Last fall, the Jane Austen Society of North America staged its annual conference, a yearly blend of the high and the low, the seriously academic and the gleefully pop. As I strolled past the tables of hopeful authors assembled for a mass book-signing, one accidental pairing seemed to encapsulate everything I’d learned about Janeites while researching and writing Among the Janeites: A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom. Sharing a table were Lori Smith, a devout Christian whose memoir, A Walk with Jane Austen, explores how her own commitment to premarital chastity resonates with Austen’s lifelong virginity; and Linda Berdoll, the author of three bodice-ripping Pride and Prejudice sequels featuring explicit descriptions of Elizabeth and Darcy’s energetic sex life.
It’s tough to pigeonhole Jane Austen enthusiasts. For my book, a non-fiction report from the trenches of fandom, I interviewed – among others – a Texan with a closetful of Regency gowns, a speech pathologist who believes Austen wrote about autism, and an English professor whose roller derby nom de skate is Stone Cold Jane Austen. They all find something different in the pages of Austen’s six great novels.
My own Austen-love goes back to childhood: a voracious reader of classic fiction, I cracked open Pride and Prejudice the summer I was ten. Although I attended my first JASNA conference as a college freshman, it wasn’t until the early 2000s – some twenty years later – that I discovered the Republic of Pemberley, the largest online Jane Austen community, and realized how differently Jane Austen could be understood by people who all professed to love her. Her ironic, deceptively simple stories seem to license a wide variety of interpretations; she’s been plausibly described as everything from complacent Tory to rebellious feminist.
Although every Austen movie release or notable anniversary inspires a spate of articles laying out The Exact Eight Reasons Jane Austen Is Still So Popular, the truth is that Austen appreciation can seem like a literary Rorschach test: we Janeites find in her a reflection of our own preoccupations, a version of our ideal selves. (I see her as a cool, detached observer with a sharp edge. Draw your own conclusions.) Ultimately, however, I think the kaleidoscope of interpretations does reflect something real about Austen – the richness and depth of her work. We all find ourselves in her because, in a sense, she contains us all.
Post contributed by Deborah Yaffe, author of Among the Janeites: A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom (releasing August 6, 2013).
Deborah Yaffe is an award-winning journalist and author, as well as a lifelong Jane Austen fan. She lives with her family in central New Jersey, USA.
Follow her on Twitter (@DeborahYaffe) and drop by the Among the Janeites Facebook page.
Read more about Deborah Yaffe here.
“Visit the world of rabid Jane Austen fans – the people who wear Regency costumes to Jane Austen festivals, spend hours online arguing about Mr. Darcy’s love life, and pore over dozens of modern sequels to Pride and Prejudice. Deborah Yaffe’s Among the Janeites is an entertaining, affectionate non-fiction look at this quirky subculture, by a writer who is both an experienced journalist and a lifelong Janeite.”
Giveaway: Congratulations to the winners of our giveaway of Among the Janeites: Jackie of jackiemania and Shannon of River City Reading ! And thanks again to Deborah and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for their participation and generosity!