Deborah Yaffe


By Deborah Yaffe, Oct 1 2013 01:05AM

I listened to eminent scholars offer fascinating new perspectives on Darcy and Elizabeth, added a coffee mug adorned with a Mary Crawford quote to my souvenir collection, danced “Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot” (badly), and brought home Jane Austen playing cards for my kids (“Mr. Collins is the joker!” my daughter exclaimed gleefully).

But as usual, the best part of the Jane Austen Society of North America’s Annual General Meeting, which took place this past weekend in Minneapolis, was the chance to meet fellow Janeites and wallow in our shared passion.

We argued over whether Mr. Collins is unfairly maligned, whether Anne De Bourgh is a survivor of rheumatic fever or a victim of anorexia, and whether the many Pride and Prejudice spinoffs that crowd bookstore shelves fill our need for more Jane Austen or just make us nostalgic for the original. I sang the praises of “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” to a tableful of brunch companions who’d never seen it.

And in the “Regency Room,” where authentic period items from a Janeite’s impressive collection were on display, I gazed in awe at a first edition of Frances Burney’s Camilla showing Jane Austen’s name on the subscription list – one of the few times Austen’s name appeared in print in her lifetime.

All weekend long, I signed copies of Among the Janeites – thanks for those sales, everyone! – including one destined for a preschooler named Elinor (after Elinor Dashwood, of course), who is briefly mentioned in the last chapter. Here’s hoping she’ll be engrossed in her own AGM conversations a couple of decades from now.

By Deborah Yaffe, Sep 26 2013 01:00PM

There is joy in Janeite-ville this week: the Annual General Meeting of the Jane Austen Society of North America – the JASNA AGM – kicks off today in Minneapolis!

I attended my first AGM in Philadelphia in 1983, four years after JASNA’s founding, when I was a college freshman and the whole affair was far smaller and more sedate.

This year’s AGM (theme: “Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. . . Timeless”) will welcome seven hundred and fifty Janeites for a packed four days of lectures, tours, dance lessons, craft workshops and special events – everything from a Regency fashion show to a Minneapolis pub crawl.

The whole shebang culminates in Saturday night’s banquet and ball, which many Janeites attend in Regency costume. (I must confess that I’m especially looking forward to the Sunday brunch event, a panel on the fabulous "Lizzie Bennet Diaries.")

Like Lady Catherine de Bourgh, I must have my share in the conversation. I’ll be talking about and signing Among the Janeites at the University of Minnesota’s book store at 4 pm today (not an AGM event, but if you’re in the neighborhood. . .) and then signing again during the AGM’s mass author event on Friday night from 6 to 7:30 pm.

On Saturday, I also have the honor of introducing breakout speaker Emily Auerbach, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor who is the author of Searching for Jane Austen, which challenges the stereotype of Austen as a sweet maiden aunt penning decorous domestic dramas.

The JASNA AGM is criminally fun. Hope to see you there!

By Deborah Yaffe, Aug 15 2013 01:00PM

"The Lizzie Bennet Diaries" was always going to be a hard act to follow.

Cleverly written and well-acted, LBD retold the story of Pride and Prejudice through the video diaries of a twenty-something communications grad student in contemporary California, supplemented with videos, Twitter messages and Tumblr posts ascribed to various secondary characters.

I was one of the insanely large number of fans – more than two hundred thousand YouTube subscribers! – who tuned in to LBD’s one hundred three-to-five-minute-long episodes, posted online between April 2012 and March 2013. I helped a Kickstarter campaign last spring raise nearly $460,000 – almost eight times the target amount – to pay for a DVD package. I refuse to admit how excited I was when an LBD panel was added to the program at next month’s conference of the Jane Austen Society of North America. (But – do you think Darcy’s going to be there?)

Against that backdrop, it’s been a tad dispiriting this summer to watch the LBD team’s follow-up Austen-based web series, "Welcome to Sanditon," fall flat.

By Deborah Yaffe, Aug 1 2013 01:00PM

I’ll be wrapping up my Sanditon Summer blog series – featuring discussion of completions, continuations, spinoffs and riffs inspired by Jane Austen’s unfinished novel Sanditon – later this month, after the airing of the final episode of "Welcome to Sanditon," the web series from the "Lizzie Bennet Diaries" team.

Meanwhile, I’m taking a break to pop a few champagne corks over the release on Tuesday of Among the Janeites: A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom, my non-fiction book about people who are crazy about Jane Austen.

Three years in the making, the book takes a look at a wide range of Austen fanatics, including yours truly. It’s reportage with a light sprinkling of memoir, and it’s been getting some enthusiastic early reactions from reviewers with Amazon’s Vine program. (Check out some other pre-publication mentions here.)

I’ll be guest blogging here and there throughout the month (you can find me on the Roof Beam Reader on Saturday), and I’m scheduled to appear on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show on Tuesday morning. You can listen live around 11:20 am (EDT) if you’re in the New York area, or find the show online.

And if you want to buy a copy of the book – or maybe two! -- pick your favorite source here.

By Deborah Yaffe, Jul 15 2013 01:00PM

I love Jane Austen updates, Austen spinoffs that translate the familiar stories and beloved characters to contemporary settings.

I’ve read versions of Persuasion set in the worlds of Boston philanthropy and Scarsdale college admissions, a Sense and Sensibility that takes place during the Bath Jane Austen Festival, and a Mansfield Park featuring high school students in a summer theater program. I was crazy about “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries,” the hit 2012-13 web series that reimagined Pride and Prejudice as the video blog of a struggling communications grad student in California.

At their best, these stories are both clever Janeite scavenger hunts (“Ooh, look! Instead of falling off the Cobb at Lyme, the Louisa Musgrove character contracts Lyme disease!”) and sweetly enjoyable romances in their own right. They combine the pleasures of familiarity and novelty, comfort food with special sauce. And they sidestep the biggest pitfall awaiting Austen sequel writers who stick to the Regency – the inevitably humbling effort to write prose that sounds convincingly like Jane Austen’s.

Reginald Hill’s Sanditon spinoff, The Price of Butcher’s Meat, the subject of today’s Sanditon Summer post, is an Austen update with a twist: the book is both a continuation of Austen’s fragment (the title comes from Sanditon) and the twenty-third installment in Hill’s long-running series of mystery novels featuring the Yorkshire detectives Andrew Dalziel and Peter Pascoe.

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