Deborah Yaffe


By Deborah Yaffe, Dec 31 2020 02:00PM

A year ago, I confidently predicted a 2020 filled with the usual array of Austen events: “Teas, balls, fairs, festivals, conferences, discussions, lectures, and walking tours celebrating Austen and the Regency.”

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that the universe does not smile upon confident predictions.

As it happens, 2020 marked the eightieth anniversary of the founding of the UK’s Jane Austen Society, which inaugurated institutionalized Janeite fandom, and in many ways, the Austen fan community rose to the occasion presented by this awful year, striving to create virtual community with an outpouring of creativity and enthusiasm.

While in-person events were scuttled, online alternatives proliferated: the Louisville Austen festival migrated to YouTube, the Jane Austen Society of North America convened on the web, and events that might ordinarily have been local – like an Australian AustenCon and an Arizona conference on fandom – suddenly went international.

While the major Austen pilgrimage sites were shuttered for much of the year, sustaining serious financial damage along the way, they found opportunities to bring their programming to a worldwide virtual audience, with Chawton House sponsoring online conferences and a newly rebranded Jane Austen’s House creating a panoramic online tour and a special Christmas treat.

While live theater went dark, you could stream any number of Austen adaptations, from a much-praised play based on The Watsons to a Zoom-enabled update of Pride and Prejudice to the new Emma from playwright Kate Hamill.

And the cinematic Austen universe only expanded, from the pre-pandemic U.S. broadcast of the Sanditon miniseries, to the theatrical and (post-pandemic) streaming release of Autumn de Wilde’s new Emma, to the debut of Modern Persuasion.

Best of all, those six great novels sat on our shelves, always available for a reread. They were our constant reminder that even during the worst of years, art endures, bringing us escape, perspective, and consolation amid loneliness and grief.

In that spirit, as this year finally ends -- and not a minute too soon! -- let's give Jane Austen the last word, from chapter 19 of Sense and Sensibility.

"Remember that the pain of parting from friends will be felt by everybody at times, whatever be their education or state," Mrs. Dashwood tells the mysteriously melancholy Edward Ferrars. "Know your own happiness. You want nothing but patience -- or give it a more fascinating name, call it hope."

Here’s hoping for a better 2021.

By Deborah Yaffe, Jan 11 2018 02:00PM

Some years ago, I attended a picnic sponsored by my local branch of the Jane Austen Society of North America, to which a fellow JASNA member had brought her small dog. Like many Janeites, she had named him after one of her favorite Austen characters. As a result, halfway through the afternoon, we all heard the witness to a moment of canine discourtesy gasp out a truly unexpected sentence: “Mr. Knightley just peed in Deborah’s purse!”

(As indeed he had. Luckily, the purse was washable.)

I’m not a pet-owner myself, but I have long enjoyed hearing about pets with Austen-related names. So I was delighted to stumble upon (a few weeks late, but never mind), this “Pet of the Week” article in the Sunday Post, a Scottish weekly, seeking a home for a black guinea pig named. . . Mr. Darcy.

Guinea pigs leave me cold, as a rule, but this one looks about as appealing as it’s possible for a rodent to be, even if his resemblance to either Colin Firth or Matthew Macfadyen is notional.

Nevertheless, the animal seems to have taken his famous name very much to heart. According to the article, Mr. Darcy “can be a little scatty upon being picked up,” but “he soon settles and will happily sit on your lap and enjoys being the centre of attention,” even eating out of your hand “if the mood takes him.”

Basically, that’s the plot of Pride and Prejudice right there. Mr. Darcy: difficult at first, but soon eating out of your hand, and always the center of attention.

For potential adoptive owners, the Scottish branch of the SPCA sounded only one cautionary note: “Mr Darcy has previously had tiffs when living with another male guinea pig.”

No word on the name of that unfortunate erstwhile roommate, but my money is on Mr. Wickham.

By Deborah Yaffe, Nov 2 2017 01:00PM

Keeping track of the many Jane Austen celebrations, conferences, festivals, and exhibits taking place around the world – especially during this bicentennial year – has been a full-time job. (Or would have been, had I been making any attempt at completeness.)

But imagine if we Janeites were actually trying to attend all these events, like rock fans following the band in hopes of racking up maximum concert coverage. (We could call ourselves Janeheads! Or Austen Nation! Or. . . prizes given for better suggestions. . .)

If such a Janeite pastime existed, this weekend we’d all be heading for Seattle, where the University of Washington is hosting what sounds like a totally fun one-day JaneFest, featuring booths, workshops and presentations on such topics as Regency dress, food, dance and letter-writing, along with discussions of Austen’s work. The day concludes with a Regency ball, which was, predictably, sold out a very, very long time ago.

This week, the university was also planning three lead-up events: an Austen game night last Thursday, a Regency dance workshop yesterday, and tonight a Regency clothing workshop (also sold out) led by fashion historian and JASNA Regional Coordinator Agnes Gawne, who graciously hosted me two years ago, when I spoke to JASNA’s Puget Sound chapter.

Sadly, I won’t make it to Seattle this weekend, and heaven only knows what’s coming up the rest of the year. (I don’t, because, like I said, I haven’t really tried to keep up.) What a long strange trip it’s been. . .

By Deborah Yaffe, Jun 11 2015 01:00PM

If you plan to be in northern New Jersey this coming Sunday, please stop by the Franklin Lakes Public Library, where I’ll be speaking about Jane Austen fandom and Among the Janeites.

The event will run from 2 to 3 pm in the meeting room of the library, 470 DeKorte Drive in Franklin Lakes. I’ll be signing books, as well. (All the details are on my Events page.)

I always love to meet fellow Janeites, so please join me this weekend!

By Deborah Yaffe, Aug 28 2014 01:00PM

Like so many of us, I retain fond, rose-colored memories of my college years, when I had nothing to do but read great books and discuss The Meaning of Life over bad coffee. (It may have been more complicated than that – I have dim memories of stressful exam periods and heartbreaking romantic disappointments – but I’ll stick to the rosy glow.)

In any case, imagine my glee at discovering that two enterprising juniors at my alma mater have founded Yale’s first Undergraduate Jane Austen Society. Google reveals that, last October, the group screened a film of Pride and Prejudice – no word on which one, although my money is on the 2005 Keira Knightley version – but I can’t find evidence of other events so far.

No matter: we all have to start small. No doubt if the founders pour themselves some bad coffee and sit down to talk, the ideas will soon materialize. Perhaps they’d like to invite me back for a speaking gig amid the rose-colored, ivy-encrusted halls. Yes, that was a hint.

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