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Janeite Spotlight: Introducing Jillian Alexander

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. Next up is Jillian Alexander, a life-long fan of Austen’s fiction who is new to the larger Janeite community. Let’s give her a warm welcome!


Jillian Alexander

I felt as though I’d found a true kindred spirit when I opened my Zoom meeting to find Jillian Alexander sitting comfortably in her cozy Beetlejuice-themed room for our interview. “I live Halloween as a lifestyle, obviously,” she says, gesturing towards the spooky décor. Perhaps the average onlooker would not suspect Jillian to harbor a passion for Jane Austen, but you should never judge a Janeite by her cover.

Jillian’s love affair with Jane began in the fourth grade, when a friend convinced her to watch Emma Thompson’s film adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. Jillian had no prior knowledge of the story or even Jane Austen, but she fell instantly in love with the film’s visual elegance and charm, and especially the strong female characters headlining the story—the sensible Elinor and the romantic Marianne. Once she realized the film was based on a novel, she dove in headfirst, falling deeper in love with Austen’s world as she made her way through the entire collection.

In high school, Jillian related most to Marianne of all Austen’s characters. Like so many at that age, she had an “epic teenage heartbreak,” paralleling Marianne’s experience with Mr. Willoughby. Jillian turned to Sense and Sensibility to cope with the fallout. “When you think you’re in love, and someone has just crushed your heart, it really is the end of the world,” she says. Going though those relationships determines who you are and who you’re going to be—especially when you’re only sixteen, like Marianne.

In college, Jillian was part of a women’s action council that hosted “Jane Austen days” on campus. On these Jane Austen days, they’d all pile into a room and watch Jane Austen film and television adaptations—anything they could get their hands on. Jillian quickly realized this was a nice way to decompress and “feel things” without the characteristic ickiness of experiencing personal emotions. “I just think feelings are gross,” she laughs.

Even after graduating from college, she still hosts her own Jane Austen days on a regular basis, usually when she’s sick or feels an emotional episode coming on. These days are very personal to her—even watching something as different from the source material as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies allows her to “get all the feelings out and cry,” and then she’s done with feelings for the month.

Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, circa 1995

According to Jillian, Austen’s depiction of strong female characters is the most compelling part of her stories. In Sense and Sensibility specifically, that being her first introduction to Austen’s work, Jillian loved the sisterly bond between Elinor and Marianne, characters who are so opposite in nature and yet such close companions and confidantes. “They really capture the two sides of the female psyche,” she says, referring to their separate penchants for sense and sensibility, respectively. “You can see yourself as Elinor AND as Marianne at different points in the story, but neither of them ever lose themselves despite all the challenges they face.” Before Sense and Sensibility, Jillian had never encountered a story in which female characters were not somehow required to change throughout the narrative to achieve a happy ending.

Most of Austen’s fiction does a spectacular job of highlighting strong female friendships, even beyond sisterhood, that lack the cattiness and competition characteristic of so many other novels of the era. Think of Elizabeth and Jane Bennet, Anne Elliot and Lady Russell, or even Harriet Smith and Emma Woodhouse—well, towards the end of Emma, at least. And these women face the same issues they still face today, like the desire for male validation, diminished senses of self-worth, and a lack of female independence.

Oddly enough, Jillian’s favorite Austen character happens to be a man: Mr. Knightley. Jillian admires the way he “handles” everyone around him. He has such a strong sense of who he is, and even when he realizes he isn’t handling something well, he steps back. “Straight up, he could just be a chad-bro,” she laughs, resorting to modern slang. “But he isn’t. He just removes himself from the situation.” She believes Mr. Knightley is underrated compared to Mr. Darcy, Austen’s most iconic leading man. “We always want someone we think we can fix, but Knightley needs no fixing! This is what the ultimate man should be.”

Who is scarier: Krampus or Willoughby?

At thirty-seven-years-old, Jillian works in the legal field and is crazy about cats. While Jane Austen has always been something really personal to her, Jillian says she would love to get out and do more things with the larger Janeite community—like attending the next JASP conference or visiting Austen-related sites in Bath. In the future, Jillian would love to see more college-level classes focus exclusively on Jane Austen and other female authors as political climates continue to change, especially in southern states.

Connect with Jillian on Instagram.

Excerpted from Zoom interview with Jillian Alexander, February 11, 2024.


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