Deborah Yaffe


By Deborah Yaffe, Apr 24 2017 01:00PM

Jane Austen spent years living in straitened circumstances and earned only modest sums from her work, completely missing the giant post-copyright payday enjoyed by everyone else producing Austeniana in our time. So it’s ironic that lately half the Austen news seems to be about money.

For the last few months, we’ve had eternal variations on the story of the four £5 notes that a British artist embellished with tiny engravings of Austen’s portrait and then released into the UK money supply. And now we’ve finally learned when the more official Austen banknote – the £10 note featuring her likeness – will become legal tender.

The Bank of England has announced that it will send the Austen notes out into the world in September. But the first of them will be on display in Winchester Cathedral, where Austen is buried, on July 18, the bicentenary of her untimely death at forty-one. Members of the public will be allowed to touch the new notes on that day, although only under the watchful eye of bank staff.

This is probably a wise precaution, since the cathedral is likely to be crawling with Janeites on that important anniversary. Although, in my experience, we are not a larcenous bunch, the opportunity to augment a collection of Austen souvenirs with the first-ever Jane Austen tenner would try even Fanny Price-level virtue.

(Except, of course, for those Janeites still exasperated over the Bank’s decision to adorn the note with a quote from the execrable Caroline Bingley and use a prettified image of Austen that probably doesn’t even look like her.)

Alas, my virtue will not be tried, since I will not be in Britain in July, or even in September. I am planning, however, to commission a British friend to mail me the new note as soon as it becomes available. For the souvenir collection, you know. . .

By Deborah Yaffe, Apr 20 2017 01:00PM

The Roald Dahl-flavored tale of the four specially engraved, possibly valuable Jane Austen £5 notes continues to be The Story That Will Not Die (aka The Gift That Keeps On Giving, at least for journalists -- and bloggers -- casting about for material).

Since late last year, when artist Graham Short embellished four Winston Churchill fivers with Our Jane, portrayed in one of his trademark teeny-tiny engravings, and then released the specially decorated notes into the British money supply, we’ve had exciting discoveries, selfless donations, copycat engravers, and a false report of a fifth Golden Ticket on the loose.

But wait! Not entirely false, it turns out. Last month, Short revealed that he had recently visited the Jane Austen Centre in Bath, England. A flurry of speculation ensued. Had he paid for his tea and tour with a previously unknown Austen Fiver? Were there not one but two genuine Short Austens still out there to be discovered and cashed in?

Well, it turns out that there is a fifth Austen micro-engraving, but in keeping with the unaccountably charitable bent of everyone associated with this story, Short is donating it to the Jane Austen Centre, where it will be displayed after the formal presentation on July 18, the bicentenary of Austen’s death.

Somehow, it seems appropriate that this completely artificial Austen artifact, created with one eye (at least) firmly fixed on the publicity it could generate, should end up on display at the Bath Jane Austen Centre, Ground Zero for commercially motivated Austenmania.*

* Not that there’s anything wrong with that! I’m all in favor of clever artificial Austen artifacts. Like, for instance, the set of Jane Austen Top Trumps that I recently acquired from the Bath Centre. . .

By Deborah Yaffe, Apr 17 2017 01:00PM

The year 2017 brings two severe trials for American Janeites. The first is our inevitable sadness at marking the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s untimely death. The second is our gnawing envy at realizing how many commemorative events are available only to Janeites living in or visiting England.

The latest iteration of Trial #2 is the announcement of the British Academy’s biannual Literature Week, taking place May 15-21 in London, on the theme of “Adaptations and Transformations.” Needless to say, this is a theme with enormous Austen resonance, and among the week’s dozen events – panels, lectures, walking tours, performances – on writers ranging from Shakespeare to Enid Blyton are no fewer than three about Austen.

Jo Baker, author of the excellent Pride and Prejudice spinoff Longbourn, will discuss how she wrote her book. Austen scholar Kathryn Sutherland will join two BBC representatives in a discussion of the network’s decades of Austen adaptations, including 1995’s iconic Colin Firth-Jennifer Ehle P&P. And an ongoing exhibition will offer “an interactive sensory exploration” of P&P using “type, sound, sight and scent.”

Hard to imagine what that exhibition will be like – but don’t you wish you could be there?

By Deborah Yaffe, Apr 13 2017 01:00PM

Heaven knows there is plenty of weird Jane Austen merchandise out there. (Though I’m not sure anyone has yet topped the Austen book cover hollowed out to conceal a compartment for a secret alcohol stash.) My latest discovery: a self-inking stamp of Jane Austen’s signature.

Self-inking stamps are useful devices. They can spare users the tedium of, say, writing a return address on a thousand envelopes, or marking a tall stack of student papers with a “sign and return” message to parents.

I’m having trouble, however, imagining the context in which you might need to write Jane Austen’s signature many, many times. Autographing a bunch of souvenir Austen head shots? Signing copies of a new edition of Northanger Abbey? Endorsing the royalty checks to which poor, dead Jane is so richly entitled?

Truth be told, I’m having trouble imagining the context in which you might need to write Jane Austen’s signature even once, unless you actually were Jane Austen. And presumably she wouldn’t need the self-inking stamp.

By Deborah Yaffe, Apr 10 2017 01:00PM

Every time you think Jane Austen’s stories have been translated into every conceivable medium – not just the ubiquitous movies, but comic books, operas, and classical instrumental music, not to mention perfume, knitting patterns, and scented candles – another version comes along.

This month, it’s a new ballet based on Pride and Prejudice, which is having its world premiere on April 21 and 22 at the esteemed McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey, not far from my home. The dancing is set to Regency-era music by the French-Austrian composer Ignaz Pleyel, as well as by Mendelssohn, Schubert, and the Irish composer John Fields.

The ballet’s creator, Douglas Martin of the American Repertory Ballet, offers some interesting insights into his vision of the story in an interview with a local weekly newspaper. “Dance is just a language, right?” Martin says. “We use movement to express all the emotions any writer would communicate.”

McCarter claims the new work is the first full-length ballet based on an Austen work, although that doesn’t seem to be quite true: Twice in the past four years, Ballet Fantastique in Eugene, Oregon, has performed its own P&P ballet, which updates Austen’s story to Jazz Age Paris.

But the more the merrier, right? At this point, it’s pretty clear that you can never have too many Austen adaptations.

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