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Saturday, October 16

Cliched Thinking About Jane Austen's Novels

Here's a clichéd statement if ever there was one:
Romances are constructed around the idea that love is an obstacle course, but if you keep your nose to the grindstone, the rewards can be immense.
That is actually the theme of every Jane Austen novel, and of every movie based on a Jane Austen novel. Romances are built upon the idea that Prince Charming actually exists, but he may be a bit rough around the edges or temporarily unavailable, like Mr Rochester in Jane Eyre or the long-lost boyfriend in A Very Long Engagement, or the weird guy who keeps popping in from the future in The Time Traveller's Wife.
Joe Queenan, obviously a dude, writes for the Guardian Co UK. In his article, Joe Queenan's Guide to Romantic Cliches, he writes in a clichéd way about every clichéd romance plot he can think of. Queenan jumps seamlessely from classic novels to films, making no distinction between the two. Really, Joe. Really? Is there truly no distinction between a classic novel that has managed to persist through the ages despite stiff competition, and some cheap Hollywood film like How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days that was hurriedly thrown together for the masses with a couple of B actors?

I am tired of romances being such easy targets for both male and female critics. Frankly, the shoot 'em ups and world weary dramas with enigmatic endings that leave the reader or watcher wondering what the heck they'd just been spending their time slogging through are equally clichéd. It is a rare occasion, indeed, when a writer conjures up a story so original that nary a single cliché was used once.

So why is it always open hunting season on romances, but not on the other clichéd genres? Is this simply an accepted form of female bashing, since females overwhelmingly prefer this genre? Feel free to vent in the comment section below.


JaneGS said...

I don't think Romance, or even romance, bashing is misogynistic, as a fair number of women engage in it, but it is an easy way of putting down others, presumably to feel superior to them.

Nonna Beach said...

I'm tired of the romance bashing critics too. It is rather annoying that gory, violent, disgusting movies are somehow O.K. and so called "chick flicks" are a horror all men are dragged kicking and screaming to see.

If a man loves his woman, he smiles when she suggests reading or seeing romance 'cause it's good for the soul to recall one's own struggles and success in the romance department. One of the most important parts of a good relationship is to be reminded how wonderful romance really is !

Heather Carroll said...

One again, I have the sense that the author is generalizing and hasn't actually read all the novels of JA.

Carol@Dandelion Vintage said...

The guy probably didn't read most of those novels, or he didn't take the time to think about them. To me, Jane Austen's books are studies of people, their behaviors and feelings more so than about romance. Of course there is romance and a happy ending, because that's what happens to people, hopefully.

Vic said...

JaneGS,I think so many women who want to be "taken as serious thinkers" have sided with romance bashing, which is made easy (in my humble opinion) because it denigrates a largely female interest. So, while romance bashing isn't misogynistic, per se, it is curious that a similar amount of disparaging comments aren't directed at all male topics, like stories (in films, books, and plays) that concentrate on horrific acts against women and children, then raise these topics to so-called levels of art because they examine our culture in the raw. Phooey.

Nonna, I believe that the term "chick flick" puts the genre down. The funny thing is that while I believe in equal rights for all, I have never been a rabid feminist, but recently I have come to abhor the subtle ways that our society puts down largely female interests and how passively we women seem to accept these slights.

Heather and Carol, yeah, he probably has only seen part of a Jane Austen movie or read one book. Still, even if Jane's books were only about love and marriage, which they aren't, why put down the very topic that ensures that the human race will thrive and survive? Isn't romance about a man and woman falling in love and procreating? From a biological perspective, this is what every species needs to do in order to ensure a continued existence. Isn't that what territorial imperative and hunter gathering and needing to pass on one's genes is all about? I applaud romance for turning love into an interesting and beautiful emotion, rather than a grunting, biological act.

Ok, I'll get off my soap box, and go back to reading my Jane Austen sequel, which is up for a review.

Jenny Allworthy said...

Smart guys realize that a good romantic novel, or film, can put a woman in the right frame of mind for, well....romance. This guy sounds like he's not very smart to me! A smart guy will also pick up a few tips from a well written or well acted romance.
Am I correct ladies?

Dana Huff said...

I think you have point. Using a term like "chick flick" or "chick lit" instantly seems to trivialize whatever it is you're talking about. Like the others, I doubt he's read them, so what does he know?

Lynnae said...

I like Jenny's comment.
I like JA's work mostly for the truths of human nature and character, and secondly for the humor and irony. If those things didn't catch my attention, the romance itself would not have been enough. People like the author in question either don't read it, or don't 'get' it. They are not all about bonnets and weddings.

Laurel Ann said...

Real men read Austen and don't think they are romances.


Nonna Beach said...

I totally agree the term "Chick Flick" does put the genre down. It is meant to be so called by uneducated critics who probably read the CLIFF NOTES versions of Jane Austen's books.

The minute you mention a period drama or romance to most guys, they automatically go into dread mode. They were taught by the media to react this way, hence the label, "Chick Flicks"

Modern women of quality and taste will always find ways to stand up to all the misguided put downs, ignore the critics and enjoy to the max.

Cliched thinking can go jump off a cliff !!!

Becky said...

I SO agree! I get tired of the double standard that we set with "romance" versus violence. Even in movies it seems okay to let teens watch people shoot one another, but freak out if they see nudity of any sort? I'm not condoning here when it comes to teens, but I see a total double standard everywhere I look.

It's funny though that Austen has received such criticism. Among women I know, they do seem to think that Austen is better than "romance" and still look down on the genre. That's a silly little bit of snobbery all its own.

I'm not much into haters when it comes to book. As an English teacher, I'm always gloriously happy when my students escape into a book, since that means they'll be much more likely to pick up another one to recapture that feeling!

Great post. You've sparked some thought in me, although I'm not responding as eloquently! :)

Witch of Stitches said...

Bravo Vic, I'm tired of the bashing of romance too and I doubt this Joe has ever really read an Austen novel. Like others have already stated, I see JA's books as much more than romance novels. But that being said, I love romance novels! What's wrong with a novel that has a happy ending and makes one feel good, brings a smile to one's face? There is enough in the world to make us cry and I, for one, find romance eases and helps minimize the cares of the day.
I also dislike the term "chick lit/chick flick" - denigrating!