Deborah Yaffe

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By Deborah Yaffe, Sep 21 2020 01:00PM

We Janeites love our Jane Austen movies. Can’t get enough of ‘em! Want more! And more! Or so you’d conclude from recent news:


* Plans for a big-screen Persuasion, word of which first surfaced last month, seem to be proceeding nicely: The Australian actress Sarah Snook, recently nominated for an Emmy for the HBO business dramedy Succession, has reportedly been cast as Anne Elliot. There’s plenty of time for the project to fall apart – remember that big-screen Sanditon, starring Charlotte Rampling? – but in the meantime, we can entertain ourselves by casting our fantasy Wentworths.


* This year’s Jane Austen Festival in Bath, England, was canceled because. . . well, you know. But a local production company with the delightful name of Bonnetland hopes to interest a broadcaster in a six-part mini-series set during the festival. Early next month, the team will film a ten-minute pilot in Bath, and they’re looking for Janeites with their own Regency costumes to feature as extras.


The storyline is vague – “two characters on their humorous journey throughout the day" – but the extras seem likely to have a good time even if the series isn’t picked up. Says a spokeswoman, "This is a great opportunity to be involved in a lighthearted and fun project for all those missing out on the festival this year." Which is all of us.


* The irrepressible #SanditonSisterhood are not giving up on their quest for a second season of the much-hyped-but-not-successful-enough TV series based on the novel Austen left unfinished at her death. A year after ITV launched the show by commissioning a giant billboard mural in the seaside town of Bournemouth, fans who have spent months protesting the broadcaster’s decision to leave Sanditon’s star-crossed lovers dangling for all eternity arranged a public art project of their own.


Last week, on the sands near Bristol, where the show was filmed, artist Simon Beck created a giant portrait of protagonists Charlotte Heywood and Sidney Parker, captioned “Who will #SaveSanditon?” Alas for the fans, who crowdfunded Beck’s fee, the answer so far seems to be “no one”: a feeler earlier this summer from Amazon Prime Video’s UK branch has so far come to nothing. But that’s not likely to deter a band of intrepid, and adaptation-hungry, Janeites.


By Deborah Yaffe, Jul 23 2020 01:00PM

The havoc that pandemic lockdown has wreaked on an array of arts and cultural organizations is old news by now. Janeites have seen a number of beloved annual events canceled, postponed, or moved online, and last month, the premier Austen site – Jane Austen’s House, aka Chawton Cottage, the home in Hampshire, England, where the author spent the last eight years of her life and wrote or revised all six of her completed novels – made a desperate crowdfunding appeal to stave off closure.


Perhaps it was the success of that campaign, which to date has raised more than £20,000 (about $25,000) above its initial goal of £75,000 (nearly $95,000), that inspired the Jane Austen Centre in Bath, England, to launch its own fundraising effort. The Centre’s appeal has a more modest goal of £15,000 (nearly $19,000) and, with a few more days to go, it’s still short of its target. Donate enough, and you can get a year of free admission to the Centre, plus goodies like cream teas and champagne in the Centre's tea room.


The Centre’s woes are all too familiar: It relies on the income generated by its 150,000 yearly visitors, and with lockdown, that income has vanished. Without an infusion of cash, the director told a local news outlet, the Centre may have to lay off staff, potentially including Martin Salter, the Regency-costumed greeter who has become known as “the most photographed man in Britain.”


I’m of two minds about this fundraiser. The Jane Austen Centre, which opened in 1999, is a small and, to my taste, rather touristy museum that contains not a single genuine Austen artifact and is located in a building that Jane Austen never lived in. Its demise would not represent a significant loss to literary history.


On the other hand, as the comments of donors to the appeal attest, many Janeites love the place, its gift shop, and the annual Jane Austen Festival that it sponsors each fall, which draws an international crowd of fans, many in Regency costume. (The twentieth iteration of the festival, originally scheduled for September, was canceled two months ago.)


On the third hand, no one wants to see a thriving small business fall victim to the coronavirus: We’re seeing too much of that already. So go ahead: There’s no harm in donating, especially if you have a hankering for cream tea.


By Deborah Yaffe, Jun 25 2020 01:00PM

A month or two ago, there was no joy in Austenland, as, one by one, treasured Jane Austen events fell victim to coronavirus cancelation. No Jane Austen Festivals in Bath or Louisville. No Regency Week in Alton, England. No Jane Austen Summer Program in Chapel Hill, N.C. No Jane Austen Society of North America conference in Cleveland, and no Jane Austen Society of Australia conference in Canberra.


But Janeites are an indefatigable lot, and everywhere you turn this summer, online Jane Austen divertissements seem to be multiplying like dandelions.


