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Janeite Spotlight: Introducing Amanda Gelber

Hello, dear readers! This year, we’ve begun a blog series highlighting Austen-lovers around the world—sharing how they first discovered Austen’s fiction, why they love Austen, how they’ve contributed to the Janeite community, you get the picture. Fans, who cultivate and engage in discourse surrounding Austen’s life and fiction, participate in workshops and conventions, host book clubs, and don I ❤️ Darcy merchandise with pride (but hopefully not prejudice—wink, wink), are the reason Jane’s spirit survives in the twenty-first century. We deserve a shout-out! And we deserve the chance to connect with like-minded individuals across the world. In this Spotlight, we showcase Amanda Gelber, a thirty-two-year-old New England academic and Austen-enthusiast.


 

Amanda at Chawton Cottage

Growing up with a grandmother who emphasized the importance of the written word, it seems natural that Amanda Gelber devoured the classics at an early age, regularly trekking to the library to read anything she could get her hands on. She knew of Jane Austen’s fiction all throughout middle school, following the classic Brontë to Austen pipeline, but when she was fourteen, the 2005 Pride & Prejudice hit theaters, sparking what would become a life-long obsession. Amanda recalls watching the film over and over, totally enthralled.


She might’ve fallen in love with Austen because of the proper manners, language, and happy endings, but each phase of her life has created a deeper connection to Austen’s work. Amanda deeply admires her wit, character growth, and understanding of the time she lived in with a critical eye. “[Austen’s] intention behind word choice and character growth is beyond anything else I’ve ever read,” she says.


For instance, she equally admires sisters Elizabeth and Jane Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, who she considers the perfect pair of narrative foils. “I can tell that balance has existed their entire lives,” Amanda says thoughtfully. “They truly care for each other never wanting to see other torn down. They support and trust each other in a special way I have rarely seen between women in my own life.”


Like so many women inspired by the positive female relationships in Austen’s fiction, Amanda gravitates towards Elizabeth and Jane because she has always wanted a best friend to know and love her unconditionally in the way the Bennet sisters do.


The Jane Austen Centre at Bath

When it comes to Austen fandom, Amanda loves podcasts (“Shout out to The Thing About Austen!”), academic books about her life and the era, film and television adaptations, and good retellings of her original novels. She also collects copies of her books, including her most recent acquisition: the illustrated 1894 peacock first edition. “It is my most treasured possession!”


Amanda also recently had the opportunity to go to a JASNA conference in Denver, where she connected with fans and scholars around the world. She will be attending again this year and presenting a Pecha Kucha in a special session. Her international travels have led her to Bath and Hampshire specifically for Jane Austen sites. In Bath, Amanda particularly enjoyed her visit to the going to the Royal Crescent and Assembly Rooms. She also loved walking through Jane’s garden and the grounds at the big house in Hampshire.


Overall, Amanda believes Austen appeals to readers because her observations, humor, and understanding of the human experience is timeless, extending far beyond the Regency and Georgian eras in which she was writing. The ability to modernize her stories and adapt the classic versions makes her work approachable and welcoming. And for Jane Austen’s work to continue to thrive, it is important that it appeals to people from all walks of life.


A Chawton panoramic - how divine!

For example, Amanda is starting to see films and novels casting diverse identities in stories traditionally including an all-white cast of characters. While she believes this is a step in the right direction, she says there is a lot of work to be done. “Racism in the era must be addressed. Each period in history leading up to present day has shaped how racism shows up in spaces and impacts people,” Amanda says. “[C]asting diverse actors is not enough. Confronting the era’s history and centering stories of people of color and marginalized identities is extremely important and necessary.”


Collectible books at Chawton

Amanda Gelber is the thirty-two-year-old director of student engagement at a small liberal arts college in Maryland, where she lives with her partner, as well as their cats and dog. She recently completed her doctorate in higher education administration and innovation. She is currently researching the scope of diversity, equality, and inclusion in regency pamphlets. Her research poses the questions: Who published pamphlets? Who was able or allowed to publish a pamphlet? How were they published? And by whom?


Connect with Amanda on Instagram.


Excerpted from email correspondence with Amanda Gelber, February 11, 2024.

 

 

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