Jane Austen ‘mania’ to take over library

Calling all Janeites!

“Austen Mania” is alive and well and will be explored in depth at the Shelter Island Public Library on Friday, May 3, at 7 p.m. when critic and reviewer Joan Baum will discuss the enduring popularity of Jane Austen.

Austen’s six completed novels are “Sense and Sensibility,” “Pride and Prejudice,” “Mansfield Park,” “Emma,” “Northanger Abbey,” and “Persuasion.”

The books were first published in 1811, with the last coming out after her death in 1817.

When I asked Baum for the single best adjective to describe Austen’s novels, she replied without missing a beat, “Irony.” Then she quickly added “sense of place” and “delicious prose style.”

Jane Austen fans are everywhere.

According to the Jane Austen Society of North America there are 5,000 members of the Society in the United States and Canada. A variety of on-line sources report that there are also Jane Austen Societies in places as far flung as Australia, Pakistan, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Singapore and Italy.

And it is not just readers who swoon over Jane Austen; movie goers do as well. Several Austen novels have been put on the silver screen or made into PBS or BBC miniseries starring well-known actors such as Laurence Olivier, Kate Winslet, Colin Firth, Greer Garson and Judi Dench.

Joan Baum spent twenty-five years teaching literature and writing at City University of New York. The syllabus for her course on the English Romantic poets was at first limited to the traditional five males — Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley and Keats — but eventually included other novelists and essayists including Jane Austen.

And while Baum says that did not turn her into a Janeite, it did prompt her to join the Manhattan-based Jane Austen Society for a year.

As to the May 3 evening devoted to Jane Austen, Baum told me, “I am not going to deliver a lecture on Jane Austen. I want to hear from the folks in the audience as to why Austen seems so important, so admirable, and so relevant to our culture today.”

In other words, Joan Baum wants her Jane Austen Friday Night Dialogue to be a dialogue.

Friday Night Dialogue with Joan Baum, Friday, May 3, 7 p.m.