Last week “Pride and Prejudice” had a birthday. That’s right, good ol’ Darcy and Lizzie and the gang turned 200. During those 200 years, Austen’s novel has had quite the run. Actually, it is still having quite the run. It has been made into a bajillion hour long BBC drama, plus that Kiera Knightley flick.
It has spawned entire networks of fan-fiction, everything from badly written dreams of Elizabeth and Darcy’s future to published novels that re-imagine Elizabeth as a zombie slayer. Books, TV, films, homemade costumes, conventions, self-help guides — the Jane Austen fan community has it all.
But in addition to the diehard owns-a-regency-dress-and-regularly-wears-it-to-work fans, Austen is familiar to practically everyone. Even if you have never read one of her books, or watched a single film adaptation (which, let’s be honest, you are probably lying about — “Clueless” is Austen, guys. So is “Bridget Jones”) you know about Austen.
But why? What about “Pride and Prejudice” has gotten it to its 200th birthday? Why, of all things, does Austen have such a cult following? Of course, “Janeites” aren’t the only obsessive fans out there. But they are different.
“Harry Potter” fans, I get why you exist. Wands, magic, terrific feasts — who wouldn’t want to be part of that?
“The Lord of the Rings” has elves and hobbits and Aragorn — that’s a duh.
“Star Wars”: lightsabers.
“Star Trek”: red-shirts jokes.
All of these fan cults make perfect sense… But Austen? It has ladies sitting around for hours, taking a ‘turn about the room’ for some exercise. It is a world that gets exciting when the militia comes to town and suddenly there are more than just two guys to come round for dinner.
The Austen cult isn’t a cult of magical imagination the way “Harry Potter” is, or a cult of sci-fi escape like “Star Wars.” It’s an entirely different breed. It’s a cult of intelligence.
Am I saying that other fan bases are not intelligent? Not at all. But 200 birthday candles indicate a dedication to Austen far deeper than simply a fondness for a love story. It suggests an understanding of the literary brilliance of Austen. Of the satire, the social commentary, the incredible dialogue, and that universally despised character that can be found in pretty much every social circle (if you do not know a Mr. Collins, seriously consider the possibility that it’s you).
Sure, there are those members of the Austen community who are here just because of Colin Firth’s wet shirt, but really, doesn’t every fan base have “those” members? The Legolas Ladies? The Leia’s-Golden-Bikini Boys? I promise you, “Pride and Prejudice” made it to 200 because of much more than Colin Firth in a wet shirt. It’s a classic. A story that is far more than just a kissing book. And if you have not read it yet, or even if you have, it deserves some birthday attention.
From one English dork to the empty air, happy birthday to “Pride and Prejudice.” May you continue to live long and prosper, and may the force be with you.