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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Formulaic

Is there an Austen Formula—a tried-and-true template, created by Jane Austen, that would-be novelists can adapt to their own purposes?

 

Judging from the proliferation of updated versions of Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Emma, a lot of people must think there is. Which perhaps explains why the Sydney Writers’ Festival, a literary festival held earlier this summer in Australia, titled its panel on YA romcoms, yes, “The Austen Formula.”

 

“Some consider Pride and Prejudice the first romantic comedy, with Jane Austen having set the ground rules for others to follow,” the festival’s website explains. “Certainly, with its witty heroine and enemies-to-lovers plotting, Pride and Prejudice has created many of the tropes we continue to see in rom-coms today.” (Hey, you fans of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing: Anything to interject?)

 

Only two of the four panelists—the mother-daughter writing team of playwright Kate Rice and actor Angourie Rice—seem to have written an actual piece of Austen fanfic: The Rices’ debut novel, a P&P update called Stuck Up & Stupid, was published last year. (I haven’t read it, and the description—Darcy is a Hollywood actor, Mrs. Bennet is redeemed and empowered--sounds pretty generic to me, but as with every kind of writing, it’s all in the execution.)

 

Alas, a trip to Australia was not on my itinerary this spring, so I didn’t make it to this panel. But it seems to have been wildly popular: The festival scheduled an extra session to accommodate the demand. Because everyone loves that Austen Formula. Or maybe that Shakespeare formula.

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4 Comments


harriet
Jul 03

Also, in preparation for the session, I read Stuck Up & Stupid. I found it perfectly adequate - it wasn't a struggle to finish, but at the same time I think I made the right choice getting it out of the library rather than buying it. I've read better YA novels, and better Austen adaptations, but I've also read much worse.


I did like having a P&P adaptation set in Australia.


There was one thing that I quite liked, and thought was a bit different. It is all second generation - the main character's mother is Lydia, with sisters Jane, Elizabeth, Mary and Kitty/Katherine (I can't remember - maybe some names were tweaked a bit), so we see where their…

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Deborah Yaffe
Deborah Yaffe
Jul 03
Replying to

So many of these JA fanfics are like this: perfectly adequate but nothing special. It always makes me wonder how some get anointed for traditional-publisher treatment while others are stuck with the (usually less remunerative) self-publishing. Presumably the attraction for this one was Angourie Rice's relatively big name. I agree that it's funny how these books seem to take place in a universe where no one has ever read Jane Austen, though. I always find myself thinking, "If you were a lawyer named Elizabeth Bennet practicing in front of a judge named Fitzwilliam Darcy, wouldn't the teasing from your friends be absolutely relentless?" And yet no one ever seems to notice. . . I do like the idea of second-generation developments!…

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harriet
Jul 03

I attended this session at the SWF (or at least one of them - I think it was the second time it was run that day). It was mainly an opportunity for the authors to talk about their respective books, although it did begin by asking them when they first read Jane Austen, and some links were drawn during the discussion.


At the start, the moderator talked about there being six tropes in Jane Austen (one for each book), that also occur in modern YA fiction. However he only named two of them: 'enemies to lovers' and 'second chances' (to which, 'duh!'). I don't think that he actually tried to argue that Austen invented these tropes. Because yes, saying she…


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Deborah Yaffe
Deborah Yaffe
Jul 03
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Thank you so much for this detailed recap of the session! Now I'm intrigued to figure out what are the other tropes that JA either did or didn't invent. I guess it would be enemies-to-lovers for P&P, friends-to-lovers for Emma, second chances for Persuasion, and Cinderella for MP. Not sure about NA and S&S, though. . .


Meanwhile, I'm wishing the Sydney Writers' Festival took place closer to me: sounds like a great event!

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