There are Trekkies and Potterheads and Twifans, but nothing in the pop culture universe can compare to the passion, dedication, and eccentricity of a Janeite. I know this because I am one.
For the benefit of the un-indoctrinated, a Janeite is a fan of English author Jane Austen (1775-1817) who wrote six novels before her untimely death at age 41. Many have read Pride and Prejudice for a school assignment and then moved on. Others, like myself and former journalist Deborah Yaffe, were so enchanted by her humor, characters, and Regency world that we read not only her major works but everything she wrote: juvenilia, minor works, novella, fragments, and letters. That was not enough. We were compelled to become her fans.
In Among the Janeites, a new nonfiction book to be released next week by Mariner Books, Yaffe boldly ventures into the land of Janeites to discover what makes them tick and why they “feel an intensely personal affection for the writer and her books…whom they often call “Jane,” as if she were a neighbor whose kitchen door they could knock on to borrow a cup of sugar.” Yaffe’s journalist background gives her the perfect training for such a task, striving to form an impression of what it is like to live with the obsession and “tease out some common threads that weave this diverse array of individuals into a community.” And tease she does, interviewing and meeting a wide range of her fans, traveling to England for a Jane Austen pilgrimage to her homes and haunts, and attending Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) Annual General Meetings in Portland, Oregon and Fort Worth, Texas.
After the lively introduction which explores her motivations for writing the book, it is broken down into three parts, much like the dramatic structure of Austen’s three-volume novels. Within the ten chapters, one or two different personalities in the Janeite world are featured as an example of the diversity of Austen’s fans and how they express their passion. First, we meet Regency fashion aficionados Baronda Bradley and seamstress Maureen O’Connor and learn all about corsets, pelisses and the lives of these two fashionistas. Multimillionaire Cisco founder and Chawton House Library creator Sandy Lerner has her share of the conversation in a chapter called “Sandy’s Pemberley,” writers Pamela Aidan and Linda Berdol are included in the chapter on Jane Austen fanfiction, and Austen scholar Devoney Looser rattles the ivory tower of academia by admitting to Austen fandom and expressing it with the roller derby persona “Stone Cold Austen” in “The Knowledge Business.” Continue reading “Among the Janeites: A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom, by Deborah Yaffe – A Review”