Daily Archives: August 11, 2013

Fun with the Janeites

I must confess at the outset that I have never read one of Jane Austen’s novels.  Neither have I seen one of the movies based on any of her novels.  Perhaps I am missing something, but with only limited time, I choose to stay with those genres I know I like.

However, long ago I discovered the importance of knowing something about Jane Austen and her novels.  I enjoy conversations with intelligent women, and I know that there is no better way to a lady’s mind than through Jane Austen.  That lovely lady that a man wishes to know may have little, if any, interest in her admirer.  But he need only mention Jane Austen or one of the characters in one of her novels, especially Mr. Darcey, and he has her admiring attention.

Those who admire Jane Austen’s novels to the point of what some might call “obsession” are the subject of Deborah Yaffe’s delightful book, Among the Janeites: A Journey through the World of Jane Austen Fandom (Mariner Books, 2013).  They are both men and women who have read a novel or watched a movie or a miniseries based on one of the novels.  They catch a kind of “Austen virus” for which there is no cure. So, they treat the symptoms by attending meetings of one the Jane Austen societies that can be found around the world.  They dress up in regency costumes.  They go on pilgrimages to sites associated with Jane Austen’s life, or even to sites associated with one or more of the movies or miniseries based on the novels.

Ms Yaffe introduces us to some of the many colorful characters who proudly identify themselves as Janeites.  My favorite Janeite among the many that Ms Yaffe introduces the reader to is Sandy Lerner.  Ms Lerner is a kookie, hippie sort of entrepreneur who made a fortune that enabled her to indulge her obsession without limits.  She purchased Chawton House where Jane Austen once lived, sight unseen, for just under $2 million.  She then spent an additional several million rescuing the house from collapse. 

A newscaster once asked her if she was eccentric.  “I am now that I am rich,” she answered, “I used to be just weird.”

Ms. Yaffe’s style of writing helps convey the fun and excitement of those lovingly referred to as the “Janeites.”   She mentions again and again a scene from Pride and Prejudice starring Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, in which Firth as Mr. Darcy appears in a wet shirt.  It is a scene known to make many feminine members of the audience “all hot and bothered.”

The Janeites of which Yoffe writes, and of which she is a member, are not any different than those who fill the ranks of the Baker Street Irregulars who dress up in their deer slayer hats and carry around a Sherlock Holmes calabash pipe.   They are individuals of all sorts who have fallen in love with a particular fictional character and wish to share their passion with others of similar taste.  May they live long and prosper.