I love that ABC News recently covered the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) Convention—comparing Jane Austenites to sports fans or Trekkies in their enthusiasm and dedication.
However, I grow weary of the media taking the sloppy and limiting approach of focusing on the Mr. Darcy-Romantic Heartthrob angle as the sole reason that readers love Jane Austen. Jane Austen is absolutely Mr. Darcy, but she is also SO much more for those who pay a little attention.
Why Mr. Darcy? Mr. Darcy encapsulates Jane Austen’s ability to define and create characters that can hold our attention after 200 years, her skill at making them come alive through dialogue and description, and her talent of placing them in engaging plots. Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth Bennett, Marianne Dashwood, John Willoughby, Emma Woodhouse, even Mr. Elton—all come alive.
What more? Jane Austen’s books are filled with a sharp sense of wit and irony, scathing social satire, beautiful language and sentence constructions, and subtle (and not-so-subtle) character and plot developments. Her books were some of the first to describe the inequities of the gender and societal expectations of the time—some stated outright while some mere allusions. And her books depict the striving to create authentic relationships and life choices. Her female characters not only yearn for their independence and freedom, but actively seek it out, sometimes to our cheering and applause—like with Anne Elliot and Fanny Price—and sometimes to our disdain—like with Lucy Steele and Mary Crawford.
True love? So while Jane Austen succeeds in creating a handsome romantic lead in Mr. Darcy, she also creates a true love for authentic characters and a passion for evocative literature. One day I hope to join in on the fun of a JASNA Convention, and when I do, my fingers are crossed that I will interview with a media outlet that is knowledgeable about so much more than Mr. Darcy-as-Romantic Heartthrob.