Is it coincidental that PBS has chosen, of all the six Jane Austen adaptations, to air Pride and Prejudice the Sunday before Valentine’s Day? I think they must have strategically placed it there, knowing that this novel is one of the most-loved books in literature, as the results in recent polls have shown. They must have known that Pride and Prejudice is ranked the third most reread books in Britain, and first in a poll on books that people in the British nation can’t live without.
Only in Britain, you might say…but it seems like this is a phenomenon across countries.
In Australia, Austenmania and Janespotting are the common terms to describe this unprecedented occurrence since the mid 1990’s. The Pride and Prejudice miniseries (1995) broke TV ratings, books and sales records.
Jane Austen takes an international stance as it goes multicultural. In Bride and Prejudice (2004), the best-loved Austen novel received a dashing Bollywood makeover. Which country doesn’t have its own class system and prejudice? The movie has also put Aishwarya Rai (with Colin Firth in The Last Legion, 2007) on the world map.
Most recently, Venezuelan director Fina Torres is getting ready to film Sense and Sensibilidad, with screenplay by Mexican Luis Alfaro. Locations of filming will be in Mexico and East L.A., and to be released at the end of 2008. If Jane is around she would be much gratified and amused to see her books gaining such a multi-cultural following.
Just last Friday, the February 8th issue of the Taiwan-based (North American East Edition) Chinese Newspaper World Journal has a full-page coverage on Jane Austen and her many movie and television adaptations.
In the cyberworld, as recent as this past week, Project Gutenberg ranks Jane Austen as the third most downloaded author in the past 30 days after Mark Twain and Charles Dickens, while Pride and Prejudice is the most downloaded Austen books.
But of course, statistics are irrelevant when it comes to matter of the heart.
We who love Austen’s works and in particular, for me, Pride and Prejudice, will continue to reread the book and rewatch this TV miniseries regardless of what the polls show. Different people might find different reasons for its appeal. But I, for one, feel that Austen has created through Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy the ideal (note: not perfect) woman and the ideal man. I see in them the essential ingredients of relationships, with oneself, and with others: respect, compassion, kindness, generosity, hope, and grace, but above all, the willingness to change and be transformed for the better. I’m much grounded to expect perfection in the human world, but through Austen’s depiction I can cherish and admire the ideal.
With Valentine’s Day drawing near, and with our world unfolding as it is, cherishing the ideal could well be the key to help us build a more beautiful tomorrow.