Dean: Jane Austen still present in society

(2.19) Jane Austen
NEW LOOK ON AUSTEN: Elizabeth Langland, dean of ASU's New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, spoke Thursday evening at the West campus about the contemporary relevancy seen in Jane Austen's classic novels. (Photo by Allison Oswalt)
Published On:
Friday, February 19, 2010
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Though it has been nearly 200 years since Jane Austen’s death, her intricate dialogue and unforgettable characters are still present in today’s modern society.

Elizabeth Langland, dean of ASU’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, explored the world of Austen in a lecture Thursday night at ASU’s West campus.

Langland said her research became a deeper question as to what about Austen and her romances still intrigue readers to this day.

“I became interested in looking at Austen and going beyond the obvious,” she said. “It’s amazing, you just keep getting new remakes, as well as Masterpiece Theatre,” television series best known for presenting adaptations of novels and biographies.

Austen is a mistress of much deeper emotion than what appears on the surface, Langland said. Her ideas delve into corrupting society, the seduction of money and an unset mentality about prudence and passion coexisting. These themes parallel contemporary problems in society today, she said.

A major theme developed in the novels is the idea of money versus greed, Langland said.

“Very much at the heart of the novels is the key concern of society,” she said. “I explore this specifically looking at the movies and how they relate.”

Langland started researching Austen 10 years ago, when she believed Austen’s popularity was just a passing phenomenon. She soon realized that it was not a phase and instead came back to her work and added to it.

“The pattern keeps going,” she said. “It’s more accessible to people who have now seen the films and have that same question.”

Langland’s lecture focused on four of Austen’s classic novels, “Sense and Sensibility,” “Pride and Prejudice,” “Persuasion,” and “Emma.”

Langland said early critics of Austen felt her work was purely soft focus romances. However, Austen’s novels are filled with strong irony, rigorous social critique and a side of toughness that can often be overlooked.

“It is interesting to watch people really discover the rigorous social critic, the one that is really aware of her realities,” she said.

Austen’s work has lasted this span in time because readers will like that there is romance, Langland said. The girl does get the boy, but there is also humor and wit intermixed.

Kavitha Sundralingam, a journalism junior, said Austen is still seen today because her movies and novels relate so much to traditional and contemporary love stories that people want to believe in.

“I think it applies to how relationships and chivalry are seen today,” she said.

Many of Austen’s classic stories can also be seen in movie remakes and story lines. Paramount Pictures’ 1995 movie, “Clueless,” is a parody of Jane Austen’s “Emma.” Many contemporary remakes use Austen’s work to create a modern timepiece that audiences will be able to identify with, Langland said.

Andrew Kirby, associate dean of Barrett, the Honors College, at the West campus, said it is exciting to take media and incorporate it into a lecture.

“We tend to situate knowledge in certain ways,” he said, and these lectures are a great way for knowledge to be transferred.

“If you strip away the costumes and time period, you will see your own world in Austen,” Langland said.

Reach the reporter at amoswalt@asu.edu