Ms. Olay, 66, is trying to tap into that passion to ensure that the Austen Society, formed in 1979, endures. In 2008, at the suggestion of member Cattleya Concepcion, 27, Ms. Olay set up a Facebook page. She quickly found that the Web was already a hotbed of Austen activity.
"Using the Web and Facebook, we were able to reach younger members," says Ms. Olay. "They are forming friendships and learning how to plan events."
DeeDee Baldwin, 31, of Starkville, Miss., created in 2008 "AustenBook," a Web spoof of Facebook that digitally chronicles the happenings of Elizabeth Bennet and the other characters in "Pride and Prejudice." "When you read her books, you feel like the characters could be with you right now," says Ms. Baldwin.
The Austen Society is reaching young people in other ways, too. For the past three years the group has bought space at the Brooklyn Book Festival, making Ms. Austen the only deceased author with her own booth at the ultra-hip event.
Jaclyn Green-Stock, 23, co-heads the New York "Juvenilia" chapter of the Austen Society, a 50-member group of Janeites in their 20s and 30s. Ms. Green-Stock is also writing a screenplay about gentrification in New York, using "Persuasion" as her chief inspiration.
The Juvenilia members take walking tours in lower Manhattan and gather at each other's apartments to watch DVDs of Austen-themed movies such as a Bollywood version of "Sense and Sensibility" called "I Have Found It."
Media companies are tapping into the Austen craze as well. Quirk Books in Philadelphia in 2008 commissioned author Seth Grahame-Smith to write "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," a work that adds the undead to Ms. Austen's classic novel. The book is slated to become a film next year.
The seeds of the Austen resurgence were sown during the 1990s. In 1995 came two big film and TV adaptations: the BBC miniseries of "Pride and Prejudice," featuring actor Colin Firth as Fitzwilliam Darcy; and director Ang Lee's "Sense and Sensibility," starring Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant and Kate Winslet. A year later Gwyneth Paltrow starred in "Emma."
"Clueless," a 1995 movie starring Alicia Silverstone and Paul Rudd, was a thinly disguised adaptation of "Emma," set in modern-day California.
But while those movies stirred young people's passions for Ms. Austen's works, the Web is allowing fans to connect in new ways.
Among the Jane Austen Twitter feeds, blogs and chat rooms that have cropped up is "Jane Austen's Fight Club," a faux movie trailer that juxtaposes women in Austen-era frocks with the bruises and blood of the cult classic "Fight Club." There's also dwiggie.com, a hub of fan fiction overseen by Crystal Shih, 29. Ms. Shih and her college roommate discovered Ms. Austen a decade ago and began writing Austenesque prose in their Massachusetts Institute of Technology dorm room. Now her site boasts about 1,000 registered users. Everything from "Clueless" to Colin Firth is fair game for debate.
"The movie adaptations created a lot of fanatics," says Ms. Shih, now doing postdoctoral work in biochemistry at MIT. "In some of the forums, there are throw-downs about who is their favorite Darcy…At one conference an 80-year-old said Laurence Olivier was the only one for her, but Colin Firth definitely propagates that Darcy image today."
Laurie Viera Rigler has written two Austen-theme novels, "Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict" and "Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict." In May she launched "Sex and the Austen Girl," a Web series at babelgum.com that plays on the differences between life today and in the Austen era.
The two-and-a-half minute webisodes include such titles as "The 200-Year-Old Virgin."
Young people, says Ms. Viera Rigler, are deep into Austen's universe and obsessive fandom "is normal to them."
"It's true," she says. "We are a little crazy."
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Austen werd geboren in Hampshire. Haar vader was een geestelijke. Het grootste deel van haar leven bleef zij in haar geboortestreek. Austen had zes broers en een oudere zuster, Cassandra, met wie zij zeer hecht was. Het enige onbetwiste portret van Jane Austen is een gekleurde schets die door Cassandra werd gemaakt en nu in de National Portrait Gallery in Londen hangt. In 1801 verhuisde de familie naar Bath. In 1802 werd Austen ten huwelijk gevraagd door de rijke Harris Bigg-Wither en zij stemde toe; de volgende dag deelde ze echter mee dat zij haar woord niet kon houden en trok haar instemming in. De reden hiervoor is niet bekend, maar Austen is nooit getrouwd. Na de dood van haar vader in 1805 woonden Jane, haar zuster en haar moeder daar nog verscheidene jaren tot zij in 1809 naar Chawton verhuisden. Hier had haar rijke broer Edward een landgoed met een plattelandshuisje, dat hij aan zijn moeder en zusters schonk (dit huis is tegenwoordig open voor het publiek). Zelfs nadat zij naam gemaakt had als romanschrijfster bleef zij in relatieve stilte leven, maar haar gezondheid ging sterk achteruit. Er wordt nu aangenomen dat zij de ziekte van Addison had, waarvan toen de oorzaak nog onbekend was. Ze reisde naar Winchester om behandeling te zoeken, maar stierf daar en werd begraven in de kathedraal.
Tot Austens beroemdste werk behoort de roman Emma. Het boek wordt vaak aangehaald vanwege de perfectie van vorm. Moderne critici blijven ook nieuwe perspectieven ontdekken op het scherpe commentaar van Austen betreffende de klasse van jonge, ongehuwde, aristocratische Engelse vrouwen in de vroege 19e eeuw.