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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Strange bedfellows

By now, we’ve gotten used to seeing Jane Austen in rather. . . um . . . interesting company. She’s been paired with zombies and sea monsters, mentioned in the same breath as pulpy romance writers, and been transformed into a shill for scented candles and knitting patterns.

Still, the past month or so has turned up a couple of Austen pairings calculated to give even the most jaded among us a frisson of startlement:

* Jane of Arc: Inspired by the example of sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg, the Swedish climate-change activist, the magazine India Today went looking for “other so-called ‘children’ who were the same age when they battled against their adversaries.”

They found two bona fide examples: Joan of Arc, the medieval prophet-warrior who led the French to (eventual, after her time) victory over the English in the Hundred Years’ War; and Malala Yousafzai, the outspoken Pakistani girls’-rights activist who survived a murderous attack by the Taliban. Fair enough: two teenagers who battled against their adversaries. Check.

But India Today was not satisfied with Joan and Malala. They added “one of the most iconic faces of young resistance” -- Anne Frank, a victim of the Nazi Holocaust whose haunting diary was published years after her death in a concentration camp. Hmm. Seems a stretch to me, but I suppose that works if you define “resistance” broadly enough to include any effort to cling to humanity in the face of evil.

And then they included Jane Austen. Who is of course a pioneering novelist and a great artist, but a teenage resistance fighter? Umm – no. It’s clear, however, that India Today barely bothers with trivia such as accuracy, since their 221 words on Austen manage to include at least three factual errors -- including the claim that Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice at sixteen.* You know, the same age as Greta Thunberg.

* Chance the Janeite: As a proud son of Chicago, famously known as America’s Second City, Chance the Rapper turned his musical monologue at the opening of the October 26 Saturday Night Live into an ode to all things second. “I’m the kind of guy that likes the second-best best,” he rapped.

He offered numerous examples: Burger King fries beat out McDonald’s, Scottie Pippen’s basketball skills outdo Michael Jordan’s – and then the kicker: “Sense and Sensibility is better than Pride and Prejudice,” Chance proclaimed, as two cue-card chicks in slinky purple dresses held up the movie poster for the 1995 Emma Thompson S&S. (It’s at 2:26 on the clip.)

And then he rhymed "Pride and Prejudice" with “Sega Genesis.” Which is definitely not a juxtaposition I ever expected to hear.

* P&P: Probably begun c. 1796-7. When Austen was at least twenty.

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