Deborah Yaffe


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, Jul 7 2016 01:00PM

As summer weeks go, the week ahead is looking pretty good for Jane Austen fans:

* Tomorrow and Saturday, the Janeites of Port Alberni, in British Columbia, will gather for a Jane Austen festival that will include, along with Austen readings and a ball, the now-obligatory effort to break the Guinness World Record for Largest Gathering of People Dressed in Regency Costumes. "People that have not dragged their sewing machine out for ten or fifteen years are doing so," one organizer told a journalist.

The record is currently held by the Jane Austen Festival in Bath, England, which set the original mark (409) in 2009, saw the title briefly snatched away in July 2014 by the Jane Austen Festival in Louisville, Kentucky, and then regained it two months later by assembling a duly attired crowd of 550. (Although it’s not clear whether Guinness ever recognized the 2014 results for either Bath or Louisville: The Guinness website still lists the original record.)

* A red-eye flight from Vancouver might get you out of Port Alberni in time to catch Sunday’s Picnic Day at the most beloved of Austen sites, Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton. An early-music group called Madding Crowd – wrong author, but still – will perform. And when else will you get to picnic in Jane Austen’s garden?

* Don’t pack away that gown you wore in Port Alberni just yet, because the Louisville Jane Austen Festival starts next Friday and runs all weekend. By all accounts, it’s lots of fun – and, as I noted in a blog last month, the scones are likely to be delicious.

By Deborah Yaffe, Jun 9 2016 01:00PM

It is one of my life’s small, poignant sorrows that I have not yet made it to the Jane Austen Festival in Louisville, Kentucky, which by all accounts is really a blast. This year’s festival, the eighth, will take place July 15-17, and, alas, I’m going to miss it once again.

And as if I weren’t already sorry enough, comes this story about the delicious-sounding scones that will be featured during the festival weekend. The two winners were selected from among fifty-seven recipe-contest entries tested by a squad of Janeite bakers.

The names alone – Orange Vanilla Scone and English Toffee and Walnut Scone – are enough to set tastebuds a-watering, and I am already planning to try out the recipe helpfully included with the news article. My local chapter of the Jane Austen Society of North America is planning a group viewing of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, now that it’s out on DVD, and I think English Toffee Scones may be the perfect accompaniment to Regency horror-movie bloodshed.

But why no second scone recipe? I guess you have to go to the festival. Which I hope to do next year.

By Deborah Yaffe, Sep 25 2014 08:17PM

It hasn’t quite been Ten Days that Rocked the Jane Austen World, but this past week or so has brought us several memorable Janeite teapot storms:

–On September 13, the Jane Austen Festival of Bath, England, assembled enough fans in Regency costume to break the record set just last summer by the Jane Austen Festival of Louisville, Kentucky. Louisville snatched the title from Bath in the first place, so it’s pretty clearly Game On for next year. Once again, national honor is at stake.

–On September 14, en route to her crowning as Miss America 2015, Kira Kazantsev let the world know that she’s a Janeite. Unfortunately, this great news – Jane Austen, tiaras and swimsuits! Perfect together! – was drowned out by the derision heaped upon the typo in the on-screen tagline announcing that Kazantsev “loves anything Jane Austin.” Whoever was responsible had probably used up all his/her mental bandwith making sure “Kira Kazantsev” was spelled right.

–And today the long-delayed, eagerly-anticipated-though-not-by-me movie version of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is due to start filming at last. The big news du jour is that two stars of the hit HBO series "Game of Thrones" – Charles Dance, who plays the ruthless and cruel Tywin Lannister, and Lena Headey, who plays his equally ruthless and cruel daughter, Cersei – have been cast in as-yet-unannounced roles. (I’m guessing Mr. Bennet and Lady Catherine – no reason Lady C has to be a wrinkled old crone, given that her daughter is at most thirty.)

I’m hoping this doesn’t mean we’re in for scenes in which the complexities of the entail are explained while a couple of naked women mud-wrestle in the background.

By Deborah Yaffe, May 22 2014 01:00PM

We Janeites like to think of ourselves as a community whose shared enthusiasm transcends the artificiality of mere lines on a map, uniting us in reverence for our beloved author, whose works belong not to a single country but to all of humankind.

Well, forget all that. National honor is at stake.

This summer, the seven-year-old Jane Austen Festival of Louisville, Kentucky, will attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the largest gathering of people in Regency costume – a record set five years ago by the Jane Austen Festival of Bath. In England. Need I remind my fellow American Janeites that we fought a war with these people – in Jane Austen’s lifetime, no less?

Bath, whose ten-day festival is sponsored by the city’s Jane Austen Centre, managed to assemble 409 people in corsets, bonnets, breeches and waistcoats to capture the title in 2009.

But Louisville, which holds a three-day festival under the auspices of the local branch of the Jane Austen Society of North America, will try to take the title on July 19. Even if the attempt succeeds, Bath will have a chance to snatch the record back when its fourteenth annual festival convenes two months later.

No word on who, if anyone, held the title before Bath. Perhaps the previous record was set during the Regency.

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