Deborah Yaffe

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By Deborah Yaffe, Jan 30 2020 02:00PM

In September, we suspected. We hoped. We crossed our fingers. And now it’s confirmed. In perhaps the least likely household on Planet Earth, a nest of Jane Austen fans has apparently hatched.


Yes, it’s true. The Kardashians are Janeites.


Four months ago, blog readers will recall, Kourtney Kardashian, the eldest of the K-named tribe, posted an Instagram shot of herself draped across an empty bathtub reading a handsome hardback of Emma. Admittedly, it was all in the service of selling an essential-oil diffuser, but still.


Then, last week, Khloe Kardashian, third of that line, posted snapshots on Instagram of her daughter True’s bookshelves. And there, strewn oh-so-casually amid a set of pink-flowered teacups, were copies of Northanger Abbey and Pride and Prejudice. No word on whether these are gifts from Aunt Kourtney, but there’s no essential-oil diffuser in sight, so perhaps not.


With little True Thompson apparently a newly minted member of the family book club, we now face the possibility of not one but two generations of Kardashian Janeites. Given that True won't celebrate her second birthday until April, however, we may have to wait awhile before we can be certain she shares her foremothers’ excellent taste in literature.


I realize that the more cynical among you may argue that the Kardashians’ conspicuous Austen-love is all for appearances’ sake, a calculated brand-management effort designed to convey Girly Yet Smart. You may be ungenerously tempted to bring up Miss Bingley’s efforts to read the second volume of Mr. Darcy’s book, or Mrs. Elton and her Italian endearments.


But no! I refuse! I prefer to think that the Kardashian women have developed an appetite for lucid prose and biting social satire, to go along with the bikinis and bling.


Really, though, the only thing that will settle this dispute is for Kim Kardashian West to add her vote. Perhaps an Instagram shot of her beach basket, with a copy of Mansfield Park nestled amid the high-thread-count towels and organic sunscreen? A selfie with a Sense and Sensibility paperback tucked into a plunging neckline? An arty photo of a pensive Kim, captioned “You pierce my soul”? The possibilities are endless.


By Deborah Yaffe, Jan 20 2020 02:00PM



“I have just learnt to love a hyacinth.”


“. . . . So much the better. You have gained a new source of enjoyment, and it is well to have as many holds upon happiness as possible. . . . I am pleased that you have learnt to love a hyacinth. The mere habit of learning to love is the thing.”


--Northanger Abbey, ch. 22



January is a dreary month here in New Jersey, so I’ve sought a new source of enjoyment by sprouting a hyacinth bulb (pictured above) on my windowsill. It will be months before it’s warm enough to plant the result outside, so I suppose in the meantime I’ll have to make do with this slightly creepy alternative:








By Deborah Yaffe, Dec 16 2019 02:00PM

Jane Austen experienced her share of literary rejection. One publisher declined even to look at the manuscript that eventually became Pride and Prejudice; another agreed to publish the forerunner of Northanger Abbey, only to sit on his acquisition for years.


So Austen’s ghost is probably coping with the lowering news that the much-hyped TV adaptation of Sanditon won’t be renewed for a second season.


And the early signs seemed so promising! Here was the novel Jane Austen left unfinished at her death! In its first full-scale screen adaptation! With a story by Andrew Davies, the man behind the BBC’s iconic 1995 P&P! Who is famed for his ability to squeeze sex scenes into period adaptations of classic fiction! Dreams of a Downton Abbey-style cash cow must have been dancing in the heads of the broadcast partners, ITV in the UK and PBS in the US.


But the reviews in the UK, where Sanditon’s eight episodes aired over the summer and fall, were mostly lukewarm or worse. Then some viewers objected to the ending, which, perhaps in a bid to keep the franchise going, was not – spoiler alert! – a classic Austenian happily-ever-after. And now comes word that the ratings were also pretty underwhelming – below three million, according to Davies himself.


"We would have loved it to return, but unfortunately we just didn’t get the audience that would make that possible for us,” an ITV spokeswoman told the entertainment website TVWise.


But all hope is not dead: British fans, eager for that happy ending, have launched an online petition calling for a Season 2. Meanwhile, Sanditon begins its US run on January 12, and if we Americans take to this beachy tale of Regency life, it seems possible that PBS might finance another season. Why we should like it when the Brits did not remains unclear, but hey – tastes differ! Once upon a time, some idiot decided to pass on Pride and Prejudice.


