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.

I argue that she 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...
— Sarah Lyons, The Popular Romance Project


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.

So she took that implausible love story and domesticated it by putting it in a very realistic [setting] down to the teacups and the empire dresses and the social formalities and the way that the dialogue is very informal, not highly poeticized.
— April Allison, The Popular Romance Project

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! 

"Your haven in a world programmed to misunderstand obsession with things Austen."

"Your haven in a world programmed to misunderstand obsession with things Austen."


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.

The day I discovered this site, my husband felt compelled to peek into my office to see what my exclamations of “I don’t believe it,” and “This is amazing!” were all about. Seriously.
— Amy Elizabeth Smith on the Austen manuscripts, The Popular Romance Project
An edited page from the  Persuasion  manuscript,   London British Library

An edited page from the Persuasion manuscript, London British Library

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.

A JASNA event

A JASNA event

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


How could she be anything else [but a romance novelist]? Non-romance critics might label her genre the domestic novel or the courtship novel or might just label her “the best” and leave out genre classification, but she wrote romances.
— Sarah Lyons, The Popular Romance Project

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.”  

One book in Ward's "Black Dagger Brotherhood" series

One book in Ward's "Black Dagger Brotherhood" series

The modern version of Darcy’s moderate expression of his love for Elizabeth and his appreciation of her influence over him... is the extreme of a superhuman vampire weeping for the love of his heroine.
— Sarah Lyons, "Darcy's Vampiric Descendants..."

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." 



And he created the Byronic hero, right? He created this hero with the nameless crimes who broods over his criminal acts, he’s undeserving of love no matter what because of these terrible things that he’s done that he won’t talk to anybody about.
— Sarah Lyons describes the Byronic hero, The Popular Romance Project

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? 

Stephanie Coontz

Stephanie Coontz

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.

Listen to his description of this new marital ideal—and how to “hack” it for greater happiness—in his TED talk.  

Oxford professor Kathryn Sutherland praises the social realism and moral seriousness that Austen brought to the then-new form of the novel.

No wonder, then, that Karen Swallow Prior testifies that everything she knows about marriage, she learned from Pride and Prejudice.


In Jane Austen’s world, affairs of the heart did not belong to an independent realm, impervious to reason and morality: they were tightly entwined with both. Love, as Austen says in Emma, grew out of “attachment and habit.” It was not a rupture in the pattern of existence, but something which developed over time, through familiarity with each other’s families and daily lives.
— Eva Illouz, Huffington Post
Courtship  by Edmund Blair Leighton

Courtship by Edmund Blair Leighton

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.