Since Austen has been so high on my mind lately, the world has become a hazy rose-hued place of beauty and sensationalism coupled with the grayish-pink normality of daily life. Things taste of earl grey and smell of violetwater. I resist the urge to say “Oh my!” and fan myself daintily with a glove-clad hand. The practice of reading novels is something I must think twice about before engaging in lest I become one of those women who thinks too much and thereby shall never land a husband.
Apparently, I am not alone. Over this past weekend, this video was brought to my attention.
First and foremost, let me articulate how hilarious I find it. The following analysis comes not from any lacking in my sense of humor, but rather an over-exaggeration of my sensibilities as a reader of Austen. Honestly, if I wasn’t wading hip-deep in Austen criticism currently, I probably would have laughed the entire thing away and failed to put a second thought to it. It is, truly, a funny piece of work.
That disclaimer out of the way, as a theorist I can’t help but note that Lizzie Bennet is likely miscast in her role of Tyler Durden. Lizzie is most certainly the most famous of Austen’s women and for good reason. She has a staring role in Austen’s most well read novel. She has a bright, intelligent, strong personality that a modern audience absolutely connects to. She is smart, beautiful, and gets the ultimate tall-dark-brooding-handsome-rich man in the end. If I was stuck in some bizarre and world-altering literary cataclysm and had to choose one of Austen’s women to live as, it would be Lizzie Bennet. Her story is relatable, desirable, and utterly romantic.
However, one of Lizzie’s most important characteristics is that, despite her brilliance and wittiness, she never outwardly performs any action of social impropriety. Her barbs are measured, counted, and always reserved for the correct place at the correct time. There is no unhealthy oppression in Lizzie (that is all left to her father, poor soul). She says what she wants and needs to, but only does so at moments in which she knows she can get away with it. Most importantly, Lizzie’s careful application of tact ensures that even her rebellion attracts the most desirable suitor. Darcy is drawn to Lizzie precisely because of her rebellious streak. This streak, thereby, goes to re-enforce social norms and the institution of male power within the novel despite its assertion of female agency in the acquisition of that power.
There is undeniably another woman, however, who would be more appropriately cast in this role. To me, Marianne Dashwood is a much more likely candidate for the institution of such an organization as depicted in this little vignette. Marianne famously is of a passionate and over-brimming heart, and acts precisely as she feels when she feels it. She is unable to succumb to the boundaries of social propriety, and though her mind is sharp she cannot tame it to the demands of a society woman. She, it seems, would instigate such fights. She would lead the other women into the same lack of restraint that she exhibits throughout the course of her novel.
That being said, Fanny is the perfect candidate for the role of unnamed-Edward-Norton-narrator. Quite, reserved, constantly told that she is inadequate, unable to stand up for herself, insistently put down by the book’s higher-socially-ranked characters, if anyone required a means of blowing off repressed anger it would be Fanny. More importantly, the weak and measly push-over that Fanny is is the text-book definition of “beware of the quiet type”. It would be of no surprise to me that Fanny should imagine herself an alternate person which, once donned, would allow her to act out. More importantly, Marianne Dashwood would fill that persona swimmingly; wild, romantic, carefree, unbounded; the perfect fantasy for the mousy Fanny to enact in her attempt at conquering her own meekness.
….and perhaps it’s just because my most recent paper is on Northanger Abbey, but where is Catherine Morland? Don’t satirical Gothic heroines get to beat people up too?
In any case, this certainly inspires further thought. In recent years, Austen’s works have provided the muse for a series of adaptations which has brought them center-stage in the eyes of the reading masses. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is the first (and perhaps most famous) of these. It is hard to say whether these appropriations should be grouped into literary fan fiction, or legitimate attempts to make these texts speak to a modern audience. Having done no lengthy study upon them, it is a difficult distinction for me to make. I suppose it begs us to first answer the question of how far one can go from an original text while still maintaining its integrity. Do the zombies make this book another book, or should it still be shelved with its predecessor? Are we talking about one thing, or two things? Where does something go from “classical” to “absurd”?
Rather than proposing any immediate answer to these questions, I’d rather pull a Professor move and allow them to ruminate in your minds. As per usual, thoughts upon them are always welcome…. Especially if accompanied by beer.