The Atlantic

Restoring the Sex and Rage to Jane Austen

A new wave of adaptations is uncovering a hidden side of the novelist.
Source: Culture Club / Getty / Katie Martin / The Atlantic

Updated at 5:45 a.m. on October 10, 2019.

Demand for Jane Austen far exceeds supply. When the novelist died in 1817 at the age of 41, she left only six full-length novels, plus three unpublished works and a collection of juvenilia. Yet in the two centuries since, Austen has become, as the British writer Alexander McCall Smith once put it, “a movement, a mood, a lifestyle, an attitude, and perhaps most tellingly of all, a fridge magnet.”

She got her first screen adaptation in 1940, with Laurence Olivier playing Fitzwilliam Darcy and the Bennet sisters dressed in American-antebellum corsets and huge frilly skirts. This Pride and Prejudice set the template for what an Austen adaptation was supposed to look and sound like: primly romantic, with both clothes and characters firmly buttoned up.

The 1990s were a boom time for that approach. Think Gwyneth Paltrow’s Emma peeking out from under a bonnetor Kate Winslet daintily suffering a chill in . The BBC’s 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice stuck closely to its source material, and ended with

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