Saturday, January 25, 2014

Review: Among the Janeites by Deborah Yaffe

I don't remember when I first read Pride and Prejudice but I suspect I was fairly young given the look of my loopy signature on the inside cover. I do, however, know for sure that I fell in love with it and it inspired me to read all of Austen's other works as well. I've read most of them more than once and have thrilled to the language and the story every time. I have seen several of the movies inspired by Austen's works and have been known to enjoy the spate of fiction reworking the originals in modern times or written as sequels. Does this make me an avid fan, a Janeite? Maybe. But I am not a Janeite like the people chronicled in Deborah Yaffe's new light and fun nonfiction, Among the Janeites: A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom.  They are incredibly devoted and enthusiastic, integrating Austen into many, many parts of their lives.

Yaffe herself is a self-professed Janeite and she is curious to trace the different sorts of people drawn to Austen and the ways in which their love for her works becomes so huge and influential for them. She interviews some of the folks most well known in JASNA (the Jane Austen Society of North America), examines the rise of Austen fan fiction, orders a ball gown for the AGM (Annual General Meeting of JASNA), and generally chronicles the unexpected ways in which Austen mania has manifested, especially in recent times with the advent of the movies bringing scores more fans, who may or may not ever read the originals on which the movies are based. As she goes about revealing the various ways in which people feed their Austen cravings, she is certainly focused on the most devoted fans: those who have created a business that relies on Austen or her times, those who spend untold amounts of money dressing authentically or recreating the time, those who spend hours upon hours online chatting with other devotees or traveling to all the places important in Austen's life, the Cisco founder who is paying (for 125 years) to preserve Chawton so others can experience one of Jane's homes, and so on. And as she interviews these super fans, she is always respectful of them, regardless of how unlikely and off the wall they might seem to others.

Yaffe does include her own adventures in sinking a bit deeper into the world of the Janeites, going on an Austen tour, having her own gown made for the ball, sharing her disappointment over the huge numbers of fans flocking to all things Austen, and more. What she doesn't do here is to discuss the books much, nor does she spend a lot of time analyzing the people she's interviewed so the book is not a scholarly look at Austen's works and the rise of her incredibly devoted fan base. But neither of those things are Yaffe's stated purpose; she wrote and researched this initially because she just wanted to see where she fit within the ever growing world of Jane Austen enthusiasts. And she has succeeded marvelously. Some of it makes her a little uncomfortable and some of it seems a tad excessive but overall, she seems to have found the place within the Janeite world where she is happiest. This is a fun and entertaining insider's view of the strange and wonderful (and sometimes wacky) world of Janeites. For those who aren't already Austen fans, this might be a bit of a confounding book but for those who appreciate Austen themselves, even if they are a fan, like me, of a much less flamboyant and vocal variety, this is a delightful romp.


  1. Should I genuflect when I say I did not even know JASNA existed until a week or two ago? *LOL* Sound like a cool read.

  2. I thought this was a fantastic book! It made me feel a bit better about my JA obsession. :)


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