Two hundred years after the publication of Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen’s work is
more popular than ever. Evidence of that will be on full display this weekend, as Jane Austen fans converge on Minneapolis for the annual meeting of the Jane Austen Society of North America. You don’t have to be a “Janeite” yourself to be impressed with the excitement that this event inspires in true Austen fans. For example, when I was at an event in Indiana to promote Off The Beaten Page, a woman who asked me if I planned to attend the JASNA (pronounced like jazzna) meeting in September. The event was news to me so she enthusiastically told me about these annual gatherings which include presentations by world-renowned Austen scholars, breakout discussions about various characters, and the customs of the time. There are sessions on card games, high tea etiquette, and on the dances of the Regency period. This year University of Wisconsin professor Emily Auerbach will speak on “Pride, Prejudice & Proliferation in Prequels, Sequels, Spin-Offs, Mash-Ups, and other Adaptations and Permutations of Pride and Prejudice.” Capping it all off: the Netherfield Ball, Regency dress not required.
Jane came to Minneapolis earlier this summer when the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis staged a version of Pride and Prejudice with Vincent Kartheiser, a Minnesota guy who is better known as the weasel-y Pete Campbell on Mad Men, playing Darcy. (My review: The real Mr. Darcy, Colin Firth, would make mincemeat of out of this wimpy Darcy impostor without mussing his frock coat.)
Lest you think, Janeites are a strictly upper Midwest phenomenon, I must call to your attention other instances of the enduring and obsessive love of Austen worldwide. For example, U.S. singer Kelly Clarkson, caused a huge dustup in England this year when she bought Jane Austen’s ring. An Austen fan who owns a first edition of Persuasion, Clarkson was stymied when the British government placed an export ban on the gold and turquoise ring, judging it to be a national treasure. Jane Austen’s House Museum subsequently purchased the ring.
In August, Sony Pictures released Austenland, with Keri Russell who plays a Janeophile on a pilgrimage to find her very own Mr. Darcy at an Austen-themed fantasy resort. Countless other movies and take-offs on all things Austen abound, including Web sites such as The Republic of Pemberly and Bitch In a Bonnet. Then there are the books including a parody novel, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and a couple of more serious non-fiction books that hit the market this year, Jane Austen’s England by Roy and Lesley Adkins, and Deborah Yaffe’s Among the Janeites: A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom.
The reasons for Austen’s continuing popularity are as varied as the fans themselves. They read Austen for escape, to find the romance missing in real life, for her great characters, humor, and her analysis of wealth and social class, to name a few. Still, there are those who cannot possibly understand the Austen obsession. For example, Jane is taking her place on the British ten pound note, much to the dismay of literary critic Frances Wilson at London’s Daily Mail.
In his article, “So dull. So over-rated. Jane Austen doesn’t deserve to be on the £10 note,” he says, “Now every time we open our wallets and catch a glimpse of her great gloopy eyes, we can be assured that we are thinking about the same thing she is: money.” He says, “Cash for Jane Austen’s heroines is like calorie-counting for Bridget Jones.” And, the notes carry an odd inscription for a piece of currency. Says Wilson, “Beneath Austen’s mob cap and buoyant curls festooned on the new note there is a line from Pride And Prejudice: ‘I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!’”