Koreans and Corsets: How Kdramas Are Like Jane Austen Novels

A few weeks ago, Outside Seoul's Amanda wrote this post, where she briefly mentioned the similarities between kdrama leading men and Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice.  Then, a couple of days ago, one of my good friends finished watching her first kdrama (I'm so proud!), and her initial response was that it felt like a "long romcom, but not an American romcom--more like a Jane Austen movie."  These two comments, combined with the fact that I  recently saw Austenland in theaters, have really brought my attention to the many ways in which kdramas mirror Jane Austen novels.

That, and this scene from The Master's Sun this week:


Surely, surely I wasn't the only one who immediately thought of this:



Yes, that's my second North and South reference in a week.  No, I'm not sorry. Sure, it's Elizabeth Gaskell and not Jane Austen, but Gaskell's like a more political Austen anyway, so it all flows with the overall theme here.

Now, I'm not saying that these dramas copied Jane Austen. They come from completely different times and regions of the world, but I wonder if the similarities of a (relatively) reserved culture encourage parallel stories.  Any theories?

Reason 1: The Darcy Effect


As both Amanda and my friend Rachel pointed out, kdramas are filled with extremely wealthy, handsome, emotionally constipated men who act all harsh on the outside but really have fluffy marshmallow filling on the inside.  They often put on a cold exterior as the result of past pain (painful breakups, dead girlfriends, painful breakups with now-dead ex-girlfriends, etc.), and they are fiercely loyal once you crack that shell.

Sound familiar?

source

Sorry, ladies.  That lake scene is the closest you'll get to a shower in Jane Austen's world.
Source
That's right. It's Mr. Darcy, quite possibly the most famous ascot-wearing, insult-hurling leading man ever to grace the page (or the screen).

Darcy might be the most famous of Austen's leading men, but he's not the only one who has his ascot wound a little too tightly.  For every Jun Pyo or Joo Won, you've got a Knightley or a Colonel Brandon just waiting to profess his love.

Fun fact: Every single Jane Austen heroine marries up in terms of money and/or social status.  Yes, even Emma Woodhouse, who doesn't need money.  She literally marries the only guy she knows who matches her standing.  Yes, even Anne Elliot, who marries the guy she initially dumped because he was too poor.  Guess what? He has money now! (And sure, love conquers all.  But he also has some serious money.)  

Reason 2: The Poor Heroine


Emma aside, most Austen heroines aren't very wealthy.  They aren't starving, but their families are usually pretty strapped for cash, which puts them just outside of socially acceptable reach for their fancy lovers.  Toss in some (gasp) lawyers as cousins, and they're prime targets to have a few people whisper behind their backs at local balls.
It's sad when your male relatives inherit all of your stuff, isn't it, honey?
Kdrama leading ladies take this idea to the next level.  They aren't just poor; they're run-away-from-loan-sharks-and-sell-your-shoes-for-bread poor.  While Austen's characters have to be at a minimum social level to make the romances work, these characters usually have to be extra, extra strapped for cash in order to make them jump through plot hoops like fake marriage or getting married to a prince.

What Austen's heroines and the ladies from drama-land lack in style, they make up for in spirit.  Our favorite heroines can banter with the best of them, and they dazzle their men with strong hearts and wit instead of diamonds.  Even the doormats (like Fanny Price or the girl from Playful Kiss) have some character strengths that set them apart from the people around them.

Reason 3: Love Is in the Air



So these girls aren't the best social catches in the world, but somehow every single male in the entire plot is in love with them.  Remember how ALL of the members of A.N.Jell were in love with Go Mi Nyu even though she had kind of a stupid personality and some of them didn't even all know that she was a girl?

Yeah, I like to pretend that never happened, too.

Well, this magical aura of love also persists in Jane Austen's realm. Lest we forget, the botched proposals in Austen's novels aren't limited to the bumbling Collinses of the story.  We also have the Henry Crawfords, the Wickhams, and the Willoughbys.  These dashing bad boys all fall for the poor girls first, even if it doesn't work out in the end.
Your ponytail and faux-Orlando Bloom face aren't fooling anyone! Except for maybe Elizabeth.

While most of these guys aren't exactly second male lead material, almost dying from a cold after you ran around in the rain quoting Shakespeare and whispering "Willoughby" sounds very kdrama-esque indeed.

Reason 4: Meddling Family


When we asked people which kdrama villain they wanted to be, about a million (or at least five) people said they wanted to be Jun Pyo's mother from Boys over Flowers. I wonder if those same people also find themselves weirdly relating to Lady Catherine de Bourgh.  I mean, she ended up being an accidental catalyst for love, so she can't be all bad, right?
...or maybe she can.
Source
Whether it's a kdrama or an Austen novel, there are always mothers, aunts, sisters, and cousins getting in the way. (Wait, why are most meddling relations female?  I call sexism!)

Reason 5: Passion vs. Propriety


I know that most of us have had those moments where we are in the middle of a kdrama and the two leads are gazing at each other and pretending not to be in love because of some crazy obstacle that makes them think they shouldn't be together and they could totally fix the whole thing if they just said something--anything--but they're too proud and/or noble and you shout "JUST KISS HIM!" at your screen, but it doesn't do any good because the show still has four episodes left, and...Can you tell how agitated I'm getting just thinking about this?

