Jane Austen, matchmaker
The characters that Teri Roberts and Rachel Walton portrayed in the faux-Regency world of the Austen-themed online role-playing game Ever, Jane seemed entirely unlike their creators.
Roberts and Walton, both raised in conservative Christian households, were women married to men, while their online avatars were gay men falling in love in a society that prohibited same-sex romance. And . . . you probably can tell where this story is going: Not for the first time, it seems, adopting an online persona opened a pathway to new self-understanding.
As a recent article in the Philadelphia Inquirer recounted, life eventually imitated online art: The two women, one in Chicago and one in Philadelphia, bonded over the game, discussed their shared struggle with sexuality, and eventually left their husbands. Last fall, they married, with Walton dressed in what looks like a Regency-style cutaway, waistcoat, and cravat.
Their minister noted the role that a certain writer had played in their love story, asking the congregation to contemplate the process by which “spirit. . . can take two struggling souls, can add computers, internet, Jane Austen, and sideways glimpses of authenticity (Austenticity) – can take all that and, through some unfathomable holy alchemy, create family.”
Alas, by the time of the wedding, Ever, Jane was no longer around to provide Emma Woodhouse-like matchmaking services: Financial pressures forced the game to fold two years ago. But Roberts and Walton told the newspaper that they still do Regency role-play with friends from the Ever, Jane community and are co-writing a book based on their game characters.
Personally, I’ve never been convinced by efforts to uncover a lesbian subtext in Austen’s works. No gay Charlotte Lucas or Mary Crawford for me. But forging new bonds based on a shared affinity for Jane Austen? I’m on board with that.