Deborah Yaffe

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By Deborah Yaffe, Nov 9 2017 02:00PM

As this Jane Austen bicentenary year nears its close, I’m happy to report that I’ll get to play a small part in the local commemoration: I’ll be speaking on Among the Janeites and Austen fandom at the Monmouth County Library this Sunday, November 12. The library is located at 125 Symmes Drive in Manalapan, New Jersey.


The library is planning a full afternoon of Austen-bicentenary commemoration: My talk and book-signing will run from 2 to 3 pm and will be followed by a radio play of Pride and Prejudice, which sounds like a lot of fun.


Hope you can stop by!


By Deborah Yaffe, Jul 24 2017 01:00PM

When I was researching Among the Janeites, a former president of the Jane Austen Society of North America told me a charming story about attending a celebration of Jane Austen’s birthday in a fancy New York City apartment. When the time came to cut the cake, the maid on duty that day looked around for the birthday girl, asking, “Is the lady present?” “I said to her, ‘In a sense, yes, she is,’ ” he recalled.


Jane Austen’s eternal life was much on Janeite minds last week, as an explosion of media attention greeted the July 18 bicentenary of Austen’s death. Still, as we spoke feelingly of Austen’s immortality, we probably didn’t mean it quite as literally as British Tory politician Andrea Leadsom briefly seemed to.


In a Thursday session of the House of Commons, a Labour MP praised female achievement, listing several famous women who had died recently. Not to be outdone, Leadsom chimed in with an addition to the honor roll: Jane Austen, “one of our greatest living authors.”


It’s pretty clear from the video that Leadsom just misspoke -- amid chortles, she immediately corrected to “greatest-ever authors,” adding, “I think many of us probably wish she were still living” – but in the ruthless world of social media-fueled ridicule, the damage was done.


Bookstore chain Waterstones tweeted that they were moving Austen’s works out of the Classics section and asked if anyone knew how to get in touch with her agent. A British Isles TV channel called Dave (seriously – there’s a TV channel called Dave) tweeted, “BREAKING: Andrea Leadsom devastated to learn of Jane Austen's passing. Cancels today's photo-op with William Shakespeare as mark of respect.”


It was all pretty unfair. But also pretty funny. Have some cake, Andrea.


By Deborah Yaffe, Jul 11 2017 03:22PM

Exciting news! A mere four years after publication, Among the Janeites has earned a review in the New York Times Book Review -- and by the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Jane Smiley, no less!


Smiley calls the book a "playful exploration of Austen obsession. . . . amusing and sometimes mind-boggling," with a "light but precise" tone. I'm not quite sure why the book caught the NYT's eye now and not back in 2013, but I'll take it. . .


By Deborah Yaffe, Jun 12 2017 01:00PM

My father, James Yaffe, was the man who first introduced me to Jane Austen, buying the ten-year-old me a copy of Pride and Prejudice to tide me over during a family vacation, after I’d zoomed through my suitcaseful of books. (Yes, boys and girls: We had no ebooks back then, when dinosaurs roamed the earth.)


Austen wasn’t the first author he brought into my life: My father was a big fan of the English Victorian novel, so he started me young on Dickens, Trollope, and the Brontes, moving on to Thackeray and Eliot when I got a bit older. He read aloud to me and my siblings for years, progressing from The Wizard of Oz to The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, from Jules Verne to Wilkie Collins, with many stops in between.


A published author and college English professor, he edited the articles I wrote for the local newspaper as a high school student. Many years later, he gave me useful notes on my first book, Other People’s Children, and responded enthusiastically when he read Among the Janeites before its publication.


Earlier this month, my father died, at the age of 90. He gave me the incomparably precious gift of the written word, and I’ll always be grateful to him. Thanks, Dad. Wherever you are now, I hope they’ve got a good library.


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