Thursday, September 12, 2013

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Among the Janeites : A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom by Deborah Yaffe -- Non-Fiction

In this slim volume, Deborah Yaffe muses on what Jane Austen means to the many Janeites, herself included. The book begins with Deborah Yaffe's own personal journey to writing this book, from her childhood spent sneaking classic novels onto the playground at recess and a visit to Chawton as a teen to the tarot card that told her to write this book. She also discusses her first foray into period costuming in preparation for the JASNA AGM in 2011. The final chapter in the first section tells of Sandy Lerner's journey from wealthy book collector to founder of the Chawton House Library. The second section is about writers and how they connect to Jane Austen. There's Linda Berdoll, author of steamy Pride and Prejudice sequels and Pamela Aidan, who used Jane Austen to escape an abusive marriage and found her own Mr. Darcy in the process. Then there are those with outlandish theories such as the one where Mrs. Austen and Mrs. Bennet are suffering from borderline personality disorder, or the theory that Mr. Darcy has autism and that's why he finds social situations difficult. The most outrageous idea germinates from a man who believes there are "shadow stories" behind the novels revealing a secret world of vice that no one has been clever enough to figure out until now. The third section details the founding of the Jane Austen Society of North America and the explosion of Austenania in the 1990s and early 2000s. Deborah Yaffe also discusses the Austen listservs, blogs and the Republic of Pemberley. If you follow or post on any of those, you may be interested in reading about their founders and the history of those sites. Yaffe examines the divide between academics who look for scholarly discussion and the fans who love dressing up in costume, sipping tea and discussing which Austen hero they would like to marry. Yaffe muses on the days before it was cool to like Jane Austen and the small, cozy community Janeites once were. She's a little wistful, wishing for the simpler time but acknowledges that dancing can be as much fun as scholarly discussion. I personally like both. I studied literature as an undergraduate, library and information studies and history as a graduate student so I can certainly hold my own in an academic discussion, but I also love tea parties and period costumes. I do understand how she feels though, having been part of fandoms from the beginning before the explosion of popularity made a once close-knit community into something too large to fathom. I liked reading the stories behind some of my favorite fan-fiction and blogs. I enjoyed reading about the different things Jane Austen means to different people. Most importantly, states Yaffe, Jane Austen serves as a reflection of ourselves. This book is a short, easy read for those who love Jane Austen and her world. I appreciate the lengths Ms. Yaffe went through for her research to make this book entertaining and fun when it could be dense and dull. 

Mrs. Jeffries On the Ball by Emily Brightwell -- Victorian Mystery

The members of the Hyde Park Literary Circle have nothing in common. A few joined because of a genuine love for literature, but many joined to gossip about the others. They come together along with other guests for ball honoring Queen Victoria's Jubilee. Even Inspector Witherspoon attends the ball with the lovely Lady Cannonberry. When one of the guests falls of the terrace with a knife in her back, Inspector Witherspoon is stuck with the case. His investigation is thwarted by lying suspects out to protect themselves and their loved ones but luckily, the servants are on the job. First, though, they must deal with the Inspector's demanding cousin who is staying for the Jubilee. Once they concoct a plan to get her out of the way, they will be free to go on their way to solve the crime. They uncover despicable secrets about the members of the Literary Society but how can they tell the Inspector what they know? I'm reading this series out of order but I wanted to go back and meet Lady Cannonberry who sounds like an amazing woman. This story touches on the attitudes towards women at the time and how they were ever so slightly changing. I really liked that because it helped create the period setting. Also, the descriptions of the Jubilee celebrations created a picture of late nineteenth century London. This story also deals with mental health issues and treatment of them and attitudes towards. I liked the mystery but there were so many characters to keep track of and it didn't help that sometimes a character was called by a first name and another time they were Mr. or Mrs. or Miss last name. I wasn't totally surprised at the reveal. I guessed the clue that would solve the mystery right away when it was presented. Inspector Jeffries actually managed not to bungle this one. He didn't really need the servants but Mrs. Jeffries figured it out for him in the end. The servants managed to be slightly more interesting than in later books. Their personalities are developing from this point forward. I plan to read more of this series because it's a nice, pleasant diversion.

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