By Deborah Yaffe, Jan 2 2020 02:00PM
The year that began yesterday will not bring us any important Jane Austen anniversaries: The bicentenaries of her death and of the publications of her books are behind us, and the 250th anniversary of her birth is still five years away. But 2020 will nonetheless mark an important milestone for Janeites: the eightieth anniversary of organized, institutionalized Jane Austen fandom.
In May 1940, an Austen fan named Dorothy Darnell launched the UK’s Jane Austen Society (JAS), the world’s first Austen fan club. The society’s original goal was limited: Darnell hoped to raise enough money to preserve Austen’s last home, Chawton cottage.
Surely she succeeded beyond her wildest dreams. Today, the cottage, known formally as Jane Austen’s House Museum, draws thousands of visitors each year, and the society has spawned multiple offshoots: the thriving Austen societies in North America (JASNA, forty years old last year) and Australia (JASA, thirty years old), plus smaller versions in various South American, European, and Asian countries.*
As usual, the year ahead is stuffed with Austen offerings of various kinds. Americans will finally get a look at last year’s small-screen Sanditon, and we’ll all see a quirky new big-screen Emma. Chawton House will host an exhibit on Regency women who crossed gender lines, while Australian Janeites learn about new research on Austen’s adventurous – and possibly adulterous – Aunt Philadelphia. And Jane Austen groups large and small will host teas, balls, fairs, festivals, conferences, discussions, lectures, and walking tours celebrating Austen and the Regency.
In honor of the JAS’s upcoming birthday, however, I’m going to highlight some of the Austenian events taking place in a single month of 2020 – May, exactly eighty years after Darnell’s brainchild was born. Herewith a list that, although partial and unscientific, gives a sense of the diversity and vitality that animate us Janeites all these decades later:
--May 2: A congressman and an Austen scholar will discuss politics in the Regency period, sponsored by JASNA’s Southwest chapter. (Riverside, CA)
--May 8: A much-praised theatrical adaptation by Laura Wade of Austen’s novel-fragment The Watsons will have its London premiere.
--May 23: The Jane Austen Society of the Czech Republic will host Empire Day, a festival of Regency music, dancing, and food held on the grounds of a historic chateau near Olomuac. (Here’s the description of last year’s edition.)
--May 26: St. Martin’s Press will publish The Jane Austen Society, debut novelist Natalie Jenner’s fictionalized account of the founding of the JAS.
--Date TBA: The Jane Austen Society of the Netherlands will host a Jubilee Ball.
Whether you prefer to celebrate your Austen privately -- with a book on your lap -- or publicly -- in costume, on a ballroom floor -- or a little of both, I wish you an Austen-filled 2020.
* Are there African or Antarctic Jane Austen societies? I don’t think so, but I would love to be wrong. Readers?