From left, Abigail Pilger listens to Steve Thomas, a self-taught historian, dressed in a costume he made himself, as Nancy Mayer, right, shows off her attire from the Jane Austen novel “Sense and Sensibility.”

Nancy Mayer discovered Jane Austen’s novels about 30 years ago while researching early 19th century England.

“Jane Austen is a realistic writer who depicts real people in real situations,” the Sandy Springs retired teacher said.

Mayer was so impressed with Austen’s work that she joined the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA), a literary society of Austen fans in the United States and Canada.

She and other members of the metro Atlanta chapter of the Austen society – who call themselves “Janeites” – meet regularly to discuss the author’s enduring stories. They often meet in Buckhead or Sandy Springs.

From left, Alexandra Thomas, 15, Nancy Mayer, Diane Brannnen and Abigail Pilger confer during the Jane Austen birthday bash at the Dunwoody Public Library on Dec. 16.

Each December, Austen society members hold a special event to commemorate the author’s birthday, which is Dec. 16. This year’s birthday bash, held at the Dunwoody branch of the DeKalb County library, attracted members who dressed in costume appropriate to Austen’s time. Mayer dressed in clothes from the Austen novel “Sense and Sensibility.”

Members and guests used the occasion to compare notes on their favorite novels or characters.

“Austen’s characters are almost like relatives,” said Abigail Pilger, a Dunwoody resident and member of the Dunwoody Woman’s Club.

“What happens in Austen’s novels is real life,” said Mary Morder, a long-time member of the Austen society.

Kennesaw State University English professor and religious studies coordinator Laura Dabundo discussed her recent book, “The Marriage of Faith: Christianity in Jane Austen and William Wordsworth.” In her book, Dabundo draws similarities on how she believes each incorporated their faith into their prose and poetry, respectively. Dabundo said she presumes Austen must have extracted “the notion of marriage from the Bible.”

Mayer said religion for Austen was “as natural as breathing.” Austen’s father was a clergyman in the Church of England and many of her heroines marry clergymen.

“Marriage is a very important issue in Jane Austen’s work,” Dabundo said. “Not only for the couple, but for what it represented to the community. The couple unites with other characters through their marriage.”

Atlanta chapter members of the Jane Austen Society gather around goodies during the celebration noting the novelist’s birthday.

And yet, rather than lecturing the reader about religion, faith or moral standards, Mayer emphasized Austen uses dialogue “to show the fabric of her characters.”

“Jane Austen was ahead of her time, that is why her appeal is timeless,” Mayer said.

While Austen’s novel “Pride and Prejudice” remains the favorite of many, Helena Jeny insists that Austen’s “Emma” is “the best British novel in every sense.”

“Every word counts; every sentence moves the story and is targeted toward the end,” Jeny said.

“Austen is the master of streamlining.”

For more information about the Atlanta chapter, visit: