LOPEZ: So is that a good question to be teaching our girls to ask? “What would Jane do?”
KANTOR: Yes! 100 percent better than “Will you marry me?” Seriously, Jane Austen’s so smart about guys; she’s got her head screwed on so straight. Bringing her insights and her attitude into our thinking on any problem in our lives is only going to give us a better chance of managing things happily.
: What would Jane Austen make of Fifty Shades of Grey
? Of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes? Of our interest in any of these things?
KANTOR: I actually wrote a piece for the Huffington Post pointing out how the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon seems to suggest that women have some desires that aren’t being met in their relationships today, and trying to show how exactly the kind of love we see between Elizabeth and Darcy is an ultimately more satisfying outlet for those desires.
Reading erotica is just playing at a love that’s risky and powerful and life-altering. Jane Austen was more ambitious than that. She gives us pictures of how women can find a thrilling, transformative love that fits into real life, right in the middle of all the humdrum things we’re perpetually pestered with, like financial worries and annoying relatives. I think she’d advise us to forget about vicarious excitements, whether it’s reading trashy fiction or following the lives of the rich and famous, and figure out how our own lives can be more satisfying and exciting.
LOPEZ: Are there any signs that we’ll have anything like Austen’s novels again? Or is it all Carrie and Twilight and twilight?
KANTOR: Well, Jane Austen was a genius. They don’t come around every day. But there’s something else I think we modern women could use even more than new world-class novels about love and relationships. Our entertainment may be cheap and tawdry, but isn’t what’s going on in our actual lives a much bigger problem? The six amazing Jane Austen novels that we’ve got can offer real practical help with that.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online. This column is available exclusively through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.