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Between the Lines: Jane Austen in San Diego

| May 1, 2013 | 0 Comments
Jane Austen Society members take high tea.

Jane Austen Society members take high tea.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of “Pride and Prejudice,” and the calendar of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) lists events occurring worldwide almost every day of the year—readings and discussions, teas and banquets, plays and movies, Regency costume parties and dances, countless “Jane Days.”

For San Diego Austen fans the news is that a local chapter of JASNA has been revived and now meets regularly at the House of England in Balboa Park. Started as a North County reading group 15 years ago, it was long dormant until reborn, appropriately, with a celebration of Austen’s 237th birthday last December.

Already a card-carrying JASNA member, I attended my first local meeting in February after chatting with Jeanne Talbot, the San Diego Regional Coordinator. A friend and I got acquainted with this lively and diverse group of “Janeites” over tea and cakes. This meeting’s discussion topic was sequels and spinoffs of “Pride and Prejudice.”

There are lots of them—Wikipedia’s “List of Literary Adaptations of Pride and Prejudice” includes 73 authors and 166 works—ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous, from worthy efforts and respectful homages to crazy spoofs and trashy bodice-rippers. I wouldn’t dare to venture which is which, knowing the truth in the saying that one person’s trash is another’s treasure.

Participants sampled widely from the teeming pool and reported on their findings. A few of the more popular ones —“Bridget Jones’s Diary” and “The Jane Austen Book Club” — were made into films, capitalizing on the huge success of the “Pride and Prejudice” mini-series with Colin Firth as the dashing Darcy and the 2005 movie with Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennett as well as new movie versions of the other five Austen novels.

The first sequel of an Austen novel was “Old Friends and New Fancies” by Sybil Brinton, published in 1913, the 100 year anniversary of “Pride and Prejudice.” On the opposite end of the spectrum are “Jane Austen in Boca,” the story set in a Jewish retirement community in Florida and the cult hit, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” One that generated animated discussion both pro and con was P.D. James’ “Death Comes to Pemberley,” which I read and wrote about here last year.

Cranked out over just a couple of years, “The Pemberley Chronicles” is a 10-volume series by Rebecca Ann Collins, a pseudonym for an author who chooses not to reveal her or his true identity. And among the more provocative titles are” Pride and Prejudice – The Wild and Wanton Edition,” Austen’s novel impregnated with racy sex scenes, and “Prawn and Prejudice,” a seaside saga.

One that piqued my interest and proved to be an entertaining read was “Jane Austen Ruined My Life” by Beth Padillo. An American scholar goes to England in search of Austen’s missing letters, the ones her sister Cassandra supposedly burned after her death. She’s wooed by the “Formidables,” a secret society of devoted Janeites, who entice her with a few sample letters and send her on a sort of Austenish scavenger hunt to prove she’s worthy of their cache.

As you can see, JASNA members aren’t snobs or purists, looking down their noses at these efforts. Quite the contrary, Jane Austen readers are enthusiastic about anything that might bring people to appreciate Austen’s writing, its keen insights and biting wit, and what Jeanne Talbot describes as Austen’s “amazing ability to understand underlying motivations, individual and group psychology.” Jeanne expressed the common sentiment: “I hope that the knockoffs get people to read the books.”

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