Roberson imagines such delights as “Persuasion” with the naval officers alarmed by rising sea levels, and movies, plays, and miniseries starring Colin Firth’s hologram.

My personal favorite? “In 2158, the last remaining human who has ever heard of ‘Northanger Abbey’ will die.”

Something About Mary

Mary Bennet (Talulah Riley)

Mary Bennet, as played by Talulah Riley in the 2005 movie version of “Pride and Prejudice.”

Good old Mary Bennet. Jane Austen treats her badly, her family treats her badly, her father embarrasses her—though not quite as much as she embarrasses herself. Austen didn’t even like her enough to make her deliciously awful, like Mr. Collins or Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Mary is merely pathetic. She aspires to be what she is not: interesting, talented, pretty, smart, socially adept.

A number of writers, including “Thorn Birds” author Colleen McCullough, apparently think Austen was too hard on Mary. As an article in The Atlantic points out, Mary is enjoying a bit of a heyday thanks to several books (and books-to-be) that focus on her and her story, delving beneath the plain facade of the middle child in the Bennet family.

Well, why not? Even the Marys of this world deserve a life. And for what it’s worth, Austen at least paid some attention to Mary. Other than describing her as irritating and insipid, she almost completely ignored fourth-sister Kitty.

‘Lizzie Bennet Diaries’ Creators Will Tackle Emma

Good news: Bernie Su and Hank Green, creators of the delightful, award-winning online series “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries,” are turning their attention to Jane Austen’s “Emma.”

A modern, technologically savvy retelling of “Pride and Prejudice,” “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” went viral as Su and Green not only posted 9 1/2 hours of video on YouTube, but created profiles for the characters to interact with each other and with their audience on Twitter, Facebook and other social media.

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

Its modernization and high tech appeal aside, “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” stayed faithful to the spirit, characters and core story of Jane Austen’s most popular work.

Su and Green will take a similar approach to “Emma Approved,” which will debut in October. This Emma will be a 20-something life coach, entrepreneur and social media maven, who with her business partner Alex (Mr. Knightley, I presume?) manages her lifestyle brand, Emma Approved.

Interviewed in the LA Weekly, Su said he chose Emma for his next project because she is an ” ‘ends justify the means’ character with a heart of gold” who has good intentions, even if she’s clueless. “Given that she’s so driven and has a lot of resources, she’s incredibly powerful,” he said.

Especially with YouTube and Facebook at her disposal.

Online Threats Result in Arrest

I realize Jane Austen is not everyone’s cup of tea. But feminist Caroline Criado-Perez’s success in getting the Bank of England to put a female—Jane Austen, to be exact—on its banknotes resulted in a campaign of harassment on Tweeter that included rape and death threats. Seriously.

Granted, there are plenty of sicko people out there, and the Internet brings them out in force. It’s also possible that some of the threats were coming from trolls, people who post obnoxious, over-the-top stuff online to get attention. These stunted human beings don’t seem to have caught on that the Internet is not one big anonymous swamp where you can post whatever filth you like without being caught.

In America, England and most other countries in the western hemisphere, anyone has the right to be a perfect arsehole (or asshole as we say on this side of the pond), but threatening someone with harm is illegal.

So far, the police have arrested one 21-year-old man in connection with the threats against Criado-Perez. Hopefully he and his ilk about to get a lesson in how dire actions can have dire consequences.


For Love of Money and Austen

jane-austen-10pdnoteSo, in case you haven’t heard the news, the Bank of England plans to put Jane Austen on its £10  note. She’ll probably make her debut in 2017 and will replace Charles Darwin. Apparently the Bank of England chose her partly in response to criticism that it wasn’t featuring enough notable women on its banknotes.

I’d like to think Jane would be pleased. No starry-eyed romantic, she knew the value of money.  “Single Women have a dreadful propensity for being poor—which is one very strong argument in favour of Matrimony…” she wrote to her niece in 1817. She spoke from experience; as an unmarried woman, she was dependent on her older brother Edward.

The banknote will feature the only known authentic portrait of Austen (drawn by her sister Cassandra), and an image of Godmersham Park, Edward Austen Knight’s home. It also includes a quote: “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading.” That’s from Caroline Bingley, of all people, Charles Bingley’s snobbish sister in “Pride and Prejudice.”

Surely they could have found a more interesting quote, maybe from Austen herself?

Happy Birthday, Jane Austen

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!

Here’s to Women’s “Narrow View”

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?

Who’s the Worst Jane of Them All?

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.

Has Colin Firth Finally Outrun Darcy?

Colin Firth as George V.

Colin Firth as George VI.

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.

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McAvoy to Fight Zombies as Darcy?

Anne Hathaway and James McAvoy lit up the screen in "Becoming Jane." Will they be fighting zombies together?

Anne Hathaway and James McAvoy lit up the screen in “Becoming Jane.” Will they be fighting zombies together?

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.