Reality shows in the vein of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” have a lot in common with a Jane Austen novel. They focus on the manners of a privileged set (like the “Real Housewives” or Rachel Zoe), their romantic relationships, their wealth and, sometimes, the decline thereof. One critic at the time called Austen’s “Mansfield Park” “[n]ot much of a novel, more the history of a family party in the country, very natural,” which sounds a lot like a description of a “Real Housewives” episode (minus the natural part). Kim Kardashian’s koncerns (sorry), superficial as they may be, have actually been the stuff of popular entertainment for centuries.
“Sense and Sensibility” and “Pride and Prejudice,” in particular, both feature women who advance themselves by means of men. The Dashwood sisters of the former have to marry well because their father’s money has all gone to their half-brother. And the Bennets have to do so because, as women, they can’t inherit their dad’s estate. Since working is unheard-of in their class, they have to get hitched to maintain their status.
It’s not much different for the world’s most famous reality star. To maintain her position, she has to stay in the public eye by finding new ways to make us care about her. One easy way to do that, since Ms. K has few discernible talents (and has already posed nude and been videotaped having sex), is through her relationships with men — and not just any men. No, she needs to be with guys who will raise her public profile by willingly serving as tabloid fodder and hopefully bringing their own audiences with them.
Lantern-jawed insta-husband Kris Humphries satisfied the former condition (unlike Knicks’ forward Danilo Gallinari, reportedly an early husband candidate who was unwilling to be on TV) but sadly, not the latter. But Kanye West, who Kim’s now allegedly dating (or “seeing where it goes” with) fulfills both criteria admirably — a regular Mr. Darcy.
Of course, Kim Kardashian and Elizabeth Bennet differ quite a bit, and not only in ways involving plastic surgery. Unlike Austen’s heroines, no one really expects Kim to marry someone for love — and audiences probably don’t care if this figures into her romantic exploits or not.
Kim’s marriage to Kris Humphries lasted just 72 days.
Austen had an idealistic streak, and her sharp female protagonists usually manage to fall deeply for men who just happen to also be able to support them in the style they’re accustomed to. Darcy may be gruff at the beginning of “Pride and Prejudice,” but by the end Elizabeth is crazy about him. At least judging by body language and, well, their divorce, that doesn’t seem to have been true of Kim and Kris. Whether it’s true of Kanye remains to be seen. But previous history suggests that unlike Lizzie Bennet, Kim Kardashian places more value on her own fame than love.