Is Jane Austen Next on the Diversity Chopping Block?

In Society

Among the classic novelists, Jane Austen (1775-1817) has been the most reliable moneymaker over the last generation. IMDB lists 72 movie or TV adaptations, with a huge acceleration starting in the mid-1990s. And that doesn’t include more free-form adaptations like Clueless and Bridget Jones’ Diary, which explains that when looking for your Mr Darcy, you should pass up alpha sexy bad boy Hugh Grants in favor of beta husbandly Colin Firths (who played Mr Darcy in the famous 1995 BBC miniseries).

From the New York Times:

Jane Austen Has Alt-Right Fans? Heavens to Darcy!

By JENNIFER SCHUESSLER MARCH 20, 2017

… But in an article published March 12 in The Chronicle of Higher Education titled“Alt-Right Jane Austen” (and illustrated with a drawing of the beloved British novelist in a Make America Great Again hat), Nicole M. Wright, an assistant professor of English at the University of Colorado, describes finding a surprising Austen fan base.

It started, she writes, when she noticed the provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos riffing on the famous first line of “Pride and Prejudice,” turning it into a dig at “ugly” feminists. …

But it has prompted the most sustained chatter among Austen scholars, a more reliably liberal bunch who, like Ms. Wright, emphatically reject white nationalist readings of her novels.

“No one who reads Jane Austen’s words with any attention and reflection can possibly be alt-right,” Elaine Bander, a retired professor and a former officer of the Jane Austen Society of North America, said in an email.

“All the Janeites I know,” she added, “are rational, compassionate, liberal-minded people.” …

But, now that you mention it, will Jane Austen have to go?

In the 1993 book “Culture and Imperialism,” the Palestinian-American literary critic Edward W. Said argued that Austen’s novel “Mansfield Park” glorifies the grand estates of England but is silent about the West Indian slave plantations that supported many of them. …

You know, it’s almost as if in husband-hunting, inequality is a feature not a bug in a beau …

In recent years, scholars have tried to find diversity in the seemingly all-white world of Austen, digging into subjects like Miss Lambe, a character in her unfinished final novel, “Sanditon,” described as a “half mulatto” heiress from the West Indies. (Yes, there is a scholarly paper with the title “The Silence of Miss Lambe.”)

But Ms. Wells said scholars teaching Austen at schools with “substantially multicultural students” still wrestled with a truth that must, perhaps, be uncomfortably acknowledged.

“Her characters are white, and her world is white,” she said. “What do you do with that?”

You know, Lin-Manuel Miranda might have some ideas on how to fix that …

Commenter Mark Caplan suggests:

Opening in 2019: Transfield Park.

[Comment at Unz.com]

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