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Camp Austen

9780374712341 fc
Paperback, FSG Originals, 2018
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Ted Scheinman

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A raucous tour through the world of Mr. Darcy imitations, tailored gowns, and tipsy ballroom dancing

The son of a devoted Jane Austen scholar, Ted Scheinman spent his childhood summers eating Yorkshire pudding, singing in an Anglican choir, and watching Laurence Olivier as Mr. Darcy. Determined to leave his mother’s world behind, he nonetheless found himself in grad school organizing the first ever UNC-Chapel Hill Jane Austen Summer Camp, a weekend-long event that sits somewhere between an academic conference and superfan extravaganza.

While the long tradition of Austen devotees includes the likes of Henry James and E. M. Forster, it is at the conferences and reenactments where Janeism truly lives. In Camp Austen, Scheinman tells the story of his indoctrination into this enthusiastic world and his struggle to shake his mother’s influence while navigating hasty theatrical adaptations, undaunted scholars in cravats, and unseemly petticoat fittings.

In a haze of morning crumpets and restrictive tights, Scheinman delivers a hilarious and poignant survey of one of the most enduring and passionate literary coteries in history. Combining clandestine journalism with frank memoir, academic savvy with insider knowledge, Camp Austen is perhaps the most comprehensive study of Austen that can also be read in a single sitting. Brimming with stockings, culinary etiquette, and scandalous dance partners, this is summer camp like you’ve never seen it before.

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An excerpt from Camp Austen

Chapter I

A Shared Inheritance

“Are you Mr. Darcy?”


The girl in short braids could not have been more than ten years old. We were standing by the registration table in a small anteroom, surrounded by a tweedy gaggle of tenured scholars and one or two graduate students. Posters of Jane Austen adorned the walls in silent observation. I looked down at this tiny and quite serious lady, whose expression matched her question: curt and businesslike, the soul of efficiency. She might have been a private detective or a tax collector. A brief parade of women in sundresses brushed 

past us en route to the weekend’s first lecture.


“Are you Mr. Darcy?” she repeated. It was a kind of accusation that had the momentary effect of silencing the company. “A lady over there told me you were.” She stabbed her finger in the direction of the main room. A lot seemed to depend on my answer.


“Not yet,” I informed the girl. “But I will be tomorrow.”


She nodded, as though I had affirmed a long-held suspicion. “I told my friends that I would dance with Mr. Darcy. Do you dance?”


I decided to tell her the truth. “Very badly.” The girl finally smiled but looked somewhat vexed.


“But you know they’re giving dance lessons today and tomorrow right?”


I said I did, and promised to be there, and to save her a dance at the weekend’s grand ball. She nodded and introduced herself, shaking my hand with a worldly sort of professionalism. Just as I was about to laugh a volunteer usher swept past us saying that the opening plenary was about to begin. The girl went off in search of the mother she’d left unsupervised, and I joined the flow of people entering the lecture-space, which the conference organizers had dubbed “Pemberley.”

Such moments are representative of the year and a half that I spent in the world of Jane Austen fandom. They were also its best part. Throughout the bicentennial of Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen’s most famous novel, I bounced from one Austen extravaganza to another—observing, dancing, listening to and delivering talks—but for me the story still begins and ends with a single conference, a four-day affair in Chapel Hill, North Carolina that introduced me to a world of which I’d been only dimly aware, and that I still have not fully escaped.


At the time, I was teaching courses in journalism and English literature while doing graduate work at the University of North Carolina. My advisor, James Thompson—a compact, ruddy-faced man with an immortal smile, an earring, and a motorcycle—had decided to hold a “Jane Austen Summer Camp.” James pitched it as a sort of quasi-academic gathering that could nonetheless attract the proles—the civilian enthusiasts who take part in the special universe of Austen fan-fiction and Web series and bumper stickers and action figures, and who (James assured me) are capable of reading Austen as seriously as the most humorless poststructuralist.


