Austen in Pop Culture: Television

Austen in Pop Culture: Television

Austen references are everywhere, and while I relish each and every one, I get particularly excited when she creeps into my favorite TV shows. Maybe it’s because the medium feels so incongruous with the world of her novels, or perhaps hearing her name on television simply emphasizes her pervasiveness, but it thrills me either way. I just got back from vacation in the Alps and am still in holiday mode and not much inclined towards serious pursuits, so I thought I’d share some of my most beloved Austen TV references this month. Obviously, I’m not talking about the many phenomenal adaptations of her novels that were made for television. As much as I love period dramas, they convey a completely different kind of cathartic experience from the cozy giddiness I feel whenever I hear Sheldon Cooper call Pride and Prejudice “a flawless masterpiece.” Oh, I do love that! The Big Bang Theory has always shone a light on geek counter culture, usually the male-dominated world of gaming and comic books, but it is only through the character of Amy Farrah Fowler, a writer of Little House on the Prairie fan fiction, that the show explores the literary side of geekiness, leading us to this wonderful sequence:

Ah! That is sooooo satisfying to hear on national television. Sheldon may be a fictional character, but his opinion still holds a sense of indisputable finality (particularly when I agree with it). Here is the transcript, just in case the clip doesn’t work everywhere:

LEONARD – Why are you reading Pride and Prejudice?

SHELDON – I’ll tell you why. Amy ruined Raiders of the Lost Ark for me. So now I’m trying to find something beloved to her and ruin that.

HOWARD – Because her life wasn’t enough?


LEONARD – Watcha doing?

SHELDON – Oh, it turn out Amy’s beloved Pride and Prejudice is a flawless masterpiece. He’s got too much pride. She’s got too much prejudice. It just works.

Jane Austen has something of an omnipresence in the Doctor Who universe. Though she never appears in the flesh, her character is still part the show, perhaps most beguiling in her relationship to Clara Oswald. There has been much speculation about the relationship between these two women. Draw your own conclusions: I just like to hear Austen spoken of so warmly.

RIGSY – So this is your life, then, just bouncing around time saving people, right?

CLARA – No, not every day. Sometimes Jane Austen and I prank each other. Oh, she is the worst, I love her. Take that how you like.

This next clip I could only find at the beginning of a fan video. Watch it in its entirety if you wish, but just the first nine seconds will do.

CLARA – Jane Austen: amazing writer, brilliant comic observer, and strictly amongst ourselves, a phenomenal kisser.

Looking back a bit, I cannot overlook Blackadder the Third, every episode of which is a play on the title of Sense and Sensibility, for example Duel and Duality and Nob and Nobility. In the second episode, Ink and Incapability, we get this gem:

BALDRICK – Gertrude Perkins?

BLACKADDER – Yes. I gave myself a female pseudonym. Everybody’s doing it these days: Mrs. Radcliffe, Jane Austen.

BALDRICK – What? Jane Austen’s a man? 

BLACKADDER – Of course. A huge Yorkshireman with a beard like a rhododendron. 

BALDRICK – Oh, quite a small one then.

BLACKADDER – Compared to Dorothy Wordsworth’s, certainly. James Boswell is the only real woman writing at the moment, and that’s just because she wants to get inside Johnson’s britches.

Probably my very favorite Austen reference on TV is from the last season of The Vicar of Dibley. Unfortunately, I can’t find the very best moment on YouTube, so we’ll have to make do with a Richard Armitage fan video from the show. As the reference spans two episodes, in order to get you right to the magic moments I’ve posted the same video twice, set to play at different times. Here is the first clip:

GERALDINE – Um, I love Jane Austen. Yeah. I think Sense & Sensibility is my favorite. Well only of the ones where the girl get swept off her feet by a handsome stranger, after a couple of juicy fistfights and a terrible misunderstanding.

HARRY – Right. And, uh, that ever happen to you around here? Any handsome strangers ever sweep you off your feet?

GERALDINE – No, no. Not yet.

GERALDINE – I’ve just been rewatching Sense & Sensibility. 


GERALDINE – Yeah. It’s that moment where Emma Thompson finds out that Hugh Grant is not engaged to another woman, but that he’s single and available and that he loves her after all.

HARRY – Oh! Yes, and she makes that extraordinary noise.

GERALDINE – Yeah! She goes “bluuugh.” Like that: “bluuugh.” Like she’s, uh …

HARRY – Giving birth!

GERALDINE – … to some enormous great big giant baby. “Bluuugh! Bluuugh!” Like that.

(SPOILER ALERT! Later in the episode, after Geraldine mistakes Harry’s sister for his girlfriend, he comes to her, like Edward to Elinor, to both explain the mistake and propose, and she makes the “bluuugh” noise in response. It is probably one of the most hysterical things I have ever seen on television. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend watching the entire series so that you can fully experience the beauty of the moment.)

My last clip is a bit different from the rest, as it is part of Colin Firth’s opening monologue for Saturday Night Live when he hosted in 2004, performed alongside Amy Poehler. I have again queued up the clip, but go ahead and watch the monologue in its entirety if you so choose (just refresh the video), soaking up the Firthy goodness while trying not to cringe at the dated humor.

Collin – And for those of you who watch A&E, you might be familiar with Pride & Prejudice, where I play the part of Mr. …

Amy – Mr. Darcy! You could not address me in any possible way that would induce me to accept you.

Collin – OK. I think I know this one. This is, uh: Such I was I from age eight and twenty, and such I might still have been but for you, dearest, loveliest Elizabeth.

Amy – Whew!

Colin – That’s a scene from Pride & Prejudice.

Amy – Yes it is.

Have I missed one of your favorite Austen references on TV? Please share in the comments!

12 Responses to Austen in Pop Culture: Television

  1. I’ve only ever seen the SNL clip before. I guess I watch the wrong tv shows. I used to watch Dr Who but stopped after Amy and Rory left so missed the Clara-Jane Austen relationship. Thanks for sharing.

  2. There are a couple from Downton Abbey with the dowager and Mrs Crawley and another friend of hers that are great.

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