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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Ubiquitous Austen

Back in 2004, when Margaret Sullivan launched the indispensable AustenBlog, she chose a tagline that reflected Jane Austen’s pop-culture prominence: “She’s everywhere.” In the years since, Austen’s apparent ubiquity has waxed and waned, but she still pops up when you least expect her:


* She’s everywhere – even in a tepid weepie: Why did I watch One True Loves, a new film based on the 2016 novel by Taylor Jenkins Reid? God knows the less-than-stellar reviews and almost-straight-to-video trajectory didn’t raise my hopes. But my eighteen-year-old niece, Oona Yaffe, a talented actress and trusted guide to the mores of Kids These Days, has a small part in the film, so I was never not going to watch.


I can report that Oona is good but the movie is terrible, managing to be simultaneously preposterous--woman loses adored husband in helicopter crash, only to learn, as she is about to marry adored fiancé, that hubby is alive and well after spending four years on a desert island!—and utterly predictable.


So I probably shouldn’t have been surprised that Jane Austen, in her role as Classy But Unthreatening Patron Saint of Heterosexual Romance, makes a cameo appearance: On the heroine’s wedding day, her older sister urges bride and groom to hurry up. “Get your asses to the altar!” she chides. “I have the perfect Jane Austen quote! Let’s go!”


Alas, we glimpse the ceremony only from afar, so we never do learn what that “perfect Jane Austen quote” was going to be. Maybe just as well. The way things were going in One True Loves, it probably would have turned out to be a quote from a Jane Austen movie.


* She’s everywhere — even in a sports comedy: Early in Episode 7 of the latest season of Ted Lasso, Apple’s warm-hearted comedy about an English soccer team, the perky publicist Keeley opens an extravagant gift from her filthy-rich new girlfriend, Jack.


Sense and Sensibility! Oh, I love this book!” Keeley exclaims, as she lifts a single tattered volume from the box. Jack confirms that the gift is a first edition, and especially precious because it is signed by Jane Austen herself.


As I am not the first to note, this little scene has a couple of problems. First, Austen’s books were originally published in three volumes, and Jack apparently gives Keeley only one. And second, Austen published S&S anonymously, so it’s unlikely that any signed copies exist. (Though if they did – now, that would be a gift!)


Interestingly, a freeze-frame inspection makes clear that the book Keeley is holding does indeed have an authentic title page--the author is given only as “A Lady,” and the book is described as “Vol. I”—and the signature on the fly-leaf is in Austen’s familiar handwriting. Props to the props department for all that.


But why bother with S&S and its three-volume problem at all? Why not just have Jack give Keeley a first edition by someone other than Jane Austen? Over at Collider, Meghan Winch has some intriguing ideas about how this book, in particular, may resonate with the series' themes.


But the main reason for choosing S&S, I'd argue, is that Jane Austen is no longer just any old writer. She’s the Classy But Unthreatening Patron Saint of Heterosexual Romance -- and, these days, of romance in general, regardless of gender. That’s why she’s (still) everywhere.

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