Deborah Yaffe

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By Deborah Yaffe, Jun 13 2016 01:00PM

About fourteen months ago, as loyal readers may remember, I blogged about an online effort to launch something called the Jane Austen Letter Writing Society, which aimed to create a social network based on that creakiest of dinosaurs, the hand-written letter.


No idea how that project is going, but given the web’s impulse to replicate and monetize all things, perhaps it should come as no surprise that a second Austen-themed letter-writing club has appeared online. The most salient difference between the Letter Writing Society and the newer entrant, the Jane Austen Pen Pal Club, seems to be money: you could join the Society for free, but the Club costs $39 a year.


In exchange, members will get access to a list of fellow Janeites interested in corresponding (unlike the Society, the Club permits email), as well as to pages dedicated to Austen-related news, blogs and member-penned fanfic. “The 'Jane Austen Pen Pal Club' was created to facilitate the connection of Austen fans the world over,” the site explains.


Although the Club’s web site is stylish and well-designed, circumstantial evidence suggests that there have been few takers so far: my exploratory clicks a few days ago brought me the offer a free one-year membership, even though the site’s “Get Started” page describes that deal as a “holiday season” gift to the first twenty-five people to sign up. In the world of free membership in Facebook, the Republic of Pemberley and, indeed, the Jane Austen Letter Writing Society, getting anyone to pay to join a social network – at least one that doesn’t involve dating -- seems an uphill task.


Hey! An online dating service just for Janeites! Why has no one thought of this? We’ll call it OkJane, or austenHarmony, or RegencyMatch.com. I invite proposals – for investment, I mean! Not those kinds of proposals! -- from all you Janeite venture capitalists out there.


By Deborah Yaffe, Apr 20 2015 01:00PM

I write letters. Admittedly, I wrote more of them before the advent of email, but I still try to send my oldest friends handwritten birthday cards once a year. I answer photocopied Christmas letters with personalized messages. Over long years of nagging, I drilled into my children the art of the thank-you note.


So I was delighted to stumble across a blog called The Lost Art of Letter Writing – Revived!, whose author, Pam Foster, writes, “I am a letter lover and enjoy all things postal.”


Among Foster’s efforts is the still-evolving “Jane Austen Letter-Writing Society,” which is apparently going to be a non-electronic social network for women who share a love of such old-fashioned delights as “waxed seals, fountain pens, inks, pressed flowers and home-made stationery.”


Austen is an appropriate patron for a letter-writing society. She wrote many letters herself – only 160 survive, but that number certainly represents a small fraction of her lifetime output – and scholars believe that both Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice started out as epistolary novels. Although only the novella Lady Susan remains in epistolary form, letters crucially advance the plot in all Austen’s novels.


Think of Willoughby cruelly brushing off Marianne, or Isabella Thorpe trying unsuccessfully to wheedle her way back into Catherine Morland’s favor. Recall Mary Crawford eagerly anticipating Tom Bertram’s death in an unintentionally revealing dispatch to Fanny Price, or Jane Fairfax insisting on her solo walk to the post office to pick up Frank Churchill’s love letters.


And that's before mentioning the biggies: Darcy’s letter of explanation to Elizabeth after his unsuccessful first proposal ("Be not alarmed, madam”) and, of course, The Letter itself: Captain Wentworth’s declaration of unaltered love for Anne Elliot (“You pierce my soul”).


Frankly, if we could all count on letters like that, nobody would ever use email.


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