Friday, April 6, 2007

Author Centred Response

Jane Austen’s Emma is the fourth of six major ‘classic’ novels published from 1815. Just like all her previous works Austen focuses Emma around the typical themes of romance, marriage, and courtship. The story follows a young, wealthy and complacent woman as the protagonist, who lives with her excessively considerate father in Highbury, England. It details her endeavour to make matches between her associates and her adoration for taking people of lower social status under her wing. Jane Austen’s style fell heavily into the Victorian ‘Regency Romance’ genre which classically involves, “…the language, the lifestyle, the heroine, the hero and the typical plot and ending” (Roop, 2002) and her novels were mostly written during the Romantic Movement. This movement intended to ‘arouse the emotions, through a depiction of strong passion, or to fire the imagination with exotic, terrifying or wonderful scenes and events’ (Encyclopaedia Britannica 1998, Romantic Movement, pg 1). Other stories written during the Romantic Movement include Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and The Italian by Ann Radcliffe. Both of these influential authors based their novels around themes of love, romance or happiness.

On encountering the novel it was expected to have a tedious storyline and complex language. These expectations were drawn from previous experience with aged texts and also the first impression of the cover. This can be supported by my statement ‘…someone who often judges a book by its cover’. Basing any previous knowledge and experience from ‘classic’ texts on the novel, I presumed that it would engage in a cyclic plot and focus largely on the formation and ending of relationships between characters as well as their emotions and attitudes towards each other. The novel also details the expectations of marriage into status or wealth within Aristocratic European society. Although this would have been seen as contemporary behaviour at the time, romance and matrimony in the 21st century has changed significantly.

Through reading and analysing Jane Austen texts it is typically assumed that she agreed with the social discourses and ideologies encompassed of her time, which are so clearly evident in her stories. These include motivations for marriage, courting and status. However, with deeper research into the author’s life it is verified that Austen never married and she never had any intentions of marrying for the same reasons her characters did. As it has already been established, during Austen’s time (19th century) the motives of marriage generally revolved around social status and prosperity. With this acquired background information on Jane Austen’s life, readers are capable of concluding that she based her stories around social discourse because they were the dominant beliefs of their time. Another important element regarding Austen’s novels is the fact that she never signed her books by her name, instead signing them ‘By a lady’. Her reason for not taking public ownership of her stories may have been due to the low amount of respect for women’s opinions during the 1800’s. Women were seen as the inferior sex. This being the case, Austen may not have wanted to (at first) be recognised for her attitudes and her work, in fear that she would be frowned upon by society.

Just like Ann Radcliffe (author of The Romance of the Forest, The Mysteries of Udolpho and many other gothic genre novels) had an influence on Jane Austen, Jane Austen had an influence on writers 200 years after her time. Amy Heckerling the director of the 1996 teen movie Clueless being one of them. Clueless is a movie loosely based on the novel Emma but expresses love, relationships, dating and romance in a contemporary form relating better to kids of the 21st century. The issue of re-creation, that is the adaptation of older works or “classics” into a more modern approach, is believed to problematise the theory of author ownership: “…author’s words were completely original and his (or her) copyrighted “property” gained acceptance.” (Pease, 1995). “Multimodal texts also bring challenges to the notion of authorship, when teams contribute in various modes to the production of a text.” (QSA, pg 11) This statement relates to the movie Clueless, as multiple people contributed to the making of the production which makes it difficult to determine who the author of the particular text is. Wimsatt and Beardsley (1954, 1998) argued that a text is not owned by the author; rather, “it is detached from the author at birth and goes around the world beyond his power to intend about it or control it.” (QSA, pg 11) Since writers like Austen, Radcliffe and Shelley, contemporary texts have been similarly formed, such as Rebecca Sparrow’s’ The Girl Most Likely, and Janet Evanovich’s Back to the Bedroom. These examples of contemporary ‘chick lit’ utilise similar discourses and ideologies as the above authors but relate them to a more modern target audience.
It can be concluded that Emma clearly illustrates the central ethics and values of marriage and romance in the upper-class band of society during the 1800’s. Even though the novel has difficulty in engaging audiences from today’s culture other recent versions, such as the movie Clueless and ‘chick lit’ novels have been made to relate those same issues more closely to a newer and ‘younger’ generation. In order for this to be done effectively more emphasis is placed on love and romance as apposed to wealth and reputation. After analysing Jane Austen’s Emma it becomes obvious that she has effectively portrayed life in upper-class 19th century England even though it is too obsolete for the culture of modern society.

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