Deborah Yaffe


By Deborah Yaffe, Jun 18 2018 01:00PM

A couple of months ago, when Jane Austen’s House Museum unveiled the results of the collaborative quilting project it organized to commemorate the 2017 bicentennial of Austen’s death, I bemoaned the lack of close-up photos for those of us who couldn’t journey to England to view the quilt squares in person.

I’m happy to say that omission has now been rectified: All fifty-three panels in the Jane Austen Community Story Quilt are now viewable in three online galleries, along with information about the theme and creator of each panel.

The panels, which cover aspects of Austen’s life and work, vary widely: Some are abstract, some are representational; some are specific, some more suggestive. Panels portray the church in Steventon, where Austen spent her first twenty-five years; Winchester Cathedral, where she is buried; and the museum itself, aka Chawton cottage, where she wrote or revised all six of her finished novels. Each novel gets a panel of its own, as do the Juvenilia and the unfinished Sanditon. Some panels also tackle themes in Austen’s work, such as elopement, self-control, and women’s precarious legal status.

Of course, a two-dimensional representation of needlework can’t substitute for an in-person viewing – texture and materials come across only imperfectly on screen – but for those of us whose international travel budgets are not what we might wish, this is a serviceable way to experience one of the most delightful Austen bicentenary projects.

By Deborah Yaffe, Oct 23 2017 01:00PM

Last month, it seemed that Jane Austen had truly arrived in the world economy when the new £10 note bearing her portrait went into circulation in Britain.

How wrong we were. It’s only now that we have real proof that Jane Austen has arrived in the world economy: She features in the newly released Winchester Edition of Monopoly.

Although from time to time I’ve spotted the occasional special Monopoly edition – for years, my son livened up vacation visits to his British grandparents by playing the Manchester United version – I was unaware of just how crowded this market is. According to a list compiled in an online fan community, there are literally hundreds of Monopoly variants, keyed to movies, books, TV shows, sports teams, universities, commercial brands—you name it. Many are officially licensed; others (anyone for RipperOpoly, the Jack the Ripper version?) seem likely to be unauthorized spinoffs or short-lived amateur efforts.

The throng includes scores, if not hundreds, of geography-themed Monopolies: By my count, UK cities, counties, or regions have spawned nearly four dozen, with locations in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, New Zealand, and Nigeria adding many more. US versions span the continent, from Maine to California and Seattle to Miami.

So perhaps it’s not surprising, in this Austen bicentennial year, that a version featuring the landmarks of the city where Austen is buried should make its appearance.

Number 8 College Street, the Winchester house where Austen breathed her last, appears on the board in the spot occupied by North Carolina Avenue in the classic American edition of Monopoly. As devotees of the iconic game of cutthroat capitalism will realize, this situates Austen, who spent a good portion of her adult life strapped for cash, on one of the board’s prime pieces of real estate—although not as prime as her actual burial spot, Winchester Cathedral, which stands in for Boardwalk.

Apparently, the game has at least one more Austen reference – according to coverage in the Hampshire Chronicle, which itself occupies Indiana Avenue’s spot on the board, one of the Chance/Community Chest cards “rewards players for winning ‘a Jane Austen writing contest,’ ” whatever that is.

Alas, as far as I can tell from minute inspection of the online pictures, the game tokens appear to be the ordinary, non-Austen kind: the top hat might pass muster, but the little dog is no Pug, and there’s nary a quill pen or mini-Pemberley in sight. And early rumors that the game’s money supply might feature banknotes bearing an Austen stamp seem to have been unfounded. For that, we’ll have to make do with the real stuff.

By Deborah Yaffe, May 29 2017 01:00PM

Any plans late next month? No? Then head over to the web site of Jane Austen 200 – the clearinghouse for events scheduled this year in Hampshire, England, to mark the bicentenary of Austen’s death – and enter the sweepstakes.

The prize is a three-night, late-June stay in Winchester and Basingstoke, along with free tickets to Winchester Cathedral, where Austen is buried; Chawton cottage, now a museum of her life; Chawton House Library, located in the mansion once owned by her brother Edward; and a book talk by historian, curator and TV presenter Lucy Worsley, author of a new Austen biography. Plus £100 (about $130) towards travel expenses.

OK, it’s obvious that this package is more of a draw for British Janeites, who a) can probably get to Winchester for not much more than £100; and b) had probably heard of Worsley before the recent plagiarism kerfuffle. But hey – three free nights in England is three free nights in England, right? And entering is a breeze, requiring only the answer to an Austen trivia question of such laughable simplicity that it’s practically an insult to Janeite intelligence.

By Deborah Yaffe, May 1 2017 01:00PM

Now that this Austen bicentenary year is in full swing, the announcements of commemorative events pegged to the July 18 anniversary of her death are coming thick and fast. The latest is the newly released slate of activities at Winchester Cathedral, which holds a special place in Janeite hearts, as the site of Austen’s grave.

Last week’s news release, accompanied by a handy leaflet, lists a variety of events, most scheduled for June and July, though a few continue into the fall.

There are once-a-month Austen-themed tours of the cathedral and its environs, exhibitions about Austen’s life and work and the literature she inspired, and a Book of Memories for visitors to sign. There are recitals of period music and an outdoor performance of a play based on Pride and Prejudice. There are talks on the role of Christianity in Austen’s life and work, by the former rector of Austen’s home church in Steventon; and on how she came to be buried in the cathedral, by the former head of Chawton House Library.

Best of all are the events planned for the bicentenary of Austen’s death and the days following. On July 18, the anniversary of her death, the cathedral will hold a special Evensong – certain to be especially affecting in the spectacular setting. Five days later comes a Regency tea party, at which attendees will be invited to read their favorite passages from Austen’s work.

And on July 24 comes a retracing of the procession that carried Austen’s body from the College Street house where she died to the cathedral for burial. Along the way, the bells will toll forty-one times, one stroke for each year of Austen’s too-short life.

OK, I admit it: I’m choked up even thinking about this.

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