Deborah Yaffe

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By Deborah Yaffe, Jan 1 2018 02:00PM

Once upon a time, Jane Austen was a British writer. But today, she’s an international phenomenon, with fan societies on at least five continents. As 2018 dawns, herewith an entirely unscientific and incomplete sampling of a few of the places Austen will turn up this year, as fans mark the sort-of bicentennials of Austen’s last two published novels:


* In a bookstore in Islamabad, where members of the Jane Austen Society of Pakistan will convene to discuss Austenistan, their newly released collection of Austen-inspired stories set in contemporary Pakistan.

January 11


* In a nineteenth-century town hall in Salem, Massachusetts, where Regency dance enthusiasts will celebrate at a Jane Austen Ball.

February 17


* In a Baroque palace in Ansbach, Germany, where yet more dancing will take place at Der Grosse Jane Austen Ball.

April 7


* In a building called “the Dutch Versailles,” where Austen’s fans in the Netherlands will celebrate the bicentenary of Persuasion with still another ball.

May 12


(Which should not be confused with the Gothic ball being held in a suburban London church a week later to celebrate the bicentenary of Northanger Abbey.

May 19)


* At a women’s university in Tokyo, where the Jane Austen Society of Japan will hold its twelfth annual convention.

June 30


* In the capital of Australia, Canberra, where the country’s Jane Austen Society will hold a weekend-long conference on the bicentenary of Persuasion.

July 6-8


* On streets where Austen herself once walked, as Georgian-costumed revelers parade through Bath, England, during the annual Jane Austen Festival.

September 14-23


Here's hoping that this year you find a dance, a tea, a conference, an exhibition, a festival -- or even just a conversation -- about Jane Austen somewhere near you.


By Deborah Yaffe, Dec 14 2017 02:00PM

The year marking the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s death is almost over, but one more major Austen anniversary lies ahead of us: 2018 is the two hundredth year since the posthumous joint publication of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.*


Writer, critic, and blogger Sarah Emsley, who has already curated eclectic and insightful blog series for the bicentenaries of Mansfield Park and Emma, will launch a new one on Saturday, Austen’s 242nd birthday. Running over the next six months, “Youth and Experience: Northanger Abbey and Persuasion” will include posts from dozens of Austen readers, some academic and some not, analyzing different aspects of these two very different novels.


My contribution is running at the very end, in June, since I’m writing about Captain Wentworth’s letter, perhaps my single favorite passage in all of Jane Austen. Don’t ask me how I snagged this prize; Sarah didn’t even make me arm-wrestle for it.


Emsley has a star-studded Janeite Rolodex; the contributors to her past series have exposed me to new information and ideas about everything from Austen’s religious beliefs to Regency cooking. I’m looking forward to learning more about the novels that bookended Austen’s writing career.



* “What? I’m confused! I thought those books were published in December of 1817!”

Yes, Virginia, they were, but the title page says 1818, so we’re allowed to keep celebrating all next year.


By Deborah Yaffe, Oct 16 2017 01:00PM

Jane Austen anticipates current events in Hollywood:


Northanger Abbey, ch. 15:

“ ‘Did you ever hear the old song ‘Going to One Wedding Brings on Another?’ I say, you will come to Belle’s wedding, I hope. . . . And then you know’ — twisting himself about and forcing a foolish laugh — ‘I say, then you know, we may try the truth of this same old song. . . . But I have a notion, Miss Morland, you and I think pretty much alike upon most matters.’ ”


Emma, ch. 15:

“. . . scarcely had they passed the sweep-gate and joined the other carriage, than she found her subject cut up -- her hand seized -- her attention demanded, and Mr. Elton actually making violent love to her: availing himself of the precious opportunity, declaring sentiments which must be already well known, hoping -- fearing -- adoring -- ready to die if she refused him; but flattering himself that his ardent attachment and unequalled love and unexampled passion could not fail of having some effect, and in short, very much resolved on being seriously accepted as soon as possible. . . .


“ ‘Charming Miss Woodhouse! allow me to interpret this interesting silence. It confesses that you have long understood me.’ ”


Pride and Prejudice, ch. 19:

"I am not now to learn," replied Mr. Collins, with a formal wave of the hand, "that it is usual with young ladies to reject the addresses of the man whom they secretly mean to accept, when he first applies for their favor; and that sometimes the refusal is repeated a second or even a third time. I am therefore by no means discouraged by what you have just said, and shall hope to lead you to the altar ere long. . . .


"When I do myself the honor of speaking to you next on this subject, I shall hope to receive a more favorable answer than you have now given me; though I am far from accusing you of cruelty at present, because I know it to be the established custom of your sex to reject a man on the first application, and perhaps you have even now said as much to encourage my suit as would be consistent with the true delicacy of the female character. . .


