A witty expedition into the wilds of Austen City Limits, where there’s no such thing as being too obsessed with the author of Pride and Prejudice.
Although barely known in her lifetime, the works of Jane Austen (1775–1817) were so popular within a century of her death that the term “Janeite” was coined to describe a devoted fan. Yaffe (Other People's Children: The Battle for Justice and Equality in New Jersey's Schools, 2007) explores the dimensions of modern Jane-o-mania, her own included. There’s the Jane Austen Society of North America, whose members (Yaffe among them) spend months acquiring just the right Regency gown for the annual gala. There are regular visitors to the Republic of Pemberley website who argue the finer points of Mansfield Park well into the wee hours. We meet Cisco Systems co-founder Sandy Lerner, who spent $20 million of her buyout money on the purchase and renovation of Austen’s Chawton House in England. We also meet readers who simply love the stories, fan-fiction writers (some quite successful) who indulge them, and serious academics who loathe both. On the other extreme are people who read too much between the lines, like the full-time explicator who sees every Austen novel as a labyrinth of subtle clues, disclosing a “shadow story” of family abuse beneath the surface romance. Others similarly create Austen in their own image: A nurse practitioner sees “borderline personality disorder” in the female characters; a speech pathologist thinks Mr. Darcy has mild autism. For Yaffe and others, there’s a constant tug of war between sharing Jane with the world and keeping her for one’s self.
Yaffe honors her hero throughout: a smart reader and a shrewd but sympathetic judge of character who knows that Austenophilia has its own laws of attraction.