You are browsing the fiction section of a chain bookstore, searching for some saucy page-turner of a novel that has just enough literary chops to maintain your street cred, only to find yourself confronted by novel after cheesy novel on that saucy and yet oh-so-literary hunk of a fictional man known commonly as Mr. Darcy?
Are Mr. Darcy and his Colin Firth-esque abs really poised to conquer the literary world?
To answer this question, I conducted an informal study at the Border's Bookstore near Ridgedale mall in Minnetonka, Minnesota. Browsing the fiction section from A to Z, I photographed every book I could find that appeared to be based on Jane Austen or her literature. Once home, I examined the photos and compiled a list of all the titles and authors.
In all, I found 38 different books (47 copies total) by 20 individual authors*. This is a surprisingly manageable number - it probably would take me only a year to read them all. (For anyone looking for one of those "accomplish something ridiculous in a year" blog subjects, here you go - I don't think I'm ready to make that sacrifice) Interestingly, only one dude was represented among the 20 authors, a certain Wayne Josephson, who writes about Emma and her classic struggles with vampires.
Now if I wanted to be really scientific about this I would have counted (or at least estimated) the total number of books in the fiction section of that particular Borders to get an idea of the Total Fraction of Literature this represented (TFoL being a crucial metric in the field of computational literature). Believe me, I considered it. Strongly. But, mimicking my attitude towards most aspects of my thesis project, I decided it was just too much work. Meh.
To examine the content spread in these novels - get inside the mind of the typical Jane Austen knock-off reader, if you will - I went through each book and tallied the number of times that specific words or motifs appeared in the titles. I even put my scientific skills to use and made a chart!
|What do women want? Mr. Darcy, obviously.|
We can draw some additional conclusions from the data:
- For those who believe that Elizabeth was only into Mr. Darcy for his giant house, here is evidence to the contrary: the word Pemberley occurred less than 20% as frequently as did Mr. Darcy.
- A successful relationship with a fictional man requires both mental and physical compatability: words of sexual tension (temptation, obsession, desire) occurred just as frequently as those of romance (loving, dancing, holding).
- Fictional relationships are most successful when post-coital blood sucking is involved: titles including mentions of the occult (zombies, vampires, phantoms) occurred just as often as those invoking Jane Austen herself.
|"Marshaling any arguments against the determined curve of his lips seemed fruitless"|
|"I had not known, till I heard this, how far my feelings had gone. The idea of Elizabeth marrying Mr. Collins was mortifying, and painful in a way I had not imagined. I quickly rallied." Oh, Mr. Darcy, I can feel the passion in your voice.|
Mr. Darcy's Zombie Nightmare Wedding at Pemberley
It has a nice ring to it, don't you think?
*Full data set available. Please e-mail the author for access.