Already, Chawton House, the stately home in Hampshire once owned by Austen’s brother, has hosted two virtual events: a Lockdown Literary Festival featuring talks and workshops by Austen authors and scholars, and a Virtual Garden Festival that took viewers through the grounds of the estate.


There’s talk of a “viral Jane Austen festival” to raise money for Jane Austen’s House in Hampshire, England, aka Chawton cottage; and the canceled Louisville and Cleveland events will be reborn online in, respectively, July and October.


If you can’t wait that long, however, the Jane Austen fanfiction writers at Austen Variations are hosting “JAFF in June,” a series of readings, conversations, and mini-performances spread across two weekends.


I’m late to this party -- the festivities kicked off last Friday -- but you can catch most of the past events on YouTube (June 19 here and June 20 here). Meanwhile, a full slate of activities – a panel discussion, historical lectures, readings from new releases and works in progress, plus a group viewing of the 2007 film adaptation of Persuasion -- is planned for Saturday and Sunday.


Creative, fun, and intellectually engaging as they are, none of these events can fully substitute for the in-person camaraderie of fellow Janeites. But something is better than nothing, right?


By Deborah Yaffe, Jul 4 2019 01:00PM

On this holiday of freedom from tyranny, including the tyranny of conventional expectations, it seems appropriate to spend a moment admiring the calm, unembarrassed self-assurance of Zack MacLeod Pinsent, a twenty-five-year-old Brit who dresses in Georgian clothing every minute of every day, without so much as a JASNA meeting for excuse.


Most of us were introduced to Pinsent last week, when the BBC posted a two-and-a-half-minute story that included footage of him boarding the New York City subway attired in a cream-colored top hat, cravat, flowered waistcoat, linen jacket and trousers, and black slippers.


Apparently, Pinsent’s unruffled aplomb – or perhaps his elegant dishiness and Downtown Abbey accent – has widespread appeal. As of a few days ago, the piece had been viewed 2.6 million times on Twitter, and Pinsent’s count of Instagram followers had ballooned from 35,400 to 231,000.


“Wearing what I wear, it makes you feel ten feet high,” Pinsent told the BBC. “It’s a huge confidence-builder.”


Pinsent, who says he taught himself to sew and burned his last pair of jeans at the age of fourteen, runs a tailoring business making bespoke period clothing for men and women using historically accurate materials and techniques. He specializes in the Georgian and Regency eras, and although the BBC story doesn’t mention a Jane Austen link, his Instagram seems to include photos taken during the annual Austen festivals in both Bath and Louisville, as well as at events with the Jane Austen Pineapple Appreciation Society.


Pinsent’s website does not list prices (money: so common!), but it’s pretty clear that they are high. (“If you want cheap, go elsewhere. If you want correct and well-tailored, then come here,” reads one testimonial from a satisfied customer.) Still, it’s not hard to imagine that attending the next JASNA ball in an original Pinsent will become a marker of Janeite status.


By Deborah Yaffe, Jan 1 2018 02:00PM

Once upon a time, Jane Austen was a British writer. But today, she’s an international phenomenon, with fan societies on at least five continents. As 2018 dawns, herewith an entirely unscientific and incomplete sampling of a few of the places Austen will turn up this year, as fans mark the sort-of bicentennials of Austen’s last two published novels:


* In a bookstore in Islamabad, where members of the Jane Austen Society of Pakistan will convene to discuss Austenistan, their newly released collection of Austen-inspired stories set in contemporary Pakistan.

January 11


* In a nineteenth-century town hall in Salem, Massachusetts, where Regency dance enthusiasts will celebrate at a Jane Austen Ball.

February 17


* In a Baroque palace in Ansbach, Germany, where yet more dancing will take place at Der Grosse Jane Austen Ball.

April 7


* In a building called “the Dutch Versailles,” where Austen’s fans in the Netherlands will celebrate the bicentenary of Persuasion with still another ball.

May 12


(Which should not be confused with the Gothic ball being held in a suburban London church a week later to celebrate the bicentenary of Northanger Abbey.

May 19)


* At a women’s university in Tokyo, where the Jane Austen Society of Japan will hold its twelfth annual convention.

June 30


* In the capital of Australia, Canberra, where the country’s Jane Austen Society will hold a weekend-long conference on the bicentenary of Persuasion.

July 6-8


* On streets where Austen herself once walked, as Georgian-costumed revelers parade through Bath, England, during the annual Jane Austen Festival.

September 14-23


Here's hoping that this year you find a dance, a tea, a conference, an exhibition, a festival -- or even just a conversation -- about Jane Austen somewhere near you.


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