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By Deborah Yaffe, Sep 13 2018 01:00PM

One of the occupational hazards of Janeite life is a heightened sensitivity to every mention of Jane Austen, no matter the context. Whatever you’re reading – a cookbook, a computer manual, an obituary column – if you stumble across an Austen sighting, that’s what will stick in your memory later.


Thus it was that my last few days’ perusal of the New York Times turned into a veritable festival of Janeite delight, as I ran across no fewer than three Austen mentions in three different sections of the paper.


* Saturday: As a subscriber, I get my physical copy of the New York Times’ Sunday Book Review a day early, and as usual I turned to the “By the Book” column, in which a famous or semi-famous author answers assorted questions about her/his reading life. This week’s participant, the excellent novelist Kate Atkinson, cited Pride and Prejudice as the last great book she’d read and Elizabeth Bennet as one of her favorite literary heroes. No quarrel there. *


* Sunday: I usually skip the business section – this may explain why I am not richer – but the headline on the day’s top story pulled me in: Young law student’s theory of anti-trust law could help bring Amazon to heel. (OK, yes, probably the book connection helped.)


Deep in the story came this cute anecdote, describing the recent marriage of the law student, Lina Khan, to cardiologist Shah Ali. “The honeymoon was in Hawaii,” the story explained. “Dr. Ali took Jane Austen’s Persuasion, because he hadn’t reread it in a while. Ms. Khan brought a book on corporations and American democracy.”


To which a Janeite can only say: Lina, honey, you’ve married the perfect man – a man who not only reads Austen but rereads her.


* Monday: I love the quirky, obscure stories in the obituary section, and this day featured the poignant tale of crime writer Amanda Kyle Williams and her untimely death at sixty-one. Although I’ve never read any of Williams’ books, I was pulled in by the headline, which mentioned her dyslexia. And my reward came right there in the sixth paragraph, after an account of Williams’ miserably illiterate childhood and eventual dyslexia diagnosis, at twenty-two.


“With the psychologist’s help, she learned to read, and at twenty-three she did something that had once filled her with dread: She walked into a library,” the obituary said. “There she finished her first book, Pride and Prejudice.“


Talk about starting at the top! And yet, unintimidated, Williams went on to write seven novels of her own. It’s quite a story.


Three days, three Austen sightings: Such is the life of a Janeite. OK, I admit that none came in a cookbook or a computer manual. But there’s always next week.



* Blog readers will recall that five years ago, I calculated that seventeen percent of the first fifty-eight “By the Book” subjects had mentioned Austen, one way or another. I haven’t kept track since then, but perhaps I should.


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, Sep 6 2018 01:00PM

For sale: four-bedroom, two-bathroom, 2,400-square-foot house that -- as the long-time residence of Elizabeth Jenkins, Jane Austen’s first modern, non-family biographer and a co-founder of the UK’s Jane Austen Society – has a real, if tangential, Austen connection.


I know what you’re thinking: At last! An Austen-related home that I can afford! Not one of those palatial English country mansions that’s out of the price range of everyone but a Russian oligarch!


Um, sorry. The location-location-location real estate mantra has never been truer: Although Jenkins’ former home, built in the nineteenth century in Regency Gothic style, looks to be a comparatively modest, albeit charming and elegant, residence, it’s plunked right in the middle of Hampstead, one of north London’s most desirable neighborhoods. And therefore it has a price tag to match: £4.25 million (about $5.5 million).


Jenkins (1905-2010) was a respected biographer and novelist, and her 1938 Austen biography is a lucid, tasteful, and restrained account of the author’s life. Her father bought her the house on Hampstead’s Downshire Hill, and beginning in 1939 she lived there for more than fifty years, eventually titling her 2004 memoir The View from Downshire Hill.


Despite the stratospheric heights that Hampstead property values achieved during her lifetime, Jenkins, like so many writers, was never wealthy: one of her obituaries described her as content with “the Victorian kitchen and one-bar electric fires” of her genteelly strapped life.


Those who acquired the house after her reportedly renovated the interior, and given the temperature of the London property market, they will no doubt soon reap their reward. Here’s hoping that the new residents share Jenkins’ passion for history, literature, and, especially, Jane Austen.


By Deborah Yaffe, Sep 3 2018 01:00PM

Only two months ago, I announced that second-order Austen adaptations -- adaptations of adaptations of Austen novels -- were now officially A Trend. It seems I was onto something, for now comes word that yet another piece of Austen fanfic has been sold to the movies.


This time, the hot property is Ayesha At Last, by first-time novelist Uzma Jalaluddin, a Pride and Prejudice update set in the world of young Muslims in contemporary Toronto. Last week, rights to the book – already out in Canada and due to be published in the United States next year -- were acquired by Pascal Pictures, run by former Sony Pictures chair Amy Pascal.


Of course, a sale to the movies is not the same thing as an actual movie, so no point buying popcorn for the screen version of Ayesha At Last just yet. And I haven't read the book, so the all-important issue of quality remains an unknown, at least for me, though I'm intrigued by the premise. Austen's tales of life in socially constricted Regency England seem to resonate strongly for contemporary readers from similarly conservative cultures -- hence, perhaps, the vogue for Austen on the Indian subcontinent, which I've written about here and here.


Whatever happens with Ayesha At Last, however, it’s refreshing to see that the box-office mojo of Crazy Rich Asians and Black Panther has introduced Hollywood to the radical notion that not every movie has to be about white boys blowing things up. Who knew?


By Deborah Yaffe, Aug 30 2018 01:00PM

Once again, it’s time to play “If I Were a Rich Janeite.” (Cue klezmer music.) The British auctioneer Bonhams has announced that, later this fall, it will offer a first edition of Pride and Prejudice for sale.


Bonhams estimates that the three-volume set -- in original bindings, a big plus for collectors – will fetch £15,000-20,000 (about $19,300-25,740). But Austen items have a history of selling for far more than initial estimates: In 2008, the copy of Emma that Austen presented to her friend Anne Sharp sold for £180,000 ($233,400), more than double the pre-auction estimate, and two years later the same item sold again, for a whopping £325,000 ($421,500).


In 2012, Austen’s turquoise ring brought in £152,000 ($197,000), five times the pre-sale estimate, and in 2014, a copy of Emma in original bindings fetched £48,050 ($62,300).* [On the other hand, when the Sharp copy again came up for sale in 2012, it failed to reach its reserve price of £150,000 ($194,500) and remained unsold.]


Whatever the newly offered P&P eventually goes for at the auction, scheduled for November 28 in London, it’s certain to be out of my price range. Alas. (Cue sad violins.)


Lest we Janeites get too full of ourselves, it should be noted that at the same time Bonhams announced its impending Austen sale, it also publicized two other items it plans to auction: A World War II-vintage Enigma coding machine, and a rare early golf ball. (Delightful as it would be to imagine this random threesome on the same auction block, it seems unlikely that the golf ball and the Enigma machine will join P&P in Bonhams' Fine Books and Manuscripts sale.)


Given the mania for golf, perhaps it’s not surprising that the ball is expected to pull in £12,000 ($15,500), not far off the price for the Austen. And given the mania for WWII history, it’s probably equally unsurprising that the Enigma is expected to draw £100,000-150,000 ($130,000-$194,500), ten times the low estimate for the books. Still, the price differentials are a salutary reminder that, passionate as our fandom may be, it’s not the only fandom out there.



* Confusingly, the auction house described this as a world-record auction price for Emma, despite the far higher prices paid for the Sharp copy.


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