The Republic of Pemberley
“Single women have a dreadful propensity for being poor,” wrote Jane Austen in a letter to her niece Fanny Knight in 1816, “which is one very strong argument in favour of matrimony.” Readers of Jane Austen’s novels will be surprised by the combination of hard-headed financial advice and ironic comedy in this advice. Many such gems love, romance, and marriage abound on The Republic of Pemberley, a website dedicated to ”Jane Austen Fanatics,” especially the ”Truly Obsessed.”
This large, attractive website includes digital versions of all of Austen’s novels and letters, most of the juvenilia and her unfinished works, and a variety of Austen-related pages, such as a filmography, lists and maps of locations where Austen’s novels were set and filmed, pages of Regency fashions and caricatures, lists and reviews of Austen sequels, and Austenian fanfiction. Additional resources include discussion boards and a shop ( stocks Austen-related goods). Some of the most recondite information Jane Austen and her times on the web is available here, as well as more mainstream material and resources on love and romance which are entirely related to Austen (such as a list of recommended reading which has nothing to do with Austen, and a bibliography of sequels and adaptations).
There are many extremely useful resources scattered around the site, but since the site is so large, and its primary goal is to cater for those who wish “to join a community of like minds,” those “who to get information,” these are the main focus and can be hard to locate. Those who wish to join the community are invited to do so, but people who wish simply for information go straight to the Jane Austen Information page, which contains an excellent index.
The digital texts on the site are largely reliable and well-edited, although the Jane Austen’s Fiction Manuscripts site is a more useful one for studying the juvenilia and unfinished works. On the Republic of Pemberley, each novel can be keyword-searched, and it is also possible to search across all six novels, which is a useful feature. A search for “love” across the six novels returns 186 results; it might therefore be more sensible to try a more focused search of a single novel, or perhaps a comparison of two novels in order to conduct research into Austen’s depictions of love. A search for “romance,” on the other hand, yields only seven results, many of which are suggestive of the view Austen took of romance.
It is also possible to search the text of Jane Austen’s letters. Using the same keyword terms presents some interesting results, which allows us to compare the differences in usage across the of the letter and the novel, and across the time period of Austen’s life.
Another useful resource is the Regency Illustrations page, which contains a number of satirical prints and caricatures, some dealing with attitudes towards love and romance (such as the caricatures of dancing). In this caricature, for example, we can very easily recognise the scandalous nature of the waltz and its relationship to dangerous flirtations.
There is, in fact, a huge amount of useful information the Regency period on the website, both on the information pages and on the discussion boards, particularly the threads in the Jane Austen Life and Times pages. Romance readers and writers may find the section within this page dedicated to love and marriage of particular interest. And browsers of the website may well be amused by Catherine Morland’s naive definition of marriage in Northanger Abbey (cited on the site): “People marry can never part, but must go and keep house together.”
This website is the first port of call for Jane Austen fans, and users will learn , and gain pleasure, from browsing its pages. The materials it presents are mostly reliable and useful. But browsers may also find the site frustrating because of its size and complexity. It is important, too, to recognise Pemberley prides itself on being a community of like-minded spirits, and it polices its own rules of etiquette and its borders quite firmly, so potential “citizens” of the “Republic of Pemberley” study its laws carefully before attempting to participate in the discussions.
Katie Halsey is Senior Lecturer in 18th-Century Literature at the University of Stirling, Scotland. Her publications include Jane Austen and her Readers, 1786-1945 (2012) and the edited volumes The History of Reading (2010), The History of Reading, vol. 2: Evidence from the British Isles (2011), and The Concept and Practice of Conversation in the Long Eighteenth Century (2008).