I recently read this Wall Street Journal Article “The Secret of the Jane Austen Industry” by Alexander McCall Smith, author of the latest Austen novel retelling, Emma, A Modern Retelling. He writes,
There are plenty of superficial romantic novels that are forgotten as soon as they are read. Austen is far from superficial. Although her books are set exclusively within the confines of a certain class, she provides a fascinating picture of the ways of that slice of society and the confines within which its members, particularly women, are obliged to live.”
He implies that the reason that this “industry” is so attracted to so many people is due to books retelling of her novels and the movies adapted from her novels. But I believe it is a lot more than that. Jane Austen may have a constructed a narrative that made her portrayal of 19th century society entertaining and a different perspective of romantic love, but Austen did something, in my opinion, revolutionary. Austen wrote a novel. Unlike now, writing was a man’s profession during that time period. And for a woman to go against the norms of society and decide to become a novelist, not for any monetary reason, but because it was her passion is a bold and remarkable thing to do. Austen was a feminist in her own right. Some would say that Austen’s subject matters in her novels wouldn’t place in her in the “feminist” category, but what she wrote about doesn’t diminish what she did for English literature. She got a chance to, albeit anonymously, to share her voice with the world, a chance not a lot of women get to have.
Austen is an enigma. There is so much we don’t know about her and probably will not learn anymore than we already do now. But I think the mystery of Austen is what keeps this culture to increase in popularity. Sure, the books and the movies helped but I think this is our own way to get know her a little better. I admire Jane Austen, and like I said before in a previous post, I see a little of myself in her and I think that applies to all “Janenites”. We put on the bonnets, the regency clothing, have the conferences, read the books, and watch the movies not only because we enjoy but because we want that connection with her. I wish I could achieve what she managed to do in her life and this “industry” (I really don’t like that word) just shows how much of an impact she had on people’s lives.
Jane Austen managed to influence the world with her words and changed some of our lives. We just return the favor by keeping her memory alive.