The idea sounded fantastical: a Jane Austen summer camp! Yet I didn’t doubt for a moment that James and Inger Brodey, his colleague and co-conspirator, would attract a crowd. Austen mania is simmering even in a slow year; for the bicentennial of Pride & Prejudice, the turnout was assured. American enthusiasm for Austen is (as I would soon learn) passionate to the point of obsession, and Austen is considered by universities, film studios, and publishers alike as a sure thing. And I was more than a little bewitched by James’ description. The projected conference sounded dreamlike, a little unreal: We would dine together. Nearly all attendees would bring Regency costumes. There would be dancing. There would be a one-act play. There would be afternoon tea. There would be a harp. Maybe two. Fancy scholars would give talks, but so would costumiers and graduate students and “independent scholars.” The whole idea of a Jane Austen summer camp jangled with friendly dissonance. It managed to suggest Jane Austen at a sleep-away camp in the Catskills or the Great Lakes, winning the archery competition, fiddling with the reverse-osmosis water filter, and refusing to participate in kickball.


Hearing James and Inger plotting the weekend, I was impressed by their close attention to material detail: finding the right harpist; naming the four main conference rooms after the four main estates in Pride & Prejudice; ensuring that Inger’s children had suitable costumes. And I was thoroughly seduced by the levity with which they approached this work: all giddy mischief. At the same time, I remained a little distrustful of anyone who would pay good money to spend a summer weekend wearing silly clothes and discussing the importance of (say) eighteenth-century agrarian philosophy in Pride & Prejudice. Who were these wonderful weirdos?


Most importantly, James and Inger said they were prepared to pay graduate students for helping organize the weekend. I was fascinated. I was poor. I was in.


Scheinman austen

I Think of it as a Mom-oir

A Conversation

Ted Scheinman & Deborah Knuth Klenck (His Mom)

  • "Sly, witty, and often humorous . . . A pleasing divertissement for Austen fans everywhere."

    Kirkus
  • “Ted Scheinman plays a good Mr. Darcy in this funny and insightful look into the work of Jane Austen and the strange world of her most obsessive fans. Camp Austen explores how deeply meaningful and personal the oeuvre of an author can be, and how it stitches us together. Scheinman has delivered a heartfelt and entertaining glimpse into Austen's work and literary fandom that will resonate whether you spend your free time wearing Regency-era clothes and rereading Sense and Sensibility or not.”

    Jason Diamond, author of Searching for John Hughes
  • "It's so lovely to read a book about the delights, the perils, the peculiarities of fandom, and of the small, joyful enthusiasms therein, that treats its subject both critically and generously. Self-examining without being self-conscious, compact without feeling cramped, funny but never at a distant remove—I am not an academic, and I have never worn a cravat, but Camp Austen never made me feel like I needed either of those things in order to participate fully. It’s a delight and an invitation.”

    Mallory Ortberg, author of Texts from Jane Eyre and The Merry Spinster
  • “I’ll admit it: I have never read a word of Austen. But that doesn’t matter! I still I really enjoyed this book. Ted Scheinman is a dexterous guide through a world that I previously found inscrutable, deploying his scholarly chops along with a journalist’s eye for the absurd. I may not be an Austen fanboy, but I have felt an embarrassing level of devotion to an author. And I think a lot about the ways fiction percolates throughout the 'real world.' That’s what Ted documents here, with wit, and thoughtfulness, and memorable characters—all of which has lit a flame under my behind to finally get around to reading one of the most influential authors in the English language.”

    Brian Reed, host of S-Town
  • “I’ll admit it: I have never read a word of Austen. But that doesn’t matter! I still really enjoyed this book. Ted Scheinman is a dexterous guide through a world that I previously found inscrutable, deploying his scholarly chops along with a journalist’s eye for the absurd. I may not be an Austen fanboy, but I have felt an embarrassing level of devotion to an author. And I think a lot about the ways fiction percolates throughout the 'real world.' That’s what Ted documents here, with wit, and thoughtfulness, and memorable characters—all of which has lit a flame under my behind to finally get around to reading one of the most influential authors in the English language.”

    Brian Reed, host of S-Town
  • "The most delightful Jane Austen book of the season . . . Scheinman pleasingly never loses sight of the literature that's at the heart of all this over-eager fun . . . his depiction of “Austenworld” glows with affection and insight, and his asides about the Austen canon itself are uniformly thought-provoking. Camp Austen may not prompt most readers to don their best topcoats and taffeta, but it will certainly send them hurrying back to the novels, to savor again what Scheinman refers to as a world displaced in time."

    Steve Donoghue, The Christian Science Monitor
  • "[Camp Austen] is about the fun of totally, shamelessly, and ridiculously indulging in one’s infatuation with literature. The constant weaving in of Austen’s lines or of the words of her critics is part of that indulgence; Scheinman just does it a whole lot better than many of the rest of us would. His deeply loving and mocking voice feels wonderfully relatable to this twenty-first-century Austen fan . . . Camp Austen is not about one man or one fan or one Jane Austen Summer Camp. It is about the delight of loving great books, and it is itself a delight."

    Claire Benoit, The Paris Review
  • "Charming . . . Though Scheinman’s foray into Austenworld was both temporary and fortuitous, his observations of its residents (overwhelmingly women) are empathetic. There are no caricatures here, only portraits of adoring Janeites, sprinkled with a bit of memoir, history, and literary criticism, rendered with an observational wit that pays homage to Austen herself."

    Stassa Edwards, Jezebel "A treat for any Jane Austen fan . . . While Scheinman is clearly an astute reader of Austen—he includes numerous analyses of Austen’s life and work that are insightful and often quite funny—this is also a fascinating window into a man’s experience in a largely female world. Scheinman is a wonderful guide to the world of Austen, and this honest and thoughtful discussion of the role Austen’s works have played in his family will delight any Janeite."
  • "[A] lively debut . . . This is a loving and often humorous tribute to the Janeites of the world."

    Publishers Weekly
  • "A treat for any Jane Austen fan . . . While Scheinman is clearly an astute reader of Austen—he includes numerous analyses of Austen’s life and work that are insightful and often quite funny—this is also a fascinating window into a man’s experience in a largely female world. Scheinman is a wonderful guide to the world of Austen, and this honest and thoughtful discussion of the role Austen’s works have played in his family will delight any Janeite."

    Booklist
  • "Charming . . . Though Scheinman’s foray into Austenworld was both temporary and fortuitous, his observations of its residents (overwhelmingly women) are empathetic. There are no caricatures here, only portraits of adoring Janeites, sprinkled with a bit of memoir, history, and literary criticism, rendered with an observational wit that pays homage to Austen herself."

    Stassa Edwards, Jezebel
  • ""Funny and thoughtful, delving into Jane Austen superfan culture with a wink .... Scheinman, an outsider dipping into an insular and passionate fandom, serves as an entertaining tour guide, and throughout the book nudges at the question: what is the overlap between how academics and common readers love literature?"

    Amy Shearn, The Rumpus
  • "[Scheinman] charmingly narrates his dabblings among the “secret society” of Jane Austen fans in this lively debut that blurs the lines between literary criticism, memoir, ode to superfandom, and digestible biography of one of the most beloved authors in history . . . A candid and immensely pleasing romp . . . Whether discussing film and theatrical adaptations or dissecting the magic of Austen’s lasting appeal, Camp Austen is a vivid and absorbing book . . . The triumph of Camp Austen is that there is something here for all readers, whether devoted Janeites, curious neophytes, or those of us just showing up for the clotted cream and costumes."

    Leah Angstman, Los Angeles Review of Books
  • "Funny and thoughtful, delving into Jane Austen superfan culture with a wink .... Scheinman, an outsider dipping into an insular and passionate fandom, serves as an entertaining tour guide, and throughout the book nudges at the question: what is the overlap between how academics and common readers love literature?"

    Amy Shearn, The Rumpus
  • "[Camp Austen] is about the fun of totally, shamelessly, and ridiculously indulging in one’s infatuation with literature. The constant weaving in of Austen’s lines or of the words of her critics is part of that indulgence; Scheinman just does it a whole lot better than many of the rest of us would. His deeply loving and mocking voice feels wonderfully relatable to this twenty-first-century Austen fan . . . "

    Claire Benoit, The Paris Review
  • "The most delightful Jane Austen book of the season . . . Scheinman pleasingly never loses sight of the literature that's at the heart of all this over-eager fun . . . his depiction of “Austenworld” glows with affection and insight, and his asides about the Austen canon itself are uniformly thought-provoking. Camp Austen may not prompt most readers to don their best topcoats and taffeta, but it will certainly send them hurrying back to the novels, to savor again what Scheinman refers to as a world displaced in time."

