I am very pleased to celebrate the arrival of Among the Janeites: A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom which launches today from Mariner Books. Please help me welcome author Deborah Yaffe who has kindly contributed a guest blog sharing her inspiration to write about a topic very close to my heart – Jane Austen and her legion of fans. Enter a chance to win one of six copies available from her publisher by leaving a comment with this post. Details are included at the end of the blog. Good luck.
Like so many Jane Austen novels, the story of how I came to write Among the Janeites, my nonfiction chronicle of obsessive Austen-love, begins with the entail.
Or, rather, with a question about the entail, that hoary element of English inheritance law that is so crucial to the plot of Pride and Prejudice. Months earlier, inspired by Karen Joy Fowler’s novel The Jane Austen Book Club, I’d roped several neighbors into re-reading Austen’s novels with me, and our P&P discussion had brought up an arcane legal point requiring further research.
Poking around online the next day, I decided to check out a website I vaguely recalled hearing about – the Republic of Pemberley, the Internet’s largest Jane Austen fan community. And suddenly, there they were: my people.
See, the neighbors in my reading group were smart, insightful women who seemed to like Austen – but they didn’t like her quite the way I had liked her ever since my days as a preteen bookworm who spent every spare moment inhaling classic fiction. They weren’t memorizing Captain Wentworth’s love letter to Anne Elliot, or worrying – really worrying! – whether Marianne Dashwood was going to be happy with Colonel Brandon. People like that didn’t live in my neighborhood; they lived on Pemberley.
Pretty soon, I was living on Pemberley, too, spending so much time there that I was embarrassed to let my husband catch me in the act, especially since I was supposed to be writing a book on a completely different subject. (“Pemberley-ing again?” he would sigh, glimpsing the familiar font on my laptop screen.) One day, as I was telling him about this community – its quirky characters and minutely detailed arguments and delightful obsessiveness – he said, “You should write a book about that.”
When I finally buckled down to the project, I knew roughly what I wanted to cover – and not cover. I didn’t want to write a book-length version of those news stories about Why Jane Austen Is Still So Popular, articles that seemed forever to rehash unconvincing theories about strong heroines, happy endings and Anglophile escapism. Frankly, all that sociological stuff bored me. I wanted to know more about the people I encountered at Pemberley: what were their stories? How did they fall in love with Jane Austen? How could they all love her so much, and yet read her so differently?
Ideally, I wanted to find people whose stories would comment on aspects of the fandom that had become especially salient in recent years: the burgeoning of online networks, the explosion of Austen spinoff fiction, the popularity of Regency dress-up. Book research, with its accompanying tax writeoff, also provided the perfect opportunity to indulge my long-held desire to take the Jane Austen Society of North America’s annual tour of Austen sites in England.
Some of my subjects – Sandy Lerner, the Cisco multimillionaire who created the Chawton House Library, or JASNA’s trio of founders – were obvious choices, but others dropped into my lap fortuitously. At JASNA’s 2009 conference in Philadelphia, Baronda Bradley sashayed into the whist room wearing the most beautiful Regency gown and feathered headdress I had ever seen. I secured her email address the next day. A year later, at the 2010 JASNA meeting in Portland, Oregon, I met Christine Shih, a nurse practitioner with an intriguing theory about Austen and borderline personality disorder; when Christine mentioned that she was about to start a therapy group using Austen novels as texts, I sent up a quiet prayer of thanks to the journalism gods. I sent up another one when Pamela Aidan, the author of the “Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman” trilogy, told me the moving story of how Jane Austen helped her escape from an abusive marriage.
Many Janeite stories later, my immersion in the fandom has left me with a deepened appreciation for Austen’s richness and complexity: everyone from devout Christians to secular feminists plausibly claims her as one of their own. Talking with so many diverse Janeites also made me realize how often we find in her a reflection of our own preoccupations, a version of the people we want to be; I learned to recognize that same impulse in myself. Most of all, I’ve been moved by the power of community, that very human drive to connect with others who love the same things we do. It’s what drew me to this project all those years ago, when I first went Pemberley-ing, and it’s what continues to delight me every time I find myself back among the Janeites.
Deborah Yaffe is an award-winning journalist who has worked as a newspaper reporter in New Jersey and California, covering education, the law, and state government. Her first book, Other People’s Children: The Battle for Justice and Equality in New Jersey’s Schools, is a narrative history of the state’s struggle to provide equal educational opportunities to rich and poor schoolchildren. Yaffe lives in central New Jersey with her husband, her two children, and her Jane Austen action figure. Visit her at her website and blog; on Facebook; and on Twitter.
Among the Janeites: A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom, by Deborah Yaffe
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2013)
Trade paperback (272) pages
Cover image courtesy Mariner Books © 2013; text Deborah Yaffe © 2013, Austenprose.com.