Deborah Yaffe

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Pemberley downsizes

By Deborah Yaffe, Sep 18 2014 01:00PM

I first discovered the Republic of Pemberley in 2005, when I went looking for background information on the entail, to supplement my neighborhood book club’s discussion of Pride and Prejudice.


It was love at first sight. The elegant interface, the civilized and literate tone, the company of fellow Austen obsessives – immediately, I found myself in mortal danger of spending whole afternoons doing nothing but arguing over whether Henry Crawford could ever have made good husband material.


Eventually, my enthusiastic tales about Pemberley’s citizens inspired my own husband to suggest that I write a book about Jane Austen fans, which was eventually published as Among the Janeites.


During my research, I learned more about the intrepid band of Austen-lovers who created Pemberley in 1997, at the height of wet-shirt Jane-mania. Many of them stayed on to run the place as it grew into the web’s largest Austen fan community, demanding countless hours of unpaid labor from its selfless management committee.


Two years ago, when the committee reported that a change in Google’s ad policy had brought Pemberley to the brink of financial ruin, I finally did what I knew I should have done years earlier and arranged a monthly donation to help keep the site running. Others did the same.


But the fix proved temporary, and this month, the committee announced that continuing financial pressures would force Pemberley to downsize as it moves to a new, less expensive place on the web. “We are no longer the 10,000,000 page views a month site that required a dedicated server,” site manager Myretta Robens wrote on one of her blogs. “We are down to about 3,000,000 that we hope, in conjunction with a more streamlined platform, will live happily on a smaller, less expensive, server.”


Although closing Pemberley entirely – an option the committee considered – would have been far worse, the downsizing is nevertheless wrenching news for those of us who’ve loved the community for years. Whenever you move to a smaller place with less closet space, once-treasured possessions end up on the curb; similarly, the new site will have fewer discussion boards and no room for some portion of Pemberley’s vast archives, with their vibrant literary conversations, well-researched historical posts, and fan fiction both good and bad.


Like Marianne Dashwood, forced to leave her expansive childhood home for more straitened confines, I feel like mourning every dead leaf, every discussion thread I never bothered to read when I had the chance. And, inevitably, I wonder if this is a sustainable fix or a waystation to Pemberley’s obsolescence.


The frenzied Austen-mania of the mid-‘90s has quieted, and Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites have absorbed some of the community-building impulses that fueled Pemberley’s growth. The conversations are quieter now.


Still, Pemberley is a special place. I wish a Janeite with Darcy-esque wealth would bequeath it an endowment in perpetuity.


As the devoted techie Janeites move the site to its new home this week, the old site is still accessible at www.pemberley.net (the new site will eventually be found at Pemberley’s old URL, www.pemberley.com). Meanwhile, we Pemberleyeans can’t help joining Marianne in wailing, as we gaze at our beloved old place, "When shall I cease to regret you? -- when learn to feel a home elsewhere?”


2 comments
Sep 18 2014 09:54PM by Myretta

Thank you, Deborah. This is a lovely tribute. We hope to bring with us much of the static content that makes Pemberley.com what it has become (including the archived fan fiction). I'm afraid it's impossible to bring most of the discussions (17 years worth and much of it during the height of Austen-mania. Yikes!) to the new site. But we will be moving the Jane Austen group read archives and culling the gems from the Life and Times archives and entering them into an easier-to-use knowledge base. There will be spots for all of the discussion we now have, but not a board for each. And we have found threaded discussion board software that we hope will seem a little familiar to those who move with us.

If you (or anyone) would like to advocate for your favorite part of out old site, please do so on our help board: http://www.pemberley.com/bin/help/help.cgi. We'll see what we can do.

See you in the new home.

Sep 19 2014 01:07AM by dyaffe

Thanks, Myretta -- it's great to hear that you're planning to find ways to keep much of the Pemberley content available. Though I'm not a techie, I gather this is a Herculean undertaking, and I'm grateful to you and the committee for taking it on!

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