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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Virtual Austenland

We all hope our offscreen lives will soon resume, but in the meantime, our gatherings remain virtual. For Janeites, that’s meant online conferences sponsored by organizations from Australia to England, Arizona to New Jersey. And this weekend, it means Virtual Jane Con, the second annual iteration of a free-form Austen conference created by and for fans.

The conference, which kicks off tomorrow and runs through Sunday, features thirty events – mostly lectures, but also a panel discussion, a pub quiz, and a group live-tweet of the 2013 movie Austenland. Although the weekend has no particular theme – topics include everything from Austen gaming to historical costuming – a good number of the presentations set Austen’s works and the adaptations thereof in the context of contemporary discussions of race and gender.

Virtual Jane Con is the brainchild of Bianca Hernandez-Knight, half of the duo that launched the now-dormant website Drunk Austen. Hernandez-Knight, who runs a Facebook fan group called The Jane Austen Universe, is a strong advocate for inclusion in fan communities, including Janeite fandom. Earlier this year, she set off a kerfuffle on Janeite Twitter when she went public with her resignation from a Jane Austen Society of North America diversity committee, saying she no longer believed JASNA was sincerely committed to inclusion.

How that controversy will shake out remains to be seen. (JASNA claims it's taking steps to ensure the organization is welcoming to all.) Meanwhile, the weekend ahead is a busy one: Virtual Jane Con’s presenters include academics, writers, theater artists, journalists, and costumers whose talks will be posted on YouTube at a dizzying rate: Saturday’s program includes seventeen presentations that will go up sometime between 6 am and 11 pm (US Eastern).

Even the most dedicated Janeite will probably have to budget some time on Monday for catching up. But until normality fully returns, we’re not doing much else, right?

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