Love in the Time of Austen

In the time of Jane Austen, there are no knights in shining armor attempting to woo married women. But that is not to say that there are not scandalous elements within the stories. Take, for example, Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, in which the protagonist (Elizabeth Bennet) discovers that her younger sister, Lydia, has run off with George Wickham. Now, this may not seem so scandalous today. People run off to Vegas and elope and the public doesn’t bat an eye.

In order to fully understand how scandalous this is, we can look to the portrayal of the scene in a recent adaptation of Pride and Prejudice – The Lizzie Bennet Diaries –http://www.lizziebennet.com/2013/01/episode-84-ugh/. In this episode of the web series, Lizzie is shocked to discover that there is a website with a countdown to the release of a sex tape staring the lovely Lydia Bennet. Who put that countdown up? If you guessed George Wickham, you’d be right. This is, of course, not the same thing that happened in the original story line. But the creators of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries made the change in order to give the modern audience the appropriate shock factor. In the time of Austen, a young woman running away with a man whom she was not married to was horribly shocking.

While Pride and Prejudice may share the scandal factor with the adulterous texts of the Medieval Period, there is a big difference – the story has become centered on the romantic developments of the characters. The story is not about Lizzie Bennet’s journey through life, but about her journey into Darcy’s arms. Now the parts of the story focusing on other adventures in life become secondary. Readers want the romance.

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Image courtesy of Exsodus / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

People of the time were picking up books like Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights (just to name a few romantic novels of the time) because they wanted to get lost in the romantic struggles of the main characters. The stories became an escape from reality with the hope that maybe the girl gets with the man of her dreams in the end, even though he may not have seemed so dreamy fifty pages ago… oh well, faults must be forgiven.

What is interesting is how these texts have stuck around, becoming classics with a long list of modern adaptations – Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Jane Slayre, Wuthering Bites… Not to mention all of the movie adaptations… And, of course, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Why have these works become so influential in modern entertainment? The stories never get old – a romance that seems like it could never work, but brings the characters happiness in the end. This is what girls are trained to want, to expect, today. While the modern romance novel has different circumstances for its characters than works of Jane Austen and her contemporaries, it can be said to have the same basic story line. We all want the happily ever after, which makes the struggle of life and romance worth going through.

Works Cited:

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. New York: Modern Library, 1995. Print.

Episode 84: Ugh. Dir. Bernie Su. Perf. Ashley Clements and Daniel Gordh. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. N.p., 31 Jan. 2013. Web. 20 Nov. 2013.