Deborah Yaffe


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:

By Deborah Yaffe, Dec 30 2013 02:00PM

For someone who’s been dead since 1817, Jane Austen had a pretty good year in 2013.

She was honored with a set of UK stamps, and her image was chosen for a forthcoming British bank note. A not-particularly-accurate portrait of her sold at auction for more than $270,000, and a turquoise ring she’d owned was acquired by her museum from an American singer. A popular novelist rewrote Sense and Sensibility, while a political scientist found elements of game theory in all her books. And holiday gift-buyers scarfed up Austenesque tattoos weeks before Britain’s Christmastime TV viewers enjoyed a mystery-themed visit to the Darcy family at Pemberley.

A wildly popular web series called "The Lizzie Bennet Diaries" finished its run and won an Emmy. The annual Austen festivals in Louisville, Kentucky, and Bath, England, attracted droves of fans, unlike the appalling film "Austenland," which justly flopped. And all year long – including in September, at the Minneapolis meeting of the Jane Austen Society of North America -- the world celebrated the two hundredth anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice.

Jane Austen was good to me this year, too: in August, my book, Among the Janeites: A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom, was published. Many thanks to all the interviewers, bloggers and readers who’ve talked about the book – it’s been a great pleasure to see my work connect with fellow fans of our author.

Here’s to an equally good Janeite year in 2014! Hey, all you fans of Mansfield Park (published 1814) – this is your moment. . .

By Deborah Yaffe, Oct 1 2013 01:05AM

I listened to eminent scholars offer fascinating new perspectives on Darcy and Elizabeth, added a coffee mug adorned with a Mary Crawford quote to my souvenir collection, danced “Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot” (badly), and brought home Jane Austen playing cards for my kids (“Mr. Collins is the joker!” my daughter exclaimed gleefully).

But as usual, the best part of the Jane Austen Society of North America’s Annual General Meeting, which took place this past weekend in Minneapolis, was the chance to meet fellow Janeites and wallow in our shared passion.

We argued over whether Mr. Collins is unfairly maligned, whether Anne De Bourgh is a survivor of rheumatic fever or a victim of anorexia, and whether the many Pride and Prejudice spinoffs that crowd bookstore shelves fill our need for more Jane Austen or just make us nostalgic for the original. I sang the praises of “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” to a tableful of brunch companions who’d never seen it.

And in the “Regency Room,” where authentic period items from a Janeite’s impressive collection were on display, I gazed in awe at a first edition of Frances Burney’s Camilla showing Jane Austen’s name on the subscription list – one of the few times Austen’s name appeared in print in her lifetime.

All weekend long, I signed copies of Among the Janeites – thanks for those sales, everyone! – including one destined for a preschooler named Elinor (after Elinor Dashwood, of course), who is briefly mentioned in the last chapter. Here’s hoping she’ll be engrossed in her own AGM conversations a couple of decades from now.

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