Taking Jane Austen to School

At the 2017 Winter Meeting on December 2 at Luminarias restaurant in Monterey Park, California, Professor Regulus Allen spoke on the topic “From Hampshire to Hollywood: Teaching an Austen Fiction and Film Course.” Theology student Beth Parker then gave a presentation on WWJD: Who Would Jane Date?

The day concluded with a rousing reprise of the Battle of Prague re-enactment — the famous programmatic sonata by Frantisek Kotzwara that was found in Austen’s own musical collection.

From Hampshire to Hollywood
Allen discussed her use of both filmed adaptations and the novels themselves in teaching Austen to college students at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. All English majors there read Persuasion as part of their degree program, and she also teaches a senior seminar that covers the other Austen novels. 

During her talk, she explored the three types of film adaptation identified by Geoffrey Wagner in his 1975 book The Novel and the Cinema — transposition, commentary and analogy — and how they relate to adaptations of Austen’s work. 

Using Sense and Sensibility as an example, she said the 1971 television version is transpository, meaning it is a fairly faithful telling of the novel set in the same time period. The 2008 mini-series demonstrates more of a commentary on the novel, with more modifications, such as using the same means to convey a different message or a different means to convey the same message. She noted the way the 2008 version opens with a dramatization of Willoughby’s seduction of Eliza, a scene not in the novel. She then referenced the 2000 Bollywood film I Have Found It as an example of analogy. “It is possible to watch the film and not know it’s an adaptation of Sense and Sensibility,” she added.

Her course covers a lot of ground in a short amount of time. Working in small groups, the students produce a short video and studio pitch for a new adaptation. They also write an individual paper on any other adaptation of an Austen novel. She’s considering adding Love & Friendship and Lady Susan to the course in an upcoming term. 

During her enlightening discussion, she addressed themes in Austen’s work that remain highly relevant today. For instance, the message about Col. Brandon still being attractive despite his “advanced age” applies to the need to change views of older women, especially in Hollywood, she explained. “The marriageable age in the Regency era was 17 to 27, the same age range that actresses today are considered eligible as leading ladies.” 

Allen is an associate professor at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where she teaches Restoration and Eighteenth Century British Literature, British Romanticism and African American Literature. She earned her bachelor’s, master’s and PhD degrees in English from UCLA. Her publications include “Speculation in Mansfield Park: Approaches to Teaching Austen’s Mansfield Park” and her current book project: Vacant Spaces: Imaginings of the African Woman in British Literature: 1688-1838. 

She was president of the Western Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies from 2014 to 2015 and is a member of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism, the Early Caribbean Society and the Modern Language Association. 

WWJD: Who Would Jane Date?
Beth Parker shared her humorous insights into Jane Austen and how she might approach online dating today in her talk WWJD: Who Would Jane Date?

A graduate student at the Claremont School of Theology, Parker explored how she uses Jane Austen’s wisdom in her theological research, her sermons and her online dating experiences, in which she categorizes the men she meets by the male characters in Austen’s novels.  

She gave the examples of Willoughby and Henry Crawford as some of Jane’s “playboys” and described how Willoughby ignoring Marianne’s letters mirrors “ghosting” in today’s dating world. 

Another category is the Nice Guy (TM), exemplified by the likes of Mr. Collins and Mr. Elton, who think they are doing you a favor by going out with you or buying you a drink at the bar. “When you turn them down, they ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ you, turning to insults,” she said. “They start out with ‘hey beautiful’ and quickly go to ‘I don’t want to date a fat girl anyway,’ or ‘You can’t do better than me.'” Even Mr. Darcy starts out as a Nice Guy (TM), using insult tactics in his proposal. 

Parker concluded her talk by saying the best lesson she has learned from Austen is patience. “Eventually Mr. Darcy turns into a real “nice guy” and not a Nice Guy (TM).”