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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Jane Austen meets The Breakfast Club

It’s not every day that Jane Austen turns up in a teen sex comedy. So imagine my pleased surprise last week as I was watching the final episode of the new Netflix series Sex Education.

For the uninitiated: Sex Education chronicles the sexual, romantic and parent-related problems of teenagers attending a British high school that resembles nothing so much as an American high school, à la John Hughes. It is funny, clever, and touching, as well as a bit raunchy. (Let's just say that after seeing Episode 5, you'll never think of Spartacus the same way again.) I highly recommend it, and not just for the Jane Austen reference.

But back to business. In the relevant scene from Episode 8, our teen heroine Maeve – a brilliant but troubled girl from the wrong side of the tracks who we already know reads everyone from Langston Hughes to Virginia Woolf -- has taken the rap for something she didn’t do. Now she faces an expulsion panel convened by her loathsome principal, Mr. Groff:

Mr. Groff: Please tell us why you should stay at this school.

(Long pause.)

Mr. Groff: Nothing? Very well, then—

Maeve: I’m really smart, sir. I’d read all of Jane Austen by the time I was twelve, including her lesser-known work Lady Susan, which is a severely underrated piece of feminist literature.

As she continues her defense, Maeve goes on to mention existentialism, transcendentalism, Sartre, the school music teacher, and her family problems, but I’m sure my fellow Janeites will agree: She had us at hello.


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