If you attended the early years of the Jane Austen Summer Program, you probably recognize Ted Scheinman, who was a graduate student and played, ahem, Mr. Darcy at our first-ever Jane Austen Summer Program. If you don’t know him, you can read about his JASP experience and more in his book, “Camp Austen: My Life as an Accidental Jane Austen Superfan,” which is out today!
Scheinman is a senior editor at Pacific Standard magazine in California. His work has appeared in publications including the New York Times, the Paris Review, Slate, the Atlantic and Playboy. Before he studied at UNC, he was an editor at Washington City Paper in Washington, D.C. He grew up spending a lot of time in the United Kingdom, where his mother, JASP attendee Deborah Knuth Klenck, led study-abroad groups. “Mom, as you know, is a Janeite herself, which is probably how I got mixed up in this whole beautiful world to begin with,” Scheinman says.
We chatted with him about his book and his time with JASP.
The Austen fandom from the male perspective isn’t something we read about very often. What made you decide to write a book on your JASP experience? Did you know before or after that you’d be writing about it? The book was a bit of a surprise to me too, frankly! A day before we began the inaugural JASP in 2013, I told James that I’d be writing a short essay about it for the Paris Review. So I took lots of notes and did a few interviews with various Janeites, but my main focus that first weekend was making sure everything went smoothly from a logistical perspective; and of course we had the theatricals to worry about. On the last day of the first JASP, I wrote the essay and thought that would be the end of it. But the piece attracted quite a few readers … and a couple of days after it ran, an editor at Faber called me up to suggest that I write a short book about the experience. A few things made that process slow — my first editor left the country for another job, the book was moved to a different imprint at Macmillan, I took a semester to do my written and oral PhD exams and to write and defend my prospectus, then I moved across the country to take a full-time job in journalism — but eventually I wrote the book, and when I did so I tried my best to honor the Janeites while unlocking their mysteries. The book is emphatically not about making fun of Janeites. After all, I am one.
Did you have any preconceptions about Austen fans before you “became” Mr. Darcy that you changed your mind about after the fact or while you were writing?
This is a great question. I probably harbored at least a few of the preconceptions about Janeism common among men, even (or perhaps especially) among a certain sort of male scholar. I think I suspected there would be lots of Mrs. Bennets — dotty or absent-minded enthusiasts. To say that I was impressed by the attendees at the first JASP would be an understatement. I admired the hell out of them and found myself quickly intoxicated. There were very few Mrs. Bennets (though at later JASNA meetings I did meet a Mr. Collins or two). Very quickly it became clear that, to be worthy of the company, I should aspire to the light touch of Henry Tilney and avoid entirely the boorishness of a John Thorpe, or even the aloofness of a Darcy.
What’s your favorite JASP memory?
Absolutely the theatricals adapted and performed by the grad students. Those were endless fun both years I participated (2013 and 2014). It was a brilliant suggestion when James and Inger told us to adapt portions of the juvenilia — some of the funniest scenes that Austen ever wrote.
What are you most looking forward to when you return in June?
I haven’t seen most of my old friends and colleagues in Chapel Hill since 2016, so I’m looking forward to everything and everyone. My mother will also be present. … I’ve already pledged two dances to her. That will be a highlight.
Are you nervous about reader reactions?
I am. Reporting on any subculture is a delicate task — you want to preserve what’s good and true and intoxicating within a sort of secret society, and also what’s funny and odd. If I can do that without the subjects feeling mocked or misrepresented, then I feel good.
Last question: What’s the most uncomfortable part of men’s Regency costume?
I still struggle with the tights.
You can read more about the book at Publishers Weekly, the Atlantic, the Paris Review and Kirkus Reviews. Scheinman is scheduled to give a talk and sign books at JASP on Saturday, June 16, at 11 a.m. Register for JASP today!