In this clip from Love Between the Covers, Sarah Lyons (Austen scholar and co-founder of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance) says that Jane Austen “looked at the most important revolution of the last 250 years, which is the Domestic Revolution—the way we love and the way we interact with our intimate partners.”
How did Austen become the “mother of domestic novels and the marriage plot”? Why do romance readers continue to revisit and revise Austen’s work? How do “Janeites”—the worldwide community of readers, lay scholars, and fans of the British Author—feel about her being embraced by popular romance?
Memoirist Amy Elizabeth Smith, author of All Roads Lead to Austen: a Yearlong Journey with Jane, couldn’t believe her eyes when she found Jane Austen’s Fiction Manuscripts, a digital edition of “every stage of Austen’s writing—from the earliest juvenilia to the cancelled chapters from Persuasion (see right), considered by many her finest work, toSanditon, the novel she was writing when she grew too ill to hold a pen.” Smith takes The Popular Romance Project on a tour of the website’s features, including word searching, text transcriptions, and “zoomify” close-up looks at her revisions.
When Sarah Lyons calls Austen a “romance novelist,” she writes in this Popular Romance Project blog post, she usually gets a three-step reaction from Janeites: “a cringe, followed by a grudging admission that they suppose I’m probably right,” followed in turn by “an insistence that Austen’s works are so much deeper, so much more layered, so much better, so much more lasting than modern mass market romances.”
That insistence on Austen’s superiority didn’t stop the peer-reviewed journalPersuasions from publishing Lyons’ essay on “Darcy’s Vampiric Descendants: Austen’s Perfect Romance Hero and J. R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood.”
The missing link between Darcy and Vampires? Maybe it’s the poet Byron: a contemporary of Austen and far more popular, as Lyons explains—and the hero of his book-length poem The Corsair(1814), which sold 10,000 copies on the day of publication, became an enduring icon in romance: the “Byronic hero.” Why does he continue to appeal to female readers, whether in human form or as a paranormal being?
According to renowned historian and project scholar Stephanie Coontz, when the notion that marriage should be based on love emerged in the 18th century, conservatives warned that “love would be the death of marriage.” Were they right?
Jane Austen chronicled a “domestic revolution” in her own time, but what about the current revolution in marriage expectations? Project scholar Eli Finkel says that the “all or nothing” postmodern marriage is as new and revolutionary a development as the companionate marriage was in Austen’s day.
Oxford professor Kathryn Sutherland praises the social realism and moral seriousness that Austen brought to the then-new form of the novel.
Modern lovers and spouses may be inspired by Austen, says sociologist Eva Illouz in her article for The Huffington Post, but the things we ask from love today are radically different from those her characters searched for—and so is the social context of courtship.
New film and TV adaptations of Austen come out every few years, always stirring controversy among Austen aficionados. The Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) offers a handy list with links, sorted by novel.
Onstage, a relatively new musical adaptation of Sense and Sensibility is winning kudos; here’s a montage of scenes and songs from the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre production (see left).
Contemporary romance novelists often write novels based on or revisiting material from Austen. For an understated historical, try Mary Ballogh’s Slightly Dangerous; for something lighter, take a look at Gwen Cready’s comic paranormal romance, the RITA award-winning Seducing Mr. Darcy.
In the Lambda-award finalist Pride/Prejudice, Ann Herendeen goes one step further, “slashing” Pride and Prejudice with same-sex couplings that counterpoint the familiar plot in witty, revealing ways.