Fifteen years ago the name Jane Austen resonated mainly with earnest high school students and any of their elders who remembered the 1940 black-and-white ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ adapted by Aldous Huxley and starring Laurence Olivier. Then the literary tectonic plates shifted. Suddenly, Colin Firth and Hugh Grant, dressed in very tight britches and ruffled shirts, were pursuing Elizabeth Bennet (Jennifer Ehle) and Elinor Dashwood (Emma Thompson). The movies did more than please viewers; they inspired novelists to pursue the lead characters beyond the farewell kiss. Since that Jane hit the screen, dozens of sequels, prequels and alternative plots have been written for fans who could not bear to lose sight of Austen’s characters.
The shift continues. Novelists are now focusing on the effect that Jane has on readers and writers in the 21st century.
Brigitte Weeks discusses modern takes on the characters of Jane Austen in the Washington Post.