November 21, 2014

Flogging the Austen horse

I’ve already had rants about the interminable rehashing of Shakespeare that goes on and the new James Bond books that keep appearing, so I now have to ask myself, why would six “authors of global significance” * agree to do modern re-writes of the Austen classic novels?   I doubt any of them are that hard up for a crust so what is the rationale? The reviewer in The Daily Express who considers the latest re-write of Emma by Alexander McCall Smith a “complete waste of time”, makes a similar observation:
 “… What a profoundly misconceived idea it has been, to get six famous authors to reimagine the Austen oeuvre and risk damaging their own reputations along the way.
And earlier The Guardian review of Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid asks:
... But the real question is, why? Why do it? Who's it for? The world is neck-deep in Austen knock-offs, from the sensational (Bridget Jones's Diary, Clueless) to the lamentable (Austenland). As an author, she has not just been done to death, she has been pounded, repeatedly and continuously, with a stick made out of a dead horse.”
Other reviewers and readers have given all three books thus far in the series a lukewarm reception, so what was the publisher expecting to happen?  (Also see Sense & Sensibility by Joanna Trollope.) All these authors are highly respected for their own quality of writing, so why did they agree to do this and leave themselves open to poor opinion, even risk ridicule?  I might feel sorry for the other three authors beavering away at the other titles, except that I doubt they are doing it for anything other than financial gain or publicity.

I must own up and come out of the chiffonier on this and admit I wouldn't read any of these re-writes anyway as I'm not a Jane Austen fan to begin with. When I was younger I did read/attempt most of her books (I still have the full collection on my shelves) but I could never quite see what all the fuss was about. I do enjoy some of the film and television versions of her works, but reading her is a bit of a chore. My own favourite heroine from that similar era remains the spunky Becky Sharp of Vanity Fair. 

Now I’m older and wiser (more crotchety) I won’t even try Austen again. I’ve become more of a history realist as to what life was really like for the majority of people during the Regency era and it bore little resemblance to Jane's genteel provincialism. That said, I do appreciate that her work is loved by millions, that it was escapist reading for many two centuries ago, as it still is today.

Jane died aged only 41, some sources say an infection, others that it was Addison’s Disease, but even the poor woman’s demise is not immune from others messing about with her. See here

I was relieved to see there are many other bloggers who feel as I do about Jane Austen – some of them far ruder too – and I hardly need mention I’ve always been a massive fan of Mark Twain who uttered some classic quips about her.

MT with JA shinbone. I love this!
Mark Jones

Now this could be real cool.  Copyright

* This pointless project has been set up by Harper Collins - see small print at the bottom of the web page.  

PS      I also just discovered that Austen will feature on ten pound banknotes from 2017, but women are still very much under represented on UK currency. Not counting the Queen on the five dollar note, even Australian currency features important women equally with men on all its other notes and I'm surprised the UK couldn't do better!

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