Why is Jane Austen so Popular?

I was having dinner with a great buddy the other night and we of course got talking about Jane Austen, as we are wont to do….we have both been reading Austen for a good number of years, attend the annual JASNA meetings together, and discuss the latest movies, occasionally disagreeing, but have terrific conversations nonetheless.  We most often quibble over Fanny Price and Mansfield Park (she dislikes Fanny with a passion, loves Mary & Henry Crawford and hence the whole book tends to lose its bite!) … I have told her that there is now a wonderful new Blog just about Mansfield Park, but alas! she does not care….

But our discussion the other night, with my very NOT Austen-loving husband in rapt attention, tended to the very basic question of “why is Jane Austen so popular right now?”  We can say that the movies and Hollywood are driving the popular culture, that Colin Firth as Darcy has changed the face of the romantic hero for all time, that she has always been popular so what’s all the fuss, that she gives us a respite in the world of computers and television and cell phones and ipods always THERE demanding our attention, that her writing is so superb we cannot but read and re-read because there is nothing to compare, her wit and social commentary are unparalleled, etc., etc. …. there is no one answer for sure….but I thought I would put this to the blog test and see what sort of response we can get from the cyberspace world out there that is filled with Austen blogs, sites, comments, articles…and just give you all a chance to wax poetic on this very basic thought:  why IS Austen so popular now? and why are her 6 novels (plus all the other wonderful jottings) on YOUR reading pile?  Any thoughts and comments appreciated….especially from those who might be better than me at convincing my friend that Mansfield Park is quite a delightful book after all!

[there is a great article on this question at the Masterpiece Theatre site, titled Why Jane? Why Now? ]