Deborah Yaffe


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.

By Deborah Yaffe, Sep 26 2013 01:00PM

There is joy in Janeite-ville this week: the Annual General Meeting of the Jane Austen Society of North America – the JASNA AGM – kicks off today in Minneapolis!

I attended my first AGM in Philadelphia in 1983, four years after JASNA’s founding, when I was a college freshman and the whole affair was far smaller and more sedate.

This year’s AGM (theme: “Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. . . Timeless”) will welcome seven hundred and fifty Janeites for a packed four days of lectures, tours, dance lessons, craft workshops and special events – everything from a Regency fashion show to a Minneapolis pub crawl.

The whole shebang culminates in Saturday night’s banquet and ball, which many Janeites attend in Regency costume. (I must confess that I’m especially looking forward to the Sunday brunch event, a panel on the fabulous "Lizzie Bennet Diaries.")

Like Lady Catherine de Bourgh, I must have my share in the conversation. I’ll be talking about and signing Among the Janeites at the University of Minnesota’s book store at 4 pm today (not an AGM event, but if you’re in the neighborhood. . .) and then signing again during the AGM’s mass author event on Friday night from 6 to 7:30 pm.

On Saturday, I also have the honor of introducing breakout speaker Emily Auerbach, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor who is the author of Searching for Jane Austen, which challenges the stereotype of Austen as a sweet maiden aunt penning decorous domestic dramas.

The JASNA AGM is criminally fun. Hope to see you there!

By Deborah Yaffe, Aug 4 2013 03:31PM

Salon is running an excerpt from Among the Janeites -- the chapter about the Jane Austen Society of North America's Annual General Meeting -- headlined "ComicCon for Jane Austen fans!"

FYI: Since it's the last chapter of the book, it contains some (mild) spoilers and many references to people who appear in earlier chapters, so if you're planning to read the whole book, you may want to check out the Salon contribution later.

By Deborah Yaffe, Jun 13 2013 01:00PM

I had an unbreakable date at 1 pm yesterday: that was when online registration opened for this September’s Annual General Meeting of the Jane Austen Society of North America. The JASNA AGM – yes, that’s the train wreck of an abbreviation; with enough practice, it rolls effortlessly off the tongue – is a four-day-long party for those of us who call four days of talking about Jane Austen. . . a good start.

I attended my first AGM in 1983, when I was a seventeen-year-old college freshman and JASNA itself was only four years old. I must have registered late: when I prospected in JASNA’s archives while researching Among the Janeites, I discovered that my name doesn’t appear on the list of attendees. Back in those pre-Colin Firth days, you could get away with late registration, because the world of Austen fandom was a smaller, quieter place. I was probably waiting to register until I was sure I didn’t have too much classwork that weekend.

Nowadays, you can’t wait: AGMs routinely sell out their six hundred-plus slots -- 471 of the 650 slots at this year's conference are already gone -- even though registration fees come to several hundred dollars, not to mention hotel and airfare. This year’s conference – it’s in Minneapolis, with the two hundredth anniversary of Pride and Prejudice as the theme – will be my seventh in thirty years, but my fifth since 2009, when I began thinking of writing a book about Jane Austen fans. (You’ve got to love a book project that allows you to write the JASNA AGM off as a business expense.)

The Minneapolis AGM program includes the usual mix of the serious and the unserious, the academic and the popular -- scholarly lectures, country dancing, tea-drinking, hat-making, a Regency fashion show, a souvenir emporium. I’m looking forward to two presentations in particular: a talk by Emily Auerbach of the University of Wisconsin-Madison on the many sequels, prequels, retellings, updates and mashups that have made P&P a pop-culture phenomenon over the past decade or so; and a panel featuring the creators of "The Lizzie Bennet Diaries," the delightful web series reimagining P&P as a video blog.

And of course I’ll be there, signing Among the Janeites. That way, I get to write off yet another JASNA AGM.

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