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Hollywood popularizes Jane Austen


January 14, 1996
Web posted at: 7:30 a.m. EST

From Correspondent Sherry Dean

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Hollywood, always quick to jump on a fad, has made Jane Austen one of the hottest novelists of the '90s. Although Austen, who wrote on romance with delicate humor, died 179 years ago, many of her books are current movie hits. In fact, one of the hottest contenders for best picture in this year's Academy Awards is expected to be "Sense and Sensibility," based on one of Austen's classic.

Thanks to Hollywood, Austen's now on practically every hot list. She's on Entertainment Weekly's top entertainers list and on USA Today's best seller list.

Rebecca Ascher-Walsh of Entertainment Weekly says Austen was an obvious choice for their top 10 list. "So many of her books are being made into movies this year and she has been dead for 200 years," she said.

That's another reason why movie makers love Austen: Her books are so old that they are no longer protected by copyrights. That means no fees must be paid to her heirs.

Emma Thompson, who wrote the screenplay for and starred in "Sense and Sensibility," calls Austen a genius and says her works survives because she wrote about subjects that never die. "Women still fall in love with the wrong guy," she said. "They still get jilted, they're still looking for people to marry."

Another Austen book, "Pride and Prejudice," described as the most widely read novel in the English language, is about to run as a miniseries on the Arts and Entertainment (A&E) network. The series recently aired on BBC to a phenomenal reception.


The last episode drew 40 percent of the United Kingdom's total television audience; the home video sold more than 100,000 copies and a companion edition of the novel sold out.

"Story, story, story," said Delia Fine of A&E when asked what made the book so special. "Lizzie and Darcy are two of the best loved characters in all of fiction. They are irresistible."


While "Sense and Sensibility" and "Pride and Prejudice" are probably two of Austen's most famous works, a limited-edition film of Austen's lesser known "Persuasion" has done extremely well in the United States.

"It's a Cinderella story," said Roger Michell, who directed "Persuasion." "It's boy meets girl. Girl loses boy. Boy finds girl."

Hollywood hasn't finished with Austen yet; "Emma" starring Gwyneth Paltrow, is now in the making.

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