Deborah Yaffe


By Deborah Yaffe, Jun 17 2013 01:00PM

The sky is blue, the sun is warm, and it seems only appropriate to spend the summer at the beach – which, for Janeites, means at Sanditon, the fictional seaside town where Jane Austen set the novel she left unfinished at her death.

Sanditon is on Janeite radar screens these days because the makers of the delightful “Lizzie Bennet Diaries,” a web series updating Pride and Prejudice as a video blog, are trying to work the same magic on Austen’s unfinished fragment, in a version called “Welcome to Sanditon.” (A month along, the results are. . .wobbly, but last Monday’s episode seemed like a return to form, so I remain hopeful.)

“Welcome to Sanditon” got me thinking about the other efforts made over the years to finish the manuscript that Austen left behind. She made a tantalizing beginning, as I wrote here earlier this year: in twelve chapters that fill about seventy printed pages, Austen assembles a promising cast of characters but gives few hints about what, exactly, will happen to them.

Unsurprisingly, this truncated MS has tempted more than one Janeite to try her (or sometimes his) hand at a conclusion. Although Sanditon spinoffs are relatively few – nothing like the groaning shelves of Pride and Prejudice sequels – they provide an interesting snapshot of the range of Austen fan fiction, and the range of attitudes toward Austen and her work.

By Deborah Yaffe, May 30 2013 01:00PM

I suppose it was inevitable that Death Comes to Pemberley, P.D. James’ 2011 murder-mystery-cum-Pride-and-Prejudice-sequel, was headed for a screen adaptation: reportedly, the book sold three hundred thousand copies even before the paperback was released in January.

Still, it’s hard not to sigh. Despite rapturous reviews from mainstream media outlets (USA Today: “incomparably perfect”; New York Times: “surprisingly gratifying”; NPR: “a glorious plum pudding of a whodunit”), all of whom seemed certain that those madcap Austen fans would eat this stuff up with a spoon, the book disappointed many Janeites, including this one.

As a mystery story, it was dull and unsurprising, and as a Jane Austen homage, it lacked wit, charm or a pleasing facsimile of Austen’s astringent narrative voice. Six years after their wedding, Elizabeth and Darcy, as envisioned by James, seemed to have little to say to one another. It was all most distressing.

By Deborah Yaffe, May 2 2013 01:00PM

The release date for Among the Janeites has been moved up about a month, to August 6 – we’re hoping to catch a bit of the publicity wave for the movie version of Shannon Hale’s novel Austenland, which hits theaters August 16.

Austenland is about a modern-day single woman whose romantic fantasies have been colonized by the BBC’s 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. (Colin Firth, wet shirt – need I say more?) She travels to a Regency-house-party-cum-theme-park, where the women wear bonnets and Empire-line dresses, the men wear knee breeches and embroidered waistcoats, and no one knows who’s a fellow guest and who’s an actor hired to provide a frisson of Mr. Darcy-esque excitement.

It’s a natural fit with my book about the real-life community of Janeites, who have been known to dress up in Regency costume and fantasize about Colin Firth. Along with a lot of far more serious acts of Austen appreciation, naturally.

By Deborah Yaffe, Apr 29 2013 01:00PM

Michael Suk-Young Chwe’s Jane Austen, Game Theorist has made quite a splash since its publication last week: a story on the front page of the New York Times arts section was picked up as far afield as England and Australia and by yesterday, the book had an Amazon sales ranking of 1,727, far higher than your average university-press offering.

Along the way, Chwe has run into some unfair criticism from people who apparently haven’t read his book. He’s been lumped with those who think Austen needs social-science validation, as if only math – you know, boy stuff – could make those girly stories worth reading. And he’s been mocked for allegedly basing a whole book on a statement of the obvious: that strategic thinking plays a role in the interpersonal exchanges in Austen’s stories.

By Deborah Yaffe, Apr 25 2013 01:00PM

The creators of "The Lizzie Bennet Diaries" will soon launch a mini-series based on Jane Austen’s unfinished novel Sanditon, so in preparation I re-read the original this week. The 12 chapters of Sanditon, which fill 70 pages in my edition, are the last pieces of imaginative prose that Jane Austen wrote before she was overwhelmed by the illness that killed her at 41.

For a Janeite, reading Sanditon is a bittersweet experience. The sweet is obvious: it’s just so good. With authority and confidence, Austen does just what she praised in her niece Anna’s novel-in-progress: “You are now collecting your people delightfully, getting them exactly into such a spot as is the delight of my life;–3 or 4 families in a country village is the very thing to work on.”

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