Deborah Yaffe

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By Deborah Yaffe, Nov 16 2017 02:00PM

As I’ve noted before, the Indian subcontinent has a curious affinity for the works of Jane Austen. (The Economist's current online issue has a fascinating look at the reasons why.) No surprise, then, that one of this year’s most intriguing Austen spinoff books hails from Pakistan. Its title could almost serve as a metaphor for the subcontinent’s Austen cult: Austenistan.


The book, subtitled The World’s Favourite Author Goes to Pakistan, consists of seven Austen-inspired short stories – fanfics that transplant Austen characters or situations to the world of affluent contemporary Pakistanis. Journalist and writer Laaleen Sukhera, the founder of the Jane Austen Society of Pakistan, edited the collection. (Read an interesting interview with her here.)


Historically, Jane Austen fanfic – at least the published kind -- has been an Anglo-American affair. I can’t wait to experience a non-Western spin on the genre.


But it looks like I’ll have to restrain my impatience. Although the book will be published in Pakistan next month by Bloomsbury India, with a British release planned for next year, I can’t find mention of an American edition. Austenistan is not yet listed on American or British Amazon, and my efforts to pre-order it through Amazon’s India site were unsuccessful: apparently, international shipping isn’t available for this title. Grr. Something else to hope for in the new year.


By Deborah Yaffe, Nov 13 2017 02:00PM

Over the nearly five years I’ve been blogging about Jane Austen, Jane Austen’s House Museum -- aka Chawton cottage, the beloved pilgrimage site in Hampshire, England, where Austen wrote or revised all six of her completed novels -- has created more than one Janeite Dream Job.


There was the recruiting of trustees, the search for unpaid weekend help to deal with the crush of tourists – even the (non-cottage-related, but still) sale of Cassandra’s Cup, the teashop across the street.


The latest example: The museum is seeking volunteers to catalogue the various items uncovered in the cottage’s gardens over the past twenty years. No word on what these items include, but the job announcement is illustrated with a photo of decorative ceramic shards.


Although the work may have only a tangential relationship to Austen – Chawton Cottage was inhabited for more than a century after her death – you never know what may have turned up. “We hope the objects found will provide a greater insight into the history of the site as well as assisting with any future interpretation and dressing of the house itself,” the museum’s announcement explains.


The job is unpaid, but it has its perks: A 25 percent discount on Mr. Darcy tote bags and the rest of the merchandise in the museum shop, and “tea, coffee and biscuits during your shift.” Not to mention the truly priceless part of the experience: the chance to spend some hours hanging around Jane Austen’s last home.


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, Nov 6 2017 02:00PM

Nearly ten years ago, Jeanne Kiefer, an Austen fan with a background in journalism and corporate surveys, conducted what is, as far as I know, the only published study of Janeite demographics. (Please correct me if you know of others!)


Kiefer’s work, based on a survey of 4,501 Janeites, was chock-full of interesting details and served both to confirm and refute stereotypes of the community. (Yes, we’re mostly female; no, we don’t all own cats.)


An update of that wide-ranging research would be a welcome development. In the meantime, however, we’ll have to make do with something a bit different: two more efforts to survey us, albeit on a narrower set of topics.


1. An American graduate student in Ireland, Meredith Dabek, is at work on a project about transmedia and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, the delightful 2013 online series that updated Pride and Prejudice to contemporary California.


Mostly, Dabek’s survey seeks to discover how respondents interacted with LBD: Did they follow the characters’ Tumblr accounts? Send them Twitter messages? Create fanfic or GIFs about the show? (I am old, so all I did was watch.)


But Dabek also asks a set of questions of more immediate Janeite interest: Had you read P&P before watching LBD? And if not, did the show make you want to read the book? Here’s hoping that respondents answer yes to that one! Because while LBD is charming, P&P is sublime. . .


2. Someone is writing a dissertation on Austen’s contemporary popularity. I know this because at several social media sites, s/he posted a link to a Google Docs survey that asks questions like “How do you feel about the hardcore Janeites?” (you mean, like the one I see in the mirror every day?) and “If you could ask Jane Austen any question, what would it be?” (possibly “How do you feel about the hardcore Janeites?”)


Strangely, however, I cannot find any identifying details about the individual seeking this information. The post in which I found the survey link, on the Republic of Pemberley’s Facebook discussion group, seems to have vanished, and similar posts at several Tumblr sites (for instance, here) are attributed to “anonymous.” Nor does the survey link itself explain who the researcher is, list an academic affiliation, or give any details about the nature of the project.


Although the dearth of detail looks fishy, it’s hard to detect an ulterior motive; it’s not as if the questions include requests for bank account information or Social Security numbers. I suspect it’s just slapdash and somewhat less than professional (and the slightly arbitrary nature of the survey questions seems to bear out that impression: Why, for instance, ask whether respondents have written Austen fanfic, but not whether they’ve read any?)


So I’d have to chalk this one up as Answer At Your Own Risk. But if Jeanne Kiefer ever gets in touch again, you should definitely reply.


By Deborah Yaffe, Nov 2 2017 01:00PM

Keeping track of the many Jane Austen celebrations, conferences, festivals, and exhibits taking place around the world – especially during this bicentennial year – has been a full-time job. (Or would have been, had I been making any attempt at completeness.)


But imagine if we Janeites were actually trying to attend all these events, like rock fans following the band in hopes of racking up maximum concert coverage. (We could call ourselves Janeheads! Or Austen Nation! Or. . . prizes given for better suggestions. . .)


If such a Janeite pastime existed, this weekend we’d all be heading for Seattle, where the University of Washington is hosting what sounds like a totally fun one-day JaneFest, featuring booths, workshops and presentations on such topics as Regency dress, food, dance and letter-writing, along with discussions of Austen’s work. The day concludes with a Regency ball, which was, predictably, sold out a very, very long time ago.


This week, the university was also planning three lead-up events: an Austen game night last Thursday, a Regency dance workshop yesterday, and tonight a Regency clothing workshop (also sold out) led by fashion historian and JASNA Regional Coordinator Agnes Gawne, who graciously hosted me two years ago, when I spoke to JASNA’s Puget Sound chapter.


Sadly, I won’t make it to Seattle this weekend, and heaven only knows what’s coming up the rest of the year. (I don’t, because, like I said, I haven’t really tried to keep up.) What a long strange trip it’s been. . .


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