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Austentation

Austentation, Jane Austen, Kingston Frontenac Public LibraryJane Austen is second to perhaps only Shakespeare when it comes to mass cultural recognition, a proliferation of movie adaptations, and an oeuvre that’s generally regarded as entirely canonical. Pride and Prejudice, along with many of her other novels, has seen immense critical and popular acclaim – not to mention a few thousand syllabi. Even to the greenest of Brit-lit neophytes, her name is instantly recognizable. It is a truth universally acknowledged. (Sorry).

Alice Robinette-Woods, librarian at KPFL, believes that Austen continues to be popular because of her novels’ relatability. “I think she offers great stories. Fifty years ago, people could connect with her. A hundred years ago, people could connect with her,” says Robinette-Woods. This year is the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice, and so Robinette-Woods spearheaded a campaign to celebrate. Over the summer she worked with fellow Austen fans to find a way to commemorate the novelist’s work. The result was Austentation, this month’s series of events devoted to everything Jane Austen.

The series opened with a talk given by Professor Robert Morrison of Queen’s English Department, who specializes in Austen literature. “It was amazing,” says Robinette-Woods. “It was standing room only. It completely exceeded our expectations.” The series then hosted a screening of Austenland, which is a movie that tracks one woman’s Austen-themed vacation. It sold out both times. Still to come are a group book discussion on the 19th, a screening of Pride and Prejudice on the 22nd, and an Austen-esque regency ball on the 30th complete with a regency dance and dress workshop beforehand.

Robinette-Woods says that she has been thrilled with the results of the events so far. “The age range has been great,” she goes on. “We’ve had teenagers to seniors.” She also says that, though not exactly in equal measure, both men and women have been attending as well. In her words, “There have been lots of men coming to these events.” She credits the vivacious Professor Morrison and his talk with lending more credibility to being an XY-chromosomed Austen devotee.

Woefully, Austen’s novels are sometimes written off as strictly for women or nothing but romance stories. Yet beneath all the flouncing and frills, her work is often biting, acerbic, and hilarious. Robinette-Woods believes that she will continue to see popularity for many years to come, and that events such as Austentation will makes believers out of even more people. “It’s not just books anymore. She can be enjoyed on T.V., or on a movie screen,” she says. “I don’t think that’s going away anytime soon.”

For a full list of events and venues, visit Kingston Frontenac Public Library’s website.

Credit to reihayashi for the photo above.

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Kelly Reid

Kelly Reid has retired as a contributor to Kingstonist. Kelly was one of our arts and culture contributors. Her column for Kingstonist explored the city's art galleries, as well as live music, theatre and performance art venues.

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