Deborah Yaffe


By Deborah Yaffe, Jul 29 2013 01:00PM

In 1920, reviewing an Austen great-niece's biography of her famous relative, the writer Katherine Mansfield put her finger on something essential about the Janeite experience. “The truth,” she wrote, “is that every true admirer of the novels cherishes the happy thought that he alone – reading between the lines – has become the secret friend of their author.”

Nearly a century later, this private sense of exclusive intimacy – Jane Austen would absolutely love me! – sometimes manifests itself as certainty about how Austen would react to the modern world, were she magically teleported from 1817. Some of us are sure she would be pleased with feminism and birth control; others are equally certain she’d be appalled by Facebook and casual sex.

Jennifer Petkus’ self-published Austen spinoff, Jane, Actually: or Jane Austen’s Book Tour, the subject of today’s Sanditon Summer blog post, is a novel-length version of these fantasies. In Petkus’ imagined alternate reality, a new technology allows the dead to communicate with the living through a form of email, sometimes channeled through an electronic voice or embodied in a human avatar specially commissioned for the role.

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