Deborah Yaffe


By Deborah Yaffe, Oct 3 2019 01:00PM

It’s that time again, Janeites: The Jane Austen Society of North America is holding its Annual General Meeting (AGM) over the next four days. This year’s gala – theme: “200 Years of Northanger Abbey: ‘Real, Solemn History’ ” – is taking place in the period-appropriate setting of Williamsburg, Virginia.

At this point, I’ve been to a lot of AGMs – if memory serves, this one will be my eleventh. But even when the offerings in the shopping emporium seem over-familiar, I always enjoy catching up with old friends, meeting interesting new people, and gaining unexpected insights into the ever-fresh work of Jane Austen, via an assortment of plenary lectures and breakout talks delivered by an eclectic array of speakers. This year’s lineup includes university professors, novelists, booksellers, librarians, costume experts, and even a professional matchmaker.

Because I’m a sometime chronicler of JASNA’s history (chapter 8 in Among the Janeites), this year’s AGM has special resonance for me: Saturday night’s banquet will be held forty years to the day after the very first JASNA gathering, the society’s kickoff dinner in a mirrored, gold-draperied room at the Gramercy Park Hotel in New York City. A Friday morning panel will feature reminiscences by three people who have been members of JASNA since the beginning, or as close as makes no difference.

JASNA’s three founders – Joan Austen-Leigh, Henry Burke, and Jack Grey – are long dead, but their vision lives on. Surely they would have been thrilled to see us all now.

By Deborah Yaffe, Sep 12 2019 01:00PM

Writing is a solitary job, so it’s always satisfying to discover that someone out there has read – even liked! – your words. So imagine my delight when Kristin and Maggie, hosts of the First Impressions podcast (subtitle: “Why All the Austen Haters Are Wrong”), chose to feature my book Among the Janeites on their most recent episode.

The First Impressions team has been producing sixty- to ninety-minute podcasts roughly once or twice a month since December 2015, discussing Austen’s novels, filmed adaptations of her work, and other Austen-related matters. Their conversation about Among the Janeites and fan culture is thoughtful and thorough, and judging from the “Part 1” in the episode title, they may have even more to say. (So flattering. . .)

Apparently, the two hosts will be attending next month’s Jane Austen Society of North American Annual General Meeting in Williamsburg, Virginia, where I hope to meet – and thank – them in person. Meanwhile, check out their podcast. Because all the Austen haters really are wrong.

By Deborah Yaffe, Aug 29 2019 01:00PM

The only thing better than a book is a free book. And the only thing better than a free book is a free book with a Jane Austen connection.

Accordingly, I’m happy to pass along a link to The Book Rat, which is giving away a slew of Austenesque books and gewgaws to mark the blog’s tenth annual celebration of Austen in August. (That really ought to be a national holiday, don’t you think?)

I will admit to a teensy smidgen of self-interest here, since my book Among the Janeites is included in the fourth of these prize packages. The four packages comprise literally dozens of books, electronic or physical -- mostly Jane Austen fanfic but with a sprinkling of Austen-related non-fiction. Each package also includes one or two other Austen-themed items – bookmarks, a necklace, etc.

All it takes to enter is a bit of typing and clicking, and if you join the social media following of one or more of the featured authors (ahem!), you get some extra virtual raffle tickets. Entries close on September 5.

By Deborah Yaffe, Sep 10 2018 01:00PM

Poor never-married Jane Austen: Lacking nuptials, she never got a bachelorette party, either.

Strange, then – not to say strangely hilarious – to see Austen cited as a key reason for the proliferation of risqué bachelorette parties in Bath, England.

According to the UK news-and-entertainment website Somerset Live, Bath’s Jane Austen connections, along with its architecture, location, and quintessential Britishness, are likely responsible for the increase in Bath-based “hen dos,” as the British call them. The only evidence for this increase cited in the story is a rise in the bookings of the featured company, Butlers in the Buff.

Yes, nothing says “Jane Austen” quite like handsome young male waitstaff clad in tiny aprons that do not cover their bottoms.

No doubt it is unfair of me to speculate that the sole purpose of this story was to provide an excuse for running photos of, by my count, three shapely male posteriors – or six, if you scroll through the photo gallery. Probably this story represents a serious effort to come to grips, as it were, with an important economic development issue.

