Deborah Yaffe

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By Deborah Yaffe, Jul 4 2019 01:00PM

On this holiday of freedom from tyranny, including the tyranny of conventional expectations, it seems appropriate to spend a moment admiring the calm, unembarrassed self-assurance of Zack MacLeod Pinsent, a twenty-five-year-old Brit who dresses in Georgian clothing every minute of every day, without so much as a JASNA meeting for excuse.


Most of us were introduced to Pinsent last week, when the BBC posted a two-and-a-half-minute story that included footage of him boarding the New York City subway attired in a cream-colored top hat, cravat, flowered waistcoat, linen jacket and trousers, and black slippers.


Apparently, Pinsent’s unruffled aplomb – or perhaps his elegant dishiness and Downtown Abbey accent – has widespread appeal. As of a few days ago, the piece had been viewed 2.6 million times on Twitter, and Pinsent’s count of Instagram followers had ballooned from 35,400 to 231,000.


“Wearing what I wear, it makes you feel ten feet high,” Pinsent told the BBC. “It’s a huge confidence-builder.”


Pinsent, who says he taught himself to sew and burned his last pair of jeans at the age of fourteen, runs a tailoring business making bespoke period clothing for men and women using historically accurate materials and techniques. He specializes in the Georgian and Regency eras, and although the BBC story doesn’t mention a Jane Austen link, his Instagram seems to include photos taken during the annual Austen festivals in both Bath and Louisville, as well as at events with the Jane Austen Pineapple Appreciation Society.


Pinsent’s website does not list prices (money: so common!), but it’s pretty clear that they are high. (“If you want cheap, go elsewhere. If you want correct and well-tailored, then come here,” reads one testimonial from a satisfied customer.) Still, it’s not hard to imagine that attending the next JASNA ball in an original Pinsent will become a marker of Janeite status.


By Deborah Yaffe, Jan 1 2018 02:00PM

Once upon a time, Jane Austen was a British writer. But today, she’s an international phenomenon, with fan societies on at least five continents. As 2018 dawns, herewith an entirely unscientific and incomplete sampling of a few of the places Austen will turn up this year, as fans mark the sort-of bicentennials of Austen’s last two published novels:


* In a bookstore in Islamabad, where members of the Jane Austen Society of Pakistan will convene to discuss Austenistan, their newly released collection of Austen-inspired stories set in contemporary Pakistan.

January 11


* In a nineteenth-century town hall in Salem, Massachusetts, where Regency dance enthusiasts will celebrate at a Jane Austen Ball.

February 17


* In a Baroque palace in Ansbach, Germany, where yet more dancing will take place at Der Grosse Jane Austen Ball.

April 7


* In a building called “the Dutch Versailles,” where Austen’s fans in the Netherlands will celebrate the bicentenary of Persuasion with still another ball.

May 12


(Which should not be confused with the Gothic ball being held in a suburban London church a week later to celebrate the bicentenary of Northanger Abbey.

May 19)


* At a women’s university in Tokyo, where the Jane Austen Society of Japan will hold its twelfth annual convention.

June 30


* In the capital of Australia, Canberra, where the country’s Jane Austen Society will hold a weekend-long conference on the bicentenary of Persuasion.

July 6-8


* On streets where Austen herself once walked, as Georgian-costumed revelers parade through Bath, England, during the annual Jane Austen Festival.

September 14-23


Here's hoping that this year you find a dance, a tea, a conference, an exhibition, a festival -- or even just a conversation -- about Jane Austen somewhere near you.


By Deborah Yaffe, Jan 2 2017 02:00PM

Happy new year, Janeites! For us fans of Jane Austen, 2017 is a big year, the biggest since – well, since 2013, when we celebrated the bicentenary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice, still Austen’s most popular work.


This year, we have an altogether more melancholy occasion to mark – the two hundredth anniversary of Austen’s death, on July 18, 1817, at the all-too-young age of forty-one. (Depending how you count, it may also be the bicentenary of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, published together in a three-volume set that appeared in December 1817 with a title-page publication date of 1818.)


Across the planet, and especially in Austen’s home country of England, Austen fans will celebrate her life and mourn her death at balls, exhibits, lectures, conferences and festivals. Our shelves will creak under the weight of Austen-related books published to coincide with the anniversary. And in Britain, wallets will fill up with Austen-embellished currency. We may even get to see a new Austen movie.


An unscientific, and undoubtedly incomplete, sampling of what’s ahead:

By Deborah Yaffe, Jul 7 2016 01:00PM

As summer weeks go, the week ahead is looking pretty good for Jane Austen fans:


* Tomorrow and Saturday, the Janeites of Port Alberni, in British Columbia, will gather for a Jane Austen festival that will include, along with Austen readings and a ball, the now-obligatory effort to break the Guinness World Record for Largest Gathering of People Dressed in Regency Costumes. "People that have not dragged their sewing machine out for ten or fifteen years are doing so," one organizer told a journalist.


The record is currently held by the Jane Austen Festival in Bath, England, which set the original mark (409) in 2009, saw the title briefly snatched away in July 2014 by the Jane Austen Festival in Louisville, Kentucky, and then regained it two months later by assembling a duly attired crowd of 550. (Although it’s not clear whether Guinness ever recognized the 2014 results for either Bath or Louisville: The Guinness website still lists the original record.)


* A red-eye flight from Vancouver might get you out of Port Alberni in time to catch Sunday’s Picnic Day at the most beloved of Austen sites, Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton. An early-music group called Madding Crowd – wrong author, but still – will perform. And when else will you get to picnic in Jane Austen’s garden?


* Don’t pack away that gown you wore in Port Alberni just yet, because the Louisville Jane Austen Festival starts next Friday and runs all weekend. By all accounts, it’s lots of fun – and, as I noted in a blog last month, the scones are likely to be delicious.


By Deborah Yaffe, May 25 2015 01:00PM

Was Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy always seen as the quintessential romantic icon, even in that misty prehistoric time known as B.C. (Before Colin)? By now, the question is moot: Darcy = Swoonworthy Hero, and that’s all there is to it.


Thus it is that the Jane Austen Festival in Bath, England, is now offering a delightful prize to any Janeite with an eloquent pen: a one-night, mid-September stay at an elegant Bath hotel, a cream tea at the Jane Austen Centre, and a pair of tickets to the festival’s costume promenade.


All it takes to win is a 250-word essay on “What makes him Mr. Darcy” – the “him” being “a hero in your life.” No reason this couldn’t be grandpa, Uncle Joe or your favorite high school teacher, I suppose, but somehow I doubt that’s whom most of the entrants will have in mind. To quote Mr. Knightley, “Brother and sister! no, indeed!” (The contest rules also state that the Darcy nominee "must be personally known" to the contest entrant, so no choosing George Clooney.)


As far as I can tell from the web site, you have to provide your own transportation to Bath, not to mention your own Regency costume for the promenade, so for American Janeites, this may end up being one of those prizes that’s cheaper not to win. But if you have a Mr. Darcy in your life, here’s your chance to pay him tribute.


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