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?
Here's Sarah Lyons on the dynamic role that Austen played in portraying the move from a dynastic marriage system to a companionate marriage system that has occurred over the past two and a half centuries.
In Love Between the Covers, Princeton Professor April Alliston says that Austen “domesticated romance”—and although we’re still “living in that time period where we want realistic fiction, but we also love a good love story and a happy ending,” something about the flux of modern society makes us long for the more ritualized social world that she describes.
The “first port of call” for Austen on the web, says scholar Katie Halsey, is The Republic of Pemberley: a rich, remarkable site boasting “digital versions of all of Austen’s novels and letters, most of the juvenilia and her unfinished works, and a variety of Austen-related pages, such as a filmography, lists and maps of locations where Austen’s novels were set and filmed, pages of Regency fashions and caricatures, lists and reviews of Austen sequels, and Austenian fanfiction,” and that’s not all! Halsey introduces the site for The Popular Romance Project. Swing by, browse around, and perhaps join a discussion board!
Need a daily dose of Austen in your life—or even an hourly update? Nourish your Twitter feed with quotes from @DailyJaneAusten and @AustenQuotes, hang out with the “avid researchers of all things Austen” @JaneAustenLIVES, get the latest news from the virtual Republic of Pemberley @pemberleydotcom, and do some armchair travel to the real-life Jane Austen Centre in Bath @JaneAustenBath.
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, to Sanditon, 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.
If you love Austen, you’re not alone. The Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) has “over 4,500 members and more than 70 regional groups in the United States and Canada,” and the society’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) is “a literary conference, a celebration of Jane Austen, and a collegial gathering of JASNA members.”
The Jane Austen Society of the United Kingdom hosts talks and events around the UK, and their robust website features pages on Clothes of the Jane Austen Period and a lively set of Myths Exploded.
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 journal Persuasions 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? Coontz explores the intertwined histories of modern love and modern marriage,in her paper "The Origins of Modern Divorce,
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.