Books, films and TV shows related to the writing of Jane Austen have now surpassed manufacturing, shipping and computers as the largest single earner for Britain’s struggling economy.
In the week that ITV launched ‘Lost in Austen’ and another American travel writer published ‘In Austen’s Footsteps’, a government trade and industry spokesman confirmed that Britain’s GDP is now more dependent than ever on stories about modern single women who feel a real affinity with Elizabeth Bennett or Elinor Dashwood. ‘Although to be honest, it’s usually just Elizabeth Bennett, because most of them only read a bit of Pride and Prejudice, then watch the TV adaptation and then go on and on about really loving Austen.’
As well as film adaptations, television dramas and derivative novels, the Austen industry also encompasses thousands of book clubs, heritage walks and country houses. ‘Parents take their teenage daughters on these tours,’ explained the owner of one such Nineteenth Century estate in ‘Austen country’, North Wales, ‘because they feel that it is encouraging them to engage with classic literature.’
The irony is that original manuscript of Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’ was discovered in a Hampshire attic earlier this year, revealing the first draft of the classic comedy of manners to be packed with foul mouthed men and women, hell-bent on getting drunk, scoring drugs and having sex.
‘The publishers made her cut out all the racy stuff and so the whole charming English comedy of manners thing was never Austen’s intention,’ explained one archivist at the British library. ‘There’s a brilliant bit where Mr Knightley is out of his head on cider and crack, and he smashes Frank Churchill’s face into the stable door and Emma is so turned on she gives him a bj with Mr Churchill just lying there unconscious in a pool of blood. Basically all of Austen’s heroines just wanted instant sexual gratification with whoever they met. Except of course, Austen wrote ‘whomever’. That’s what we love about her.’