December 2, 2013

Austen Addiction

Among the Janeites by Deborah Yaffe

Release Date: August 6, 2013
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt | Mariner Books
Pages: 272 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Paperback
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
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.

Thoughts on Among the Janeites
As most readers of my blog probably know, I am so obsessed with all things Jane Austen. From her actual books to the movies inspired by them, I love the characters she created and the world they lived in. So, I was thrilled when I realized earlier this year that there were several Austenesque books coming out in 2013. Among the Janeites is one of those! I pre-ordered it and was so excited when it arrived because it looks even better in person than it does online. The cover, flaps, deckle edge pages... I can't get enough of those details.

Among the Janeites is a non-fiction look at the Jane Austen fandom. Journalist Deborah Yaffe, herself an Austen lover, wanted to study the diverse people who are "obsessed admirers." In the introduction, Yaffe writes that she wanted "to explore what Austen obsession looks like and feels like for people who are living with it, and perhaps to tease out some of the common threads that weave this diverse array of individuals into a community." I absolutely loved this approach to the task because it gave the book such a personal feeling. The book read like one large character study of what it's like to be a Janeite.

Yaffe's personal reasons for tackling the subject are broached in the introduction, and then the book is divided into three parts: "In Jane Austen's Footsteps," "Rereading, Rewriting," and "The Company of Clever, Well-Informed People." Yaffe gets into so many aspects of the fandom (some that I honestly never knew existed) - online blogs and communities, Regency fashion aficionados, the world of academia, guided tours of the places Jane lived, fan fiction and spin-off books, the JASNA annual conference, etc. It's such a wide and diverse group of people, and each chapter focuses on one or two individuals who embody the discussed aspect of the fandom.

I found the book really interesting! While it showed me that I hardly count as obsessed with Jane in comparison to many featured in the book, I still felt like it was so interesting to see how people have reacted to her books and the way this love has (in many ways) defined a huge aspect of their lives. Based on what I read here, I definitely only barely qualify for membership with the Janeites.

One thing I noted throughout was the tension and delicate balance between the academic and social aspects of Austen. The author and her books are a huge area of literary study, but they are still accessible and loved by people who simply want to engage in the more social aspects of being a fan. It's interesting to see the way these two pursuits collide during Yaffe's time studying the fandom.

My only quibble with the book is that there is, at times, too much personal history shared about the individual Janeites for my taste. I didn't want to know their entire backstory, so it felt like a bit could have been cut out that really didn't contribute to the overall theme of the book. However, I still found the book entertaining and enjoyable despite that minor dislike.

Among the Janeites was, to be honest, such a fun read! I think it will likely only really appeal to those who are Austen fans, and I'd certainly recommend it to those in that category. You may discover, as I did, that there are many aspects of the fandom that are foreign to you, but I think you'll still enjoy this study of a cross-section of Austen fans. It doesn't answer the question of "Why Austen?," but it does a great job of diving into what it can look like to love Austen.

So Quotable
"The rich diversity of responses to Austen captures something real about her - the depth and complexity of her writings, which, like diamonds held up to sunlight, reflect something different from every angle. Her stories are not blank canvases onto which we project ourselves; they are complicated, ambiguous pictures of lived reality. We all find ourselves in her because, in a sense, she contains us all."

6 comments:

  1. Speaking as someone who can never seem to get their hands on enough Jane Austen-inspired work, both fiction and non, I was so excited to see your post today, Hannah! The synopsis sounds fascinating! I particularly liked how it touched upon the immense cross section of people whose lives Austen's work has touched over the years. It's amazing how it seems to transcend every artificial boundary, like sex, social and financial stature, etc. While it sounds as though the work has a tendency to become a little too bogged down into the minutiae of the Janeites' lives, it still sounds as though this is a book I would really enjoy. I'll be adding this one to my to-be-read list immediately.

    Thank you for writing such a thoughtful and intelligent review, Hannah! It gave me a great idea as to what to expect, and exposed me to a work I had never heard of prior to your review :D I really appreciate it.

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    1. Jen - it makes me so happy that you love Jane Austen-inspired work and are curious about this book! I think you'd definitely enjoy it, despite having a few slower moments. For the most part, it's fascinating how Austen transcends age, gender, class, etc.

      I really look forward to your review if you end up reading it!

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  2. This sounds like a really interesting book! I hadn't heard of it before, but as a definite Austen fan (and someone who has been sucked into other fandoms) this sounds like a really interesting exploration of both things. Definitely adding this to my TBR!

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    1. I'm so glad you're adding this to my TBR! It was so interesting - hope you enjoy it if you end up reading it :)

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  3. I might be stoned for admitting this, but I have yet to read a single Austen novel. That said, this book interests me! A former coworker of mine is a member of JASNA and over the summer (?? if I'm remembering the date correctly) she went to a conference and shared pictures/details the entire time on facebook. That there's still such a huge following for Austen is fascinating and mind-boggling and wonderful.

    I would love to read Austen someday and I love that there are so many spin-offs/'sequels' a la Longbourn, Austenland, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (ha).

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    1. Hah! No stoning here :) Yes, the JASNA conference is discussed in the book - it definitely sounds so "fascinating and mind-boggling." I hope you do read Austen someday, and then you can discover the many spin-offs, sequels, etc.

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