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The Steam Press: Jane Austen myths, de-bunked

Mackenzie Broderick, Columnist

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Greetings, culture lovers!

The holidays are approaching, and before we all head off for break, the Steam Press would like to bestow a gift upon its readers — namely, the gift of knowledge as we debunk three Jane Austen myths. Happy Holidays!

1. Everything ever in “Becoming Jane”

This 2007 film starring Anne Hathaway was allegedly a biopic about Austen, if Austen had lived in a paperback romance novel. This movie marked the second time Hathaway ruined one of my beloved literary treasures (don’t think I’ll ever forget the travesty that was “Ella Enchanted”), but Hollywood overall is to blame. Honestly, Jane Austen did not live a cinematic life. But that doesn’t stop the studios from trying.

Take the romantic interest, Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy). Lefroy was a real person, and letters do indicate he was Jane’s first love. But the love of her life? That would be like someone making a movie of your life and then using your prom date as the catalyst who changes your entire future. And let’s not even talk about the fountain/foiled-engagement plot points, because those scenes have been scientifically proven to lower IQ points after viewing.

2. Jane Austen = Miss Manners

This next myth is tricky; Austen has come to be associated with the chick-lit genre, and to the general public, this means her books must be filled with sisterhood, 19th century versions of shopping sprees and tea parties. Besides the latent sexism at work here, this assumption ignores Austen’s pointed criticism of society. While Austen did write at a time of strict social conventions, the plots of her books revolve around people circumventing propriety to behave very, very badly.

In the Austen canon, people fight duels, run around stormy countrysides, elope, commit adultery, have children out of wedlock, lie, steal and gossip. Even the most mundane conversations can be fraught with bitchiness and passive-aggressive comments about petticoats. This proves what I’ve always suspected — that the original Austen motto was “I don’t hate you because you’re fat, you’re fat because I hate you.”

3. She was a Victorian writer

Nope. This may seem like a minor quibble, but with the word “Victorian” being thrown around to describe anything that occurred before 1990, it’s time to clear the air. Jane Austen wrote in the Regency. She did not live next door to Charlotte Bronte. Jane Austen and Jane Eyre are two different people. She didn’t kill zombies. Elizabeth Bennet didn’t kill zombies. Actually, no one killed zombies.

Enjoy the holidays, and look forward to more sassy, classy reads at the Steam Press next quarter.

— Mackenzie Broderick

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