This is an important year for fans of Mary Shelley, it being the 200th anniversary of the publication of her most famous novel, Frankenstein. There will be plenty of books published this year which centre on the book and on the author herself, but one that’s caught our eye is Pride and Prometheus by John Kessel.
In the original novel, Victor Frankenstein and his friend Henry Clerval run away to England and Scotland when the creature they have made demands that they make a mate for him. In Pride and Prometheus, Kessel has the pair meet Mary Bennet, the bookish and often slighted Bennet sister, who is portrayed in the novel as a keen amateur scientist who is fascinated by Frankenstein’s ideas. (Mr Darcy and Lizzy Bennet also make an appearance but it is fleeting).
Naturally the creature has followed Frankenstein and Clerval on their escape, and it’s not too long before the Bennet family is mixed up in the melodrama of the Frankenstein saga.
As book fusions go, this one is done exceedingly well, and has much that will delight fans of Austen and Shelley alike, especially if the tongue-in-cheek mockery of gothic novels in Northanger Abbey was something you enjoyed.
When she was nineteen, Miss Mary Bennet had believed three things that were not true. She believed that, despite her awkwardness, she might become interesting through her accomplishments. She believed that, because she paid strict attention to all she had been taught about right and wrong, she was wise in the ways of the world. And she believed that God, who took note of every moment of one’s life, would answer prayers, even foolish ones.
Ted Scheinman, author and son of an Austen scholar, has just published his book Camp Austen: My Life as an Accidental Jane Austen Superfan, which combines clandestine journalism with charmingly frank memoir, and academic savvy with insider knowledge.
Ted spent a year and a half “in the world of Jane Austen fandom” to try and find out what being a “Janeite” involves and why Austen has such an appeal. Among other things, he went to Jane Austen Summer Camp (better know as the Jane Austen Summer Program [more on that later]), attended the meetings of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA), and followed the Austen trail around the world – sometimes wearing a topcoat, cravat and breeches to do it.
Essentially the book is dedicated to exploring the public perception of Janeites from the inside (at times somewhat like David Attenborough observing a family unit in the Serengeti). It sounds a bit strange, but it’s been done in an affectionate way:
The first steps to infiltrate any secret society are simple: learn the language, make friends, strive to approximate the dress code. Eventually, if you’re lucky, you will set them at their ease, even gain their trust. Then you write about them, of course, a betrayal that you hope earnestly they will forgive.
He also looks briefly at where the term Jane-ite came from, who coined it, and who the first ones to be given the term were.
Rudyard Kipling actually predicted the Jane Austen Society nearly a century ago, in a 1924 short story called “The Janeites,” about a group of English soldiers who read Austen together while fighting in the First World War, and who use quotations from the novels as passwords and mantras, indicating membership among the elect.
An interesting read, and quite probably a very good one for anyone who has a friend or relative who is a Janeite and doesn’t understand “what all the fuss is about”.
If you’ll be in Bath, or can get to Bath, on May 13th this year, then you might be interested in this event which is taking place as part of this year’s Bath Festival.
The event is called Jane Austen Rated. It is a joint event from the Times Literary Supplement and Bath Festival. In the hour-long debate, Michael Caines and special guests will pay tribute to Austen and discuss which of her books should be considered the best when ranked.
Do the subtle charms of Persuasion outrank the dazzling wit of Pride and Prejudice? Has Mansfield Park ever got the attention it deserves? Is Emma Woodhouse the most fully realised heroine in Jane Austen’s canon?
This is all in the pursuit of fun and of championing Austen’s work of course. There is no way you could comprehensively declare that one Jane Austen book is of more merit than another. Could you…?
Tickets are available here.
(N.B. To avoid any confusion we hasten to add that this is not Michael Caine the actor, but rather Michael Caines from the Times Literary Supplement, editor of an anthology of plays by 18th-century women, and editor of a book-in-progress about the 18th-century actor David Garrick!)
The Jane Austen Summer Program, which takes place each year at the University of North Carolina (and features in Ted’s Camp Austen) has had the same idea as Kessel, of combining the works of Austen and Shelley in honour of the 200th anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein. With this thought in mind, the theme for the program this year will be Northanger Abbey and Frankenstein: 200 Years of Horror.
The sixth annual event will take place between June 14th and 17th in Carrboro and Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and will include English afternoon tea, a Regency masquerade ball, Austen-inspired theatricals, talks from expert speakers, and discussion groups on the gothic-inspired novels.
Both Austen in Northanger Abbey and Shelley in Frankenstein react eloquently to the gothic taste in literature and have similar commentary on the frightening results of the French Revolution. Bringing the authors’ works together will allow us to explore their revolutionary legacy, both in terms of literary innovation and social change.
We especially like the logo they’ve made for the event.
As quite a few of you (and not just the most ardent of ardent Janeites either, but many visitors to the Centre who had only a vague interest in Jane) were delighted to hear that Jane Austen would be on the new £10 note, we thought that this latest release from the Royal Mint could be of note for you. No pun intended.
The Royal Mint have decided to release an A-Z collection of 10p pieces celebrating what makes Britain great. The new coins will be released across the country over the next few weeks and a new “great British coin hunt” app has been created allowing people to build up a digital collection of the coins they find.
The A-Z of the coins is:
A – Angel of the North
B – Bond…James Bond
C – Cricket
D – Double Decker Bus
E – English Breakfast
F – Fish & Chips
G – Greenwich Mean Time
H – Houses of Parliament
I – Ice-Cream Cone
J – Jubilee
K – King Arthur
L – Loch Ness Monster
M – Mackintosh
N – National Health Service
O – Oak Tree
P – Post Box
Q – Queuing
R – Robin
S – Stonehenge
T – Teapot
U – Union Flag
V – Village
W – World Wide Web
X – X Marks the Spot
Y – Yeoman
Z – Zebra Crossing
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