By Deborah Yaffe, Oct 3 2019 01:00PM

It’s that time again, Janeites: The Jane Austen Society of North America is holding its Annual General Meeting (AGM) over the next four days. This year’s gala – theme: “200 Years of Northanger Abbey: ‘Real, Solemn History’ ” – is taking place in the period-appropriate setting of Williamsburg, Virginia.


At this point, I’ve been to a lot of AGMs – if memory serves, this one will be my eleventh. But even when the offerings in the shopping emporium seem over-familiar, I always enjoy catching up with old friends, meeting interesting new people, and gaining unexpected insights into the ever-fresh work of Jane Austen, via an assortment of plenary lectures and breakout talks delivered by an eclectic array of speakers. This year’s lineup includes university professors, novelists, booksellers, librarians, costume experts, and even a professional matchmaker.


Because I’m a sometime chronicler of JASNA’s history (chapter 8 in Among the Janeites), this year’s AGM has special resonance for me: Saturday night’s banquet will be held forty years to the day after the very first JASNA gathering, the society’s kickoff dinner in a mirrored, gold-draperied room at the Gramercy Park Hotel in New York City. A Friday morning panel will feature reminiscences by three people who have been members of JASNA since the beginning, or as close as makes no difference.


JASNA’s three founders – Joan Austen-Leigh, Henry Burke, and Jack Grey – are long dead, but their vision lives on. Surely they would have been thrilled to see us all now.



By Deborah Yaffe, Aug 1 2019 01:00PM

As I have pointed out rather often, most recently earlier this week, the Internet is filled with quotes from filmed adaptations of Jane Austen novels that are erroneously attributed to Austen herself.


You might think, then, that you could avoid embarrassment by checking searchable databases of Austen’s texts to make sure that the words you plan to quote can actually be found therein. And this would, indeed, be a great first step.


But Austen is a slippery writer. Just because she – or, really, one of her characters – says something doesn’t mean that Austen intends us to take that sentiment at face value. Irony is omnipresent; context is crucial. Sometimes, in fact, her intended meaning is the opposite of the literal meaning. You have to tread carefully when quoting Austen.


And thus it is that I bring you, as a companion piece to Monday's Top Five (Or, Actually, Six) Faux Jane Austen Quotes, the Top Five Genuine But Most Often Taken Out of Context Jane Austen Quotes.


The Top Five Genuine But Most Often Taken Out of Context Jane Austen Quotes


5. “Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.” (Pride and Prejudice, ch. 5)


Internet understanding: What a profound parsing of terms! Clearly, this is Jane Austen speaking! Better highlight this for the test!


In context: Missing the point of the conversation, as per usual, pedantic Mary Bennet struggles to get friends and family to pay some attention to her. Because actually this level of abstraction is no help at all when it comes to living life.



4. “Without music, life would be a blank for me.” (Emma, ch. 32)


Internet understanding: Like, totally! So inspirational! I’m really into music, too!


In context: Pretentious, conceited Mrs. Elton parades her accomplishments, right before announcing that she won’t have time for them now that she’s married. Because actually she couldn’t care less about music.



3. “You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” (Pride and Prejudice, ch. 34)


Internet understanding: Swoon! Has anything ever been more romantic? Let’s quote this at our wedding!


In context: Entitled, arrogant Mr. Darcy offers insulting marriage proposal and (deservedly) gets his heart handed to him on a tea tray. Because actually this is rude and overbearing, not romantic.



2. “There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves; it is not my nature.” (Northanger Abbey, ch. 6)


Internet understanding: #BFF! This is so you, girlfriend!


In context: Manipulative Isabella Thorpe vouches for her own unselfishness (since no one else is going to do it) while getting her hooks into a naïve – but potentially useful! -- new friend. Because actually Isabella is utterly insincere and self-interested.



1. “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!” (Pride and Prejudice, ch. 11)


Internet understanding: Jane Austen is a writer. Therefore, Jane Austen must have liked reading. Yeah, she says so right here. And it’s so true! Reading is awesome! Also, let’s put this on the Jane Austen £10 note!


In context: Miss Bingley picks up a book to impress the eligible Mr. Darcy but tosses it away in boredom moments later. Because actually she doesn’t like to read.



And the moral of our story? Merely searching the text isn't enough. Because actually you have to read the books.


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