Jane Austen and Co.
Remaking the Past in Contemporary Culture
Publication Year: 2003
Published by: State University of New York Press
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Introduction: The Jane Austen Phenomenon: Remaking the Past at the Millennium
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Jane Austen’s novels have never been out of print, so it seems strange to speak of an Austen revival. Nevertheless, a revival that some have termed “Austenmania” has produced a virtual industry flourishing widely in the United States and England, spawning in recent years nineteen film and television adaptations of this author’s work, and over one hundred continuations, rewritings, and sequels of Austen’s now almost two-hundred-year-old...
Part I: In the Classroom
1. How to Do Things with Austen
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If the ongoing revival of Jane Austen has a distinct extravagance to it, so does professional literary criticism on Austen: further, the discourse surrounding Austen has always been characterized by a certain extravagance, a certain excess, an almost erotic charge that for convenience sake I call “hysteria.” I will try to describe that charge by working back and forth between classic nineteenth...
2. Popular Culture and the Comedy of Manners: Clueless and Fashion Clues
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“Of all the Austen film adaptations, Clueless is my favorite one to teach,” a feminist eighteenth-century scholar whose specialization extends through the Regency period told me recently. “Maybe it’s the contrast between the film and novel that makes it the most useful in getting students to think about what is at stake in Emma and for women during Austen’s lifetime.”1...
3. Love at the Hellmouth: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
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Buffy the Vampire Slayer, one of the most enduringly successful shows of the WB (Warner Brothers) prime-time “teen” lineup, draws on many previous treatments of vampires in novels, film, and theater, taking them into the hopelessly hip world of California youth culture. This modernization of a nineteenth-century text, even of the nineteenth-century-vampire text, is not...
Part II: In the Nation
4. Clueless: About History
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Following are the first questions I wish to address to the last decade’s “Austenmania” and to the period films manifesting it. Do these remakes of classic texts from the past present us with opportunities to think historically— to perceive an organic and necessary relation between the bygone worlds they depict and our lived experience? Can we learn history—can we...
5. “It Can’t Go on Like This:” Dangerous Liaisons in the Reagan–Thatcher Years
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In the late 1980s, the West was in a prerevolutionary mood. France was gearing up to celebrate the bicentennial of its 1789 Revolution, and further east the opening up of the Soviet Union held the promise of momentous changes. With the benefit of hindsight, the late 1980s of this century can look downright Dickensian, with neosocialism and popular anticommunism...
6. Placing Jane Austen, Displacing England: Touring between Book, History, and Nation
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In this chapter I want to think through the popularity of Jane Austen by linking her work to two sets of places. The first is the imagined geographies produced through the text, or perhaps more accurately through its reading, which speak of a vanished English society. The second is the present geographies of tourists who visit Austen-themed locations in contemporary England....
Part III: At Home
7. The Return Home
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At the Internet site dubbed the “Republic of Pemberley,” we are welcomed into the fold of Jane Austen’s world and given a strong hint of the reason for its popularity. Our “real” families and friends tend not to understand: “If you’ve no obsession at all, you just won’t get it—like most of our ‘real’ families and friends!” All is said in these diacritical marks that challenge the authenticity...
8. The Return to Repression: Filming the Nineteenth Century
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About Iain Softley’s The Wings of the Dove, a reviewer for The New Statesman complained that the sex was not especially sexual: “Anyone searching for the extraordinary reticence that characterises the prose of Henry James would be sadly disappointed. The novel’s great undescribed moment of physical passion in a hotel room ends up in the film—as perhaps it might on...
9. A Generational Gig with Jane Austen, Sigmund Freud, and Amy Heckerling: Fantasies of Sexuality, Gender, Fashion, and Disco in and beyond Clueless
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It will surprise no reader of nineteenth-century literature to find in Clueless, Amy Heckerling’s makeover of Jane Austen’s Emma, a dead mother.1 While not a pretty statement to make about the delectable candy land of bright tartan minis, cool retro chic, and leopard-spotted pants that comprises this fantastical wonderland of Austen in Beverly Hills, the dead mother is as central...
Part IV: In the Bedroom
10. Sleeping with Mr. Collins
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Jane Austen’s beloved and well-known characters are oddly nondescript, their vague physical descriptions vividly animated by moral qualities. A light, graceful step or an upright posture lives in the mind of the reader as a moral trait as much as a physical one. Perhaps that is why contemporary filmmakers enjoy bringing these novels to the screen—because Austen’s texts allow...
11. Books to Movies: Gender and Desire in Jane Austen’s Adaptations
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“Austenmania” is alive and well. Just as the mid-1990s offered the public a cornucopia of Jane Austen adaptations, the 1990s ended with a version of Mansfield Park made by the director Patricia Rozema. The latest avatar of this Austen revival comes in the form of the film Bridget Jones’s Diary. Austen’s most fantasized about male screen hero, Darcy, is back in the guise...
12. Gender and the Heritage Genre: Popular Feminism Turns to History
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Over the past decade or so the costume drama or “heritage” film has routinely been subjected to a specific form of political analysis. The argument goes that as the conservative British government, led by Margaret Thatcher, launched economic and social policies that intensified class division and racial tensions, heritage productions functioned as a palliative, promoting a...
Appendix: Television, Film, and Radio Productions of Austen
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Page Count: 277
Publication Year: 2003