Imagine the outrage of 700 Janeites (myself included), packing our bonnets to attend the Annual General Meeting of the Jane Austen Society of North America, upon reading the shocking Muggle headlines suggesting Jane Austen may not have written her prose. Where is Dumbledore when you need him?
At the meeting in Portland, Oregon, papers will be presented, a monstrous deal of quizzing will take place, and many will dance in Regency attire. But Janeites are not happy, emails have been flying, and a heads-up urged us to be prepared to discuss “the issue” in hallways and breakout sessions. Even my non-Janeite friends are forwarding articles to me. All because an Oxford professor made provocative comments as she introduced her three-year project: digitization of 1,000 handwritten pages of Jane Austen’s letters and manuscripts. The timing of the project’s debut could not have been more accurately targeted to nail the attention of her audience. On the eve of the convergence of North America’s most dedicated Austen enthusiasts, while thousands more Janeites watched from home, and Janeites everywhere turned their exclusive focus to all things Austen, Professor Sutherland announced that Jane Austen couldn’t spell, demonstrated no grasp of punctuation, and had a terrible accent.
I climbed to the top of my book bag and prepared to jump.
Fortunately I have a personal relationship with My Jane Austen. As I stood there, the breeze in my bonnet, she told me that it is a truth universally acknowledged that newspapers with dwindling circulations must be in want of a good scandal. I considered this pearl, as the wind filled my Empire skirts. She told me that self-promotion must always be forgiven, you know, because there is no hope of a cure. I stepped away from the edge. She said, essentially, that dodgy spin working on a weak head, produces every sort of mischief. I decided to check online and see what the saner heads on my discussion lists were saying.
All the same, I’ll be watching the Portland sky. I don’t want to be the last Janeite to see the Dark Mark.