What’s the Jane Austen News this week?
History Lessons Via Romantic Novels
Writing for the History News Network, Robert W. Thurston, Professor Emeritus of History at Miami University, has proposed the idea that, rather than teachers and textbooks, a lot of the historical information many people learn nowadays comes from romance novels.
Sales of romance novels climbed to $1.08 billion in 2013 and continues to grow. The Romance Writers of America (RWA) found in a 2014 survey that 64 percent of readers went through at least one book a week. It’s not only women that are reading more historical romances either. Women comprise 78% of readers, but the men’s share has risen to the remaining 22%, up from just 7% in a 2002 survey.
Historical romances give us vital information on the everyday lives, customs, manners and important events of the eras in which they are set. Jane Austen for example teaches us that society was focused on marriage; that money today is not worth what it was back then (£10,000 a year? Peanuts today); and a whole host of other things. Romance novels, Thurston says, are undeserving of their frivolous reputation.
The vast and growing popularity of romances should not be cause for alarm; no one can stand at the ocean’s shore and make the tide retreat. Rather, the academy would do well to consider the influence of these books on the public mind and to see in courses, scholarly work, and public discussions what steps might be taken to critique the values the stories transmit.
Leisure Time – Jane Austen’s Era Vs. Today
It’s not uncommon to feel as if you never get any time off. When reading Jane’s novels you can find yourself wondering how on earth Jane’s characters found so much leisure time? Even more than this, how did Jane find the time to write so much? Well, according to Laura Vanderkam, writing for Verily magazine, a lot of the fault lies with our screens, and not in fact with the modern trend for employment!
The American Time Use Survey says that, on any given day, 96% of Americans are engaged in some sort of leisure activity, e.g. watching TV or socialising. The average man spent 6 hours on leisure activities, and the average woman spent 5.2 hours. Even employed people with kids under age 6 had over 3 hours of leisure time per day.
The problem is that so much of it is spent looking at screens that the time doesn’t feel long and leisurely. This contributes to the false perception that, unlike those Bennet sisters or Bingley and Darcy of Austen’s world, we have no free time at all.
So if you want to write a novel like Jane, or have more time for things like picnicking at Box Hill as they do in Emma, maybe the answer is to take a holiday from technology?
Jane’s “Power Couples”
At the Jane Austen News we recently came across an article listing some of the greatest power couples in literature. We were intrigued and read on. Some of the couples included were:
- Penelope and Odysseus – The Odyssey
- Romeo and Juliet – Romeo and Juliet
- Ron and Hermione – The Harry Potter Series
What really surprised us was when we came to the Jane Austen power couple. Elizabeth and Mr Darcy got a mention, but it was Emma and Mr Knightly who won the Austen power couple title.
Their love teaches the novel’s main lesson: that a person should not exploit their superiority. The couple are a perfect intellectual match: it is their conversation which fuels their love for each other.
A very good argument! And nice to see Jane’s other heroes and heroines getting recognition. Which couple would you choose?
Jane – Championing Boring Men Since 1811
This week a round of applause from us at the Jane Austen News goes to a gentleman blogger who has reminded us of one of the reasons why we love Sense and Sensibility (“Jane Austen’s ode to the virtues of staid and boring guys”) so much.
Blogger Noah Berlatsky makes a very good point that there aren’t that many books whose heroes could be described as your everyday sort of man. They tend to have either exceptional wealth, great looks, tons of bravery, or are irresistibly charming etc etc. Colonel Brandon and Edward Ferrars he says, break this stereotype and give him hope.
In Hollywood, guys always have to be heroes. Or at least, in romantic plots, guys are always supposed to want to be the heroic dude, who dazzles with his good looks, and/or wealth, and/or vast personal courage and/or bad boy raffishness. Sense and Sensibility is a welcome respite: a book for all the guys who aren’t, and maybe don’t want to be, romantic heroes. For the dull, the average, and the aging, it’s good to hear that even those who wear flannel waistcoats deserve love.
On Your Marks. Get Set. Dance!
Brentford Boarding School on Vancouver Island recently went on one of the most brilliant field trips we think we’ve ever heard of!
Students from the school who had been reading Pride and Prejudice in their Literature class got dressed up in their best Regency finery and set off for a tea party and afternoon dance at a picturesque waterfront house. The setting was perfect, the dances traditional, and the aim of the dance echoed the aims of almost all of the dances Jane wrote about…
On the bus on the way there everyone had been given a character to play and the goal of the ladies was, through conversation, to find the richest men to sign their dance card. Whoever was able to accomplish this in the short time available, was crowned the Pride and Prejudice winner.
What an excellent idea for a Jane Austen school trip!
Our Evolving Language – What Is And What Isn’t Ok?
Clive James, Guardian contributor, was on the warpath against language this week. Not all of it. Specifically he was annoyed about the use of expansive phrases from institutions that wish to sound more important (e.g. calling books “cultural externalities” as Australia’s Productivity Commission has decided to do), but also by abbreviations from individuals who wish to sound pressed for time (e.g. IMO – in my opinion).
Other observations included:
those who care passionately about, say, the environment have already infested the blogosphere with scuttling proof of their unawareness that the expression is a tautology: there can be no real caring that is not done from a passion.
I floated the idea that people wishing to cut down the time they spend reading below-the-line comments should simply not finish any entry that included the word “methinks”, which is a sure sign of pomposity and idiocy recklessly compounded.
What are your pet language peeves? Or do you think, as some would argue, that these are simply examples of our language evolving as it always has done and always will do? Certainly some interesting points to consider.
Jane Austen News is our weekly compilation of stories about or related to Jane Austen. Here we will feature a variety of items, including craft tutorials, reviews, news stories, articles and photos from around the world. If you’d like to include your story, please contact us with a press release or summary, along with a link. You can also submit unique articles for publication in our Jane Austen Online Magazine.
Don’t miss our latest news – become a Jane Austen Member and receive a digest of stories, articles and news every week. You will also be able to access our online Magazine with over 1000 articles, test your knowledge with our weekly quiz and get offers on our Online Giftshop. Plus new members get an exclusive 10% off voucher to use in the Online Giftshop.