Jane Austen Can Change Your Love Life

Members of “The Jane Austen Book Club”

Film Friday


Although my First Year Jane Austen Seminar ended in the middle of December, my life continued to be filled with Austen over the holidays. Driving down to Tennessee, Julia and I listened to a recording of Persuasion and I was reminded once again what a passionate work it is. In a number of ways, Anne Elliott strikes me as a disciplined (and older) Marianne Dashwood (from Sense and Sensibility).

Then, while there, I watched two Austen films that I’d been meaning to see.  One, The Jane Austen Book Club, was excellent.  The other, Lost in Austen (actually a television mini-series), was not.

My own book club had read Karen Jay Fowler’s Jane Austen Book Club and, as we had previously read all of Austen’s novels, we had a great deal of fun matching up the novel’s book club members with Austen characters.  But while one has more time to do so when one is reading a book, I still think I liked the film better.  The joy of movies is the intensity of the immersion experience, and the fact that one barely has time to note which lives match up with which gives a sense that these people’s lives are all Austen all the time

Sometimes book club members float between books.  For instance, Prudie (the French teacher, played by Emily Blunt) seems to be a blend of Fanny Price and Anne Elliott.  On the one hand, she is reserved like Fanny and she is almost tempted by a suave actor who could be Henry Crawford. But there’s also a Persuasion drama—a lover who has ceased to love her finds her again.  In one of the novel’s sweetest scenes, she wins him back by the two of them reading Persuasion to each other out loud.

The Persuasion drama also shows up in Syliva, whose husband leaves her for another woman and then returns. Meanwhile their daughter, also a member of the book club, could be Marianne Dashwood, seeking thrills and falling in love with a faithless lover but ultimately ending up with an established doctor.  And yes, I know that a lesbian doctor does not immediately bring Colonel Brandon to mind.

And then of course there’s an Emma, showing up in Jocelyn (played by Maria Bello).  Joceylyn tries to arrange relationships for other people until she decides she wants the man for herself.

Bernadette (Kathy Baker), who has had multiple husbands, seems to be in the grip of the Pride and Prejudice fantasy.  My novelist friend Rachel Kranz can’t stand Pride and Prejudice because she thinks it leads women to be dissatisfied—after all, what romance can match up with the Elizabeth-Darcy romance?—and Bernadette seems to make her point.  So does the heroine of Lost in Austen, who hides out in Pride and Prejudice in part because her own love life is so unsatisfactory.  But while I liked the premise of the miniseries—after all, I sometimes feel that the books I am in are more real than my life—it failed to come alive for me.  Whereas The Jane Austen Book Club convincingly makes the point of this blog: look at the world through the lens of literature and your life really can be changed.

One other vacation note.  My mother is a fan of mysteries and I took the occasion while in Sewanee to read a number of her Amanda Cross (a.k.a. Carolyn Heilbrun) mysteries.  Again, I felt right as home as the heroine, English prof/detective Kate Fansler, processes everything through literature.  In one book Auden is Fansler’s guide, while  Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” structures another of the novels.  Over and over the books dramatically make the point that life is a lot richer if you can apply passages from literary classics to it.

So keep reading.

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

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