Friday, November 29, 2013

Friday Reading Assignment: Jane Austen Mania

I wasn't crazy about Among the Janeites:  A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom but I'm writing about it anyway because the Jane Austen craze is an interesting phenomenon.  I didn't read the whole introduction, but apparently a tarot card told Deborah Yaffe that she needed to write a book about Jane Austen fans.

OK, whatever, I was already starting to regret checking this book out of the library.   In order to immerse herself in the Jane Austen fan experience, Yaffe plans to attend the annual Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) conference, for which she will need a regency-style gown for the ball.  She makes a to-do about not being the sort of person who would ever dress in a historic costume. There's further whining about the corset, which is necessary for the chin-height breast silhouette of the era.  A corset will be uncomfortable!  Can't she just wear a balconet bra?

Playing a tiny violin, just for you.

No, you cannot wear a balconet bra, unless you want to look like a low-budget BBC movie.  Why not just go to J.C. Penny and buy a nightgown and wear it to the Jane Austen ball with your balconet bra?  She decides to suck it up and orders a proper corset and hires a seamstress to make her an appropriate gown.

While that's in progress, she joins a guided travel tour of Jane Austen sites in England.  Yaffe sniffs a bit at how touristy and commercial these sites have become and seems to consider herself above it all. Can't she have the Austen sites all to herself without all the yucky tourists?

Again, I felt an urge to hit her with something.   Seriously, would she like to sit in my cube for ten days while I take the tour for her?

After the tour, come interviews with several people who have turned their love for Jane Austen into some sort of life's work or all-absorbing hobby.  They write Jane Austen spin off novels, fan fiction or blogs. They amass enormous collections of Jane Austen-era costumes, start Jane Austen "bibliotherapy" groups or become obsessed with eccentric interpretations of Austen's novels.  The most interesting of these is Sandy Lerner who made a fortune with a start up company and then bought and restored Chawton House, which belonged to Jane Austen's rich relatives.  The building had been truly derelict and is now a Jane Austen library.

The other interviews fall flat, mainly because Yaffe includes way too many biographical details about her subjects.  I found myself skimming over a litany of who these people married, their careers, their kids, their upbringing, what their relatives died of, where they went to school, etc.

At last it's time to attend the conference.  Once again, Yaffe is a bit above it all, although this time I agree with her disdain for Victoria's Secret's sponsorship and the neon mini stuffed animals from their "pink" line as swag.  She attends the ball, although not without more moaning about her hand-sewn blue gown and corset.  It's all a bit boring and more than a little depressing.  As much as I enjoy Jane Austen's novels and the movies made from them, I'm not sure I'd want to get caught in that hamster wheel.  (Except for the costume part, because my love for historic costume started long before I was old enough to read Jane Austen.  If I could have any job in the world, it would be to design historic costumes for movies.)

Ultimately, Among the Janeites does exactly what Yaffe disparages:  exploits Jane Austen's popularity for financial gain.  The least she could do is refrain from padding her book with unnecessary details and useless whining.  A tighter portrayal of the world of Janedom would have made a better book.


  1. Ha ha, "she exploits Jane Austen's popularity for financial gain." That is quite ironic. I recently read Emma and Pride and Prejudice, two of the best novels I've ever read, and I won't be reading the book you review here.

  2. ARGH! First world problems in modern memoir-style writing PISSES ME OFF. No shit, TAKE MY CUBICLE/KIDS/JOB and I'll suffer through your ten-day-tour of England.
    Thanks for the head's up--I will NOT read this book.
    And again, I wish I lived by you so we could talk books IRL all the time.