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- On March 30, 2016
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QUESTION: Why do you think people are still so drawn to Jane Austen and her work over 200 years later?
I’ve actually thought about this quite a bit over the years and particularly now as I research and write my variations. I’ll limit my response to “Pride & Prejudice,” because, as much as we enjoy her other work, I think it pales in comparison to the popularity of the Darcy & Elizabeth motif. I believe there is a good reason for this. “Pride & Prejudice” is singular in combining two very significant feminine themes; “Cinderella” and “Beauty and the Beast.” These two narratives resonate with women across various times and cultures, which can also be traced through myth, fairy tale, and literature.
The worldwide popularity of “Pretty Woman,” “Twilight,” and “Fifty Shades of Grey” are based on these same themes and demonstrate the strong appeal they have to modern women. Most romance is based on one or both of these concepts, as well as the universal feminine theme of “happily ever after.” If we consider this in comparison to male archetypes, we find that happy endings are not as prominent or important–or may be excluded entirely. Rather, Joesph Campbell’s seminal work “The Hero’s Journey,” describes overcoming obstacles, defeating enemies, and attaining power to dominate their surroundings. Our hero may get the girl, but that’s generally a side note, or it serves to make it more marketable to women. Consider, “Star Wars,” action movies, and ancient myths, to prove this point.
Why do these feminine “fairy tales” appeal to women so universally? Perhaps because they defy our social training as wome
n. Austen’s Elizabeth is not perceived as being particularly beautiful or accomplished, and she doesn’t “bring” anything materially valuable to Darcy beyond her true, authentic self, and yet, he falls deeply in love with her nonetheless.
DON’T WE ALL DESIRE TO BE LOVED FOR OURSELVES AND NOT THE IDEALIZED VERSION OF “WOMAN” THAT SOCIETY PRESSURES US TO ADOPT IN ORDER TO BE “WORTHY” OF IT?
Don’t we spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about our appearance, competing with and comparing ourselves to other women, and judging the “material” aspects of ourselves, never quite letting ourselves measure up? I know I continue to do so, and I’ve been married for fifteen years! Society may adapt the feminine ideal over time; nevertheless, we are still trained to aspire to it.
In contrast, Elizabeth chooses not to constrain herself to the expectations of society. She does not focus on “perfecting” herself, nor is she willing to marry for security (Collins), or an improvement in her status (Darcy). She remains true to herself and comes to love Darcy on her own terms and I believe this resonates with us. However, there is a second theme at work. Through Elizabeth’s strength of character she has the power to transform the surly, anti-social Mr. Darcy into a better man who passionately loves her.
ISN’T IT IRONIC THAT EVEN THOUGH WE YEARN TO BE LOVED JUST AS WE ARE, WE STILL SEEK TO IMPROVE THE MEN WE LOVE?
Truthfully, over my fifteen years of marriage–beginning with taking him shopping for new clothes shortly after we began dating–I can confirm this for myself!
As for the popularity of Fan Fiction, I think we must look not only to the appeal of the feminine themes described above, but also to Austen’s skillful rendering of them. When we read “Pride & Prejudice” closely, we realize that Darcy’s character is “lightly sketched,” he does not speak much or even appear in the novel in a great many scenes. Just consider that though we were given nearly the entire dialogue of Mr. Collins’s ridiculous proposal of marriage–the most comic scene in the entire novel–Darcy’s actual proposal is described quite briefly until he responds to Elizabeth’s refusal. This vague rendering of “the beast prince” enables readers to overlay their own male ideal onto the character while maintaining these universal themes.
LEAVE A COMMENT, I WOULD LOVE TO HEAR YOUR THOUGHTS ON MY MUSINGS!
FROM THE JUSTJANE1813 AUTHOR INTERVIEW
A huge and heartfelt thank you to Claudine, the blogger of Justjane1813 for reaching out for an interview and review of “On Oakham Mount.” As a debut novelist, I am overwhelmed with all the support I’ve received from readers, bloggers, and other indie writers. Claudine posed some thought-provoking questions, I do hope you will take a look at the rest of her interview.