Jane lies in Winchester, blessed be her shade!
Praise the Lord for making her, and her for all she made.
And while the stones of Winchester--or Milson Street--remain,
Glory, Love, and Honour unto England's Jane!
I've been an admirer of Jane Austen since my sophomore year in college when I read Pride and Prejudice. Over the years, I've read and re-read all the novels, usually turning to them in times of stress when I crave structure and predictability. I've watched the movie and TV adaptations with varying degrees of satisfaction but I've always preferred the intimacy we shared-just she and I-as I succumbed yet again to the wry brilliance of her writing. She was my private refuge and I guarded the gate with a dogged determination. I've sampled some of the fan lit and found it mostly mediocre. Among the Janeites had been recommended to me by more than a few Austen acolytes, but it wasn't until Degrees of Affection shared the aforementioned tribute from Kipling's poem, Jane's Marriage, in a discussion group on BookLikes, that I felt compelled to dive into the world of Jane Austen fandom.
And what a world it is. According to Deborah Yaffe, there is something for everyone. Using her training as a journalist, she mostly succeeds at describing, explaining and celebrating a diverse group of inspired, and inspiring, Jane Austen groupies. She mostly skirts controversy, but she manages to provide a detailed description of what goes on under the skirts of Regency women, when she decides to attend a ball in costume at the annual convention of the Jane Austen Society of North America. She accompanies them to England for their yearly pilgrimage and introduces us to noted scholars, experienced Regency fashionistas and more than a few cranks. Of these, my favorite theory places Mr. Darcy on the autism spectrum. A close second, called the Austen Code, espouses shadow interpretations for the novels which are rife with sexual impropriety and gross misconduct. This all happens long before the zombies ever showed up at Longbourn. Ms. Yaffe uses humor effectively but she is careful not to mock her subjects. She honors them for their commitment, for their passion and for their productivity. Whether they are penning a sequel, tending a blog, or hawking tea cozies and t-shirts, they are all united in the belief, as was Sir Rudyard, that England's Jane deserves the world's respect and admiration. Which leaves me with a conundrum: which of my male cats deserves the name Emma?