Everybody's Jane: Austen in the Popular Imagination by Juliette Wells

I picked this book up when I was invited to a Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) event by a good friend and fellow Austen enthusiast, at which Juliette Wells was speaking. I have to admit that while I consider myself an Austen fanatic, my interest in all things Austen has never really extended beyond re-reading her novels over and over again. I have felt little compulsion to do any type of scholarly reading or research into Jane Austen herself and/or her novels. Reading her novels has been enough for me and very much akin to the idea of "enchantment" presented by Rita Felski and referenced by Wells.

"Enchantment is characterized by a state of intense involvement, a sense of being so entirely caught up in an aesthetic object that nothing else seems to matter...This sense of immersion seems self-enclosed and self-sustaining, demarcated by a distinct boundary; the transition back to the everyday world feels unwelcome, even intrusive..."

I did find Wells book to be rather interesting, although it did require me to engage in a different reading style, as it is a purely academic and it's been awhile since I have read this type of book. In Everybody's Jane, Wells explores the question - What does Jane Austen mean to you? The focus of her book is the amateur reader, as opposed to the scholar, and the various ways that these readers interact not only with Austen's works, but Austen herself. The title "amateur" in this case does not carry the negative connotations often associated with the word, but instead relates to the original meaning of the word - referring to an admirer or devotee.

Each of the chapters in the book focus on a different aspect of the Austen experience sought after by amateur readers. The first chapter introduces us to the amateur reader and lays out the outline for the rest of the book. Chapter two profiles Alberta H. Burke, an Austen admirer and collector, and her world famous (at least within in the Austen circle) collection that was donated to Goucher College upon her death. Chapter three focuses on how and why amateur readers read Austen today - from enchantment to finding life advice. Literary tourism and how some readers seek a closer connection to Austen by traveling to places connected to her life and works is the subject of Chapter four. Chapter five was one of the more interesting chapters in my opinion and discusses how Austen is depicted in portraits, fiction and films. Chapter six explores how people, particularly Americans, have sought to recreate Austen by infusing her works with elements such as sex, horror/paranormal, and Christian elements. The final chapter addresses how the amateur and scholarly reader come together through organizations such as JASNA.

Juliette's writing style is easy to follow despite the fact that it is an "academic" piece, and I have to say that reading it has definitely piqued my interest in expanding the boundaries of my Austen experience.


  1. I had so much fun with you at the JASNA lunch! Thanks for coming!

    1. Thanks for inviting me! Can't wait for summer camp!