Jane Austen: Literature or Chick Lit?

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Jane Austen: Literature or Chick Lit?

Postby Malia » Fri Mar 09, 2007 7:51 pm

Hey everyone, I discovered a neat article on bbc.co.uk this morning about the fervor over Jane Austen's novels and subsequent movie adaptations. (Oh, if only there were such a fervor over our man Keats!) Anyway, below, I've attached a link to the article and I'd like to introduce a question to go with it: In your mind, is Jane Austen "real" literature or the fore-runner of "chick-lit"? Do you think she is adequately "deep" or does she just skim the surface of a small sub-set of English society in the early 19th c.? Any comments/reactions to the issues the article raises (especially the idea that men just do not go for Jane Austen--and why that might be)?

Here's a link to the article: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/6426195.stm
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Postby Saturn » Sat Mar 10, 2007 11:12 pm

I think from the alpha male perspective there is nothing in Austen's work that appeals at all to their sensibilities and interests.

It's all bonnets petticoats, dashing gentleman and forlorn ladies and they almost always end with a marriage.

There's no real action, no real danger, no excitement, no [overt] sex.

Personally I really enjoy Austen's work from a historical, sociological and psychological perspective.

It's a window into a forgotten time, a forgotten and alien way of life, of etiquette and behaviour.

Of course what people who mock it miss is the very subtle wit and humour, and the gentle satire of what her work is [ostensibly] celebrating.

It's not just "chick-lit" at all - there is a lot going on in her work under the placid surface.

It's all about love, sex, and unfulfilled desire of course but couched in the mores and the conventions of the time.

I think for Bridget Jones as a modern version of Pride & Prejudice works so well because, in a modern context Austen would be writing stuff like that.

Guys if you want to know how many women really think read your Austen and you'll see many examples of behaviour, ideas and attitudes of modern women even at such a removed period in time. Austen of course had read and admired the proto-feminist work of Mary Wollstonecraft and no doubt her heroines were in some way reflective of these explosive new ideas of womanhood that Wollstonecraft explored in her work and of course Austen's own personality.

...or something. I don't know I'm just rambling here...
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Postby Credo Buffa » Sun Mar 11, 2007 11:48 pm

I actually have run into guys who enjoy Jane Austen. . . to a degree, anyway. One of my best friends, after seeing the first half of the BBC miniseries of Pride and Prejudice, genuinely couldn't wait to see the second half and actually called me to be sure he'd be able to come over and watch it before leaving for college in the fall. On another occasion, a guy from my college band overheard some of us talking about watching Sense and Sensibility one night, at which he subsequently came over to us and said that he would like to watch it with us, since he'd seen a part of it in a high school literature class and liked it so much that he wanted to see the rest. Of course, watching a film is different from reading a book, but at least it's a small bit of evidence that there are average Joes out there who are at least able to appreciate the story lines and characters of Jane Austen.

But when considering this question of whether or not Jane Austen is truly great literature or merely "chick-lit," I immediately think of what J.K. Rowling once said about Emma. To paraphrase, she said that this story contains one of the most dramatic surprise endings in all of literature, in which the main character of the novel--the character to whom we are most in-tune, for whom we are most sympathetic, and the one we have been led to believe is the model of feminine perfection in the midst of a cast of middling characters--is actually the most flawed. I personally think it takes a pretty brilliant writer to create the subtleties necessary to make a story like that work with such great effect and in such an understated manner. Yes, Jane Austen's work appeals to a very specific audience (like chick-lit), but I can't imagine that when she set out to write her various novels she specifically thought of what women would most like to read about. I think she did what any good writer does: she wrote what she knew best. She just happened to know it so well and be so keenly attuned to the dynamics of her world that she could create stories and characters that are very real and able to make that world alive to us even today. I sincerely doubt that our 21st century chick-lit will paint such a vivid picture of our lives and our concerns in the 23rd. . . if any of it is lucky to survive that long.
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Postby Saturn » Mon Mar 12, 2007 12:01 am

They are all certainly exquisitely well plotted.

And another thing I remembered is that in many of the novels there are intimations of life in the wider sense which impinge just enough to set the stories in context.

The soldiers in Pride and Prejudice and other novels remind us of the underlying threat to this sleepy England upper class life from Napoleon's forces on the continent.

Also in Mansfield Park dark hints are suggested of Sir Thomas Bertram's past life as a Slave-owning Plantation owner [explored more fully in the Harold Pinter penned recent film].
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