This week is the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice, and as usual, there was a rash of articles trying to judge why it’s so popular.
The usual answer seems to be it’s because it’s simple, yet complex, funny yet moving, has very human yet fascinating characters – all of which are true.
It was the final line in one article that struck me though – Jane Austen didn’t write for people who can’t think.
I love this phrase. So often I see books or films or TV shows that assume their audience is stupid. TV shows that need every little plot point explained ad infinitum. Films that go for the easy ‘kill them all up’ ending rather than the intelligent thoughtful ending. Books that take 50 pages to reveal a killer you guessed 40 pages ago.
It’s frustrating and patronising and guaranteed to make me throw the book across the room (or turn the TV channel over).
I prefer that the writer believes I’m as intelligent as they are, and treats me as such. It makes for a far more intriguing, compelling, believable story.
When Jane Austen writes a sneaky, clever joke and I laugh, or she makes an allusion and assumes I don’t need it explained, it feels like she’s let me into a secret little club of people she would like to meet, and that is such a lovely feeling. I think that’s the difference. Writers who assume readers are as clever as they are (and that includes children’s writers) make friends of their readers. Writers (and directors and producers!) who assume readers are stupid driver their readers away.