I’m participating this month in the annual event Austen In August, even more full of Jane-goodness this year as it carries on for an entire month instead of its traditional two weeks. I highly recommend stopping by and enjoying the posts, giveaways, read/watch-alongs, and other bits of goodness that Misty, The Book Rat, so beautifully orchestrates, like the roundtable conversations. I have lent my voice to these discussions many times and am always surprised and delighted by the finished product, which is dependably hilarious. This year she asked a bonus question about when we realized we were Janeites. It got me thinking.
I am a proud Janeite. I embrace the term with love because I feel a personal bond with Austen unlike that which I have experienced with any other writer. Her characters are like real people I know. For a while, I thought I was just crazy (not a new revelation), until I began to meet others just as over-the-moon for Jane as myself. When I encounter another Janeite, I recognize them by their eyes: there’s a sparkle, rivaling Lizzy’s, of irrepressible excitement as we begin to talk about the novels. Finding other Janeites, discovering JAFF, and immersing myself in this world brought renewed meaning and purpose to my life at a time when I was feeling pretty lost. Jane Austen and her followers saved me.
OK, yeah, it sounds a little cult-like, but so what? If you look up Janeite on Wikipedia you’ll find a tidy little essay on why and how the term is derisive, cobbled together from the works of Deidre Lynch and Claudia L. Johnson. Should you wish to be assured that being called Janeite is at least better than being called a Trekkie, because it describes an obsessive fascination based on high culture, then it is an excellent read.
(Full disclosure: I’m pretty comfortable with the Trekkie designation, too. Star Trek isn’t as important a part of my like as Austen, but I’m pretty ecstatic to see more of my favorite captain in the newly announced series.)
As I replied to Misty, I became a Janeite long before I knew the term. I was also inspired to write by Austen long before I knew there was a nascent genre dedicated to the same muse. Years ago – I might have it stored on a disk somewhere – I wrote a short story about a woman who had gone completely mad. No one understood that she was talking to a fully visualized Anne Elliot all the time. Thinking back on it, I recognize how lonely and isolated I was in my obsession to have produced such a tale. The Madness of Mr. Darcy, the story’s distant descendant, is a book born of community, for all its darkness. How fortunate I was to have discovered other Janeites, befriended them, and been embraced in return! My latest book, Being Mrs. Bennet (which also traces its roots back to this forgotten story), is about a very capable, not at all crazy Janeite. Here’s how she explains it to Elizabeth:
“Do not be ridiculous. Of course you will still exist, as much as you ever did.”
“Within the pages of a book,” she said deprecatingly.
“And in the minds and hearts of millions of people like me,” Alison assured her.
“Forgive me if I do not find that terribly comforting.”
“Why ever not? You are both immortal and so much more, way beyond anything which we mere readers can even properly conceptualize. In movies and countless sequels, prequels, and complete reimaginations, you all live on.”
Elizabeth lifted a brow. “I have not heard you mention such ongoing adventures before.”
“You would be amazed and probably horrified at some of the scenarios in which you have been cast,” she laughed.
“Can there be anything more wretched than the knowledge of my own unreality? All this” — Elizabeth gestured about her — “is nothing. Meaningless. Does it even matter if you wake up and we all vanish?”
“It matters, Lizzy. You and Darcy matter a great deal.”
“Must everything come back to Darcy?”
“For you? Yes. He is your destiny. Please stop fighting it.”
A great weekend to all!