If Jane Austen was alive today she’d shudder at the notions that some people view her (both favourably and unfavourably) as an old fashioned romance writer. Jane Austen was a ‘people watcher’. Her writing is about everyday people exposed to ordinary emotions and events (including love) and her novels rather than being romances, are reflections of reality with a good dose of comedy. Her characters are believable because they’re just like people we all know and have met regularly through daily living. The settings and social rules change from where we are today, in time and place, but in essence, people are still people, flawed and imperfect. With such material, found all around her to base her writing upon, Austen created her imaginary characters, paying delightful attention to the humorous possibilities they created.
A few weeks ago I went to see the movie “Love and Friendship” based on the novella “Lady Susan”. The promo material says, “Based on Jane Austen’s comic gem”. A review from Tim Robey, The Telegraph, says “Flat-out hilarious.” And it was flat-out hilarious!!!! At one stage I found myself laughing so much that I was crying, as did some of the others in my group. One person in our group who has an infectiously delightful loud laugh, roared heartily throughout. As the movie ended, our group of five started talking animatedly about the movie. And then… !!!!
In front of us were a group of ladies who clearly take Jane Austen as a not to be laughed at, serious writer of good old-fashioned tradition. They turned to our group, in particular to our hearty laughing member, and one lady amongst them launched into a tirade of negativity about how it was a serious movie, and one for grown-ups to attend, and how the laughter had spoiled their evening, particularly the loud laughter. She went on and on. Her friends nodding and agreeing, huge frowns on their faces. I was shocked and speechless. The people behind us (who had also been laughing) were also shocked. How anyone could miss the humour device Austen clearly uses was a shock in itself. A greater shock was their rudeness in assuming their entitlement to have everyone else in the theatre appreciate the movie in the way they wanted it appreciated.