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Perspective: The Jane Austen Curse

One of the earliest illustrations for Pride and Prejudice

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If there's an author whose works are adapted to the screen with mixed results, that's Jane Austen.

I learned about Ms. Austen's novels late in life. Then I was able to enjoy film adaptations of Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, Sense and Sensibility and others. In all of them I found the same heroine: a woman who does not depend or cannot trust her looks to get ahead, but instead is remarkably smart, lively and intelligent. As a result, she stands out and tends to be admired by everyone.

In the films, I saw Elizabeth Bennett, Elinor Dashwood and Anne Elliot portrayed in ways that should have caused a similar reaction. However, there were moments in the films that showed that the writers didn't get the Austen heroine. Instead of seeing what the books show, we find shallow and immature characters with childish reactions and anachronistic language.

Why is that these heroines get the short end of the stick when they go from the page to the screen? Is it to satisfy specific expectations? Are they approved by focus groups? Is it that the world isn't ready for smart women to take charge?

If Ms. Austen were alive today, she'd be criticized and misunderstood. In fact, considering the 2016 presidential election results and the recent Supreme Court decision it'll be evident that things haven't changed much in 200 years.

I am Francisco Solares-Larrave, and this is my perspective.

A Guatemalan native, he arrived in the United States in the late eighties on a Fulbright Scholarship to do graduate studies in comparative literature at the University of Illinois in Champaign Urbana. He has been teaching Spanish language, literature and culture at NIU since August 2000, and his main research interests are 19th-century Spanish American literature.
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