Has anybody seen the movie Becoming Jane? It’s just come to our local theater, and I’d like to see it, although I also think it’s rubbish. It has very little relationship to Austen’s real life (I haven’t seen the movie, obviously, but I’ve read enough about it to know), but I suspect it might be fun to see, if I can keep the real Austen and the movie Austen completely separate in my mind (if such a thing is possible). By the way, there’s a good article on the movie here (thanks to Jenny D. for the link).
Much better than seeing Becoming Jane, most likely, is watching the A&E version of Pride and Prejudice, which I borrowed from the library for the weekend. I’ve seen it before, but it was a long time ago, and I can’t wait to see it again.
At this point, what with the Jane Austen in Context book and all, I’m in danger of getting sick of everything to do with Austen, but I don’t feel that way quite yet …
There were a couple fascinating bits from the book I thought I’d share (and by the way, I’m not giving away nearly all of the good stuff, so don’t think the book is spoiled because I’ve posted so much on it). In an essay on book production, the author notes that in the year Austen was born, 1775, 31 new novels were published in England. In 1811, when Sense and Sensibility was came out, 80 new novels were published. The author calls this “an expanding and competitive market for books,” but it seems quite small from our perspective, doesn’t it? If I lived then, I could plausibly attempt to read every novel published each year!
Also interesting to note is that three quarters of all novels published in 1776 were epistolary novels. It’s in that context that Austen’s complex third person point of view — her free indirect discourse — starts to look so very new and exciting.
Nearly three quarters of all novels published between 1770 and 1820 were published anonymously or pseudonymously, many of them saying only “By a Lady” or “By a Young Lady.” Also interesting is the numbers of men vs. women writing; as one critic notes about the 1810s, “The publication of Austen’s novels was achieved not against the grain but during a period of female ascendancy.” In the 1820s the balance shifted, and the men began to outnumber the women.
Also fascinating is the chapter on Austen in translation, which argues that Austen never got quite as popular on the continent as in England because continental translators didn’t know what to make of her — she didn’t fit in with their existing literary traditions and couldn’t be easily accommodated to them. Many of the early translations weren’t really translations at all, but were retellings of the stories with some dramatic changes, to tone down Elizabeth Bennett’s sauciness, for example. Some translators even omitted chapters and changed endings. Many of them lost the nuances of Austen’s third person point of view, which would make it harder to appreciate her genius. Modern-day translators would never get away with the changes Austen’s early translators made to her texts (at least I don’t think so!).
Interesting stuff, don’t you think?