Although Ted Scheinman wanted to leave clotted cream and Yorkshire pudding in his past, he 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.
Though determined to break away from the trappings of his mother’s calling, Scheinman has nonetheless penned a love letter to Austen superfandom, and with it a documentation of this fascinating literary bailiwick ... Camp Austen is a vivid and absorbing book. But don’t let its whimsical cover fool you: this is a solid work of literary scholarship and affecting biography as much as it is a fun romp of memoir and laugh-out-loud reportage. Readers unversed in the Austen canon will inevitably miss some of the cleverer references, but that is to be expected. The triumph of Camp Austen, however, 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.
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 realm. 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.
Eventually, Scheinman begins to worry he's a bit of a fraud, someone who's given a pass because he fills out a pair of breeches ... But his tone throughout the book is anything but melancholy; 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.