Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Jane in the 21st century

Who doesn't love Jane Austen? Well, actually, there probably are some curmudgeonly people who don't, but it is a truth universally acknowledged among those who read that to know her is to love her. One can sink into one of her novels and completely lose oneself in the morals, mores, and manners of late eighteenth century England. It was a time when roles in society, particularly women's roles in society, were strictly defined and limited, and social intercourse was tightly choreographed, not unlike the country dances that were so popular in the period.

There has been a surge in the popularity of Jane in the past 10 to 15 years, spurred on by some truly wonderful film versions of her books and by successful books written in homage to Jane or in her style.

I just finished reading one of those "homage" books. It was The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler. I had actually seen the movie based on this book, but evidentally it didn't make too big an impression on me, because I couldn't remember much about it other than the concept. It is about six Californians who form a book club to read and discuss the six novels of Jane Austen and who discover, in their reading, parallels between Jane's stories and their own lives. I thought Fowler did a creditable job of drawing those parallels and of making the point of Jane's relevancy to our times. Human nature truly never changes, and Jane was a consummate observer of and reporter on human nature. Today's dances may be different than they were in Jane's time - the people aren't.

I actually enjoyed this book quite a lot. Maybe I picked it up when I was in just the right mood for it, at a time when I needed its gentle diversion. For whatever reason, it was a fun read for me. I liked and empathized with all the characters, and I finished reading wanting to know more about them and hoping that things would work out well for each of them. Since I can now make up my own endings for them, I can tell you that, in fact, things did work out well for them! (I love it when I get to be "the decider.")

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