Deborah Yaffe

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By Deborah Yaffe, Jul 18 2016 01:00PM

Every Janeite has probably fantasized about meeting the woman herself. What would we say? What would we ask her? Would we babble inarticulately like overwhelmed fangirls and -boys, or impress her with our perceptive and cogent analyses of her work?


Now Canadian college student Gabrielle Lesage is inviting the worldwide Janeite fandom to prep our lines for this momentous meeting – you know, just in case. She’s launched a blog, the Dear Jane Project, where Janeites can post letters to Austen telling her what she’s meant to them.


Lesage envisions the project as a way of commemorating Jane Austen in the run-up to next year’s bicentennial of her death. It could be an interesting group self-portrait.


As of early July, Lesage had posted three submissions, the first of which seems to be from her boyfriend (and very sweet it is, too). None is in the form of a letter to Austen – they’re more like mini-essays on the Importance of Jane – but they do reflect the international nature of the fandom: one is from a Canadian, one from an American and one from a Colombian. (Submissions via email to dearjaneproject@gmail.com.)


Austen “is more than a writer who has left us with her novels. Rather, she is a friend and confidant,” Lesage wrote last month on the web site of the Jane Austen Centre in Bath, England. “I cannot help but feel that I have a personal connection with her, and I am sure many people feel that way.”


Indeed they do. Perhaps because Austen wrote about the everyday lives of ordinary people, or perhaps because her own life sounds unintimidatingly ordinary, many readers feel close to her in a way that seems less common with other great writers.


Still, I’m pretty sure I’d babble.


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.

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