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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Monday, February 8, 2016

2nd stage Austenmania & 3rd wave feminism: similar generation gaps in Austen movies & U.S. politics!

The other day, I read an online piece by a 20-something film blogger, Amanda Joyce…
…who listed and briefly explained her personal Top 10 list of Austen film adaptations:

#10 Dear/Michell’s Persuasion (1995)
#9 Brough’s Scents and Sensibility (2011)
#8 Su’s Emma Approved (2013-40
#7 Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)
#6 Green/Su’s Lizzie Bennet Diaries (2012-3)
#5 Welch’s Emma (2009)
#4 Davie’s Pride and Prejudice (1995)
#3 Lee/Thompson’s Sense and Sensibility (1995)
#2  Davies’ Northanger Abbey (2007)
#1  Heckerling’s Clueless (1993)

I was really struck both by how similar half of her list was to, but how different the other half was from, my own list, which I present to you now:

#10  Weldon’s Pride & Prejudice (1980)
#9 Lee/Thompson’s Sense & Sensibility (1995)
#8 Davies’ Sense & Sensibility
#7 Davies’ Northanger Abbey (2007)
#6 Stillman’s Love & Friendship (2016)  [known to Janeites as Lady Susan]
#5 Davies’ Emma (1996)
#4 Rozema’s Mansfield Park (1999)
#3 Dear/Michell’s Persuasion (1995)
#2 Heckerling’s Clueless (1993)
#1 Davies’ Pride & Prejudice (1995)

A quick comparison reveals that Joyce and I agree about the excellence of 5 Austen film adaptations, all from the dawn of modern Austenmania, 1993-1995, and all faithful adaptations of the original Austen novels---even Clueless, which (as the blogger accurately and insightfully observes), despite its setting being shifted two centuries forward to modern American suburbia, is nonetheless remarkably faithful to the original spirit--and wickedly subversive humor---of Emma.

But…it’s also immediately apparent that we completely disagree as to the other five films worthy of inclusion on a Top 10 Austen film adaptation list. Note the vivid contrast: her other five choices are all from the past 5 years; none of them is more than a half-hearted attempt at a faithful adaption of the Austen it’s based on; and all of them are clearly directed at a much younger demographic (I’m only unsu re about Scents & Sensibility, a low budget indie film that I, and I’d imagine most other Janeites, haven’t seen).  

Whereas, four of my other five choices are remarkably faithful to the original Austen novels they’re based on, and have an age-diverse audience.  [My other choice, Rozema’s Mansfield Park, is unique among Austen adaptations ever made, because it’s the only one to even attempt to present elements from what I call the “shadow stories”….   …. of Jane Austen’s novels—such as presenting Sir Thomas Bertram as a savage, rapist,  slaveowning monster, and Mary Crawford as a lesbian interested in Fanny (both of which are interpretations I 100% agree with)]

And I believe there’s not only a generation gap among Janeites (I’d call it the difference between first wave and second wave Austenmania), there’s also, at least among younger Janeites, a geographical gap as well. I.e., I suspect that the Web-based productions like Lizzy Bennet Diaries and Emma Approved have a greater appeal for young American Janeites, whereas young British Janeites whose Tweets I come across regularly seem to have a permanent fixation on the 2005 Joe Wright/Keira Knightley Pride & Prejudice, and to a lesser extent on the 2007 BBC reboots of Mansfield Park and Persuasion, which share with those American web series a very casual disregard for Austen’s actual plot, but instead venture far afield from the originals.

This deep generation gap among Janeites---90% of whom, I should add in case you didn’t know, are female, in all age groups---where the younger viewers are much less concerned with faithfulness to the original Austen novels—what does it mean? I think it’s a very safe bet that a big part of that gap arises, because many of those young Janeites have not read all, or possibly any, of the novels themselves. In the midst of this second stage of Austenmania, it seems, the “Austen” part gets more and more detached from the “mania”!

And I conclude with the observation that I find it very eerie that the same sort of female generation gap seems to be playing out in another 2016 situation which could have history-altering implications for all of us---i.e., the topic on many minds today, a day before the New Hampshire Democratic primary, is the apparent generation gap between older and younger Democratic female voters choosing between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.

I will not attempt to explain it, beyond asking one question: is it possible that one key commonality between politics and literature, might be that in both of these cases, the older generation vividly remembers a “text” (whether an Austen novel or the lived history of the struggle for women’s rights) which the younger one never lived, and perhaps does not know very much about?  

One thing I know for sure is that Jane Austen, the master “studier of character” and (according to my research) closeted radical feminist, would have been extremely interested in observing this key aspect of the unfolding chapters of the real-life story of the political battle between Clinton and Sanders, which may well be decided by the actions of those young female Democratic voters.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

P.S. After writing the above post, I came across an excellent online article, which I give a link for here, which provides a pithy, well written summary of the rise of Austenmania, which provides excellent perspective on what I wrote:

31 December 2015  Anna Leszkiewicz
Austenmania: why 1995 was the year Jane Austen catapulted into pop culture

PPS:  And also after writing the above post, i found this excellent article about the feminist subtext of the Clinton-Sanders race:


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