Deborah Yaffe

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Janeite trick-or-treating

By Deborah Yaffe, Oct 31 2016 01:00PM

In her novels and letters, Jane Austen does not mention Halloween, whose modern-day form – costumes, trick-or-treating, ghouls, pumpkins – evolved only gradually, from Celtic pre-history into the twentieth century and beyond. Needless to say, that hasn’t prevented contemporary Janeites from incorporating Our Author into their holiday traditions.


Exhibit A: Bustle, our favorite source of all Austen-related misinformation, recently offered up a feature on Jane Austen-inspired Halloween costumes. You know the drill: dress as Jane Austen, or as a Jane Austen heroine, or as a Jane Austen couple, or as a zombie in a Regency gown.


In keeping with Bustle’s sterling record of inaccuracy, a fair proportion of their costume suggestions are completely wrong for Austen’s period. Even I, a mere amateur when it comes to historical fashion, know that an ankle-length skirt with frilly blouse (suggested here as a Fanny Price costume) is an Edwardian look, not a Regency one. But with luck, you’ll be trick-or-treating in the dark and no one will notice.


Exhibit B: Once more unto Bustle! This time, it’s our destination for tutorials on Halloween makeup, including two inspired by Austen or her spinoffs. You can go for a “Pride and Prejudice Inspired” look, courtesy of an American named Goldie Starling, who deploys foundation, concealer, powder, eye shadow, mascara, lip liner and an eyelash curler in strenuous pursuit of a “natural” look.


Or check in with New Zealander Shannon Harris to learn how to make yourself resemble the revolting undead Regency lady with the skeletonized jaw and ripped throat on the famous cover of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Needless to say, this takes even more time, effort and product than looking natural does.


No doubt some of this advice would have come in handy in Madison, Wisconsin, where the University of Wisconsin’s Odyssey Project, which introduces non-traditional students to literature, history and philosophy, recently hosted a costumed fundraiser entitled “Night of the Living Humanities.”


Austen scholar Emily Auerbach, who directs the Odyssey Project, was still mulling her costume choices a few days before the event. “Last year, I was Emily Dickinson, but people seemed to think I was Princess Leia. It was an epic fail,” Auerbach told a local journalist. “This year, I think I’m going to go as Jane Austen, but I haven’t decided yet.”


No word on what Auerbach eventually decided. But if you wear an Austen-related costume tonight, post some pictures below. . .


2 comments
Nov 1 2016 08:19PM by A. Marie

No costume suggestions. Just howls of laughter--and gratitude, as always. Great to see you at the AGM, if only in passing!

Nov 1 2016 08:22PM by dyaffe

LIkewise! I tried to attend your session, but I arrived late, and since it was already standing room only, they wouldn't let me in. If only James Stanier Clark had known how backhandedly popular he would be one day. . .

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