Deborah Yaffe

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By Deborah Yaffe, Jan 2 2017 02:00PM

Happy new year, Janeites! For us fans of Jane Austen, 2017 is a big year, the biggest since – well, since 2013, when we celebrated the bicentenary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice, still Austen’s most popular work.


This year, we have an altogether more melancholy occasion to mark – the two hundredth anniversary of Austen’s death, on July 18, 1817, at the all-too-young age of forty-one. (Depending how you count, it may also be the bicentenary of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, published together in a three-volume set that appeared in December 1817 with a title-page publication date of 1818.)


Across the planet, and especially in Austen’s home country of England, Austen fans will celebrate her life and mourn her death at balls, exhibits, lectures, conferences and festivals. Our shelves will creak under the weight of Austen-related books published to coincide with the anniversary. And in Britain, wallets will fill up with Austen-embellished currency. We may even get to see a new Austen movie.


An unscientific, and undoubtedly incomplete, sampling of what’s ahead:

By Deborah Yaffe, Oct 20 2016 01:00PM

By the time you read this, I’ll be on my way to Washington, D.C., to attend the Jane Austen Society of North America’s thirty-eighth Annual General Meeting, known to all as the AGM. As usual, my reaction can be summed up in a single word: squeeee!


This will be my ninth AGM – and, curiously enough, the third I’ve attended that focuses on Emma, which celebrates its publication bicentennial this year. (Thus our theme: “Emma at 200: No One But Herself.”)


JASNA’s weekend-long AGMs are always delightful mixtures of the serious (lectures by distinguished Austen scholars); the not-so-serious (craft workshops, Austen-related retail therapy); and the purely social (reunions with those Janeite friends you only see at conferences). It’s the only place I feel completely unironic wearing my Jane Austen earrings, my Jane Austen pendant, my Jane Austen wristwatch and my Regency feathered headdress, all of them purchased at previous AGMs.


This year I’ve got my eye on a session with the creators of the adorable Cozy Classics board books (Emma in twelve words!), and I’m counting on spending one morning visiting the Folger Shakespeare Library’s much-praised exhibition “Will & Jane: Shakespeare, Austen, and the Cult of Celebrity.” Plus, I just may engage in a bit of additional retail therapy. Because you can never have too many Jane Austen earrings.


By Deborah Yaffe, Jan 1 2015 02:00PM

Jane Austen isn't just everywhere; she's all the time.


After a busy year celebrating Mansfield Park's two hundredth anniversary, Janeites from Copenhagen to Canberra are gearing up for what some consider to be the bicentennial of Emma, which hit the streets in December 1815 but bears a title page announcing it as an 1816 publication.


It would be daunting, if not impossible, to list every Jane Austen ball, conference, summer course, festival and tea party scheduled worldwide for 2015. So herewith just a smattering--one for each month, to give you a taste of the riches this year will bring. Would that I could attend them all. . .

By Deborah Yaffe, Oct 16 2014 01:00PM

When you’re an Austen geek, you’re an Austen geek.


One of my favorite breakout sessions from the just-concluded Jane Austen Society of North America conference focused on how successive editors of Mansfield Park handled six contested passages.


Two editions of MP were printed in Austen's lifetime, and we know that Austen made changes between the 1814 and 1816 versions. But whether all the changes in the 1816 edition reflect her choices, rather than printers’ errors or the intervention of other hands, is an open question.


In his presentation, the admirably lucid Peter Sabor of McGill University parsed the subtle differences of tone and nuance between “an usual noise” and “unusual noise,” or “received an affectionate smile” and “revived an affectionate smile.”


Examining the work of six different scholarly editors working between 1923 and 2005, Sabor seemed to prefer editions that hewed as closely as possible to either the 1814 or the 1816 MP and that kept creative editorial interpolations to a minimum. He reserved his greatest scorn for editors who failed to flag their own changes, leaving readers no way to tell that Jane Austen wrote “and talked to” rather than “and talked to him.”


I found it all utterly fascinating. But if you’re thinking “who cares?” – well, I guess you’re not an Austen geek.



By Deborah Yaffe, Oct 13 2014 01:00PM

I’m back home after four whirlwind days at the Jane Austen Society of North America’s Annual General Meeting – held this year in Montreal – which focused on the tantalizing, fascinating Mansfield Park, as fresh today as when it was published exactly two centuries ago.


JASNA AGMs encompass many pleasures: seeing old friends and making new ones; admiring Regency gowns that seem to grow more elaborate and beautiful each year; and cruising the Emporium for the latest Austeniana (this year’s find: the Jane Austen-shaped cookie cutter!)


But at its heart the AGM is a weekend-long conversation about the author we all love, and every year I hear something that makes me think about Austen in a new way.


Herewith just eight of the countless provocative, touching, hilarious or enlightening somethings I heard at this year’s AGM:


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