• Deborah Yaffe

Timeless heroine

“Mouni Roy Dresses Like A Jane Austen Heroine In Her Latest Photoshoot And Totally Nails It,” proclaimed a recent headline on the website of the Indian TV news channel CNN-News18.


I will admit that, since I don’t follow Bollywood, I had never previously heard of Mouni Roy, a thirty-five-year-old actor and model who works primarily in Indian movies and television shows. I will further admit that I am no expert on the clothing of the Regency.


Still, it doesn’t take a degree from the Fashion Institute of Technology to know that the outfit Roy is wearing in an Instagram post captioned “A Jane Austen heroine in a Christopher Nolan world” is in a style worn decades after Austen’s time. Floor-length skirt with cinched waist, topped by collared shirtwaist with balloon sleeves and neck ribbon: late Victorian? Perhaps Edwardian? I leave the details to others.


We have here a very familiar, very specific type of misunderstanding: the view that “Jane Austen” is a floating signifier that -- rather than denoting an actual writer with actual characters tethered to an actual historical era – instead roughly corresponds to the concept of “sweet, romantic, old-timey girl stuff.”


And I have to admit that by the standards of some of Roy’s other ensembles (scroll down for examples), which seem designed to showcase what the website calls “one of the most enviable abs in the business,” the shirtwaist outfit is indeed worthy of a Jane Austen heroine. If, that is, by “Jane Austen heroine” we don’t mean an actual heroine from an actual Jane Austen novel.

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