The Many Lovers of Miss Jane Austen


Amanda VickeryWe’re a little late getting to this but after all as we’re on the Wrong Side of the Pond we shouldn’t have seen it at all. We have, from time to time, received interesting television transmissions via our dental work. That’s our story and we’re stickin’ to it. If anyone asks, blame it on La Niña.

Anyway, in late December the BBC broadcast The Many Lovers of Miss Jane Austen, featuring historian Amanda Vickery discussing the fans of Jane Austen over the 200 years since her first book was published, including attendees at the Jane Austen Festival in Bath and the JASNA AGM in Fort Worth, Texas. Considering some of the pre-broadcast hype for this program, it was way less cringeworthy than we expected, and in some places really quite interesting. We were concerned that there would be an aspect of “oh, look at the funny Jane Austen people all dressed up in their bonnets,” but Vickery made it clear that she has definite fangirl tendencies of her own. She didn’t go Full Bonnet, but she did insert herself in the Wet Shirt Scene, which we would frankly find way more embarrassing, mainly because it’s just so obvious.

While we enjoyed the program, and it was wonderful to see so many of our JASNA friends and acquaintances (and yes, that was the Editrix at about 50 minutes, engaging in one of her favorite activities besides reading Jane Austen–crocheting), overall the program struck us as being directed more at the Muggles than to the more knowledgeable Jane Austen fans. Most of the information in the program was not new to engaged Janeites. Vickery came off as a teeny bit of a Muggle herself, though that could have been for dramatic effect. “I’ve never seen a Jane Austen manuscript before,” she gushed at one point. It’s hard to tell if she meant she had never seen one in person and had the opportunity to handle it; but there are several Austen manuscripts right there in the British Library’s Treasures room, where any plebe off the street can ogle them. However, they are behind glass, and of course it’s a different experience to handle one.

Anyway, enough of our whinging. The show was a fun diversion for an hour and not meant to be taken terribly seriously. So, here’s the good stuff:

  • The video of the auction of the “The Watsons” manuscript was great! The guy from the Bodleian seemed really determined to get it–he kept bidding fearlessly. To the victor go the spoils! It was also funny to see Vickery quietly freaking out in the audience as the bids rocketed past the estimate.
  • The outdoor production of Sense and Sensibility looked like good fun. The audience was enjoying it, the actors were enjoying it, it looked like a nice summer evening. Oh, and Willoughby was hot.
  • Yay for interviewing John Mullan, the most Tilneyish Austen scholar we’ve ever met. That is a very sincere compliment.

Here’s the not-bad-but-not-really-good-either stuff:

  • At Althorp, they left out the end of Lady Bessborough’s quote, in which she wrote, “tho’ it (S&S) ends stupidly I was much amus’d by it.” We disagree, of course.
  • It should be pointed out that Jane Austen’s funeral being “sparsely attended” has no significance. It was entirely appropriate that her funeral was attended mostly by her male relatives. Women rarely attended funerals in those days.
  • Did they really have to drag the Brontës into it? At least they used Henry Tilney as an antidote, though he was slightly misquoted.
  • We have a different reading of the creaking door thing. Vickery and Kathryn Sutherland considered it part of the “Sweet Aunt Jane” trope–that she didn’t want anyone to know she was writing because she was ashamed–but we think Jane Austen probably just didn’t want to discuss her writing with every morning-caller, or anyone outside her trusted circle–mostly Cassandra, and expanded slightly to her nearest relatives and friends. Remember the “opinions” Jane collected about her writing. Imagine having these contributors right there in the sitting-room, offering these erudite opinions, during the writing process! And then being all butthurt when their suggestions aren’t taken! (We wish more Austen scholars would look at things from a fiction writer’s point of view. Might eliminate some of the over-thinking.)

There were also some shots of the AGM pre-ball promenade through the streets of Forth Worth. The promenade was a blast, for a reason that possibly was lost on the Brits: it was the night that the Texas Rangers won the American League championship and got into the World Series. Drunk, happy people poured out of the bars onto the humid streets of Forth Worth and discovered there was already a parade going on! With people in funny costumes! Some took photos and video, some fell into step with us, or called out, with complete sincerity and genuine curiosity, questions such as, “Are y’all from the Ren Faire?” It was hilarious and so much fun. Thanks for the good time, baseball fans of Forth Worth. Sorry we took Cliff Lee away (not really).

So, was this worth waiting for? 😉 Tomorrow, we’ll review the Lost Portrait of Jane Austen program, which also was delivered courtesy of La Niña, and that we found way more interesting than we thought it would be.

2 thoughts on “The Many Lovers of Miss Jane Austen

  1. Hi Mags good to see you back posting. I saw this programme when it was aired first here. I enjoyed it and it was probably aimed at somebody like me who didn’t know the full story. I learned something anyway. All the Leavis thing etc etc I found fascinating.

    Also I fell in love with our Amanda when she did that first series of hers At Home With The Georgians. She tried some of her sexy looks too but I didn’t find her so appealing this time. It was as though she was trying to put it on, which of course she was.

    However, from our side of the pond the excessive commercialisation (that’s the way we see it) bit at Fort Worth and the twee home spun products stuff etc made us ever so slightly cringe. I’m sorry but it’s probably a Brit thing. I know it happens here too but on a much smaller scale and I think we try to hide it. Guilty pleasures and all that.

    But as an over view of how her fame has waxed and waned and the driving forces behind it was good, for me anyway.

    Hope you are well and great to see you back.


    PS Only just discovered that our Amanda has cut a swathe through American universities during her bright shining career not just London Universities and Cambridge etc.


    • Tony, I will say that the “commercialization” wasn’t as rampant at the AGM as they made it look. The vendors were mostly JASNA regions trying to raise a little money for their member activities. Jane Austen Books was there (they showed Amanda showing off the books) and some other professional vendors, but it wasn’t like a Star Trek convention where there is a giant convention center full of vendors. The vendors were in two small rooms, away from the main action–you had to actively seek them out. Most of the activities of the AGM are quite tweedy and academic, to be honest (here’s the schedule). The Andrew Davies talk was a big exception, and of course that’s the only thing they filmed. They were definitely looking for the more ridiculous aspects of the Austen fandom, and highlighted them. We went to a couple of breakouts that were active and enjoyable and had nothing to do with commercialization. I did find it a teeny big cringeworthy myself (and quite unfair in the main, though of course we DID get a thong in our gift bag) but compared to the publicity for the program(me), it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

      I was contacted last year by a producer for a reality show that looks at subcultures, asking me for background info on Janeites. We were compared to furries. (Google it. Might not be work-safe. Definitely not brain-safe.) I declined the honour, needless to say. It’s one thing when Bravo is doing it, but one doesn’t really expect that sort of sensationalism for the sake of it from Auntie Beeb.


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