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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Janeite on the Potomac, Part III

Out here in the ‘burbs, our government appears to be a playground for the pompous, the sycophantic, the whiny, the treacherous, and the egomaniacal. Kind of like a Lady Catherine de Bourgh dinner party attended by Mr. Collins, Isabella Thorpe, Lucy Steele, and Mary Musgrove. Fun!


But as blog readers will recall (here and here), back in the Trump administration, I learned that D.C. had its compensations: previously unsuspected Janeite sympathies on both sides of the partisan aisle. And now comes word that the current regime also includes at least one fan of Our Author—indeed, a fan so devoted that she’s writing her own Jane Austen fanfiction, featuring protagonists who are people of color.


I haven’t yet read either of Nikki Payne’s Austen spinoffs—the 2022 novel Pride and Protest, an enemies-to-lovers romance between an anti-gentrification activist and a Washington D.C. property developer, or the newly published Sex, Lies and Sensibility, in which a pair of disinherited sisters find themselves running a dilapidated inn in rural Maine.


But in a recent Axios profile, Payne has some smart things to say about diversity in the romance genre and the relevance of Austen to life in the White House. "I study aesthetics and power,” Payne told the reporter, “so I'm always interested in the very same things that Jane talks about in her books, which is the structure of societal hierarchy."


Payne, who holds an anthropology Ph.D., works for the U.S. Digital Service (mission: “to deliver better government services to the American people through technology and design”) as something called a “tech anthropologist.” I was previously unaware that this job existed, but I'm looking forward to Payne's Northanger Abbey update, which will no doubt feature a villainous AI who evicts our heroine from her own hard drive.


At any rate, it’s looking more and more possible for D.C.’s political Janeites to run their own bipartisan book group. Maybe they can take pointers from Buckingham Palace.


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