December is a joyous month for Janeites. The month includes Jane Austen’s birthday on Dec. 16 and of course Christmas on Dec. 25. Many Austen groups have December celebrations that partake of the holiday spirit. I was fortunate to speak at a December tea in Boise and a dinner in Salt Lake City.
It was my first chance to spend any time in either Western town. My wife and I had the opportunity to wander around both city centers, which were dressed in their best holiday finery. Snow in the mountains around both provided a nice touch, and Christmas trees provided organic ornaments on the hills. The Regency clothing sported by many members made both visits seem like an Austen Christmas card. Author Donna Fletcher Crow and her naval escort in Boise, above by headline, make the point.
Christmas also brought a bounty of Austen gifts. One of them is in front of me as I finish this blog on Dec. 23. This is the date in 1815 when Emma was published. Of the other presents, here are just a few:
Janine Barchas’s new work, The Lost Books of Jane Austen, continues to garner rave reviews. The latest is from respected critic John Mullan, writing in The Guardian. Mullan calls Barchas’s book “a deliciously original study of the cheap editions of Pride and Prejudice and other novels” that casts new light on Austen’s readership. His conclusion: “The lesson of this delicious book is that she was even more popular for even longer with an even greater variety of readers than we ever thought.”
Barchas’s lushly illustrated history shows that it was the many cheap editions that spread Austen’s work, and her fame, throughout the English-reading world. By tracking this “pulp fiction,” produced by decades-old, heavily worn printing plates, The Lost Books of Jane Austen demonstrates that the inexpensive versions of Austen’s books did more to cement her reputation with the general public than all the fancy ones ever could. The book is funny in the right places, academic in the right places, and thoughtful and respectful where the “gritty” lives of the book owners required it to be.
It’s a little late and a little big for a stocking stuffer, but it’s a find—just like the books it describes.
Barchas and another scholar, Devoney Looser, provide another treat. They have edited a special issue produced by the Texas Studies in Literature and Language and Project Muse that will be available free online for the next month. A collection of articles by a range of Austen experts, the issue is titled “What’s Next for Jane Austen?”
Separately, Looser published an article in the Times Literary Supplement about the very first Austen fan fiction, written by an Austen near-contemporary. It’s a hoot.
Another timely article is this one in the New Yorker, “You’ve Probably Never Heard of America’s Most Popular Playwright.” It’s about Lauren Gunderson, writer of the Austen-themed Christmas play Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley. In addition to this seasonal favorite, Gunderson has more plays in production than any other playwright in America. …
Finally, Austen’s birthday brings us its annual bag of goodies from the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA). This is the collection of essays in Persuasions On-Line, which this year covers Northanger Abbey. The collection includes my essay, “The Bridge to Austen’s Mature Works—and More,” which reverse-engineers the novel to determine how it was constructed. My work leads to surprising conclusions about the book that has the double distinction of being both Austen’s first and last completed novel.
Merry Christmas to all!
The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen, which traces love from a charming courtship through the richness and complexity of marriage and concludes with a test of the heroine’s courage and moral convictions, is now complete and available from Amazon and Jane Austen Books.