Jane Austen’s Relevance to a Modern Audience

Jane Austen’s Relevance to a Modern Audience

by Regina Jeffers

Regina-270x300Hello, Everyone. My name is a Regina Jeffers, and I am a Jane Austen addict. I am also a late bloomer when it comes to writing Austen-inspired fiction. I did not begin my writing career until late 2008. My first book came out in February 2009 (released by Ulysses Press). I was 60 years of age at the time. Since then, I have published 9 Austen titles, one contemporary romance, 8 Regency romances, 2 Regency novellas, and 2 short stories in 2 different anthologies. Coming in 2015, I will have an Austen novel, two Austen novellas, and 2 Regencies. What can I say? I need a life. So much so, that I agreed to assist Sharon Lathan with the resurrection of Austen Authors.

Prior to writing, I spent 40 years in the public school classrooms of three different states. I taught every grade except for kindergarten. As a reading specialist, I spent several years in Title I programs, but I have also taught the other end of the spectrum, Advanced Placement classes. That being said, beyond teaching, I have held a variety of jobs over the years: tax preparer, media consultant, dancer, journalist, waitress, etc., sometimes working several jobs at once. Heck! When I was in school, there were no student loans available. Of course, I also typed on a manual typewriter rather than this MacBookPro. LOL!

My life now centers around my writing and my two adorable grand “joys” (one of which presented me with a nasty upper respiratory infection last week),along with spending “me” time with some of my dearest friends. Kim and I are off to Winston-Salem next weekend to watch a production of “Pride and Prejudice.” I hope to connect with Laura Woodside Hartness, who just returned to North Carolina from Georgia.

Yes, their parents are Buckeye fans!
Yes, their parents are Buckeye fans!

As Sharon and I return to the world of JAFF (with another 16 trusted authors at our sides), I wish to welcome back many of our previous followers, as well as our newcomers. We have many surprises planned for you. Enjoy the ride. I guarantee we will!

As we celebrate Jane Austen with the relaunch of Austen Authors, I thought it prudent to examine what makes “our” Jane so popular. Austen’s influence proves that the past is always in the process of being reinvented. There have been over 300 continuations, retellings, adaptations, and sequels to Austen’s works.

In Ian Watt’s Rise of the Novel, the author says Austen combines the internal and external approaches to character, that she has authenticity without diffuseness or trickery, and that Austen offers a sense of social order, which is not achieved at the expense of individuality and autonomy of the characters.

pp1-300x225And Devoney Looser says in “Feminist Impressions of the Silver Screen Austen,” that Austen’s worlds “…were not populated with upper-class gentlemen.” Sir Walter Scott referred to Austen’s novels as about the ‘middling classes,’…and Madame de Staël called them simply ‘vulgaire.’ …It was not until our own century that Lord David Cecil attempted to ‘co-opt Austen…into the aristocracy.'” But it does not take a genius to see that “what motivates the action is neither aristocratic arrogance or greed. Anxieties about money and status abound in the novels and the adaptations – and not simply to keep up with the Joneses or the de Bourghs.”

As we all know, Austen conveys life stories, which are small, but perfect. Her subjects are common, ordinary families. Austen sees things as they are and as they ought to be. Her happy endings translate the heroine’s moral assets into material ones.

So, what are some characteristics of Austen that may be easily translated into modern times?

Theme/Plot/Style

** Jane Austen wrote about the mundane, interior lives of deliberately prosaic characters.

** Austen fills her stories with strong irony and rigorous social critique.

** Her ironic take on society is delivered in a reassuring, sisterly voice.

** Her works deal with the believable, timeless obstacles of class, money, and misunderstandings, which make her works adaptable to any era.

** Austen’s witty, satirical approach to her subjects resonates with contemporary readers.

** Jane Austen looks at society through a comedic screen, examining the problems of a male dominated society.

** Jane Austen’s novels focus on personal conduct and that within a complex system of estates, incomes, and social position, personal conduct creates a bridge between private moral order and social order.

** “Family” is the building block of society.

** Austen’s subject matter remains universal.

** Austen focuses on themes that never die: marriage; social pressure; generation gap, etc.

** Austen proves ordinary people can have interesting lives.

** Her novels focus on the tenuous position of women, who accept the fact they must marry in order to achieve social acceptance.

** Adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels hold a mirror to our own society and expand Jane Austen’s keen analysis of the vicissitudes of class.

Female Characters

** The reader is presented with a protagonist whose life and social position appear similar to her own.

** Austen’s women are women of sense; they embody the notion of rational love.

** Her characters speak to what we were, what we are, and what we want to be.

**Austen’s works hold resonance with Western liberal feminists – a sort of mainstreaming of feminism.

Mr-Darcy-pride-and-prejudice-2005-27959402-500-500-150x150Male Characters

** Courtship offers the hero a paradoxical challenge in that he must follow normalizing rules of public behavior in order to create uniquely personal emotional connections.

** The visual text escapes Austen’s verbal control and encourages her audience to interpret it.

** Modern readers appreciate the male hero’s displaying his struggle to achieve emotional expression, which will bring him into balance. He physically displays the emotions he cannot speak.