The Bath hen do is not a new phenomenon: Readers of Among the Janeites may recall that during my trip to Bath on the Jane Austen Society of North America’s 2011 tour, I happened across a cordial fellow who dressed up as Mr. Darcy and staged glass-blowing demonstrations for brides-to-be and their friends.

Although the juxtaposition of Austen's no-sex-till-marriage ethos and today's you-go-girl embrace of female lust is headspinning, to say the least, perhaps the pairing isn't as incongruous as it seems. See, glass-blower Darcy made clear that he was not a stripper, and “Ben,” the long-time Butler in the Buff interviewed by Somerset Live, says that he, too, does not remove his clothing, such as it is.

“Ben believes most women are no longer interested in the vulgarity of a stripper experience - especially in Bath,” the story notes. “Ben reckons women at Bath hen dos are ‘classier on the whole.’ ”

Seeing as they’re Jane Austen fans and all,

By Deborah Yaffe, Jul 5 2018 01:00PM

Shakespeare’s ardent fans are called Bardolators, not Willcolytes. Dickens admirers are Dickensians, not Chuck-a-holics. Devotees of Joyce celebrate Bloomsday, not Jamesday.

Alone* among literary fan clubs, we Austen addicts derive our moniker from our beloved author’s first name. Dissertation-writers may call her “Austen,” but the common folk tend to think of her as “Jane Austen,” and we Janeites, as often as not, just call her plain “Jane.”

Does it matter? Well, maybe: Research published last week suggests that when prominent people are referred to by last name alone – think Einstein, Cervantes, Mozart – they are judged as more famous, accomplished, and deserving of honors than those referred to by both first and last names. And whatever the field – academia, science, politics, literature -- female practitioners are more likely to be identified by both names. (The work is summarized for popular consumption here and here.)

The researchers, a Cornell University psychology professor and graduate student, speculate about the reason for this peculiar bias – perhaps practitioners in high-status fields are assumed to be male, thereby requiring that non-males be singled out for notice? – and they wonder about its impact on women’s career status. “This gender bias may contribute to the gender gap in perceived eminence as well as in actual recognition and may partially explain the persistent state of women’s underrepresentation in high-status fields,” they write.

What about when the single name by which we refer to a professional is the first, not the last? In other words, what about “Jane”?

On this point, I’m already on record: As readers of Among the Janeites may recall, I am mildly allergic to the practice of referring to Our Author as “Jane.” I realize that many Janeites feel close to the creator of the stories that so enthrall us, almost as if she were a dear friend. Some of us may even nurture a private fantasy that -- had history, geography and fate but cooperated -- we would have been her closest confidante, on a first-name basis as a matter of course.

Coming up as I did amid 1980s-vintage feminist literary scholarship, however, I hear in all these familiar “Janes” a distinct, albeit unintentional, note of trivializing condescension. The male literary greats get respectful last-name treatment; why shouldn’t Austen take her place on the pantheon alongside Geoffrey, Gustave, Leo, and the rest of the boys? It’s not as if we’re at risk of confusing Jane Austen with some other famous writer named Austen, as we might argue in giving first-and-last-name treatment to the Eliots (George and T.S.) or the Brontes (Charlotte, Emily and Anne).

Sometimes, of course, first-name-only usage denotes super-stardom: Even the stodgy New York Times doesn’t refer to Madonna and Cher as “Ms. Ciccone” and “Ms. Bono” (or would that be “Ms. Allman”?) But outside of the pop-music universe, calling a stranger by first name alone is . . . problematic, I would argue. We call children and pets by first names. We speak of professionals more professionally.

When it comes to Jane Austen, however, my squeamishness goes beyond feminist principle. I just can’t believe she would have liked having all these strangers bandy her first name about willy-nilly. In Austen’s novels, it’s disagreeable people like Mrs. Elton and Isabella Thorpe who presume such familiarity on short acquaintance; Darcy doesn’t call Elizabeth by her first name until they’re engaged, for crying out loud.

So until the woman herself gives me permission to call her “Jane” – perhaps in one of those heart-to-heart talks that we would definitely have had if I’d been born in southern England in 1780, as I totally could have been – I’m sticking with “Austen.”

* I have no scientific proof of our singularity in this regard, but I can’t think of a counterexample offhand. Feel free to prove me wrong.

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