It seems a silly question at first. You most emphatically stated your answer the moment you read the title, but was it the right one? Surely there must be a right and proper answer to this question.
Why bother asking? Well, for the simple reason that I would like to know the answer. I love Jane Austen’s works and enjoy researching things. I have no wish to start a controversy between all those that may differ on this, but I would like to know how the terms came about to mean the same thing. Or I should like to discover what the connotative differences are, if they are not.
Beginning with Wikipedia, in brief, a Janeite is one who is a devoted admirer of Jane Austen, her work, and all things related to her life and times; Austenite is a kind of iron with no mention of the Jane Austen connection. Some might think that this would conclusively close the issue, however, as Wikipedia is merely a reservoir of collected information I dug a little deeper, following references to their source when possible, but then I started asking a few people I thought of as experts (or at least individuals with more familiarity than myself) on the issue.
In my consultations I asked a few Jane Austen appreciators (and some devotees) that I am acquainted with through social media. The question I posed was this: Are we Janeites or Austenites? The responses ranged from decisive to open to preference.
“We prefer Janeites! And in our case Indie Janeites!” -Jessica Melendez & Nancy Kelley; Indie Jane
“I never thought to differentiate. I think most people use both, but the preferred term for many is Janeites, I suppose…I think I use Austenites in my posts a good bit, but I use both.” -Carolyn Crist; Vicariously Jane Austen
“Both Janeites and Austenites is used. It’s your preference. I prefer Janeite.” -Laurel Ann Nattress; Austenprose
“Janeites I believe is more common. But they are fairly new terms. I call myself a Darcyholic.” -Barbra Tiller Cole; Darcyholic Diversions
“I am pretty sure the real insider term is Janeites. Using Austenites is a mark of being not so much on the inside, though not derogatory.” – Vera Nazarian; Supernatural Jane Austen Series
I was starting to wonder if we weren’t all indeed Janeites and that the term Austenite might have been some faux pas that simply made it into acceptance because it may have been spoken with that air of authority that sealed its accepted use. However, one response to the question posed the distinction between the two terms within the Janeite community that wouldn’t necessarily be largely known.
“According to us Jane-ites are Austen fans who have only read the books or adaptions & Austen-ites are the ones who obtain formal education. So, anyone who is studying formally college or University can do that: Austen-ite. As for authors of sequels, I suppose, are Austen-ites as well. Myself, I am in the middle as I have formal education as in courses from Chawton, but I am also a book & Adaption person as well. I could call myself an Austen-ite if I wished to, but I don’t usually as I don’t use those labels.” – Stella, Senior Member of the Jane Austen Centre online.
What we call ourselves isn’t really as important as our shared appreciation for the works of Jane Austen, but it is interesting. I know that some use the terms as badges of honor, while other use them as labels for zealots. As I said, this at first was just an idle question born out of curiosity as I’ve been researching all things Jane Austen. As the responses ranged so, I’d say that the conversational value of the question is far more interesting than there being a right and proper answer.
Which am I? Once I would have said a Janeite without a doubt, but perhaps all this research is turning me into an Austenite. I may need to seek scholarly help.
Which do you consider yourself: Janeite or Austenite? Is there a difference in your mind?
Disclaimer: As I utilized Twitter DM’s to get quick answers I took it upon myself to add in proper punctuation as we tend to degenerate in our typing via that method. I apologize for any errors or misrepresentations as a result, and encourage everyone to utilize commenting here to better verbalize themselves.
*Photo: Chrysanthemum tea by The Unseasoned Wok, obtained through Flickr.