** We create “masculine balance” according to our own emotion-based criteria, while Austen creates our ideas of masculinity. Her characters’ internal contradictions become harmonized.

Ideas for this piece come from…

Flirting with Pride & Prejudice: Fresh Perspectives on the Original Chick-Lit Masterpiece (edited by Jennifer Crusie) ©2005.

Jane Austen in Hollywood, 2nd Ed. (edited by Linda Troost & Sayre Greenfield) ©2001.

25 Responses to Jane Austen’s Relevance to a Modern Audience

  1. So true. I have read many books about Darcy and Elizabeth and find some of the modern ones work really well. The basic story is timeless and I can’t believe the number of variations you and others come up with. Thanks so much ?

  2. My thoughts won’t be so precious if I tell you the reason I was attracted to this story is because the photo of “Waiting for my Mr. Darcy” looked like an Oreo to me and I rushed over to see what was up with that? Hahaha! This is a great article, as always, Regina. You have a knack for finding and communicating things that are super interesting to many people. Thanks!

  3. Thank you for the lovely post! You have fit in so nicely with the other authors that write P & P variations. I have read all of your novels and you do a remarkable job with the plot as reading material and also educational as well. I am happy and glad that you are among some of the great authors that I do cherish and do Jane Austen proud!
    Thank you once again and do look forward to your next novel and keep that spark burning that gives you your inspiration for writing.

  4. Brilliant post! It really is amazing, when you stop and think about it, to realize how relevant Austen’s themes are 200 years later. I suppose that’s why I enjoy modern variations as much as the Regencys.

  5. Regina, you amaze me with your knowledge and enthusiasm for all things Jane Austen, and your ability to write so prolifically. I cannot imagine being able to write so many great books in so short a period of time. This post yet again proves why you are one of the foremost authors in JAFF and I am thrilled to be a part of any group with which you are associated.

  6. Wow Regina I was finding myself re-reading this and smiling. Your words seem to be the perfect balance between impassioned artist and devoted scholar of the english language. I particularly loved the way you revealed the under pinnings of Jane Austens thinking and why its so relevant today. Im also so glad Austen Authors is back and lifting Jane Austen’s banner high. I was particularly struck with these words….

    “As we all know, Austen conveys life stories, which are small, but perfect. Her subjects are common, ordinary families. Austen sees things as they are and as they ought to be. Her happy endings translate the heroine’s moral assets into material ones.”

    • Steve, it is great to claim you as a friend along with Sharon. This past year left a great deal of time for reflection, not just of my own writing, but of the inspiration I take from Austen.

  7. Thank you for this wonderful and inspiring post. Your talent and creativity is admirable and special. I am glad that your writing is a treasure for me to enjoy. AA is a very delightful place to visit.

  8. Hi Regina! So happy to see you. I am thrilled you, Sharon and AuAu are back. Although I was already reading and hunting for all things Austen, AuAu was my gateway to Austen blogging. Thank you!

    Wonderful post! Austen is timeless. It is amazing how much we love the originals, how many ways that can be found to twist, add and modify the original and how we all continue to crave more. Thank you for your part in feeding my Austen addiction. I look forward to our conversations! I have missed you.

  9. Regina, I loved how you summed it up here. Yes there is something in Austen to inspire each and every one of us. Your books are some of my favorite reads and re-reads.Thanks for all the work you and Sharon have done to get AUAU going again. I’m looking forward to 2015! ~Jen Red~

    • We are looking forward to 2015 also, Jennifer. It is great to channel our love for Austen into this project. Since Sharon and I agreeing to relaunch AuAu, I have written one Austen novella and nearly finished another. The relaunch has refocused my writing.

  10. What a wonderful post Regina! I love how Jane’s works are so timeless. I have the book “Flirting with Jane Austen” on my TBR and you have inspired me to bring it higher on that list. By the way, I enjoy your books so much. Thank you for writing such beautiful stories.

    • As I said above, Joana, I was searching for an intangible for why I should continue to write. Naturally, I loved to Austen; she wrote when others thought her work a waste of time.

  11. Regina it’s nice to see you back! I’ve missed you. As you know you were my very first JAFF read and I became hooked. Of course it started with Jane herself and the need to read more! I welcome AUAU back and all her new authors. Thank you Regina and Sharon!

  12. Regina, thank you so much for this post. What you have accomplished in the short time that you’ve been writing wears me out. Good for you!

    One of the things that I found most curious about Jane Austen’s writings was how easily they seem to translate to the modern day. Most striking to me is when they are put in a high school or a corporate setting. Who knew that it could translate into situations that are so diverse in their complexity, yet the story unfolds the same. Well done, Jane Austen!

    • Very true, Joy. Of course, adjustments must be made. For example, elopements no longer carry the stigma they did in Austen’s time. Nowadays, a person can jet off to Las Vegas, pronounce his vows, and be back home before anyone knows the difference. Yet, even so Austen’s observations of human nature speak to all of us.

Your thoughts are precious!