Deborah Yaffe

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By Deborah Yaffe, Aug 17 2017 01:00PM

Lately, Audible, the audiobook company owned by Amazon, seems to be having a bit of a Jane Austen moment.


Earlier this month, as you’ll recall, a recording of Pride and Prejudice was included on the company’s list of audiobooks appropriate for calming anxious dogs during their owners’ extended absences. And now comes word of an Audible advertising campaign in Australia in which Austen herself puts in an appearance -- yet again in a therapeutic context.


In two thirty-second spots available on YouTube, authors and their less-than-diligent readers attend a couples’ counseling session presided over by an avuncular Aussie therapist. In the Austen spot, Our Author – unaccountably wearing her bonnet indoors, but never mind – mourns, “I just can’t keep his attention,” while her bearded reader listens apologetically.


“It’s not you, it’s me,” he explains, like a weasely contemporary avatar of Willoughby. “I’m busy, and -- to be honest, you can be a bit difficult.”


Can this marriage be saved? But of course -- the solution, apparently, is to listen to Austen on audiobook.


As a card-carrying Janeite, I take a bit of umbrage at the notion that Austen is difficult – of all the great writers you could choose, she is surely among the most accessible – but I suppose that’s an argument for another day. Obviously, Audible’s sudden Austen obsession isn’t really about Austen: she’s a placeholder, filling the generic Famous and Inoffensive Classic Writer slot.


Presumably, Anais Nin didn’t qualify. Though I’d rather like to eavesdrop on that counseling session.


By Deborah Yaffe, Jul 27 2017 01:00PM

I marked the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s death last week in rather prosaic fashion: giving my house an all-too-infrequent thorough cleaning, while listening to a new audio adaptation of Northanger Abbey.


The cleaning was, as ever, tedious and tiring. The adaptation – a made-for-Audible version headlined by Emma Thompson as the narrator, or, as the credits would have it, as “Jane Austen” – was quite delightful.


It’s an exhaustively complete, scrupulously faithful six-hour version, which allows room for lots of the narratorial voiceover that so seldom makes it into Austen adaptations. We get to hear Thompson read the famous defense of the novel and remark dryly, “A woman especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, must conceal it as well as she can.” The other actors, some of them well-known to American audiences and others less so, are also excellent.


If only I had realized that, while I was lugging my vacuum cleaner up and down the stairs to the accompaniment of Henry Tilney’s witticisms, London Janeites were enjoying the recording in style.


Turns out that for seven hours on July 18 – the Austen bicentenary and the release date of the adaptation – Audible offered free rides through the streets of London in so-called “Austen taxis”: carriages pulled by matched pairs of horses and piloted by coachmen in Georgian dress. (More pictures here.) Along the way, the lucky customers who signed up for these elegant commutes listened to excerpts from the NA adaptation.


Sounds quite lovely, doesn’t it? (Assuming, of course, that your coachman was more Henry Tilney than John Thorpe.) I think I would willingly have traded my clean kitchen floor for a ride in an Austen taxi.


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