It is a truth universally acknowledged that in the realm of fanfiction, two names dominate—Jane Austen and Sherlock Holmes, according to Anne Jamison in her book Fic: Why Fanfiction is Taking Over the World.
On December, author Deborah Yaffe gave a wonderful talk for the Somerset Library system, expanding upon her 2013 book Among the Janeites, which examines the various ways in which Austen’s many, many, (many) fans have interpreted their favorite author’s literary output.
It’s hard to find (ironically) any universal truth in how fans have viewed Austen, her characters, and her world over the decades. Austen herself has been hailed as an unromantic mistress of satiric wit, a spurned lover who directed her romantic energies into her work, a nascent feminist who consciously rejected marriage in favor of writing, and the ultimate romantic creator of some of the most swoon-worthy heroes ever created. Her novels have likewise been called satires, morality tales, and romances, depending upon the critic (or mood and age of the reader).
The parallel, seeming unrecognizable interpretations of Austen, often reveal more about the gazer than the subject. It’s very rare for a novelist’s characters (versus a dramatist’s roles like those of Shakespeare) to inspire such intense, yet contradictory, interpretations over the decades.
So, who is “your” Jane Austen?