Thursday, June 25, 2020

Sarah Glosson's "Performing Jane"

Sarah Glosson is director of the Arts & Sciences Graduate Center at the College of William & Mary in Virginia.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Performing Jane: A Cultural History of Jane Austen Fandom, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Performing Jane provides a glimpse into the scholarly habits of one particular Jane Austen fan, George Holbert Tucker (1909-2005). A beloved journalist in his native Norfolk, Virginia, Tucker had no college education but published several books in his lifetime, including two biographical works about Jane Austen and her family. He was an avowed anglophile, and among the earliest members of the Jane Austen Society of North America.

This page examines Tucker’s opinions on the inherent value of his collection of over one hundred research scrapbooks. Excerpts from correspondence between Tucker and the Special Collections librarian at the College of William and Mary’s Earl Gregg Swem Library discuss the bequest of these scrapbooks. Tucker describes his research collection as “a ready reference archive,” alluding to the fact that he had assiduously organized and curated the materials prior to depositing them with Swem Library. He was particularly keen to have his scrapbooks preserved in an archive for use by future scholars of Jane Austen, and viewed these raw materials as a scholarly resource even more valuable than his published works. In my assessment, “Tucker felt strongly that he was making a substantial contribution to William & Mary’s collections, placing the university in the selective company of other institutions with important Austen-related collections.” But the same page will reveal that, following its acquisition by Swem Library in 1987, Tucker’s collection was virtually forgotten and much of its material made redundant by digital scholarship and the internet.

Here the Page 99 Test illuminates two key aspects of the book, though it does not ultimately represent the book well as a whole. First, the page would likely—and correctly—disabuse readers of the notion that Performing Jane centers Jane Austen or her works, a common expectation of books with Austen’s name in the title. Discussion of George H. Tucker and his research scrapbooks asserts the book’s focus on Austen fans and their pursuits. Second, the page hints at questions that several sections of the book address: What are the distinctions between those we would comfortably refer to as “fans” and those we would perhaps call “experts” or “enthusiasts”? How do those distinctions play out? Tucker was a scholar, yet, as I state on page 99, his habits and affinities are those of a fan.

Performing Jane tackles a wider range of themes and ideas than this single page reveals. I hope that readers of page 99 would find Tucker’s research scrapbooks intriguing, and feel moved to continue reading about the twentieth-century collectors and lovers of Austen who experienced and expressed their fandom through performative acts related to scrapbooking. Other sections in the book consider similarly performative fan practices: going on pilgrimage to bring oneself closer to Austen and her world, and engaging with imitative works, adaptations, and fanfiction as a way of rekindling an experience with beloved texts like Pride and Prejudice. These three types of fan activities are visible throughout the roughly 200-year history of Austen fandom, and reflect continuity in Austen fans’ desires and habits across time and media environments.
Learn more about Performing Jane at the Louisiana State University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue