Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Page 69: Camp Austen: My Life as an Accidental Jane Austen Superfan

Disclaimer: The Page 69 Test is not mine. It has been around since 2007, asking authors to compare page 69 against the meat of the actual story it is a part of. I loved the whole idea of it and so I'm stealing it specifically to showcase small press titles - novels, novellas, short story collections, the works! So until the founder of The Page 69 Test calls a cease and desist, let's do this thing....

In this installment of Page 69, 

We put Ted Scheinman's Camp Austen: My Life as an Accidental Jane Austen Superfan to the test

Set up page 69 for us. What are we about to read?

This is from the second chapter, and it picks up partway through a visual survey of the Jane Austen Society of North America's public market at the society's annual summit. In film terms, what you're seeing here is a portion of a tracking shot.

What is Camp Austen about?

It's a reported work of narrative nonfiction, all about the rhapsodic (and occasionally riotous) world of Jane Austen superfans. The book also doubles as a family memoir: Austen is very important to my mother's side of the family, and I use these family reflections to illuminate the larger world of Austen enthusiasts. I also offer short analyses of Austen's novels, and of her biography, that help explain why so many readers find themselves singularly drawn to Austen. A lot of Austen conferences are like a big party among a boisterous extended family, and I want readers to enjoy eavesdropping on the party as much as possible.

Do you think this page is a good reflection of the book overall? Does it align itself with the book's overall theme?

I think it does! You see most of the book's concerns here: the flirting, the crowdsourced costume advice, the radical democracy of the fan-fiction world, the sheer characters who inhabit this universe dedicated to Jane (“Stone Cold Jane Austen”!). Also, Janeites place a charmingly serious emphasis on apparent trivia, and I think we get a flavor of that on the page in question (furled vs. unfurled umbrellas, etc.). This page is more of a catalogue or epic list than most pages in the book, and you'll find more slapstick elsewhere, but I think this offers a representative taste.


[… Ed]ward Taylor, upon whom (the Austen letters indicate) Austen had “fondly doted.” Women and men dressed as period haberdashers will remain in character while pressing homemade bonnets upon you; other people dressed as period haberdashers do not remain in character but nonetheless press homemade bonnets upon you.

     Outside the market, authors perch behind a row of tables, selling and signing books and answering questions from their public. At one table, several of the world’s most decorated Austen scholars share sympathy over their colleagues’ physical ailments while fielding breathless questions from graduate students for whom the presence of these scholars has the effect of an oracular experience. Four tables to their right, another author is peddling romantic spin-offs of the Austen novels—there is even a subset of fan-fiction predicated on subtextual homoeroticism in the original books; you wouldn’t believe what Darcy and Bingley get up to when the rest of Netherfield is asleep—and, to her right, two authors are signing mystery novels (The Suspicion at Sanditon!). If you poked your head in from the street, you might meet Devoney Looser, a professor at Arizona State University and an accomplished roller-derbyist who, when she’s on skates, goes by the moniker “Stone Cold Jane Austen.” Depending on the year, you might bump into John Mullan, a perceptive critic of Austen who has also answered one of the enduring questions of Austenworld: How many umbrellas appear in the novels? How many of them are furled? (The answers are seven and six, respectively.)


Bio: Ted Scheinman is based in Southern California, where he works as senior editor at Pacific Standard magazine. His essays and reporting have appeared in the New York Times, the Oxford American, the Paris ReviewPlayboy, Slate, and elsewhere. His first book, Camp Austen: My Life as an Accidental Jane Austen Superfan, is available via Farrar, Straus & Giroux/FSG Originals.

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