"Jane Austen? Why I go so far as to say that any library is a good library that does not contain a volume by Jane Austen. Even if it contains no other book." Mark Twain.
Since 1940, there have been countless adaptations of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, some of them films, some theatrical renditions, some miniseries, and some PBS and BBC productions.
Even a Bollywood version of the novel recently made it to the big screen --- sarongs and Vindaloo instead of corsets and Yorkshire pudding. How refreshing.
No single Dickens' novel has ever garnered nearly this much attention.
How many books have been written about Jane Austen? Probably hundreds. The most recent tripe to grace the shelves is Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. The movie version will star Natalie Portman.
Even more astounding is the seemingly infinite number of Jane Austen fan clubs, book discussion groups, gushing websites and adoring blogs, all of which obsess breathlessly over every detail of her life and oeuvre.
I can’t think of another author whose books have received such enduring passion. Perhaps there’s a Melville fan club somewhere –- an odd lot no doubt --- but how many people are that fanatical about Moby Dick? And even zombies wouldn’t be enough to get somebody to buy that estimable book.
Although Pride and Prejudice is Austen’s most famous novel, there have been numerous (read: too many) productions of her other sleep-inducing books --– Emma, Mansfield Park and Sense and Sensibility, among others.
I’ve read a few of these so-called “classics,” and, in between snores, I’ve concluded that all of them are pretty much the same.
They all take place in 19th Century England, and usually revolve around the landed gentry or landed-gentry wannabes. The pompous blowhards that populate most of Ms. Austen’s books all spend their time knitting, taking walks, pretending to read books, having picnics, writing too many letters, gossiping, matchmaking (ineptly), and attending lavish parties, at which they engage in wooden dances, and wonder cluelessly why the person they “truly love” is boogying with someone else.
Let’s face it – there’s virtually no difference between Austen’s heroines. They all spend their time pathetically pining away for the haughty gentlemen they profess to love, men who are usually spoiled, affluent, and too dense to know that these whining, pouting women have schoolgirl crushes on them. Eventually -- wild guess –- these befuddled chaps (all of whom have excellent postures) see the light shining blindingly in their eyes, and they all somehow blunder into making the romantic connection. (Surprise, surprise.)
Later, they get married and have sex with their underwear on.
Is it any surprise that the acronym for the novel is PAP?
So why are these books so popular? Simple. They’re all glorified romance novels that have somehow earned the cachet of being “literature,” although for my money, the writing is dull, stilted and plodding and the characters are ordinary simpletons in fancy costumes, but then I’m not the romantic type. If you don’t believe me, ask my wife.
For starters, I would venture to guess that most men- -- with the exception of academics -- don’t have much use for Jane Austen. But then, most men don’t read romance novels either.
(Don’t get me wrong –- I’m not saying these books are lousy because men don’t read them. I’m just saying they’re lousy.)
The fact is, contemporary romance novels sell five times more than all other literary genres put together. That’s a lot of books. Millions of lovelorn, dreamy, unfulfilled women read this dreck because they hope they’ll meet a handsome prince in the produce section and he’ll sweep them off their feet, or because the books just make them horny, probably both.
But reading trashy-looking romance novels on the subway is embarrassing, as it should be. But if you show up with a Jane Austin novel you can delude yourself and others into thinking you’re reading something literary, thus making you appear “educated,” while actually dreaming of gallant princes and getting horny. Suddenly, you’re the weepy heroine longing for the guy in a waistcoat, high boots, and the brain power of lawn furniture.
That’s why I’m capitalizing on this craze with my new novel “Nonsense and Nonsensibilty,” which will be out in October. The movie version will star Sarah Silverman.