12 August 2013

Among the Janeites: A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom

Summary from Goodreads:
For anyone who has ever loved a Jane Austen novel, a warm and witty look at the passionate, thriving world of Austen fandom

They walk among us in their bonnets and Empire-waist gowns, clutching their souvenir tote bags and battered paperbacks: the Janeites, Jane Austen’s legion of devoted fans. Who are these obsessed admirers, whose passion has transformed Austen from classic novelist to pop-culture phenomenon? Deborah Yaffe, journalist and Janeite, sets out to answer this question, exploring the remarkable endurance of Austen’s stories, the unusual zeal that their author inspires, and the striking cross-section of lives she has touched.

Along the way, Yaffe meets a Florida lawyer with a byzantine theory about hidden subtexts in the novels, a writer of Austen fan fiction who found her own Mr. Darcy while reimagining Pride and Prejudice, and a lit professor whose roller-derby nom de skate is Stone Cold Jane Austen. Yaffe goes where Janeites gather, joining a pilgrimage to historic sites in Britain, chatting online with fellow fans, and attending the annual ball of the Jane Austen Society of North America—in period costume. Part chronicle of a vibrant literary community, part memoir of a lifelong love, Among the Janeites is a funny, touching meditation on the nature of fandom.

Yet another instance of my fellow booksellers knowing my weak spots.  Among the Janeites was handed to me while I was in the cafe line ordering a mocha.  No conversation, no "hey, you like Jane Austen," just the tacit understanding that a lit studies book about Jane Austen is an auto-buy for me.

Yeah, I'm a Jane-ite.  There are a lot of us in the Jane Austen fandom, and we run the gamut from covert to overt.  Like Yaffe, I probably fall somewhere in the middle of the Jane-ites: not over-scholarly so I like to have fun with some of the Austen-universe fan-fic if it has a good concept/is well-written/the reviews are good, but not so enthusiastic that I regularly play dress up and read all the fan-fic as well as writing my own (though, when I make it back to the UK someday, Chawton et al. is on the list of places to visit along with Gads Hill and Haworth; I've already visited the Jane Austen Centre in Bath).

Yaffe strikes a good balance in all her research and interviews.  She walks us through the intricacies of buying a (correctly styled) Regency gown, complete with underthings and corset.  The corset proves to be a problem, particularly because it lends a certain shape without which her gown can't be fitted (having worn a corset once myself, I sympathize with all her complaints - and I was singing, so mine was only lightly laced, but it still sucked to wear).  She even (bravely) interviews someone who I think most of the other Janeites avoid.  Plus many points for being polite but I still think she thinks that he's a loon (dudes, I think he's a loon - Jane Fairfax got knocked up by Emma's brother-in-law before the start of the novel? uh, no).

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