It is a truth universally acknowledged that anyone with sense and sensibility is probably a Jane Austen fan.
I just had to say that.
Perhaps “fan” is too strong a word. It is short for “fanatic,” after all. Perhaps “appreciator” is a slightly more inclusive word. Still, the fact remains: appreciate the works of Jane Austen, and you elevate yourself to the plateau of The Well-Cultured Soul.
A lot of people write off Jane Austen’s novels (or the films based off of the novels) as “boring.” The plot moves too slowly, they cry, or the novels deal too heavily with the trivial ins and outs and seemingly meaningless subtleties of the characters’ lives. These tend to be the same people who spend untold hours dilly-dallying around on Facebook. I have no further comment.
The Austenites are the quiet fandom. These are the kids who didn’t say much in class, but always got killer grades in English, particularly British English. These are the kids who know the value of spending hours up a tree with an apple and a book. Okay, it’s a little hard to stereotype the readers of Austen, because those who are tend to be interested in a lot of different things. Because they’re awesome that way.
The braver ones of us walk around with t-shirts that say things like “Team Darcy” or “Team Col. Brandon” “I must have my share in the conversation.” I may or may not be in the possession of one such t-shirt.
Jane Austen wrote the original nerdy love story. Think about it. I mean, you’ll hear the Austenites talking about what a heartthrob Darcy is (and, well, he is), but what is Darcy, really? He is an extremely shy and introverted man who is uncomfortable around strangers and has difficulty communicating his true feelings, or even unveiling his less-than-stiff-and-actually-incredibly-clever personality. Yes, he’s a bit of a jerk at the beginning of the story because he has a far too elevated opinion of himself (and many geeks do, let’s admit), but even at the end, he’s still as shy and adorably awkward at communicating as he was in the beginning. Just read the second proposal scene. Honestly. But we still love him. We love him because in his way, he’s a backward, nerdy underdog who has a massive crush on another introverted and quick-witted bookworm. Regency style nerdy lurve right there, folks.
Austen also teaches us a few valuable lessons. I could park on this topic for weeks, but I won’t. For today, let’s stick with the tried-and-true “appearances can be deceiving” moral to the story. Case study: Wickham. I know I seem to be pulling all of my examples from one book, but she tends to use the same archetypes in different books to prove a point. Substitute “Willoughby” or “Frank Churchill” every time I type “Wickham,” and what I am writing will remain true.
When we first meet Wickham, he appears to be the all-caps Perfect Man. He’s handsome, charming, funny, has a good job, is nice to everyone (at least to their faces), and is very good at that whole smolder-stare thing that is apparently some kind of timeless tool for attracting women. Darcy (or Col. Brandon, or Mr. Knightly) isn’t nearly as appealing at first sight—he’s too stuck up, too old, too quiet, too whatever. However, as time and the plot progresses, we discover that Wickham is in fact a total scumbag bent on destroying the hearts and futures of the young women he victimizes. He’s a wolf in lion’s clothing. A snake in the grass. A charlatan. A philanderer. A Gaston compared to the Beastly Darcy. There aren’t words nasty enough to describe such men, so I’m going to stop there.
However, this horrible man is crucial to the unveiling of the hero’s true character. If it were not for the misdeeds of the villain, the hero wouldn’t have a chance to step up and make everything right again. Darcy flexed his fiscal muscles to repair the reputation of Lizzie’s family. Col. Brandon coaxed the broken-spirited Marianne back into the sunlight using the power of his words and the words of William Shakespeare (at least he does in the film—and I don’t think it’s a far cry from what Jane Austen imagined). Mr. Knightly proved himself the true friend, who knew that flattery wouldn’t help Emma at all, and chose to tell her the truth about herself. I’m oversimplifying, but Austen’s point is this: ladies, just because the Wickham in your life seems to be exactly what you’ve hoped for doesn’t mean he’s what you need. You may, in fact, need someone who has all the goodness, instead of all the appearance of it.
Boom. You just got Austened. Truth universally acknowledged, right there.
Normally I would use my last paragraph or two to tie together my strands of thought and bring the post to its point. Trouble with this post is that there is no real point, other than to call the blogosphere’s attention to the awesomeness of Jane Austen and the existence of the Austenites. There’s a reason that classic literature is classic—with or without fancy clothes and elaborate language, people are the same kind of people that they are today. There are a lot of Lizzies and Emmas, Janes, Mariannes and Elenors, and Darcys, Bingleys, Brandons and Knightlys out there—and they all have their noses between the pages of a good book.