Recently the Guardian published an article about how Americans have embraced Jane Austen’s work and now want to live like they’re in one of her novels. There was also a film about this phenomenon called Austenland, proving that the whimsical draw on Austen’s work is not a new concept.
This got me thinking: why on earth would anyone want to live in Austen’s England? This was a land where women had no rights, there was no healthcare, pensions or child benefits and poverty was rife. Life expectancies were low because of the poor sanitation and child death was high for the same reason. Why would anyone want to go back to that time?
Then I started to think about it logically. Whilst Austen was a famed wit who included satirical references to inequality, poverty and social inequality in a number of her works, the majority of her books focused on the trivial. They were about how her version of love, a practical, yet all-encompassing emotion, was the single most important factor in anyone’s life.
She focused on certain characters and quickly and wittily overlooked those that did not suit her purposes. Her works give some insight into society at the time but, in general, their focus is on levity and social graces. For those who choose to overlook the barbs and wit, these are books almost exclusively about a middle-class society that doesn’t exist anymore and never will again.
They are about a group of people in the centre of society with a little mobility to go up and a lot to go down. This topic is fascinating to today’s youth, and makes the idea of a ‘class defying’ romance all the more alluring. It’s this escapism that’s what prompts people to want to read and embody these books.
After all, in today’s society, where we’ve got natural disasters, Trump being a bellend and whatever the fuck’s going on with Brexit and the UK’s general election, there’s a bloody lot to want to escape from. Austen’s work is so far removed from modern life that it is practically a fantasy, and for that reason I can understand why so many people are obsessed with it.