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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Stars and bonnets

If the midsummer doldrums are threatening to swallow you up, a cure may be on the horizon: The fifth annual iteration of VirtualJaneCon, a free online Jane Austen conference, arrives on YouTube this Saturday and Sunday.


Billed as “a radically inclusive Jane Austen event. Made for and by fans,” this year’s VirtualJaneCon features twenty-six sessions on aspects of Austen’s life, work, and influence, offered by presenters who include musicians, fanfic writers, historical costumers, therapists, and academics.


Launched during the pandemic, VirtualJaneCon is the brainchild of Bianca Hernandez-Knight, a social media professional who created the now-defunct Drunk Austen website and runs a 5,000-member Facebook fan group called The Jane Austen Universe. Hernandez-Knight has criticized mainline Austen groups, especially the Jane Austen Society of North America, for what she sees as exclusionary practices; VirtualJaneCon is one of her prototypes for a better way.


This year’s program delves more into pop-culture responses to Austen than into the novels themselves. Two sessions will explore issues of race in Austenworld, three will give tips for Austen cosplay, and another will examine how Austen’s astrological chart influenced her fiction.


About a third of the sessions will address screen adaptations of the novels, including this year’s Hallmark Channel “Loveuary with Jane Austen” series. One brave presenter even plans to defend the execrable—in my opinion!—2022 Netflix version of Persuasion.


It's a crowded and colorful slate of topics—definitely preferable to melting in the heat.


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