Jane Austen fans celebrating Colin Firth’s triumph

Sunday, January 30, 2011

LONDON - To many Jane Austen fans, Colin Firth is Mr Darcy. Though he had been acting for years before, Firth became famous overnight when he starred in ‘Pride and Prejudice’.

And with Firth poised to claim yet more accolades for ‘The King’s Speech’ at the Screen Actors’ Guild awards on Sunday, the spotlight has once again fallen on his breakout role as Mr Darcy.

The fact that the film also reunited him with his ‘Pride and Prejudice’ co-star Jennifer Ehle has only served to fuel the Austen revival fever, reports the Telegraph.

Backed by the enthusiasm of a new wave of youthful aficionados, and boosted by the Internet, the cult of Austen has reached fresh heights in the US and Canada - even though her writings are steeped in the social mores of the English gentry two centuries ago.

The Jane Austen fans site on Facebook has more than 278,000 members, up more than 180,000 in the last two months, and far outnumbering those for such other renowned names as Charles Dickens.

From American academia, where Austen classes have long waiting lists, to populist modern manifestations, such as ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and ‘Zombies’, a so-called ‘mash-up book’ combining her classic with the horror genre, the world of the ‘Janeites’ is flourishing.

Jaclyn Green-Stock, 23, a typical of the new breed of Janeites, co-heads the Jane Austen Society of North America’s Juvenilia chapter (Jasna) - named after the writer’s output as a teenager - and is writing a screenplay set in modern New York but based on ‘Persuasion’, one of two Austen novels published posthumously in 1818.

She read Emma in her spare-time at school but cemented her love for the writer at university when she took Austen classes as part of a master’s degree, where it was the author’s trenchant commentary as much as her writing that won Miss Green-Stock’s attention.

Among recent events enjoyed by Green-Stock and her fellow young Austen aficionados was a film night watching a Bollywood version of Sense and Sensibility. And last month she joined fans of all ages for an Austen birthday party in mid-town Manhattan.

Jill Kristensen, also 23, from the University of Wyoming, along with like-minded devotees in the college’s Jane Austen Society, organised a pilgrimage to England last year to visit sites associated with the life and writings of their literary heroine.

“Her appeal is both the beauty and the relevance of her literature,” said Kristensen.

“Her writing is timeless, although obviously we don’t live in a society with anything like the strictures she described. Her stories are so human, and the complexities of relationships so well portrayed,” she added.

Like many Janeites, Kristensen is also intrigued by the life of Austen, who wrote so eloquently about love, romance and the institution of marriage, yet died a spinster, aged 41.

Marsha Huff, a 64-year-old lawyer from Minnesota who is the president of Jasna said that many of the young women who have grown into Austen buffs were first exposed to her when they watched one of the rash of screen interpretations of her novels with their mothers.

That trend began in 1995 with two major adaptations - the Colin Firth BBC mini-series version of ‘Pride and Prejudice’, which was widely shown on American television; and the film portrayal of ‘Sense and Sensibility’. The same year also saw the release of ‘Clueless’, starring Alicia Silverstone and transposing Emma to contemporary California.

But the age of social networking, blogging and YouTube turned the classic Regency romance writer into a viral star of the 21st century, from Austen-themed novels to the launch this May of the web guide ‘Sex and the Austen girl’.

“Jane Austen is enjoying a remarkable second life online, on Facebook and on YouTube,” said Deidre Lynch, a literature professor at the University of Toronto. (ANI)

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