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Virginia Festival of the Book
After Hours - Esau's stories pick up where Jane Austen's left off
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Carolyn Esau
Stephanie Gross
British writer Jane Austen produced six novels during her brief life. Though she's been dead for nearly 200 years, her works and popularity stand the test of time. As a Janeite once replied, when asked "Do you read novels?", "Yes, all six of them. Every year." U.Va. Austen fan Carolyn Esau (above) proudly displays one of her illustrated editions of Pride and Prejudice.

Esau's stories pick up where Jane Austen's left off

By Rebecca Arrington

Carolyn Esau enjoys her job in the chemistry department, where she's worked since 1992 assisting with the editorial details of a bi-weekly science journal. But when she's not on Grounds, she spends much of her time at Pemberley, Darcy's estate in Jane Austen's novel, Pride and Prejudice.

Though obviously not a physical residence, Pemberley does have a mailing address. It's, where Esau and countless other Janeites (the term for Austen devotees) post electronic fan fiction. Their "fanfic," as it's more commonly called, is an extension of Austen's works, which according to Esau, "tell us all we need to know but not all we want to know."

Esau has always enjoyed British, Regency-era romance novels, which she's read since ninth grade. She first read Austen, who lived from 1775 to 1817, years ago in a survey course at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, where she earned her bachelor's degree in English and art history. She wasn't turned on by the British writer, though, until she watched the 1996 Arts & Entertainment production of "Pride and Prejudice," affectionately referred to on the web site as "P&P2." It opened Esau's eyes to Austen's "great sense of humor and irony,˛ she said. It so piqued her curiosity that she searched the Internet to see if a site existed where she could chat with others about the film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, her favorite of Austen's novels. She came upon The Republic of Pemberley site and has felt at home there ever since.

She's been posting fanfic since 1997. To date, she's contributed almost 30 stories, the most recent this month. Her favorites are "Mr. Collins' American Cousin," "Ms. Bingley's Trip to the Park," and "I Shall Endeavor.˛ An excerpt from one of her stories follows:

"Elizabeth, wake up, my dear." Darcy gently shook her shoulder. He was already dressed for a morning ride. Lizzie opened her eyes. "Pleasant dreams?˛ he asked. "What?" she mumbled, still lost in her dreams. "I asked if you had pleasant dreams. You were smiling in your sleep." "Very pleasant indeed," she replied. Lizzie looked at Darcy, searching for traces of her Gypsy baron, but much preferring the man before her. "Tell me about your dreams," Darcy coaxed. "Not right now, for I can see you are about to set off on a ride with Charles." She kissed him goodbye. As he left the room she thought, "I now have the perfect costume for us to wear to Jane's masquerade ball."

For those wanting to read well-written extensions of Austen's characters or stories, Esau recommends anything by Ann2 of Sweden, Lou, or Barbara, all of whom are regular contributors to

Esau also reads what others write about Austen in book form. She's currently reading The Friendly Jane Austen: A Well-Mannered Introduction to a Lady of Sense & Sensibility by Natalie Tyler. It suggests that readers' interpretations of Austen's works depend on their particular place in life, Esau said, adding that the book has such humorous categories as "Ironic Jane,˛ "Comic Jane," "Genteel Jane˛ and "Proto-feminist Jane."

In addition to posting her stories at, Esau has taken on a new, volunteer administrative role as host of the "Bits of Ivory" prose and poetry pages. She downloads new stories daily and archives them on the group's server, aptly named "Pemberley," which is located "somewhere in Massachusetts," she said., operated by a volunteer committee on which Esau serves, gets some 3 million hits a month. Many visitors to the site -- who hail from Australia, Hong Kong, Sweden, the U.S., Great Britain, Bosnia, Belgium and Puerto Rico, to name a few ‹ have gone from being e-mail pals to friends in the flesh. The Washington-area group, for example, meets about four times a year for tea and talk of all things Austen, Esau said. The entire group gathers annually. This year they will meet at Cape Cod.

To support the cost of maintaining its free web site, the group raises money by selling refrigerator magnets that feature such Austen sayings as "I am all astonishment." Esau, who owns the complete set of four magnets, as well as other Austen paraphernalia -- a T-shirt, mug, bookmark, videos and several illustrated editions of Pride and Prejudice -- manages to keep her office in the chemistry building void of such memorabilia. At work, she stays busy keeping track of manuscripts that come in daily for the decidedly un-Austen-like Journal of the American Chemical Society, for which her boss, professor Sidney Hecht, is associate editor. In this capacity she uses the Internet as a research tool for such things as determining qualified reviewers for submitted journal papers, she said.

When off-line and off-the-clock, Esau spends her down time reading, writing and making truffles. She gives most of the chocolate confections to patients and staff at the University Hospital, where her sister, Dr. Sharon Esau, works. Carolyn enjoys being with her family and often plans their vacations around Austen events. Last summer, she, her sister and their mother visited Stratford, Ontario, to attend a live performance of Pride and Prejudice adapted for the stage. Next year Esau hopes to visit England to see first-hand some of Austen's haunts.


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