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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Jane Austen universe(s), Part II

If you spend your days reading Jane Austen novels and consuming Jane Austen adaptations and talking to fellow Jane Austen fans and writing a Jane Austen blog, it’s easy to forget that most of the world pays vanishingly little attention to developments in Austenworld.

I was reminded of that humbling fact recently, when I happened across an article proposing the radically new idea of a TV series combining all Austen’s novels into a single Jane Austen universe.

“Actual Austen adaptations have lost some of their cultural impact in recent years,” writer Rick Stevenson opines on the entertainment news website Looper. “If Austen is to retain her longstanding place in pop culture, we need a series that dares to do something new and different with the material.”

Apparently, Stevenson unaccountably missed my July blog post about a crowd-funding appeal for just such a series, Austen University, which made similar claims to unprecedented newness and difference. In that post, I pointed out that a very similar series, Austentatious, had been produced in 2015.

Although Stevenson proposes a Regency-set series, rather than the other projects’ contemporary updates, all imagine worlds in which the heroes and heroines of different Austen novels are friends, neighbors, and colleagues.

“It would need to be a multi-season ordeal in order to fit everyone in, but you wouldn't really have to change that much to make the crossover work,” Stevenson writes. “It's perfectly natural that Lizzy Bennet and Emma Woodhouse would be friends, or that Mr. Darcy and Charles Bingley might know one another.” (Snort! Yes, it seems completely natural that Darcy and Bingley should be acquainted. If only Jane Austen had thought of that.)

In marked contrast to the bargain-basement aesthetic of Austentatious, Stevenson seems to envision lavish production values, along the lines of Bridgerton or the new Edgar Allan Poe-inspired The Fall of the House of Usher. “It's time to take all of those crossover fan-fics and turn them into the shared Jane Austen universe series fans clearly want,” he concludes.

I’m not as certain as Stevenson that “fans clearly want” a project like this: Austentatious failed to gain enough traction for a second series, the CW’s Modern Austen appears to be trapped in development hell, and although Austen University seems to have crowd-sourced enough money to get started, its long-term prospects remain iffy.

But, of course, it’s all in the execution. Get a Shonda Rhimes-caliber entertainment genius involved, and the sky’s the limit. Here’s hoping she reads this post and decides it's not so important to be radically new and different.

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