But let's be honest: Longing stares and repressed sexual tension are kind of the bread and butter of kdrama success.  They're also the driving force behind a lot of the sighing and swooning that happens in Austen novels.  These people aren't even allowed to give back hugs, so when they finally get together, we get an extra dose of stomach butterflies.  C'mon--as much as they drive us crazy, don't tell me you don't secretly love a good old fashioned meaningful glance.
This guy totally knows what I'm talking about.
Any other Janeites out there who stumbled upon the world of kdramas?

Comments

  1. I find this to be 100% true. Also, this might explain my infatuation with Kdramas, I'm a huge Austen fan. lol

    ReplyDelete
  2. I totally agree. I've been dying for them to a Kdrama P&P. Not just similarity, but the real thing.
    With 1 change, the Mary character should get the Collins character - they're both annoying. :D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, man, a kdrama Pride and Prejudice? I'm sold, though I don't think I've ever seen a kdrama family with more than 2 children. Mostly, I just want to see Korean Wickham.

      I feel like I saw a version of P&P where Mary got Collins, but now I can't remember where!

      Delete
  3. I love Jane Austen! The similarity is totally why I love Kdramas! I've seen and felt this connection before. The masters of tension, and plot twists. Though the Kdrama writing teams seem to be stuck in the unfortunate twist wheel......

    ReplyDelete
  4. I hadn't thought about all the similarities before, but you definitely have something there! I think what I like about both types is the politeness and manners, especially the bowing. Today too many people don't even look each other in the eye, let alone acknowledge each other with respect.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, the focus on politeness and formality is definitely similar! Of course, the heroines are often considered impolite or improper in the context of their own society, but they still keep most of the rules.

      Delete
  5. A thousand times yes!

    ReplyDelete
  6. God, the longing stares are the worst! But yes to all of these things. I always appreciate a romantic drama that can deviate from this tried and true formula.

    ReplyDelete
  7. You're so right on all fronts. (And so funny on the You're Beautiful front.)

    There's another really interesting discussion about the parallels between Kdrama and Victorian literature here. I just finished rereading Jane Eyre, and am convinced that it was the Winter Sonata of its day. So in a few hundred years, will everybody look back and appreciate the overlooked glory of Korean dramas? ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I approve of any article that uses the words "fleshpot of hedonism." A+

      Speaking of Jane Eyre, I was amazed when I read it as an adult and discovered that it wasn't the nice, sweet romance I thought it was when I was 13. Rochester is super controlling and scary! Oh, wait, that's also exactly how I feel about Jun Pyo in BoF.

      Delete
  8. I actually think the reason I enjoy K-Dramas so much is because of their Austenisms.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I should comment on how correct you are on everything, and yet I find myself staring dreamily at all the British actors on this page, amazed at how similar my now-Korean-stuff-loving self was to myself about 6-8 years ago. Two time periods. One where I watched British TV to the exclusion of all else, and now...well, we know what we all enjoy these days. Lol.
    And yes- I actually thought of North and South too. Hehe. I rewatch it at least once every couple years.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I spent way longer than I should have writing this post because I got very easily distracted by the British actors.

      Delete
  10. Hi my name's Rose and I'be been a kdrama addict for 4 months now and can't seem to stop :-)

    I absolutely agree with you. I was just thinking about the similarities a week ago. I'm a huge Jane Austen and all things British film/novels fan so I was instantly addicted to kdramas when I started 4 months ago.

    ReplyDelete
  11. About all the bowing and scraping and the politeness/formality you mentioned, it reminded me of something that happened several years ago on my first trip to Seoul, Korea (since I left it as a child, that is). There I went to visit my uncle and his wife, who are both retired professors, and upon meeting them I bowed deep to show my respect for them, both as my elders and in consideration of their high status. I hadn't even thought about it; It just came to me naturally. But later, my aunt took me aside and said to me, half-humorously, that I need not be so formal with greetings -- because not only is it not really necessary, but such excessive formaity can make people uncomfortable. Needless to say, I was embarassed by her well-meant advice, and I kept thinking about it -- and suddenly it came to me -- I'd learned it from watching K-dramas!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've often thought that the Korea we see in kdramas must be wildly different from the Korea that exists in real life. It's kind of like when I lived in Estonia for a while and the people there had all kinds of ideas from watching American TV.

      Delete
  12. I'm a sucker for the longing looks and social rules of Austen Era movies and books. Kdramas fill that need.

    I am happy I'm not the only one yelling at my screen to "just kiss already!"

    ReplyDelete
  13. A KDrama Emma would be good, since you brought up that it's the only one without a super poor heroine. I think it would be a nice change up. Instead, the second female lead is poor and even then she doesn't marry a super rich guy, just a fairly well off, decent guy. I'd fund that

    ReplyDelete
  14. I loved this post! You nailed the comparisons!

    ReplyDelete
  15. I can't believe I found this site/post! Just YESTERDAY I went into a long explanation about why Kdramas are similiar to Jane Austen stories. Crazy!

    ReplyDelete
  16. Jane Austen is my fav author ever! And yes, I totally agree with your article!

    ReplyDelete
  17. LOVE Jane Austin. And the Bronte sisters, too. Mr. Rochester, anyone? Not so much into Heathcliff now that I'm over thirteen...

    ReplyDelete
  18. wow.this is just soo accurate:D its good to see im not the only one who thought about the similarity! anyways i love both Jane Austen and k-dramas, and somehow i like those overused elements too so i dont really mind, lol - cool post:)

    ReplyDelete
  19. kdrama gonju princessJune 12, 2015 at 10:18 AM

    very true

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment