Jane Austen in one of literature's most enduring and beloved authors. But what sort of music would go into making the perfect modern playlist for this literary A-lister? You’d need songs that explore class and social behaviors, courtship rituals, and the complicated corners of the female heart. Clever songs that reflect the author’s witty banter, ones with passionate cores for the emotional turmoil her heroines endure. Considering all the balls that are attended in the books, some catchy beats wouldn’t hurt either. And of course the songs would have to be female-powered.
Here's our suggested Jane Austen playlist:
“Money Changes Everything” – Cyndi Lauper
Whether it’s Persuasion’s Anne Elliott breaking up with Wentworth because his station in life was too low or the Dashwood sisters of Sense and Sensibility nervously living on a “barely-respectable” income, it’s only a matter of time before the topic of money is raised in the pages of an Austen novel. And it tends to be sooner than later. Which isn’t to say her heroines are shallow, because they do choose mates based on love, but let’s just say they value financial stability as well. Which makes this Cyndi Lauper song a perfect way to kick things off.
“No Cheap Thrill” - Suzanne Vega
Speaking of emotional and financial stakes…Vega’s songs about relationships abound in wit and sensitivity, so she’s a no-brainer for this list. While “No Cheap Thrill” likens love to poker, the game serves as a metaphor for what we risk when giving our hearts to others:
“I’ll see you, I’ll call you, I’ll raise you
But it’s no cheap thrill
It’ll cost you, cost you, cost you
Anything you have to pay.”
“Dancing on My Own” – Robyn
From Pride and Prejudice to Mansfield Park, no better setting allows for social tensions to unfold like the ball. Where there’s a ball, there’s usually drama accompanying the dancing, and hurt feelings that must be masked amidst the party atmosphere. This is where you’d hear Robyn’s song of keeping her head high and her feet moving despite her broken heart.
“Rumour Has It” – Adele
If there’s one thing Austen’s characters love to do, it’s gossip. From lies to betrayals to which couple ran off in the night to get married, the whispers abound. Adele could just as easily be referencing the Regency period when she sings,
“People say crazy things,
Just ‘cause I said it,
it don’t mean that I meant it.”
“Single” – Everything But The Girl
The chorus of this song asks, “Do you like being single?” Pose this question to the female characters of a certain author and they’re sure to answer with a resounding, “No!” Enough said.
“The Mating Game” – Bitter:Sweet
This trip-hop duo’s flirty number is a perfect anthem to the merry-go-round of romantic pairings that occur in the pages of Austen’s books:
“Step right up you’re the next contestant
In this sweet charade
Take a number,
wait while I twist your fate.”
“Caught a Like Sneeze” – Tori Amos
Lurking in the pages of Austen’s books are scoundrels, whether serial heartbreaker Henry Crawford of Mansfield Park or the duplicitous Willoughby of Sense and Sensibility. Luckily they are usually sussed out before irreparable damage is done to the heroine. Which is pretty much the theme of this Tori song.
“I Won’t Kneel” – Groove Armada
The lyrics speak of being a victim of one’s pride and seeking forgiveness, but without losing sacrificing one’s integrity. That’s something ladies like Elizabeth Bennet and Emma Woodhouse can surely relate to:
“I came for miles on a broken wheel
I came to see whether love can heal
But I won’t kneel, no I won’t kneel”
These gals may be humbled,
but their backbones always remain intact.
“Bachelorette” – Bjork
The sweeping orchestral drama of the music, with percussion reminiscent of a heartbeat, creates a soundscape perfect for the uncertainty that accompanies falling in and out of love. Bjork’s voice is equal parts passion and vulnerability when she sings lines like, “Love is a two way dream.”
“I Am In Love With You” – Imogen Heap
Don’t let the title of this one fool you. What begins as a song about being smitten takes a dark turn. “Split second and it’s all in smoke,” sings Heap, concluding with a final refrain that claims, “I’m not in love with you.” A perfect accompaniment to the emotional swings the ladies of Austen’s novels endure as they fall in and out of love.
“The Human Game” – Lisa Gerrard
Through social and financial obstacles, misunderstandings and obfuscations of the heart, Austen’s heroines earn their happy endings. Therefore, it’s only appropriate that this playlist end on a poetic, romantic note. This song by the angel-voiced Gerrard carries through the love-conquers-all theme when she sings,
“All of our love rises above
The human game.”
What other songs do you think should be added the soundtrack of Jane Austen’s books? Share your picks in the comments, or tweet us @Quirkbooks!
And below for handy listening, is a Spotify playlist for all the songs featured in this post: