Almost eight years ago, I found myself in the Royal Crescent in Bath, dressed in a crimson gown, coiffed with a bonnet and clutching a reticule. I was surrounded by gentlemen in breeches and cravats, ladies in gowns in all the colours of the rainbow, the odd militia officer and children in Regency attire running around. The crowd was a sea of top hats, feathered turbans, straw bonnets and dainty parasols, while the master of ceremonies tried to maintain some semblance of order. The occasion was the legendary Grand Promenade, part of the Jane Austen festival, which takes place every September. I was over the moon, yet bewildered: it was a scene that, just a few months earlier, I could have never imagined witnessing.
For years, my love of Austen had the taint of a dark secret. I was an avid (re)reader of Jane Austen’s works, and knew the places and characters in her books as intimately as if they were real. I also watched the film adaptations with much enthusiasm, cheering (or booing) the different casting choices for my favourite heroines. Unfortunately, none of my many friends and family shared my interest. They were used to seeing me read my dog-eared Penguin Classics volumes but thought that it was all down to a general love of English literature. I suspected that if they knew the real extent of my Austenesque obsession, they would be slightly taken aback, so I kept it to myself.
Then I moved to Edinburgh, Scotland, a beautiful city steeped in history and with a magical castle in its midst, and everything changed. It all started harmlessly enough. To meet new people, I joined a book group, and quickly bonded with the other members over a shared love of Austen’s novels and Colin Firth’s rendering of Mr Darcy. My new friends also introduced me to the world of Jane Austen adaptations, variations and continuations, and I devoured all the ones I could get hold of. For the first time in my life, my love of all things Austen was out in the open, and joyfully so. It was a revelation to realise that I was part of something much greater than I could ever imagine.
Some time later, when a fellow book group member suggested going to Bath for the Jane Austen festival, I immediately said yes. The experience was just perfect. I remember loving every minute of our trip, having wonderful conversations with people from the farthest-flung corners of the planet, and smiling so much that my cheeks hurt. But the best bit was realising that I was surrounded by men and women who cared as much about Jane Austen as I did.
Looking back, I believe that it was on that magical occasion that I decided that I would one day pen my own Austen continuations. But what I treasure the most from the day is the warm, happy feeling that came with spending time with like-minded souls. It is a feeling I have experienced in subsequent Janeite gatherings, as well as online, in places such as the wonderful Austen Authors community. I consider myself incredibly fortunate: what I felt in Bath is very much present in my life. I have found my tribe. I am a Janeite.
What’s your story? How did you become a Janeite? Tell us below.
The giveaway will run from May 12 through May 17, 2018 and will close a midnight EDST on May 17. Winners will be announced on Sunday, May 20.