“…we all long to escape. I escape always to my favourite book, Pride & Prejudice. I’ve read it so many times now, the words just say themselves in my head…it’s like a window opening, it’s like I’m actually there; it’s become a place I know so intimately, I can see that world, I can touch it, I can see Darcy...” – Lost In Austen
Stating that the TV mini-series Lost in Austen is glorified, or legitimized, fanfiction would not to be a controversial claim. In fact, I would suspect that many faithful janites would be frustrated that they did not think of it first, or at least were not given the same opportunity to realize their Austenian musings and fantasies on the small screen.
At the end of the day, the plot of this series is probably not a new one. In fact, inserting a normal every day female character into a fictional universe and letting the hijinks ensue is a staple of many a fandom, and could even be considered a bit juvenile. Yet here we are (and here I am!), being highly entertained and intrigued by this female fan’s fantasy played out to its satisfyingly romantic conclusion.
For those of you who have yet to catch this BBC series, the plot is as follows, more or less: Amanda Price is our modern-day heroine and Austen devotee, evidenced in the beginning quotation. She comes home one day to discover Elizabeth Bennett in her shower (how she recognizes her is a bit unclear – it’s not even Jennifer Ehle!) and uncovers a door between her London flat and the Bennetts’ Longbourne. She obviously enters it and immediately becomes trapped in turn-of-the-18th century England, while Lizzy stays behind in modern-day London. As one can expect, chaos unfolds, all with Amanda Price at the centre of it. She is unwittingly rewriting her favourite story of all time and is appalled by it.
Right off the bat, the suggestion that the arrival of the “modern” Amanda Price and the removal of Lizzy Bennet would fundamentally change the course of these characters’ lives is suspect. There is an element of wish-fulfillment in the way Amanda arrives and is immediately a big deal and causes havoc. Wouldn’t it be the worst if you showed up in the world you had been romanticizing your whole life and were just as inconsequential there as you were in your real life? I guess there would be no story there, no lesson besides maybe the message of Midnight In Paris, that addresses a similar issue…but anyway, I digress.
The point is, Lost in Austen and wish-fulfillment, whether it be the author’s or the viewers’, and I find it both interesting and uncomfortable how Ms. Price falls into this world and quickly gains a firm hold of it by developing a fast bond with Jane and attracting the attention of not only Mr. Darcy, but of Mr. Wickham and Mr. Bingley.
This young, female, girl-next-door character reminds me of the “Mary Sue” concept used to describe certain types of characters employed in mostly fanfiction writing that seem to be products of wish-fulfillment rather than involved character development. They are most often injected into an existing world and are unrealistically attractive, smart, competent, and successful in a variety of ways that deny the character any dimension. That’s not to say that I think our Ms. Amanda Price has no realism or dimension, because she does. But what really defines her is that she is an amalgam of all of us – smart, romantic, pretty but maybe not gorgeous, articulate, strong, but also lost, confused, and caught between different worlds – now and then, real and fictive, upper and lower class.
Amanda Price suggests to all of us that if we were to cross over into the world we have idealized, we would create the same fuss she does and win over the man we’ve fantasized about since we were tweens. (Well, not all of us – Team Knightley, right Jane?) Isn’t that the basis of the unattainable crush? The belief that if only the object of our affection could meet us and know who were, they would love us. We could all be the Elizabeth Bennet of our own lives.
But alas, we probably cannot. Not because we’re not awesome – we are. But because the suggestion that a simple time travel is the answer to our mallaise or our quarter-life crisis is a glorification of the past and a rejection of a present that has just as much to offer (seriously, go watch Midnight in Paris). Amanda Price, after some struggle and heartbreak, it is true, gets her man, and finds her place in the world, albeit it’s over 200 years ago. But maybe the real lesson is in this latest consideration of our beloved Elizabeth Bennet, our perennial hero and aspiration. Despite protestations from both her family and Amanda herself who is desperate to hang on to the story she knows, Lizzy quickly adapts to the 21st century and throws off the romantic fatalism offered her by Amanda Price in order to live a new life in the present, which she sees as much more thrilling and promising than any happy ending in a book. To a world-weary 21st century girl like myself, that seems like a safer bet – and besides, if all else fails, there will always be a copy of P&P at arm’s length.