Saturday, June 7, 2008

Jane Austen and Stuff

For my hundreth post, it only seems fitting to chat about a literary great.

Marie recently posted about Jane Austen. She asked the question Why do we look for the brilliance in the writer's life?

I have a similar question, especially as it regards Jane Austen: Why do we try to imitate their brilliance. There are many, many sequels and points of view novels (written from a minor character, or Darcy's character in particular) that seek to continue her tradition. But here's the thing: Jane Austen, the ain't. I am also no Jane Austen.

But, as a writer, and I'm gonna play a little harsh here so others can take opposing views if they wish, why would you imitate someone else? All you will be in history is a pale, pale imitation. Perhaps a shadow--if you're lucky. Now, I'm not talking about books like Jane Austen's Book Club...which uses the Austen oeuvre as a structure...I'm talking about books that flat-out use her characters and her settings.

I would say fan fiction is included in this, but somehow it seems different when you're using such commercial characters to begin with.

But taking Dickens, or Shakespeare, or Austen and putting their characters in new stories and situations. Giving them children and telling stories about their children. Well, it shows that these writers have read. Their writing says that they are talented. So why not create your own places? Your own memorable characters? Knightley is Austen's. Darcy is Austen's. And Scarlett O'Hara is Magaret Mitchell's (don't even get me started there!).

I think if you want to be a great writer, you have to do you're own thing. As an exercise in memorability, I tried to remember a single author or a single title out of the Almost Austen Collection...and there are a lot...and I couldn't remember a thing.

2 comments:

  1. It's like how even the best cover bands are always going to be known for doing someone else's songs.

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  2. It's an interesting phenomenon. Because, as they say, all the stories have already been told. So using Shakespeare or Austen or fairy tales or someone else's story as a jumping off point for your own work seems valid. If you change it, a lot. Say Romeo and Juliet only it's the parents who are in love and the kids are against it.

    But to use the actual characters and try to "complete" the story just doesn't make sense to me. I have "Ahab's Wife" in the pile of to-be-read books at home. That book was used as an example of how women are telling the stories that weren't told in the past in a seminar I attended. BUT couldn't the authors just as easily used their own characters to tell the same stories.

    I think it boils down to marketing, frankly. People are familiar with Austen or Melville or Mitchell (and I haven't read Scarlett because Mitchell told the story she wanted to tell thank you very much). So if you write something with one of those characters attached, you might just have a built in audience.

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