Jane Austen Forever

The other day I happened to see an Inside the Actors Studio interview with Brad Pitt. Unsurprisingly George Clooney’s name came up. Hearing it led me into thinking about Clooney’s rise to stardom.

You’ve probably seen the post title already. Stay with me, please. This will all make much better, uh, “sense” (and sensibility?) as you scroll down.

Now known almost as much for his activism as for his acting, Mr. Clooney seems just about everywhere of late – including ads recently I’d noticed plastered up at Geneva Airport:

….Geneva Airport isn’t huge. It feels rather “dated” as well. However, it also has corridors covered with wall ads for the likes of wealth management companies, astronomically expensive watches, Dubai, and stuff George Clooney’s hired to endorse; but before we got to any of that, we were in a mob scene at check-in….

He had once been merely another actor seeking to “make it.” E.R. was where he first made a major mark. Recalling that series as Pitt spoke led me to reflect also on how that program never did nearly as well in reruns as it did first run.

But television drama reruns do tend to be a mixed bag in terms of success. “Lighthearted” mysteries like Murder, She Wrote and Poirot, do pretty well in reruns. But comedy probably does better.

I suppose one reason for that is a laugh is always a laugh – even in reruns. But when we know an ending in a drama, does it lose something in the re-viewing? Will, say, Downton Abbey be popular in reruns?

Spy novelist Jeremy Duns contributed inadvertently to my “train of thought” (if that’s the right expression) when I also suddenly remembered this funny tweet he had shared:

Twitter screen capture.
Twitter screen capture.

Bridget Jones author Helen Fielding famously named her “Mark Darcy” character after Jane Austen’s “Mr. Darcy.” And, of course, Colin Firth played both on screen. And the now Mrs. Clooney is a human rights lawyer – as was “Mark Darcy.”

Are you still with me?

Free Stock Photo: Top of a blank book on a white background.
Free Stock Photo: Top of a blank book on a white background.

Which brings me to Jane Austen and novels. Geography no doubt has played its part, too. I’m also writing this post from where we live near Jane Austen’s Bath:

St. Michael's Church, Bath. [Photo by me, 2015.]
St. Michael’s Church, Bath. [Photo by me, 2015.]

If we think about it, Downton Abbey and stories like it owe a great deal to Austen. Her 200 year old “aristocratic” stories have been read pretty continuously since she wrote them. But in the last 50 years they have attracted an almost “cult-like” following, devoured by millions again and again.

Including by men. However, there is also an assumption out there nowadays that they are primarily “women’s” books. Historian Amanda Vickery wrote in 2011 that a main reason for that is film adaptations have been aimed primarily at women, which has fostered a “chick-lit” impression among men:

For many men, Austen is the archetypal women’s author – her canvas too domestic, her domain too girly, her men too starchy and conformist, her settings too chintzy and her plots too prim to excite the average male reader. But this conviction is very recent. Harold Macmillan spent many Downing Street hours lost in Austen and Trollope; Winston Churchill claimed Austen and antibiotics helped him win the war; Rudyard Kipling gave solace to his family after the death of his son in the first world war by reading Austen aloud in the desolate evenings.

Why should a focus on female dilemmas be any less universal than an obsession with male problems? As an intelligence officer at the Western Front, Reginald Farrer recorded in 1917: “Talk of her ‘limitations’ is vain, it must never be thought that limitation of scene implies limitation of human emotion.”

I’ll put my hand up here proudly. Yes, I’m with Macmillan and Churchill and Kipling. I’ve read Pride and Prejudice several times, and I’ll happily share their named company above.

In questioning people about their own reading habits generally, I’ve had some tell me that they never re-read a novel. Not any novel. Not even one they really enjoyed.

Yet many of those same people will watch certain films and television programs over and over?

Some of us drink in sentence formulation, fixate on quotes, and perhaps even memorize whole paragraphs of a favorite tale. For others, it’s “one and done”: cover closed the last time, that’s that.

We all have our varying tastes and unique reading habits.

Huh. Yes, it really did. That Jane Austen/ literary post stemmed from Brad Pitt mentioning George Clooney in an interview.

You’re right, I don’t understand it fully either. But once again, you’ve gleaned an insight into how my mind works. 😉

Have a happy St. Patrick’s Day, wherever you are! 🙂

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