Among the Janeites - Where has this been all my life!
Seriously though, if you like Jane Austen's work at all, this is a book you should pick up. If you will allow me, I'm going to copy a section of my Persuasion review, as it describes how I found Jane Austen's works and how I came to the book.
Jane Austen has always been a study in contrasts for me. I'd read 'classic' literature throughout my childhood, but for some reason, Austen was not one. It was not until high school when I was introduced to her through the films. First came Sense and Sensibility, not bad but somewhat Hollywoodized (even I could tell that and I'd not read the book yet!) I read the book afterward, liked it well enough but for some reason wasn't enthralled - I hope to reread it soon. Then came the Pride and Prejudice mini-series and THAT got my attention!Not, interestingly enough, because of the wet-shirt scene (thanks Among the Janeites! - though it certainly helped ;P), but the language. The words, the turn of phrase, and yes the plot all spoke to me. I immediately found the book and Loved it! The first chapter is still my favorite part of literature, it is so hilariously funny and sarcastic...and yet so proper. I watch the mini-series over and over because it is so wonderful to hear those words spoken aloud in near perfection and almost in their entirety.
However, I never picked up another Austen book. Why? I'm not sure I can entirely explain. Maybe because of the two I tried, only one really spoke to me. Perhaps it has something to do with the knowledge of the finite number of books and the awareness that at the time, I might not appreciate them as I would now. Maybe, a part of me was afraid I wouldn't like another Austen book, and that was something I didn't want to happen at all.
With all Austen meant to me, I'd long wanted to know what she meant to others as well as why her work seems to be at once universal and yet likewise so diverse. Why are there so many fan retellings etc. of her work? Why are her fans, as few others are, drove often to be so...fanatic?
One of the best aspects of this book was Yaffe's look at all the different types of Austen fandom. Do you connect to her solely through her novels? Critically? Do you dress up in Regency attire (or want to)? What kind of Janeite are you?
I can't speak for you, but I can for myself. I told you above how I was introduced to Miss Austen and my thoughts on the novels and movies I've read/seen. Pride and Prejudice is my favorite novel, though Persuasion is becoming a close second. I love her words, her oh so human characters, her sarcasm, and her wit. I love the 1995 P&P mini-series because it does a good job of portraying these (yes, the wet-shirt scene doesn't hurt ;P). I wouldn't dress up (empire waist gowns are evil for my body type), but I'd love to see others do it. I like historical knowledge and critical looks at the text but don't want to lose my passion for her work. And I'm absolutely a reader of the fanfictions that have sprung up around her work! I prefer them to be good and historically accurate, but I can't say no to continuations, retelings...and yes, even give mash ups a go!
I learned a lot from this book...more then I could possibly share. It has shot to near the top of my all time favorite books and I can also claim it as one that has (and will) influence me in my future readings of her work. Not only did it help me take the plunge to read another of her books, but also to really think about sharing my joy in her work. Yes, I'm looking into JASNA! (Jane Austen Society of North America)
I have pages of notes, a long list of books to find and read, and more Austen to experience for the first time. What wealth!
So, was my question answered? Maybe. I do agree with Yaffe; Austen has a complexity within her simplicity that causes you to see her through facets. We see ourselves and what we know reflected back at us. These simple, lovely tales open a world to us, one we seem to know because we're allowed to bring some of ourselves along.
And so I end with the toast to Miss Austen:
"Jane lies in Winchester, blessed be her shade!
Praise the Lord for making her, and her for all she made.
And while the stones of Winchester - or Milson St. - remain,
Glory, Love, and Honour unto England's Jane!"
~Rudyard Kipling from the poem 'Jane's Marriage'