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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, Jun 18 2020 01:00PM

Among the many long-scheduled events that have fallen victim to our coronavirus moment, the annual Jane Austen Festival in Louisville, Kentucky, is surely among the most beloved. Since 2008, the local chapter of the Jane Austen Society of North America has hosted the festival on the grounds of the eighteenth-century Locust Grove estate.


Over time, the festival has grown into a summer weekend extravaganza of lectures, food, crafts, vendor booths, and demonstrations of everything Regency, from dancing to dueling to bare-knuckle boxing. Thousands attend, and so many come in costume that in 2014 the festival briefly set the record for the largest-ever gathering of Regency-clad revelers, before the competing Austen festival in Bath, England, snatched the title back two months later.


Saddled with this year’s coronavirus lemons, the festival organizers decided to make lemonade: They’ve transformed the now-canceled July 10-12 gathering into a mostly free online event that they are billing as a chance to introduce the festival to Janeites across the globe.


Registration opened last weekend for six days of events (theme: “In the Library with Jane”) that will include talks on everything from Regency jewelry and sports to the relationship between Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Festival vendors will offer online shopping for Regency clothing and accessories, and registrants can sign up for ten online craft workshops costing $40 to $103.50.


On a personal note: I’ll be giving one of the featured talks, on the history and contemporary relevance of Jane Austen fanfiction, from 7 to 8 pm on Friday, July 10. I’ll also be joining the other featured speaker -- Soniah Kamal, author of the 2019 Pride and Prejudice update Unmarriageable -- for a roundtable discussion from noon to 1 pm on Saturday, July 11. The conversation will be moderated by Anne Bogel, creator of the Modern Mrs. Darcy blog.


Although the talks will be pre-recorded, Q&A will be live – I hope to see you there!


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 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.


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