Deborah Yaffe


By Deborah Yaffe, Jan 16 2017 02:00PM

The latest Austenian clickbait on the young women’s website Bustle provides further evidence, were any needed, that Jane Austen is a multifaceted artist in whom readers find everything from escapist romance to witty satire. Yes, I’m getting all that from scented candles – or, as Bustle has it, “9 Jane Austen Inspired Candles That Will Transport You to Pemberley.”

I’m not a terribly scent-ual person myself: I prefer my personal products unscented, dislike perfume, and never burn scented candles. But I couldn’t help noticing that the eight candles whose scents Bustle highlights (the ninth is an LED candle, so it doesn’t count) feature twenty-six different – sometimes radically different – scents, all of them intended to somehow evoke the work of the same writer.

The scents fall into several categories: citrus (cranberry, mandarin, lemon, lime); woodsy (sandalwood, balsam, eucalyptus, patchouli, fern, English ivy); vegeto-herbal (cucumber, rosemary, ginger, fresh sea salt); flowery (rose, rose geranium, sweet golden rose, jasmine, white jasmine, lily, lilac, hyacinth, gardenia, tuberose); and simply peculiar (tea, winter woolens).

Clearly, different visions of Jane Austen are at work here. For some, she’s quintessentially sweet and romantic – hence, all the roses and jasmine. For others, she’s quintessentially English – thus, ivy and tea and winter woolens (damp ones, perhaps? Is that a desirable smell?) For still others, she’s spikier – worthy of the citrusy bite of lemon or lime.

Nevertheless, I can’t help wondering how successful these candles are at evoking Jane Austen, even for readers who share the candle-makers’ particular vision of her genius. The evocative power of scent is hardly news, but I’m skeptical about whether any one scent can reliably evoke the same associations in different people. For you, patchouli may summon up Elizabeth Bennet walking to Netherfield in a petticoat six inches deep in mud. For me, it summons up a hippie chick smoking a joint in a tie-dyed caftan – which is decidedly not my idea of Jane Austen.

By Deborah Yaffe, Nov 10 2016 02:00PM

The famous supposedly-Jane-Austen silhouette has turned up in some surprising places: at lunch

. . . on finger nails. . . decorating various expanses of skin – both temporarily and permanently . . . And now it’s coming to the bottom of a baby near you.

BumGenius, a brand of cloth diaper manufactured by Cotton Babies, recently added an Austen print to the stable of designs, now numbering twenty-two, in its Genius series. She’s in good company: Among the others who “used their talents to leave an inspirational mark on the world” -- thereby earning the right to adorn the derrières of babies in Park Slope and Palo Alto – are Mozart, Einstein, Audrey Hepburn and Olaudah Equiano, a once-enslaved African whose 1789 autobiography helped persuade the British Parliament to ban the slave trade in 1807.

But back to the real poop here. (Sorry. Couldn’t resist.) The Austen print, in shades of blue and gold evocative of Wedgewood, shows a tea table covered with cups, saucers, plates, sprigs of greenery, and a locket, opened to reveal that silhouette. Like all the Genius prints, the design also includes the words “I’m a genius” – in this case, scrawled boldly in a ribbon-style script. (A rather Lady Catherine de Bourgh-like declaration, it seems to me. I doubt Jane Austen would approve of such naked self-promotion.)

Because I am an environmentally insensitive sloth, my now-grown babies wore nothing but disposable diapers, and no ties of blood or friendship currently connect me to any infantine diaper-wearers. But if you’re better placed than I to check out the practical uses of the bumGenius Austen pattern, please report back.

By Deborah Yaffe, Jul 25 2016 01:00PM

By now, it’s hardly a shock that other people see things in Jane Austen that I just can’t find there. Heck, I wrote a whole book about such people. Nevertheless -- there are days when my mouth still drops open.

Like, for instance, the day on which my Google alert sent me to an Etsy site listing this “Jane Austen Inspired Doll Diorama.”

Go ahead – you look.

Now explain it to me.

I guess the front door is supposed to recall a Georgian house, and perhaps the interior, with its pigeonholed letters and its silhouettes, is meant to recall moments in Austen novels or movie adaptations. But ultimately I just don’t understand how a female doll wearing a knee-length skirt with peplum jumper, red-streaked hair and – are those combat boots? – could be Jane Austen-inspired.

Someone (else) should write a book. . .

By Deborah Yaffe, Sep 3 2015 01:00PM

I was a dutiful, conscientious child who entirely lacked artistic ability. As such, I was rather a fan of the coloring book, which rewarded me for dutifully staying inside the lines drawn by someone else and conscientiously filling up every single white space.

So I’m delighted to announce that hard on the heels of the Jane Austen paper doll comes the Jane Austen coloring book – or, actually, the Pride and Prejudice coloring book. Curiously enough, four somewhat similar versions, three tied to P&P itself and one tied to a P&P fanfic sequel, have apparently been published in the last two months. (I’m still giggling over the description adopted by two of the creators: “Adult Coloring Book.” Relax: it’s not that kind of coloring book. . . )

Of these four – ahem – adult coloring books, two (here and here) feature the familiar pen-and-ink drawings of Austen’s Victorian/Edwardian illustrators, Hugh Thomson and C.E. Brock, and two (here and here) feature original art. (One of those includes scenes from P&P movies -- duly flagged, which I appreciate.)

Although many Janeites adore the Thomson and Brock illustrations, I’ve never been an enthusiast; I find their images a bit too pretty to capture the spiky Austen that I love. But I do still tend to stay inside the lines, both literally and metaphorically, so perhaps it’s time to break out my colored pencils and get back to filling in the white spaces.

By Deborah Yaffe, Aug 6 2015 01:00PM

Given the ubiquity of Austen-inspired items, from tattoos to mouse pads, it’s no surprise that she’s conquered the world of paper dolls, too. In the past eighteen years, at least two artists have produced Austen-themed paper doll collections, one including many of the major characters from Pride and Prejudice, and one featuring two Austenian couples: Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, and Elinor Dashwood and Edward Ferrars.

But now Austen herself has been immortalized in cutout-and-tab form, along with fifteen other famous authors, from Shakespeare to Truman Capote. Unfortunately, the web site advertising the new product, Literary Paper Dolls, doesn’t provide a full view of the Austen page, but as far as I can see it appears to include a ballgown, a triple-decker edition of Pride and Prejudice, and a lap desk with quill pen.

Time to get out the scissors and give your Jane Austen Action Figure a little friend to play with. . .

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