How the Internet Ruined Jane Austen

The internet ruined  Jane Austen.

It has ruined:  attention spans, rock album playlists (I’m sure the songs on albums were deliberately arranged in a certain order), newspapers, book reviews, and respect for expertise.  That’s what happens when you depend on Facebook.

I’m  not exaggerating about Austen.  When I first got wifi, I joined a Janeites group.

Fanny Price (Billie Piper) and Henry Crawford (Joseph Beattie) in TV movie “Mansfield Park”

And what a long, strange trip that was.  Though there are many brilliant fans and scholars in the group, some read Austen like Georgette Heyer.  I was never crazy about Mr. Darcy, but all romance fans “heart” Mr. Darcy.  Mind you, I’m not a fan of Austen’s heroes anyway.  My favorite is the immoral Henry Crawford in Mansfield Park.  I know he’d  make a horrible husband, but I can’t help it:  he’s so much fun!

My real problem is not with Mr. Darcy, though.  It’s with the more literal readings of Emma, my favorite Austen.

I fell in love with Emma in college.   The 19th-century lit professor dismissed a timid student who asked why we weren’t doing Pride and Prejudice:  “It is so much done.”  She was right, though we hadn’t done it much!

And we all loved Emma.  She is witty and her misconceptions are hilarious.   Though the marriage plot is in earnest, as always, Emma is more independent than most of Austen’s heroines.  She is handsome, clever, and rich, as Austen says in the first sentence, and since she doesn’t have to marry, she can do as she likes.

The professor thought Austen was a  horrible snob and couldn’t see any satire in the book.  I find Emma comical from beginning to end:  Emma’s kindness to her ridiculous but sweet valetudinarian father, her conviction that her friend Harriet must be the bastard daughter of a well-connected gentleman, thinking Mr. Elton is in love with Harriet rather than with herself, and complete misunderstanding of the characters of Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax.

I am not saying my reading of Emma is the “right” one.  Even Jane Austen wrote, “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.”  Yes, Emma has faults but I can’t imagine  thinking her malicious, as some Janeites do.  She is conceited, often mistaken, and gossips like most young women, but becomes a nicer person by the end of the book.  So why the wrath?

For a few years after reading the Janeites posts, I  could not read Austen.  And the 200th anniversary of her death in 2017 was so much written about in both professional and amateur publications that I overdosed on Austen.  (I now limit the number of online publications I read, because, what am I, a media critic?)

Austen and I recently got back together, now that I’ve had a break from the internet.  She is the greatest writer, well, except for Charlotte Bronte maybe.

So perhaps I’ll read Austen as my women’s fiction this Thanksgiving. Nothing like reading a good book while the guys are watching football…

12 thoughts on “How the Internet Ruined Jane Austen”

  1. I think that, while ultimately a positive force, the Internet tends to speed things up and amplify things. Sometimes it speeds up and amplifies bad things. Poorly thought out takes on Jane Austen seem to be one of the bad things.

    Jane Austen is indeed a great writer. Enjoy reading her this season 🙂

    1. It is hard sometimes to know what people mean in those short little exchanges. People love Austen so much that they get contentious.

  2. Emma is my favourite Austen book.
    I think the internet absorbs people’s attention too much – we spend so much time on social media, timewasting and general browsing that actually reading a book becomes a lesser priority.
    I like Mr Darcy but prefer Mr Knightley.

    1. I’m glad someone else loves Emma. Yes, I’ve been “down the internet rabbit hole” too many times. COULD I have read any more articles about the 200th anniversary of Austen’s death? And people don’t always communicate very well on the internet.

      1. I’m actually reading Lucy Worsley’s ‘Jane Austen at home’ – it’s good to have another perspective on her by an entertaining author. I pretty much ignored all the articles about the 200th anniversary though.

        1. I loved that book! She is so knowledgeable, yet, as you say, entertaining. I agree, her take on Austen is worth reading. I loved all the details of home life.

  3. Some of the blogs are very strange! I’m not keen on all the dressing up either. You can be a Janeite without feeling the need to wear a bonnet!

    1. I saw a Janeite in costume at a literary festival once and am ashamed to say that I giggled. I knew nothing about Janeites and just thought she was very weird. Now I know all about the dressing up!

  4. I think I am the improbable love child of Trollope’s Mrs. Proudie and Austen’s (Happy Birthday!) Mr. Woodhouse.
    I am sad that the university class on Jane Austen has largely switched from reading the novels to watching the films and television productions. According to the professor, Jane Austen is all about “having a good cry”. I shudder. Thank you for this great blog post.

    1. So comical! I love those characters.
      Oh my God, the films are nothing like Austen at all. They’re fun, but what a waste to teach TV and film adaptations.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: