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Of the Jane-ite persuasion
If it helps, you can think of Jane Austen as a literary rockstar — like Elvis, if Elvis were a woman and an author. And English. And had lived in the early 18th century.
OK, so the metaphor breaks down some, but it's like this: while Jane-ites — the name given to hard-core Austen fans — aren't bidding for vials of her sweat, or traveling to see Austen impersonators in Vegas (how would that work?), and none of them (hopefully) thinks she's still alive, her work and her life continue to inspire throngs of rabid followers long after her death.
“We just celebrated her 234th birthday,” says Carrie Flores, and that certainly sounds fanatic.
A self-described Jane-ite, Flores is the coordinator of the Jane Austen Society of North America, Central Valley California Region, a group that celebrates and informs people about Austen through lectures, book discussions and the like and, this weekend will host JaneFest, a day-long dedication to all things Austen.
The event — 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. May 8 at the St. Paul Newman Center in Fresno — is the only one of its kind on the West Coast and will feature a noon-time tea, a lecture from noted Austen scholar Juliet McMaster, another on Regency-era costuming and a Grand Regency Ball. Yes, it's an opportunity to play dress up, Flores says — she will be there in period garb — but mostly it's designed to let Austen fans know they are not alone.
“We're calling the the Jane-ites out,” Flores says.
“We're smoking them out of the cracks and crevices.”
They shouldn't be hard to find. Austen is a hot commodity, says Sharon Lathan, a Hanford-based author who's Dacy Saga series takes up where Pride and Prejudice, left off. This is the happily-ever-after part, Lathan says.
Austen is way, way more popular now then she was during her life.
Aside from reprintings of her books, there have been numerous film adaptations — Sense and Sensibility, Emma and Pride and Prejudice, not to mention Becoming Jane, The Jane Austen Bookclub and whatever the BBC has done. Then, there's fan fiction, like Lathan's series and a certain zombie-inspired thing that was on the New York Times best-seller list. Flores hasn't brought herself to read that one yet. But she owns it.
So, Austen's work is not just for academics and is more than just romantic fluff, Flores says. First, Austen is a brilliant study of character — the relationships she created are believable and relatable, even now. She's also a fabulous writer, witty and sarcastic with a beautiful command of the language, Lathan says.
It's exciting to see her work brought into the modern world. Which is the idea behind the Jane Austen Society and events like JaneFest.
Of course, like an auction of Elvis memorabilia, it probably a nice show of force, too.
“It's wonderful to hang out with people who love Jane Austen, who understand the craziness,” Lathan says.