By Deborah Yaffe, Jul 19 2018 01:00PM
It’s been almost four years since we had a reason to put “Jane Austen” and “beauty pageant” in the same sentence. Frankly, we were overdue.
Back in September 2014, you’ll recall, the future Miss America 2015 Kira Kazantsev proclaimed herself a Janeite via a much-ridiculed on-screen caption proclaiming that she “loves anything Jane Austin [sic].”
Luckily, our current Austen-in-a-tiara moment includes no such embarrassing blooper. Instead, we are free to bask happily in the knowledge that the first black Miss Universe Great Britain, a 25-year-old Anguillan-born trainee barrister named Dee-Ann Kentish-Rogers, is an Austen fan.
Kentish-Rogers was crowned at a pageant held in Wales last Saturday, where she came tops in a field of 32. She will compete for the sixty-six-year-old Miss Universe title – never before won by a British woman, as far as I can tell – in the Philippines in December.
As seems de rigueur for pageants these days, Miss Universe is an uneasy combination of appallingly retro – swimsuit competition, anyone? – and determinedly feminist: Kentish-Rogers’ fellow contestants included one who wants to conduct cancer research, a second who participates in equestrian show jumping, and a third who recently launched a swimwear business. Kentish-Rogers herself has competed internationally in the heptathlon.
For our purposes, however, it’s her literary taste that really matters. “My love for Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice spurred me to move to the United Kingdom in 2013 to study law at the University of Birmingham,” she told the UK’s Daily Star in a story that ran on the day of the pageant.
Given that the Star’s package featured headlines referring to the pageant competitors as “STUNNING babes” and “drop dead gorgeous” alongside a slideshow with many, many swimsuit shots, it is reasonable to wonder how much their readers cared about the future Miss Universe GB’s taste in books. But never mind. We care.