JSU Newswire
Jacksonville, Alabama
 

A 'Janeite' Spreads Her
Enthusiasm on Campus

By Sherry Kughn
JSU News Bureau


February 26, 2004 -- Why does Jane Austen, an author whose interests lay in the good manners and delicate relationships of the 19th century, have such influence almost 200 years later? Such is the question posed to about 60 Austen fans by Dr. Patricia Neal, a professor at Spring Hill College in Mobile, on Tuesday at Jacksonville State University.

The answer is amazing, according to Neal, who cited examples of modern day news articles, bestseller lists, movies, and even a Jane Austen festival as evidence that the influence of the author lives on.

Several websites are devoted to Austen fans, who have their own name - Janeites. (See www.jasa.net and www.pemberley.com/janeinfo/janeinfo.html.)

Neal, an expert on Austen's life and works, shook her head and chuckled with delight when showing brief samples from movies. She pointed out the suspense, humor and elegant language used by Austen, herself a demure lady of the parlor.

Austen was born in 1775 and wrote as a young lady in her twenties and thirties the novels Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, and Northanger Abbey Persuasion, which was published after Austen's death in 1817.

Nealís theme was "From the Parlor to the Trenches to the Silver Screen."

She pointed out that author and war officer Rudyard Kiplinger wrote a story called "The Janeites" about soldiers huddled for months in the trenches of World War I. They were encouraged by their officers to read Jane Austen' novels for relief from stress and to learn the social skills of getting along that the reading of Austen would produce.

Neal read excerpts from the story about one such soldier who said he didn't like reading the novels, but he revealed an immense understanding and respect for the characters that he'd read about. He even named artillery equipment under his care after characters in the book who seemed stubborn, useless or that exhibited other parallel traits.

Austen's characters, said Neal, change and grow. They are full of ironic wit and engage readers in a time and place that was pleasant, even if sometimes socially awkward and painful.Austen's characters show human weakness and intense interpersonal relationships, all characteristics of the modern novel that readers through decades of time love.

Many movies based on Austen's books have been produced in modern times. In the samples, Neal discussed the costumes, the setting, and the concessions made for modern readers. The actors and actresses sometimes did daring things, such as hand holding or kissing in public -- acts that would never be found in an Austen novel, Neal said.Indeed, the very sight of an actor such as Hugh Grant, who played a major role in at least one of the films, is enough to make a true Janeite blush beneath her bonnet!

Dr. Joanne Gates, president of the Friends of the Houston Cole Library, introduced the speaker. Friends sponsored Dr. Neal's†lecture.†




 


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