In Mansfield Park Henry Crawford remarks, Shakespeare ‘is a part of an Englishman's constitution … one is intimate with him by instinct’. To which Edmund replies, ‘His celebrated passages are quoted by every body; they are in half the books we open, and we all talk Shakespeare, use his similies, and describe with his descriptions’ (MP 3:3). We cannot say quite the same for Jane Austen but the title of her most popular book Pride and Prejudice and its opening sentence have become common cultural property. Like Shakespeare's, Jane Austen's characters are archetypes in the collective imagination: they inhabit the fantastic country of Austenland. Austen travels even beyond Shakespeare, however, in the weird uses to which her name and works have been put: zombies, sea-monsters, and werewolves have not so far been added to Hamlet. And, as Deidre Lynch noted apropos of the ‘Janeites’, it is hard to imagine admirers of Shakespeare calling themselves ‘Willies’.
A Newsweek cover story of 2007 entitled ‘181 Things You Need To Know Now’ featured Jane Austen's face next to Barack Obama and Beyoncé and below Osama Bin Laden. The story responded to a 1987 best-seller by E. D. Hirsch, Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know, which argued that all readers should be conversant with certain people, terms, and facts to make sense of what is written and discussed in the public sphere. Newsweek claimed: ‘Like BMW, Prada, and Martha Stewart, Austen is now a brand.’ A later Newsweek story called ‘Not-So-Plain Jane’ noted, ‘Modern Austen pastiche is practically an industry, and business is booming’, concluding, ‘In the economic doldrums, it is the eminently bankable Austen's blessing and curse to be constantly applied and misapplied. Jane-anything sells out.’
Jane Austen's six complex, witty, and subtle novels have delivered a spate of candy-floss films and erotic spin-offs, while the author herself, once created by her nephew James Edward Austen Leigh as a virtuous, demure country spinster, has been translated into a fictional being with a passionate and quirky love life, one who time-travels and solves crimes in a Regency England better called Austen-time.