|Letter to Cassandra||Jane Austen was a prolific letter writer, and her sister Cassandra was one of her most frequent correspondents. Given her portrayal of sisters in books like Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, as well as her letters, it is clear that Jane Austen must have been very close to Cassandra. Cassandra destroyed some of Jane Austen's letters after Jane died, and speculation about their contents is rampant. Most people imagine they either cast Jane in a less charitable light, while others think they may have discussed a man or men that Jane Austen loved. I imagined for this artifact that one of those letters might have been about a time travel experience in which Jane Austen was transported to the near present and discovered that her novels, their sequels, and the movies based on her novels had turned her into a pop culture phenomenon. I tried to imagine how Jane would react to all of this—after all, it was not until her death that her authorship was revealed. I imagined that she would feel vindicated and pleased once she realized what she had seen—that her books would remain popular nearly 200 years after they had been written. I also imagined that she would largely feel confused about it all, too. I don't think she could have imagined her novels would have such an impact. I tried as much as possible to write using Jane Austen's voice, and I cannot claim to have been 100% successful, but I think it sounds like something close to Jane's voice. I tried to use her spellings if I knew them (hence "chuse" for "choose"). How would Cassandra have reacted to receiving this letter? I imagine it would definitely have provoked some disquiet if not downright worry about her sister's mental health. I definitely think if such a letter existed, that it would have been among those Cassandra burned. In researching Austen's letters, an edition of which is available at the Republic of Pemberley, a favorite website of mine, I discovered she was staying with her brother Edward Austen-Knight in October 1813 because several letters from that time are dated from Godmersham Park, the name of her brother's estate in Kent. In fact, she wrote a letter dated the day before the one I wrote as fiction. Pride and Prejudice had been published the preceding January, and she was working on Mansfield Park from 1812-1814. |
|Book Reviews||Some years ago, I set a goal to read all six of Jane Austen's novels. I accomplished this goal at last this year when I finished Mansfield Park. I have read Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Persuasion twice each. I wrote reviews of each of these six novels as I completed them, and I felt including them in this project would be a good idea because they show my personal response to the books. As a woman living in the 21st century, I still find Jane Austen's novels relevant and fresh. I also included reviews of some contemporary novels based on Jane Austen's own life and work, from The Three Weissmanns of Westport (a modern retelling of Sense and Sensibility) to Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict (a time-travel story about a Jane Austen fan who wakes up to find herself living during the Regency period), writers are still finding ways to update these classic stories. Her biography is also fodder for pop culture—The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen imagines Austen kept a diary about falling in love and based many of her novels on her own romance. Miss Austen Regrets is a film that examines whether Jane Austen regretted not marrying. Finally, Georgette Heyer's novel Charity Girl, set during the Regency period, shows the popularity of Austen's time in fiction.|
My favorite Austen novel is Persuasion, and it's impossible for me to choose between Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility for second place. Of the Austen-esque books (and film) I reviewed, I enjoyed The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen by Syrie James the most.
|Pop Culture Images||One of the most interesting ways I've seen Jane Austen impact pop culture is in amusing images I have found mostly via Jane Austen blogs. For instance, the image I chose as the centerpiece for this collage (made with Glogster) is a black and white version of an authentic portrait of Jane Austen with the legend "Jane Austen is my Homegirl" underneath it. This image makes me laugh. I wonder what Jane Austen would have thought about it. I can honestly say that I agree with the sentiment wholeheartedly, but even if I didn't, it still sends the message that Jane Austen is relevant by pairing a two-hundred-year-old picture with such modern colloquial speech. I chose two different images of a woman dressed in Regency clothing and talking on a cell phone. One of these images also includes a copy of Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict and the ubiquitous bottle of water. The woman in the other image reclines poolside with a copy of Pride and Prejudice. Both images contain a mix of the Regency and the modern that I, as a modern Austen fan, can relate to. I also included several buttons from the Facebook application Pieces of Flair, which allows users to "pin" buttons to a selected surface (such as a corkboard) on their Facebook profiles. Users can give Pieces of Flair to other people who use the application. I downloaded three of the buttons, and one was a gift. The "I Heart Mr. Darcy" button speaks to the everlasting appeal of Fitzwilliam Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. The "I Love Jane" button has a contemporary feel with its modern font and pink background. The "What Would Jane Do" calls to mind the bracelets worn by some Christians to remind them to act according to Christian principles by thinking "What Would Jesus Do?" I find thinking about how Jane Austen would handle a situation to be as good a way of reasoning out a problem as any other. The last button, a letter to Santa requesting Mr. Darcy for Christmas, was given to me by a friend who knows I love Jane Austen. How much more contemporary can Jane Austen be than to find her characters' names uttered in the same breath as Santa Claus? Jane Austen flair is popular on Facebook—Facebook and Aunt Jane! I included images from three modern film adaptations of Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Sense and Sensibility. Glogster provides a lot of fun images and other enhancements, which made my collage even more contemporary. My goal in creating this piece was to communicate that Jane Austen is everywhere today, and she is as fresh and relevant now as she was in 1810.|
|Jane Austen Heroine Trading Cards ||One of the reasons Jane Austen is so popular in contemporary culture is the fact that her novels make for enjoyable films. Actresses clamor to play her heroines. I recently read a book called The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. It's set in an alternate timeline 1980's in which books and writers are more popular than sports and athletes. One of the funniest parts of the novel is a scene in which the main character, Thursday Next, happens upon some children swapping Henry Fielding trading cards. Fielding is an eighteenth-century British writer whose work Jane Austen probably read herself. As an English teacher, I love the idea that children would collect cards based on the characters in works of literature. Jane Austen's heroines would make great subjects for trading cards, and what more pop culture artifact could one find than a trading card? I made trading cards for each of the heroines in Austen's six novels using images from contemporary films (the oldest film I used is less than fifteen years old). I had to think about what information might be most interesting for a book character's trading card, and I decided that name, age, novel, and home might help the reader learn the basics. Each of Austen's heroines has a love interest and a nemesis, and I felt it important to include that information, too. I also included a fun fact that says something about the contemporary assessment of each character or work or some other detail that I thought a modern reader would find interesting.|