Jane Austen that is...
I was flipping through the pages of my current issue of RT (Romantic Times Book Reviews) with much concern at the changing market trends. Then I read my October RWR, which lists the romance sub genre's published in 2007 :
- Contemporary series-25.7%
- Romantic Suspense-7.2%
- Romantic Suspense Series-4.7%
- Other (chick-lit, erotic romance,women's fiction)-2.9%
- Young Adult-2.8%
Publishing directions, marketing trends, critique groups, contests, editors, agents, contracts, sell-through, publicity, book signings, blogs?? My head aches just trying to consider juggling it all and writing a marketable book.
I had just finished watching Becoming Jane for the hundredth or so time and I wondered...
First I considered why we love Jane Austen. After all the woman was hardly prolific. I mean, do you think today's publisher's would stand for an author who only produced 6 novels and 2 novellas in her lifetime. (Why she never even won a Rita.)
Without writing a single blog post (How is that possible?) her books have been translated into over 100 languages. Readers who don't read historical fiction or even fiction-- read Jane Austen.
So why have Pride & Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility, Emma, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion survived publishing trends?
Because Jane Austen's books contain these elements that make them relevent and enduring:
Character Driven Plots which allow the protagonists to travel a journey of self-knowledge or growth. What we today call the Character Arc.
Emotion on Every Page. Austen takes us through pain, sorrow, longing, desire, heartache, tears, joy and laughter. (Besides Jane, one of the best lessons I learned on emotion comes from Shelly Thacker's workshop, He Feels, She Feels: Creating Internal Conflict. Shelly coined the phrase, Emotion on Every Page.)
Relevant themes. Mother and daughter relationships. Daughter father relationships. Sibling relationships. Independent, smart single women angst. These are themes all readers can relate to. These are the very same sort of themes that made the Mary Tyler Moore show so popular.
HEA Principle. Girl meets boy. Obstacles arise. Girl gets boy. They live happily ever after. Along with this is the fact that all of Austen's heroines choose to marry for love.
World creating. Granted, Austen actually lived in the world she created, but her ability to put on paper the gritty realism of her locations, using the five senses, again draws the reader in and grounds them in her world.
Controlled passion, or the Moonlighting Principle. If you watched the television show Moonlighting in the 80's you remember Maddie and David and the great humor and sexual tension. Once the characters connect the magic just isn't the same. But as long as there are covert glances, touching hands, and almost- kisses, we the reader are completely engaged. Austen remains the master of controlled passion.
Comedy and Irony. The tone of most of Austen's books is light entertainment, laughing at society and its ironies. These topics are universal and bridge generations.
"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."
Pride and Prejudice
From a New York Times article, Making Jane Sexy, by Caryn James, July 27, 2007:
In Austen’s time, when arranged marriages and marriages of convenience were common, her extraordinary heroines held out for love, another reason they speak so directly to modern readers.
Marsha Huff, the president of the Jane Austen Society of North America (like so many Janeites, she’s not an academic; she’s a tax lawyer) points to the scene in “Pride and Prejudice” in which Lady Catherine tries to bully Elizabeth into giving Darcy up because she is his social inferior. “Elizabeth reacts exactly the way we would react: she is insulted, she’s indignant at the way this dinosaur from another era would try to tell this intelligent, beautiful young woman what to do,” Ms. Huff said in an interview.
And however much society has changed, Austen’s heroines — unlike the Brontës’ — deal with the believable, timeless obstacles of class, money and misunderstanding, which make her works adaptable to any era. As Ms. Huff said: “Everyone thinks she’s Elizabeth Bennet; not everyone thinks she’s Jane Eyre. Everyone knows a young woman trying to decide if the guy she’s attracted to is Mr. Right. Not everyone meets a Mr. Right who has a mad wife in the attic.”
So what would Jane do?
Instead of Googling market trends, Jane would write the best book she could. The kind of book readers dream about long after they reach, The End.
Tell us your thoughts on Jane.
Anyone who posts a favorite line (quote) from any Jane Austen book or the movie Becoming Jane, or shares a favorite moment from the book or movie, will be entered in a drawing for:
Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler
The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen by Syrie James