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The Enduring Popularity of Jane Austen

by Kate Warren - guest blogger

Jane Austen was a sheltered spinster who never went anywhere outside her own country and never did anything all that interesting. So, why is the world obsessed with this woman so many years after her death? Turns out you don’t have to be a well-traveled participant in dazzling adventures or interesting experiences to write a damn good novel.

I don’t know about you, but I would love to be able to write six or seven books and live the rest of my life in obscurity, only to become world famous after my death. Jane Austen does not deal with paparazzi. No one is interrupting her lunch to get an autograph or a picture. No one is interrupting my lunch either, by the way, but I digress. The small body of work Austen managed to complete before her early death is solidly considered classic literature, and one or two of her novels are considered downright masterpieces, depending on who you ask.

Each novel has been adapted for the screen, and each has been adapted more than once, and that’s just in English. Austen’s novels have also been translated into over thirty languages.

Films have been made of transformed versions of her work changing the settings and adding elements like murder and the supernatural.

There is a thriving “variations” niche where Austen’s stories are reimagined, told from the viewpoints of other characters, giving insight where Austen left things to the imagination. I too have written what is known as Jane Austen para-literature or, as most people call it, fan fiction.

What is it about these novels that inspires adulation, devotion, imitation, adaptation, and more? They’re filled with stuffy, starchy, unpleasant, ridiculous characters, and Colin Firth. Kidding there, but Mr. Firth knows he will forever be Mr. Darcy to many fans of the 1995 miniseries version of Pride & Prejudice. Speaking of P&P, let’s use that novel to solve the riddle of why Austen’s works remain ever popular.

Who among us has not known the devious player out to get all the money and/or women he can?

What about the fun-loving girl who means well but always falls for the wrong guy?

The longsuffering father who doesn’t know what to do with his kids or his wife?

The mother who worries constantly about her children’s futures and accidentally embarrasses them?

The person who follows the loudest voice instead of using their own perfectly capable mind?

The one who can’t compete on looks or charm, and tries to distinguish themselves another way, but ends up being ridiculed instead of respected?

How about that one guy who seemed like a real jerk at first, but turned out to be okay once you get to know him?

The people who look down their noses at us because we don’t conform to everything they conform to?

And, of course, the sweet but far too-easily influenced friend or sibling we feel the need to protect from the rest of them.

We know ALL of these characters. We live with them, love them, dislike them. Take away the old language, the societal strictures, and the stifling etiquette and you are left with…people. Whether one lives in a shack or a palace, people are pretty much the same.

Jane Austen had a remarkable ability to capture human nature in all its flawed glory, and make it funny. She gave us imperfect heroes and heroines who somehow fall into happy endings in spite of themselves. That is what everyone wants in life. And that is why Austen’s writing endures.

Kate Warren is an author of contemporary and historical novels, as well as the occasional novella, poem, or other short work. She lives in Wisconsin with her husband, four children, and two dogs. She is also camera-shy, thus no picture. For more info about Kate and her work, please visit her website or connect with her @TheKateWarren on Twitter.

Thanks for reading. Comments encouraged!

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