Today, December 16, is the birthday of Jane Austen. This year also marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Austen’s first novel, Sense and Sensibility. Though a classic, S & S has somewhat permeated the pop culture, as have all of Austen’s novels. Just like there are Trekkies and fanboys, there is a group of discriminating and elevated bibliophiles (ok pretty much every woman who reads) that are dedicated to all things Austen: the Janeites. Some scholars look askance at Janeitism, which Princeton professor Claudia Johnson derides as “the self-consciously idolatrous enthusiasm for ‘Jane’ and every detail relative to her.” But, as someone who has reread all of Austen’s novels several times (yes, even Mansfield Park), I do understand this fervor and frustration at the finite amount of Jane.
The Janeite phenom has spawned a burgeoning industry of Austenalia—riffs and takeoffs in print and on screen. Many of which, alas, are abysmal. Just as Star Wars fanboys might while away a Friday night watching the Clone Wars on the Cartoon Network, so will Janeites devour all sorts of faux sequels with cringe-worthy titles such as Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife or (if this can possibly be believed) Fitzwilliam Darcy: Rock Star. But this season, Janeites can rejoice in two new delightful derivatives that are above and beyond the usual dross that is fobbed on us. (Christmas-list makers take note!)
Jane Austen Made Me Do It, ed by by Laurel Ann Nattress is an outstanding collection of short stories by writers who have decided to take the lack of Austen into their own hands. Also, Death Comes to Pemberley, by the inimitable PD James. The mystery maven offers a paean to Austen’s characters and writing style, but still imbues the novel with her trademark atmospheric suspense. I will follow up with blogs about each of these, but both are wonderfully satisfying.
Finally, must give a shout-out to Advent with Austen, in which a lovely group of Janeites are reading and blogging about Jane all month. They also have a twitter feed: #AWAusten. If you haven’t read Sense and Sensibility (seriously, you need to) then you can join in their group read.
So happy birthday to Jane and happy holidays to all the Janeites out there!