Jane Austen may have died in 1817, but sometimes we need to remind ourselves of the fact, such is the continuing enthusiasm for everything associated with her. Jane Austen societies and websites abound, and hardly a publishing season goes by without the publication of several new Austen pastiches. Pride and Prejudice, perhaps the most popular novel in the Austen canon, is regularly transplanted to new settings, working just as well, it seems, in Los Angeles or Amritsar as it does in rural England. The same is true of film: remakes of Austen titles are launched as soon as it is deemed decent to do so, while favorite versions are watched time and time again by their enthralled devotees. To talk of a Jane Austen cottage industry may sound somewhat hackneyed, but it is not far from the truth.

The reasons for the continuing popularity of Austen’s novels is to be found partly in their essential merits and partly in the needs of...


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