We find we must speak our opinion most decidedly about this story, which everyone has no doubt seen by now, about well-meaning Janeites (or, one assumes, more properly their family) who have embarked upon a campaign of dumping their loved ones’ ashes, without permission, in the garden at Chawton Cottage.
In an open letter to the Jane Austen Society, collections manager Louise West wrote: ‘While we understand many admirers of Jane Austen would love to have ashes laid here, it is something we do not allow.
‘It is distressing for visitors to see mounds of human ash, particularly so for our gardener. Also, it is of no benefit to the garden!’
“Mounds of human ash?” Mounds of human ash? MOUNDS? We would like to say to anyone who has performed such an action or is contemplating it:
What the Ferrars is wrong with you people?
It’s one thing to discreetly sprinkle a tiny amount of Aunt “Jane’s” earthly remains in the hedgerows, much like Tim McGraw surreptitiously sprinkled a bit of his old man on the mound at Citizens Bank Park whilst throwing out the first ball during the World Series. It’s quite clear from the article that no one at the museum would object to such a tribute (or likely even know about it), and it’s a nice bit of symbolism. But MOUNDS? And without asking permission?
We always defend the wackier manifestations of our fandom to the snooty and humorless Out There, because we know nearly all of it is tongue in cheek and meant in good fun. Hey, we’ve got the action figure, we’ve got the finger puppet, we snark about Team Darcy occasionally but we’re not sitting in some ivory tower wagging our finger at the unwashed hordes disrespecting saintly Jane. We run a BLOG for crying in a bucket. But there is a line and yes, mounds of human remains left in gardens crosses it! Such actions display a level of cluelessness that leaves us quite at a loss.
This sort of behavior leaves your fellow Janeites open to the mockery of the media and the Great Unwashed (two cohorts that no doubt would share a great deal of real estate in a Venn diagram), such as a commentary in the Guardian by Charlotte Higgins:
Anyway, leaving aside the Gardeners’ Question Time minutiae, what on earth is going on here? I like an Austen novel as much as the next person – I probably reread my way through the complete works every couple of years – but I am baffled as to why one would want to be laid to rest among the flowerbeds of Chawton. The only explanation is the currently unstoppable power of the Austen cult, fuelled by Colin Firth in a wet blouse, by Andrew Davies’s adaptations, and by Hollywood. I’m all for enjoying books, but the cult of Austen has reached ridiculous proportions. In a post-feminist world that should know better, she seems to be adored as the comforting provider of romantic, happy-endings nonsense instead of the sharp and acerbic social satirist she deserves to be seen as.
Oh, don’t worry, Charlotte dear. Some of us not only recognize the satire and humor, but revel in it, and even expand upon with things such as a Cluebat of Janeite Righteousness. We use it on lazy, elitist journalists who herd all Janeites into a box and then sneer at us. Our Cluebat, let us show you it.
Naturally we will always defend our fellow Janeites, especially against such unfair, lazy “journalism” as committed in this article, but we can’t prevent it from being written in the first place. And we beg you all, when considering such bright ideas as dumping mounds of human remains in a museum garden not equipped for such things: just think a little. Then go read Jane Austen’s books again, and think some more.
Thanks to the many Alert Janeites who sent us this link, including Lisa, Kirsten, Cate, J. Ganis, and Maria L.