Deborah Yaffe

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By Deborah Yaffe, Jul 24 2017 01:00PM

When I was researching Among the Janeites, a former president of the Jane Austen Society of North America told me a charming story about attending a celebration of Jane Austen’s birthday in a fancy New York City apartment. When the time came to cut the cake, the maid on duty that day looked around for the birthday girl, asking, “Is the lady present?” “I said to her, ‘In a sense, yes, she is,’ ” he recalled.


Jane Austen’s eternal life was much on Janeite minds last week, as an explosion of media attention greeted the July 18 bicentenary of Austen’s death. Still, as we spoke feelingly of Austen’s immortality, we probably didn’t mean it quite as literally as British Tory politician Andrea Leadsom briefly seemed to.


In a Thursday session of the House of Commons, a Labour MP praised female achievement, listing several famous women who had died recently. Not to be outdone, Leadsom chimed in with an addition to the honor roll: Jane Austen, “one of our greatest living authors.”


It’s pretty clear from the video that Leadsom just misspoke -- amid chortles, she immediately corrected to “greatest-ever authors,” adding, “I think many of us probably wish she were still living” – but in the ruthless world of social media-fueled ridicule, the damage was done.


Bookstore chain Waterstones tweeted that they were moving Austen’s works out of the Classics section and asked if anyone knew how to get in touch with her agent. A British Isles TV channel called Dave (seriously – there’s a TV channel called Dave) tweeted, “BREAKING: Andrea Leadsom devastated to learn of Jane Austen's passing. Cancels today's photo-op with William Shakespeare as mark of respect.”


It was all pretty unfair. But also pretty funny. Have some cake, Andrea.


By Deborah Yaffe, Jul 11 2017 03:22PM

Exciting news! A mere four years after publication, Among the Janeites has earned a review in the New York Times Book Review -- and by the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Jane Smiley, no less!


Smiley calls the book a "playful exploration of Austen obsession. . . . amusing and sometimes mind-boggling," with a "light but precise" tone. I'm not quite sure why the book caught the NYT's eye now and not back in 2013, but I'll take it. . .


By Deborah Yaffe, Jun 12 2017 01:00PM

My father, James Yaffe, was the man who first introduced me to Jane Austen, buying the ten-year-old me a copy of Pride and Prejudice to tide me over during a family vacation, after I’d zoomed through my suitcaseful of books. (Yes, boys and girls: We had no ebooks back then, when dinosaurs roamed the earth.)


Austen wasn’t the first author he brought into my life: My father was a big fan of the English Victorian novel, so he started me young on Dickens, Trollope, and the Brontes, moving on to Thackeray and Eliot when I got a bit older. He read aloud to me and my siblings for years, progressing from The Wizard of Oz to The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, from Jules Verne to Wilkie Collins, with many stops in between.


A published author and college English professor, he edited the articles I wrote for the local newspaper as a high school student. Many years later, he gave me useful notes on my first book, Other People’s Children, and responded enthusiastically when he read Among the Janeites before its publication.


Earlier this month, my father died, at the age of 90. He gave me the incomparably precious gift of the written word, and I’ll always be grateful to him. Thanks, Dad. Wherever you are now, I hope they’ve got a good library.


By Deborah Yaffe, Sep 15 2016 01:00PM

I subscribe to the weekly newsletter of the Jane Austen Centre in Bath, England, so imagine my excitement when this week’s edition included. . . me – or, rather, a link to an excerpt from Among the Janeites posted recently on a website that covers my home state of New Jersey.


NJ Spotlight is not your typical Janeite venue, specializing as it does in “news and analysis about politics and public policy in New Jersey.” As far as I’m aware, Jane Austen never expressed any opinion about New Jersey or anything to do with it. But for the past few years NJ Spotlight has been running a “Summer Reading” series featuring excerpts from books by Jersey authors, and my turn rolled around in late August.


Through the magic of this new-fangled Internet that all the kids are talking about these days, the Bath Jane Austen Centre seems to have run across the NJ Spotlight excerpt. Now if only the Jane Austen Centre's newsletter could come to the attention of folks looking for the perfect gift for the Janeites in their lives. . .


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