Restoring the sex and rage in … Jane Austen

A little something I’ve been caught stealing from the Atlantic for you Jane addicts out there. (See what I did there, other Gen X people?)

The pressure to sand the sharp edges of her plots into “You go girl” fairy tales is also wrong. These are not books about “empowered” women, even though many of the female characters are eloquent, clever, and resourceful. Most of the “happy” endings crumble under scrutiny. Only Elizabeth Bennet really gets it all, as Darcy is a magical combination of hot, rich, morally upright, not boring, not drunk—and not two decades her senior. Austen’s other heroines often profess to be happy, but cracks are visible in their facade. Will Marianne Dashwood really learn to love Colonel Brandon, a much older man who “still sought the constitutional safeguard of a flannel waistcoat”? Or is she, like Charlotte Lucas in Pride and Prejudice, pragmatically settling for a home and family because spinsterhood is so unappealing? Kathryn Sutherland, an English professor at Oxford University who consulted on The Watsons, told me that the characters’ obvious emotional intelligence can make their onscreen representation unsatisfying because it “doesn’t map easily onto the kind of slick romance we want from Jane Austen.”

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