Deborah Yaffe


By Deborah Yaffe, Jun 11 2018 01:00PM

Thirty-fourth in an occasional series of excerpts from Jane Austen's letters.

The story of Jane Austen fandom has been told more than once, in books by Claire Harman, Claudia L. Johnson, Devoney Looser, Deidre Lynch (as editor), and (ahem!) myself. Austen devotees have been located among those who read her novels soon after their publication in 1813-17, among those who first devoured her nephew’s hagiographic 1869 memoir, and among those who swooned over Colin-Firth-in-a-wet-shirt in the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

Arguably, however, the first mention of a Jane Austen fan outside Austen’s own family – a Janeite Patient Zero, as it were -- comes in the letter Austen wrote to her sister, Cassandra, exactly 219 years ago today (#21 in Deirdre Le Faye’s standard edition of Austen’s correspondence).

The twenty-three-year-old Austen is staying with relatives in Bath while Cassandra remains behind in Steventon. Amid a bubbly account of what she’s done, who she’s met, and what she’s bought, Jane mentions the Austen sisters’ great friend Martha Lloyd, who has apparently asked Cassandra if she can see the manuscript of First Impressions, the early Austen work that we believe eventually became Pride and Prejudice.

“I would not let Martha read First Impressions again upon any account, & am very glad that I did not leave it in your power,” Jane writes jokingly to Cassandra. “She is very cunning, but I see through her design;—she means to publish it from Memory, & one more perusal must enable her to do it.”

And there you have it: Martha Lloyd, the friend who a decade later set up housekeeping with the Austen sisters and their mother at Chawton cottage, is the first obsessive Austen re-reader for whom we have documentary evidence – the prototype of those people who read all the novels every year, recite dialogue by heart, and mentally file everyone they meet under headings like “Lady Catherine” and “Mr. Collins.”

Welcome to the club, Martha.

By Deborah Yaffe, Jan 2 2017 02:00PM

Happy new year, Janeites! For us fans of Jane Austen, 2017 is a big year, the biggest since – well, since 2013, when we celebrated the bicentenary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice, still Austen’s most popular work.

This year, we have an altogether more melancholy occasion to mark – the two hundredth anniversary of Austen’s death, on July 18, 1817, at the all-too-young age of forty-one. (Depending how you count, it may also be the bicentenary of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, published together in a three-volume set that appeared in December 1817 with a title-page publication date of 1818.)

Across the planet, and especially in Austen’s home country of England, Austen fans will celebrate her life and mourn her death at balls, exhibits, lectures, conferences and festivals. Our shelves will creak under the weight of Austen-related books published to coincide with the anniversary. And in Britain, wallets will fill up with Austen-embellished currency. We may even get to see a new Austen movie.

An unscientific, and undoubtedly incomplete, sampling of what’s ahead:

By Deborah Yaffe, May 14 2015 01:00PM

Readers of my book Among the Janeites will recall that one of its protagonists, English professor Devoney Looser, has a not-so-secret second life skating roller derby under the name Stone Cold Jane Austen.

I guess she should have trademarked that witty mashup of pro wrestling and classic fiction*, because now she’s going to have to share it with a band. Not a real band, but still.

On Monday, a South African film titled “Stone Cold Jane Austen” will be shown in Cannes – not as part of the world-famous, oh-so-arty competition, but during the Marché du Film session, where movies in search of distributors are shown to folks in the film business.

As far as I can tell, “Stone Cold Jane Austen” is a “Spinal Tap”-type mockumentary financed largely via crowdfunding. According to the movie’s web site, it’s “a comedy about an English rock band from South Africa trying to break in to the profitable Afrikaans music market. . . without even being able to speak the language.”

I heard no references to Jane Austen in the YouTube trailer, so I suspect that her name alone is supposed to be the joke. You know the drill: “Jane Austen” allegedly evokes all things girly, prissy, flowery, genteel and tea-sipping, which is so different from what we think of when we think of a rock band that hilarity must ensue.

You may have gathered that the trailer didn’t strike me as promising. But if you’re intrigued, it looks like you can order up a DVD or a download, even if the Cannes distributors don’t bite.

* Actually, Devoney wasn’t the first roller derby participant to choose that name. A skater in Liverpool, England, beat her to it, so if the two of them ever end up in the same bout, Devoney would have to defer to her predecessor.

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