    Steve Donoghue, The Christian Science Monitor
  • "[Camp Austen] is about the fun of totally, shamelessly, and ridiculously indulging in one’s infatuation with literature. The constant weaving in of Austen’s lines or of the words of her critics is part of that indulgence; Scheinman just does it a whole lot better than many of the rest of us would. His deeply loving and mocking voice feels wonderfully relatable to this twenty-first-century Austen fan . . . "

    Claire Benoit, The Paris Review
  • "Charming . . . Though Scheinman’s foray into Austenworld was both temporary and fortuitous, his observations of its residents (overwhelmingly women) are empathetic. There are no caricatures here, only portraits of adoring Janeites, sprinkled with a bit of memoir, history, and literary criticism, rendered with an observational wit that pays homage to Austen herself."

    Stassa Edwards, Jezebel
  • "[Scheinman] charmingly narrates his dabblings among the “secret society” of Jane Austen fans in this lively debut that blurs the lines between literary criticism, memoir, ode to superfandom, and digestible biography of one of the most beloved authors in history . . . A candid and immensely pleasing romp . . . Whether discussing film and theatrical adaptations or dissecting the magic of Austen’s lasting appeal, Camp Austen is a vivid and absorbing book . . . The triumph of Camp Austen is that there is something here for all readers, whether devoted Janeites, curious neophytes, or those of us just showing up for the clotted cream and costumes."

    Leah Angstman, Los Angeles Review of Books
  • "Funny and thoughtful, delving into Jane Austen superfan culture with a wink .... Scheinman, an outsider dipping into an insular and passionate fandom, serves as an entertaining tour guide, and throughout the book nudges at the question: what is the overlap between how academics and common readers love literature?"

    Amy Shearn, The Rumpus
  • "A treat for any Jane Austen fan . . . While Scheinman is clearly an astute reader of Austen—he includes numerous analyses of Austen’s life and work that are insightful and often quite funny—this is also a fascinating window into a man’s experience in a largely female world. Scheinman is a wonderful guide to the world of Austen, and this honest and thoughtful discussion of the role Austen’s works have played in his family will delight any Janeite."

    Booklist
  • “Ted Scheinman plays a good Mr. Darcy in this funny and insightful look into the work of Jane Austen and the strange world of her most obsessive fans. Camp Austen explores how deeply meaningful and personal the oeuvre of an author can be, and how it stitches us together. Scheinman has delivered a heartfelt and entertaining glimpse into Austen's work and literary fandom that will resonate whether you spend your free time wearing Regency-era clothes and rereading Sense and Sensibility or not.”

    Jason Diamond, author of Searching for John Hughes
  • "It's so lovely to read a book about the delights, the perils, the peculiarities of fandom, and of the small, joyful enthusiasms therein, that treats its subject both critically and generously. Self-examining without being self-conscious, compact without feeling cramped, funny but never at a distant remove—I am not an academic, and I have never worn a cravat, but Camp Austen never made me feel like I needed either of those things in order to participate fully. It’s a delight and an invitation.”

    Mallory Ortberg, author of Texts from Jane Eyre and The Merry Spinster
  • “I’ll admit it: I have never read a word of Austen. But that doesn’t matter! I still really enjoyed this book. Ted Scheinman is a dexterous guide through a world that I previously found inscrutable, deploying his scholarly chops along with a journalist’s eye for the absurd. I may not be an Austen fanboy, but I have felt an embarrassing level of devotion to an author. And I think a lot about the ways fiction percolates throughout the 'real world.' That’s what Ted documents here, with wit, and thoughtfulness, and memorable characters—all of which has lit a flame under my behind to finally get around to reading one of the most influential authors in the English language.”

    Brian Reed, host of S-Town
upcoming event

Ted Scheinman at Skylight Books

Ted Scheinman gives a book talk on CAMP AUSTEN at Skylight Books.
July 21, 2018 at 5:00pm Skylight Books 1818 North Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles, CA
event website