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Author explores the weird and wonderful world of Jane Austen fandom

 Photo by Chloee Detchou

It’s time for vampires, zombies, and demons to move aside and make space for something new—or rather, something old.

Author and journalist Deborah Yaffe gives an inside look into Jane Austen fandom in her newest book, Among the Janeites: A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom. On Oct. 6, she was invited by the Ottawa chapter of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) to talk about her book and Austen superfans at the Ottawa Public Library’s main branch.

Yaffe researched and studied this growing literary subculture in an anthropological way. She interviewed “Janeites” to unveil the fans’ different interpretations and messages in Austen’s novels.

Yaffe herself became a fan of Austen when she read Pride and Prejudice at 10 years old and she joined the JASNA when she was 16. The society is not an exclusive group of old ladies sipping tea as one might imagine, but rather a community in which countless women and men from a variety of backgrounds and different age groups come together to share and discuss their favourite topic: the novels of Jane Austen.

Nearly 200 years after her death, Austen remains one of the most popular 19th century novelists. But Yaffe isn’t interested in defining what exactly accounts for this longevity.

“It is the question I have tried most strenuously not to answer,” says Yaffe. Although a myriad of guesses could be made, it is clear that Austen still has a strong presence in contemporary culture, which appeals to young and old though fan fiction novels like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and the YouTube web series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.

Despite the daunting writing style of the era, Austen’s novels and characters remain relatable and sarcastic, so it’s not surprising that modern readers can’t help but fall in love with Mr. Darcy or chastise Emma for her meddling.

Many fans prefer the movies and fan fiction, and Yaffe says the appreciation of Austen’s works can be done in many forms. The JASNA holds an annual meeting, which will be held in Montreal next year.

 

Key signs of Jane Austen addiction, according to Deborah Yaffe:

• Having read the books or watched the movies numerous times

• Comparing your friends to the characters

• Owning a Jane Austen action figure