Deborah Yaffe


By Deborah Yaffe, Jan 5 2015 02:00PM

Cyberspace is teeming with smart and interesting Janeites I've never heard of, and this past weekend I stumbled across yet another: Ron Lit, a grad student in English, who posts weekly book videos on YouTube and (on Twitter, where she’s @CatLadyPizza) calls herself a “queer feminist Janeite.”

She seems to have done videos on many of Jane Austen’s novels, plus an episode called “Who’s Your Jane Austen?” which offers a fast, sensible and entertaining take on the varied responses to Austen. (My favorite line: “Fanny Price ends up with the first mansplainer.”)

Neatly summing up the way that Austen’s three-dimensional heroines differ from the cardboard women of so much male-centered art, Ron Lit says, “What Austen’s novels really say to me is you don’t have to be a type. You can be you, and you can be the best version of you.”

A good thought for a new year. . .

By Deborah Yaffe, Dec 29 2014 02:00PM

The New York Times Magazine’s year-end obituary issue drew my attention to a death I’d missed last spring: that of Adrianne Wadewitz, a literature scholar who in 2007 wrote Wikipedia’s “Janeite” entry, in which she gave us credit for being the first fannish subculture.

Wadewitz, a prolific Wikipedia editor, also improved the “Jane Austen” entry and composed entries for a host of lesser-known female writers, bringing a feminist sensibility to a project sometimes stereotyped as a nerdy male preserve.

I’d never heard of Wadewitz before seeing the NYT tribute, but I’m glad to know her name. Wikipedia, the product of the unpaid collective labor of mostly anonymous contributors who together codify that which seems important and lasting, is a microcosm of culture-building. That work can’t lay claim to completeness if it doesn’t include female voices.

Wadewitz died, age thirty-seven, of injuries sustained in a rock-climbing accident.

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.

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