Austenland and narrative tensions in Austen’s biopics

Wardle, Janice (2018) Austenland and narrative tensions in Austen’s biopics. In: After Austen: Reinventions, Rewritings, Revisitings. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-3-319-95893-4

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This essay explores how the popular film Austenland (2013) comically exposes some of the narrative conventions and tensions, which are apparent in two earlier Austen biopics: Becoming Jane (2007) and Miss Austen Regrets (2008). Through an investigation of these texts, it will be seen that the wish to celebrate Austen’s historical otherness and difference, is often held in an uneasy balance with a desire to investigate the contemporary relevance of her life and work for modern readers. I will suggest that all these texts offer readings of Austen shaped by a modern aspirational narrative of romantic fulfilment. In addition their creation of an idea of ‘Englishness’ is informed by not only twenty-first century contexts, but also differing national expectations of Austen’s world. Moreover, the essay will explore how these filmic readings are predicated on unreliable reconstructions of Austen’s life, sometimes supplemented by details from Austen’s novels, as well as playful enactments of historical ‘facts’ and self-referential quotation of other biopics and classic adaptations. These intertextual references are, as we will see, central also to the narrative of Austenland, and this investigation shows how the film ironically critiques earlier filmic versions of the life and works of Jane Austen, as it unremittingly draws attention to the artifice of Austenland itself.

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