Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Book review: Among the Janeites: A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom by Deborah Yaffe

Ms. Yaffe is a Janeite herself, so in this book, she knows whereof she speaks. She is not one of the Johnny-come-latelys who got into the movies in the 1990s and early 2000s. Instead, she is a longtime fan since her childhood, and she attended a JASNA AGM (Annual General Meeting) when she was in college, before the Janeite boom. But she appreciates the boom and doesn't wish we were back in earlier times when only academics and Anglophiles were big Austen fans.

Each chapter has a different focus and usually two primary people she focuses on. She treats them with the utmost respect, whether they are professors, or women who make regency costumes. She never disparages fan fiction or even the movie versions that I feel ought to be disparaged. Yet she also understands the joy and happiness that Jane Austen brings to these mega-fans, and doesn't treat her look at them as a purely academic pursuit. For me, the most interesting chapter was about Sandy Lerner. We readers are introduced to her as a successful author of Austen-inspired novels, but soon we find out her intriguing and impressive background: she co-founded Cisco Systems with her then-husband (when it went public she bought a Jaguar and a set of Jane Austen first editions), and after she was ousted by the board (her then-ex-husband resigned in protest) she went on to found the makeup company Urban Decay. Meanwhile, she bought Chawton House, where Jane Austen's brother Edward Knight had lived. Chawton Cottage had been bought decades earlier was was a well-restored profitable Austen museum, but the House which overlooked the Cottage had been involved in multiple financial boondoggles and was in disrepair and a money pit. Luckily, Ms. Lerner had the money to fix even a centuries-old money pit like this.

We also meet people who run Jane Austen websites, some people with rather wacky Jane-Austen theories, a woman whose successful Austen fan fiction inspired her to leave her abusive husband, and a woman who runs a bibliotherapy group, using Austen's novels to help people heal their psychological condition. This book is much fun if you too are a Janeite. If you're not, you might be somewhat baffled by the devotion of her fans, but this is still a well-told collection of fascinating people who adore books (and one particular author) more than just about anything.

I don't know where or how I acquired this book but I do own it. I think I bought it but I'm not sure.

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