Deborah Yaffe

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By Deborah Yaffe, Apr 20 2017 01:00PM

The Roald Dahl-flavored tale of the four specially engraved, possibly valuable Jane Austen £5 notes continues to be The Story That Will Not Die (aka The Gift That Keeps On Giving, at least for journalists -- and bloggers -- casting about for material).


Since late last year, when artist Graham Short embellished four Winston Churchill fivers with Our Jane, portrayed in one of his trademark teeny-tiny engravings, and then released the specially decorated notes into the British money supply, we’ve had exciting discoveries, selfless donations, copycat engravers, and a false report of a fifth Golden Ticket on the loose.


But wait! Not entirely false, it turns out. Last month, Short revealed that he had recently visited the Jane Austen Centre in Bath, England. A flurry of speculation ensued. Had he paid for his tea and tour with a previously unknown Austen Fiver? Were there not one but two genuine Short Austens still out there to be discovered and cashed in?


Well, it turns out that there is a fifth Austen micro-engraving, but in keeping with the unaccountably charitable bent of everyone associated with this story, Short is donating it to the Jane Austen Centre, where it will be displayed after the formal presentation on July 18, the bicentenary of Austen’s death.


Somehow, it seems appropriate that this completely artificial Austen artifact, created with one eye (at least) firmly fixed on the publicity it could generate, should end up on display at the Bath Jane Austen Centre, Ground Zero for commercially motivated Austenmania.*



* Not that there’s anything wrong with that! I’m all in favor of clever artificial Austen artifacts. Like, for instance, the set of Jane Austen Top Trumps that I recently acquired from the Bath Centre. . .


By Deborah Yaffe, Mar 27 2017 01:00PM

For an American, a British spouse confers certain advantages. Your tea will always be expertly brewed. Your friends will find the accent irresistible. And your children will learn to play Top Trumps.


Top Trumps is an extremely simple card game for two or more players. The only required equipment is a pack of special themed cards available at a price well within the reach of your average school-age child – at least in 1970s and 1980s Britain, where the game originated.


Initially, the themes of Top Trumps packs included such traditionally boy-friendly topics as cars and weaponry. By the early 2000s, when my British husband was inducting our young son into the Top Trumps fraternity, the line had expanded to include animals, sports, movies and books. Our house overflowed with Top Trumps packs covering Manchester United soccer stars and Harry Potter characters.


Today, my son has outgrown Top Trumps. And truth be told, even had it been available way back when, I’m not sure he’d ever have wanted the newest addition to the genre: Jane Austen Top Trumps, specially commissioned by the Jane Austen Centre in Bath, England.


Top Trumps game play is straightforward: You peel a card off your stack, read out one of the numerical data points assigned to the character on that card, and – if your number tops everyone else’s – capture your opponent’s card. (Yes, it’s basically a fancy version of War.) Arcane arguments over whether the Top Trumps company has correctly assessed the relative Cunning or Courage rankings of, say, Draco Malfoy and Hermione Granger are, of course, part of the fun.


The Jane Austen version, which includes cards for major characters in all six novels, illustrated with photographs of actors who played those characters, will lend itself to such arguments with a vengeance. Fanny Price gets more Wit points than Marianne Dashwood? Emma Woodhouse ranks lower on Attraction than Anne Elliot? Says who? And who decided to illustrate the Frank Churchill card with a picture of Ewan McGregor in the world’s least flattering haircut?


Let the games begin. . .


By Deborah Yaffe, Feb 27 2017 02:00PM

Once or twice in the past, I have mentioned my aversion to lists of Jane Austen quotes – or mugs with Jane Austen quotes, or, indeed, any items with Jane Austen quotes – that feature quotes that are not actually by Jane Austen. (OK, maybe more than twice.)


I have not dwelt with quite as much vigor on the similarly irritating phenomenon of merchandise featuring out-of-context Jane Austen quotes – for instance, the pendant enclosing those immortal Northanger Abbey lines, “There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves; it is not my nature,” spoken by that paragon of unselfish female friendship, Isabella Thorpe.


Perhaps it is time to remedy this omission. Last week, my Google alert for Austen’s name brought me word of a new (or new to me?) Pride and Prejudice-themed item in the gift shop of the Jane Austen Centre in Bath, England: a heart-shaped slate wall-hanging that reads, "In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you." It’s “the ideal romantic gift or decoration,” the promotional copy assures us.


Much as I hate to torpedo the romantic mood, I feel compelled to point out that this line comes from a marriage proposal that was refused – refused, I might add, because it was overbearing, arrogant and insulting. Shortcomings that, just incidentally, Jane Austen makes crystal clear to the alert reader even in this short passage. (“In vain have I struggled”? Why is he fighting his feelings? Because, as he will shortly make clear, he is so acutely conscious of the social inferiority of his love object. “You must allow me to tell you”? What, no one else gets any choices?)


Sure, Mr. Darcy is a romantic icon, but not because of this scene! He’s going to improve, but meanwhile he’s a jerk, and reform-after-jerkiness is kind of the point of the book. I find it annoying when Darcy’s every utterance, even when uttered by his unreformed self, is treated as swoon-worthy; it’s as if the hotness of Colin Firth magically transforms Mr. Darcy into one of those unblemished paragons who, as Jane Austen so memorably remarked, made her “sick and wicked.”


But if you disagree, you can pick up this little item for a mere £10.99. If you wait until summer, you can pay for it using one of the new Jane Austen £10 notes, which feature a quote about the joys of reading from that noted intellectual, Caroline Bingley.



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, Sep 15 2016 01:00PM

I subscribe to the weekly newsletter of the Jane Austen Centre in Bath, England, so imagine my excitement when this week’s edition included. . . me – or, rather, a link to an excerpt from Among the Janeites posted recently on a website that covers my home state of New Jersey.


NJ Spotlight is not your typical Janeite venue, specializing as it does in “news and analysis about politics and public policy in New Jersey.” As far as I’m aware, Jane Austen never expressed any opinion about New Jersey or anything to do with it. But for the past few years NJ Spotlight has been running a “Summer Reading” series featuring excerpts from books by Jersey authors, and my turn rolled around in late August.


Through the magic of this new-fangled Internet that all the kids are talking about these days, the Bath Jane Austen Centre seems to have run across the NJ Spotlight excerpt. Now if only the Jane Austen Centre's newsletter could come to the attention of folks looking for the perfect gift for the Janeites in their lives. . .


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