Deborah Yaffe


By Deborah Yaffe, Jun 9 2014 01:00PM

Great news for aficionados of Jane Austen fan fiction: the long-inaccessible third volume of The Younger Sister, by Austen’s niece Catherine Hubback, is finally online,* in a version newly digitized by the University of Iowa.

As readers of my January-February blog series “The Watsons in Winter” will recall, Hubback’s 1850 continuation of Austen’s unfinished novel The Watsons was the first published example of the now-popular genre of Austen fan fiction.

Copies of the book, long out of print, exist in only a handful of research libraries around the world, and although the first two volumes have long been available online, in versions digitized by Oxford’s Bodleian Library, the third volume had proved too fragile to scan. Most readers wanting to find out how Hubback ends her story were out of luck.

Enter Iowa’s heroic librarians (really, that’s a phrase that should be employed more often, don’t you think?) Iowa holds the only copy of Hubback’s book available for interlibrary loan in the U.S., and when I emailed its librarians to ask about the possibility of digitizing this historically interesting book, they responded rapidly and favorably.

And now they’ve done it! Iowa’s digitized version of Volume III can be read online or downloaded as a PDF: I acquired all 434 pages in 25 minutes.

I’m looking forward to finishing Hubback’s story at last. She’s not as good a writer as her aunt--who is?–but she’s an entertaining Victorian who deserves to be read, if only because her early homage to Austen inspired so many to follow the same path.

* Thanks to reader cmickey, who alerted me to this news.

By Deborah Yaffe, Apr 28 2014 01:00PM

I spent my weekend in Janeite heaven: Saturday at “Jane Austen Day,” a delightful conference sponsored by the Eastern Pennsylvania chapter of JASNA, and Sunday at a meeting of my local (Central New Jersey) chapter of JASNA.

The topic for Sunday’s local meeting was Jane Austen spinoff fiction. We munched scones, chatted about our favorite – and not-so-favorite – examples of the genre, and speculated about why Jane Austen, alone among classic authors, has inspired such an outpouring of imitators. (Because her characters seem unusually real? Because her life is modest and relatable? Because she only wrote six books?)

Saturday’s more ambitious event featured three distinguished academics delivering papers on the conference topic, “The Unfinished Jane Austen” – the books, and the life, that Jane Austen left uncompleted.

Jocelyn Harris, retired from the University of Otago in New Zealand, spoke on card games as a metaphor for the marriage market in Austen’s novel fragment The Watsons. Janine Barchas of the University of Texas at Austin discussed Regency advertising and the concept of branding in relation to the unfinished Sanditon. And Michael Gamer of the University of Pennsylvania talked about how different posterity’s view of Austen might have been had she survived longer, and had her brother Henry not lived to cultivate an image of her as a sedate and pious spinster.

All three papers were well-delivered and thought-provoking, but as usual in these Janeite gatherings, I found myself enjoying the company as much as the program. What did you think of Val McDermid’s Northanger Abbey, the latest installment in the Austen Project updates? Are you planning on attending this fall’s JASNA meeting in Montreal? Isn’t it bittersweet to realize how good Sanditon was going to be, if only Austen had lived to finish it? These gatherings are the place for these conversations, and a dozen more like them. It's all about community.

The quintessential Janeite moment came amid one of the scholarly lectures, as the speaker – surely by accident -- referred to Jane Austen’s untimely death at the age of “fifty-one.” A rustling whisper swept through the audience, as dozens of voices murmured a correction: “Forty-one.”

By Deborah Yaffe, Mar 3 2014 02:00PM

The library gods are smiling upon us Janeites.

As I reported in my recently completed “Watsons in Winter” blog series, Jane Austen’s niece, Catherine Hubback, was the first author to turn her hand to completing Austen’s novel fragment The Watsons. In fact, Hubback’s 1850 novel The Younger Sister is the first published example of Austen fan fiction, a genre that has, to say the least, come into its own in the intervening years.

Physical copies of the book, which is long out of print, are available only in the collections of a handful of research libraries. And to date, only the first two of Hubback’s three volumes have been digitized; as I learned when I looked into the issue last year, the third volume, held by the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, was found to be too fragile to scan.

It’s a frustrating situation for Janeites intrigued by the book’s historical importance – not to mention for readers hoping to find out how Hubback wraps up her rather enjoyable plot.

But despair not: help is at hand. Last year, when I learned about the missing third volume, I contacted the library of the University of Iowa, which holds the only copy of Hubback’s novel that circulates via interlibrary loan in the United States.

Shawn Averkamp, the library’s acting head of digital research and publishing, responded promptly and positively to my email explaining the historical interest and frustrating inaccessibility of Hubback’s work.

And now comes a happy update: Averkamp tells me the library has placed its copy of Hubback’s Volume 3 in its digitization queue, and the book should be available for Google-assisted viewing in a month or so.

How cool is that? Our happy ending awaits. . .

By Deborah Yaffe, Feb 13 2014 02:00PM

“Each of us has a private Austen,” Karen Joy Fowler writes at the beginning of The Jane Austen Book Club, her 2004 novel about how fiction changes lives. Romance, social satire, feminist polemic, literary comfort food – every reader finds something different in Austen’s pages.

That insight, which became one of the themes of my book Among the Janeites, came to mind as I looked back on the ten continuations of Jane Austen’s novel fragment The Watsons, which I’ve reviewed for the past five weeks in my “Watsons in Winter” blog series.

By Deborah Yaffe, Feb 10 2014 02:00PM

Some Jane Austen fan fiction is produced by professional writers with one eye on a potentially profitable market. But much Austen fan fiction is written by non-professionals – readers, essentially – who revere Jane Austen and want to lay a gift at the feet of the master.

As literature, the results do not always succeed. But as expressions of love, they are often rather touching.

Such is Jennifer Ready Bettiol’s 2012 completion of The Watsons, the subject of today’s post in my “Watsons in Winter” blog series. It’s an undercooked wrap-up of Austen’s fragment – Bettiol's additions consume fewer pages than Austen’s brief original, creating a work that is “more novella than novel,” as Bettiol herself admits – but it’s also a sincere act of homage and, as such, something every Janeite can appreciate.

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