The Marquess of Queensbury has nothing to do with this

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Several Alert Janeites sent us a link from Salon about the Jane Austen Fight Club video (which has really blown up HUGE) and JA mashups in general. The article was fine, and then the author had to go and drag out that tired old blah blah bonnets blah tea blah dressing up blah crazy cat ladies blah de blah.

Granted, we have a Jane Austen problem. Austen, like Jesus, is most misunderstood and misrepresented by those who claim to love her best. Somehow, a writer regarded by previous generations as among the greatest novelists of all time, widely read by both men and women, has lately been cast in the role of the grandmother of chick lit. Nostalgic fetishists of tea sets, balls, empire-waist gowns and Colin Firth choose to see the milieu of Austen’s novels as a theme park for genteel romance instead of as the unforgiving shark pond it actually was.

So let us get this straight: putting on an Empire-style gown precludes one from “truly understanding” Jane Austen? So what is the appropriate outfit, then? A tweed suit? Jeans and a flannel shirt and Birkenstocks? (We have two-thirds of that outfit already, so we’re hoping for that one.) What are the rules? For this statement implies that there are some rules. To be admitted to the Truly Understands Jane Austen Club, one is not allowed to wear a high-waisted frock or admire a certain British actor? Is it okay to fetishize Matthew Macfadyen, then, or David Rintoul, but not Colin Firth? Really, we just want to know, because we certainly don’t want to break the rules.

We are really weary of the perception that one cannot have fun with our fanship of Jane Austen without being perceived as lightweight or as not understanding her properly. Our notion of fun might be different from someone else’s idea of fun, but it doesn’t shut off some vital portion of the brain that is necessary to understanding Jane Austen. Really, we “get her;” we get her to the extent that we understand she would have wanted us to enjoy her novels first of all.

We’re a Janeite and we’re proud, say it out and say it loud

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Linda Troost is interviewed by KPBS on the monster mash-ups. Most of it is stuff you’ve heard before if you’ve been paying attention, but we must object to a bit at the end:

Well Jane Austen has been an object of adoration for quite a long time. In the very, very early 20th century, there were – she was prescribed reading for shell shocked World War I soldiers and I think partly because of that she became very, very dear to a great many people’s hearts. And, in fact, Rudyard Kipling wrote a story in 1920 called “The Janeites,” which is about a group of World War I soldiers who name all of their guns and cannons after Jane Austen characters and they actually used Jane Austen’s plots as sort of a secret code amongst themselves. It’s particularly funny because the person telling the story is a heavy Cockney and so we’ve got this whole thing being done in Cockney accent. But the term Janeite then gets applied to people who are sort of, you know, up – they’re like Trekkies only for Jane Austen…

CAVANAUGH: Right.

DR. TROOST: …and we still have them with us. And the movies have, I think, made a lot more Janeites.

CAVANAUGH: Yes, but does our obsession with Jane Austen tell us anything about our own culture?

DR. TROOST: Oh, I think a lot of us are very, very escapist. The Jane Austen that the Janeites are interested in is the Jane Austen of the rolling English countryside, its green and pleasant land. The pretty dresses, and the men with their elegant manners. That’s what a lot of people want, that kind of restrained, tasteful, classical, cultured world. That’s not necessarily the Jane Austen that the academic scholar sees, though. What they see there is the person deeply critical of her own society, the roles of women, the roles of men, the power that money plays over people’s lives, the hypocrisy that lies underneath the – a seemingly polished and elegant world. It’s really two different Jane Austens. But Jane Austen can accommodate both of them just perfectly.

Newsflash: Many of us who call ourselves Janeites may not have a lot of initials after our names, and we may enjoy the “green and pleasant land” of England (it’s a very pretty place) and pretty dresses and such, but that doesn’t mean we are incapable of seeing “the person deeply critical of her own society, the roles of women, the roles of men, the power that money plays over people’s lives, the hypocrisy that lies underneath the – a seemingly polished and elegant world.” And many of us bought your stinking book, too. *fondles Cluebat lovingly*