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Jane Austen Trivia

Brain Snacks: Tasty Tidbits of Knowledge

The use of the term "Janeites" to describe Austen's fans dates from at least the early twentieth century. While most Austen fans today are women, early Janeites were often men. Rudyard Kipling wrote a short story called "The Janeites" about a group of World War I soldiers who were closet Austen fanatics. A 2008 survey of Austen fans found that Janeites included roofers, bartenders, Dominican friars, truckers, zookeepers, and farmers.16

The copyright has expired on Jane Austen's books, which means that anyone can parody them without threat of a lawsuit. Hence the 2009 New York Times bestseller that Austen posthumously "co-wrote" with Seth Grahame-Smith, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.17

James Edward Austen-Leigh's 1869 memoir of his aunt sanitized Austen's sauciness. Austen-Leigh changed the wording of some of her letters to protect her image and his audience's sensibilities, as in "I was as civil to them as circumstances would allow," instead of the original (and much funnier) "I was as civil to them as their bad breath would allow."18

A man named Harris Bigg-Wither has the somewhat unfortunate distinction of being remembered by history as the man Jane Austen dumped. Bigg-Wither, an Oxford grad who is generally described in all historical accounts as an unattractive stammerer, proposed to Austen while she was visiting his sisters in 1802. She initially said yes, then changed her mind the next morning. Her niece later wrote: "Mr Wither was very plain in person—awkward, and even uncouth in manner—nothing but his size to recommend him." Ouch.19

The Prince Regent (the man who would later become King George IV) was a big fan of Austen's work. In 1815, shortly before the publication of Emma, the Prince's personal librarian invited her to his London residence and suggested that she dedicate her next book to the prince. Austen really didn't care for the shallow, superficial Prince Regent, but what was she supposed to do? Emma appeared with the dedication.20

The first known appearance of the word "baseball" is in Northanger Abbey. It is named as one of Catherine Morland's favorite pastimes.21

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