"You must give me leave to flatter myself, my dear cousin, that your refusal of my addresses is merely words of course. . . . in spite of your manifold attractions, it is by no means certain that another offer of marriage may ever be made you. Your portion is unhappily so small, that it will in all likelihood undo the effects of your loveliness and amiable qualifications. As I must therefore conclude that you are not serious in your rejection of me, I shall chuse to attribute it to your wish of increasing my love by suspense, according to the usual practice of elegant females."


By Deborah Yaffe, Aug 10 2017 01:00PM

During World War I, historians tell us, Jane Austen’s novels were sometimes prescribed to traumatized British soldiers as a remedy for shell-shock, anxiety and despair. And now, it seems, the benefits of the Austen Cure are about to become available to another jumpy, unsettled demographic: lonely dogs and their guilt-ridden owners.


Audible, the audiobook company owned by Amazon, has just announced a new program, Audible for Dogs, whose spokesman is dog whisperer Cesar Millan. And among the titles Millan recommends for canine consumption (figuratively speaking, I hasten to add) is a 2015 recording of Pride and Prejudice, read by British actress Rosamund Pike, who played Jane Bennet in the 2005 P&P film starring Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen.


The idea of Audible for Dogs is to give man’s best friend a soothing substitute for His Master’s Voice when said master is out of the house for long periods of time. Just set up a digital speaker, crank up an audiobook featuring the calm, consistent tones of someone whose voice resembles that of the primary dog-owner, and voila: no more guilty worries that lonely, neurotic Fido will spend your absence peeing on the carpet, chewing your Manolos, or annoying the neighbors with incessant barking.


Such is the idea, anyway. Millan and Audible claim to have backed up their hunch with a month-long study featuring one hundred volunteer dog-human pairs, but forgive me for a teensy bit of skepticism about the objectivity and scientific rigor of this experiment.


For Janeites, the key question is clear: Although Pride and Prejudice is often suggested as a good introduction to Austen for human readers, is the same true for canine ones? I’m concerned that Millan may have set these four-legged neophytes up for failure by choosing a book that, as far as I can recall, contains no mention of dogs at all.


Given that omission, it hardly seems fair to stack P&P up against some of the more canine-centric titles on Millan’s list, including Soldier Dogs, A Dog’s Purpose, and The Art of Racing in the Rain. Wouldn’t he have been better off choosing Northanger Abbey, whose hero greets visitors accompanied by “the friends of his solitude, a large Newfoundland puppy and two or three terriers”? Or Sense and Sensibility, whose anti-hero Willougby, though lacking in moral fiber, at least has the good taste to own “the nicest little black bitch of a pointer” that Sir John Middleton has ever seen?


But really, the answer is obvious: Dogs are clearly the only readers who should be introduced to Jane Austen by way of Mansfield Park. To human readers, Fanny Price may seem insipid, and Edmund Bertram's cluelessness may cry out for a slap upside the head. But what canine companion, nursing feelings of neglect and abandonment as its owner departs for a long day at the office, won’t be charmed by Lady Bertram’s excellent judgment in “thinking more of her pug than her children”?


By Deborah Yaffe, Jul 27 2017 01:00PM

I marked the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s death last week in rather prosaic fashion: giving my house an all-too-infrequent thorough cleaning, while listening to a new audio adaptation of Northanger Abbey.


The cleaning was, as ever, tedious and tiring. The adaptation – a made-for-Audible version headlined by Emma Thompson as the narrator, or, as the credits would have it, as “Jane Austen” – was quite delightful.


It’s an exhaustively complete, scrupulously faithful six-hour version, which allows room for lots of the narratorial voiceover that so seldom makes it into Austen adaptations. We get to hear Thompson read the famous defense of the novel and remark dryly, “A woman especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, must conceal it as well as she can.” The other actors, some of them well-known to American audiences and others less so, are also excellent.


If only I had realized that, while I was lugging my vacuum cleaner up and down the stairs to the accompaniment of Henry Tilney’s witticisms, London Janeites were enjoying the recording in style.


Turns out that for seven hours on July 18 – the Austen bicentenary and the release date of the adaptation – Audible offered free rides through the streets of London in so-called “Austen taxis”: carriages pulled by matched pairs of horses and piloted by coachmen in Georgian dress. (More pictures here.) Along the way, the lucky customers who signed up for these elegant commutes listened to excerpts from the NA adaptation.


Sounds quite lovely, doesn’t it? (Assuming, of course, that your coachman was more Henry Tilney than John Thorpe.) I think I would willingly have traded my clean kitchen floor for a ride in an Austen taxi.


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