'And 200 Years Later' by Marina Cano
Marina Cano, author of Jane Austen and Performance, discusses how Austen's legacy lives in many unexpected and imaginative forms...
And 200 years later, the Austen story goes on. Jane Austen is everywhere, and her story has been continued (and is being continued) in many different shapes and forms: through films, sequels and rewritings of her novels, but also through a variety of gadgets—from Austen-inspired fridge magnets to plastic dolls and even soap bars labelled “Suds and Sensibility.”
In 2017 there are Austen bodysuits and bibs for babies, as I recently discovered while looking for a present for a friend’s newborn. These items exhibit captions from the novels, such as the following one from Pride and Prejudice: “I do think Mrs Long is as good a creature as ever lived—and her nieces are very pretty behaved girls, and not at all handsome; I like them prodigiously.” Originally spoken by Mrs Bennet, this line has now made it to onesies for infants aged between three and twenty-four months. I wonder if my friend’s daughter, equipped with such Austen gear, will also continue the story. And if so, how? For wearing such apparel, she will be literally embodying an Austen character. Might she not feel tempted to answer Mrs Bennet? Or perhaps she’ll remain silent, listening patiently as Jane and Elizabeth do in the novel.
Many Austen readers have answered, though. Austen’s stories have been continued, revisited and re-imagined as no other author’s. In Jane Austen and Performance, I explore how suffragists read Austen and imagined a world where women’s achievements were more fully recognised; and how soldiers read her novels in the trenches and imagined a safe haven back home in England. In the interwar period, school children staged Austen’s stories to improve their diction and, perhaps, imagine themselves as part of an upper social class, which many had come to identify with Austen. Fast-forward to the twenty-first century, and readers are still hard at it: continuing and re-imagining Austen’s world. Recent examples include P.D. James’s glimpse into Darcy and Elizabeth’s marriage in Death Comes to Pemberley (2011) and Val McDermid’s translation of Northanger Abbey to contemporary Edinburgh (2014). But these are just the tip of the modern Austen iceberg.
Austen did not die on 18 July 1817—not really. Nor did she write only six complete novels—not really. According to a modern theatre group, she wrote hundreds and hundreds of novels. This group is “Austentatious: An Improvised Jane Austen Novel.” In every show they improvise one of these unknown Austen jewels, based audiences’ suggestions—which proves my point. Two hundred years on, Austen is still alive and kicking, and that habitual phrase, “The End,” has not yet been attached to any of her novels.
About the author
Marina Cano is a teaching fellow in Women’s Writing in English at the University of Limerick, Ireland. Her research interests include women’s writing, the long nineteenth-century, performance and gender theory. She is also a researcher in “Travelling Texts 1790-1914: Transnational Reception of Women’s Writing at the Fringes of Europe.” Her book Jane Austen and Performance is available now.