Deborah Yaffe

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By Deborah Yaffe, Oct 30 2014 01:00PM

Are Janeites just Trekkies in bonnets?


We Austen fans are used to the Trekkie comparison, which often serves as a shorthand way to disparage any enthusiastic fandom. Sometimes we embrace the analogy, sometimes we disdain it – I guess it all depends on how you feel about Trekkies.


Once again, our two fandoms have been yoked, this time in a cute item (subscription required) from the heart of Indiana: the student orchestra of Indiana Wesleyan University, an evangelical Christian school in the town of Marion, will present a concert of music from the “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” movies and from “Pride and Prejudice” (presumably the 2005 Keira Knightley version).


Beethoven, despite his total lack of sci-fi credentials, has also been smuggled onto the program, perhaps because he and Austen shared a birthday (Ludwig was five years older than Jane), perhaps because she owned the sheet music for some compositions he arranged, or perhaps just because the IWU piano professor wanted to play the extraordinary “Emperor” concerto. Whatever the reason, it’s all good.


Although the concert is scheduled for a week after Halloween, attendees are encouraged to come in any costume relevant to the occasion. The pointy ears of Mr. Spock, the cinnamon-bun hairstyle of Princess Leia, the Empire waist of Elizabeth Bennet – they’re all welcome, apparently.


Freshman violinist Lauren McDowell is quoted as saying that working on the concert has made her “interested in learning more about Jane Austen, though she said she was ‘raised on Star Wars.’ ”


Lauren, college is all about learning new things. Your next homework assignment: Pride and Prejudice before Christmas vacation.


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.


By Deborah Yaffe, Jun 3 2013 01:00PM

Why is everyone so convinced that Elizabeth Bennet isn’t beautiful?


This past weekend, Deborah Moggach, the screenwriter for the 2005 film of Pride and Prejudice, told an audience that she’d initially been “appalled” when Keira Knightley was cast as Elizabeth, because Knightley’s beauty detracted from the story’s empowering message. “Elizabeth inspires women because her wit and intelligence is what captures Britain’s most eligible bachelor,” Moggach said. “Women love that because it means you don’t have to be beautiful. If you are clever and funny enough you can get Mr Darcy.”


Moggach isn’t the first to promulgate the Elizabeth-isn’t-beautiful meme: back when the Knightley movie opened, the New York Times’ critic opined (under the headline "Marrying Off Those Bennet Sisters Again, but This Time Elizabeth Is a Looker") that its heroine was “not exactly the creature described in the 1813 novel,” who “prevails. . . through her wit and honesty, not through stunning physical beauty.”


Apparently, we want to believe that Jane Austen’s heroines are smart, plain girls who win their men solely through character and intellect. But let us turn to the text:

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