Thursday, March 11, 2010

The world of Jane Austen fan fiction, from one who has been living there...

As many of you know, I am a HUGE Jane Austen fan, and an avid reader of Jane Austen fan fiction (JAFF) and sometimes writer of them as well. This little addition helped fuel my passion for writing and I only have Amber and her beloved Hyacinth Gardens to "thank" for that. Since my introduction to this genre, I have spent many happy years reading about Darcy and Elizabeth, in many, many different forms- duchess, cowboy, journalist, cellist, etc. The creativity of those who write JAFF astounds me, and I commend the entire JAFF community for such artistic works. One never knows what to expect, or what kind of twist you'll see next. This humble writer could never aspire to such talent as seen on many JAFF sites.

What is it about these characters that inspires us so? The majority of JAFF are stories based on Pride and Prejudice, Austen's most popular novel. Darcy and Elizabeth have a tight hold over readers and writers, and those who dare to stray from cannon Darcy should expect many cries of outrage and questions into their reasoning. Fitzwilliam Darcy, gentleman, is allowed, but any other Darcy in any shape or form is critically analyzed and the writers integrity sometimes called into question. Why? What is it about this fictional character that drives grown women to argue over how a fan fiction author has portrayed him in a fictional story? To quote myself, it's not as if Darcy is going to walk out of a pond in a post-modern moment, ala Lost in Austen. The JAFF is a world where Darcy is always the hero, and Elizabeth always the witty, intelligent heroine. But what happens when a writer decides to push boundaries and make Darcy into something darker, and sometimes more fitting with how gentlemen actually were in Regency times? The author gets page after page of horrified comments mixed in with those eternal optimists who declare they will wait it out for the perfect Darcy and Elizabeth ending. Darcy can be redeemed and then they can have their storybook happily ever after ending. Why? What is it that makes us require a Darcy and Elizabeth only happy ending? Being one of the two most beloved characters in literature, it's hard to imagine Darcy and Elizabeth with any other person, and many refuse to contemplate such an ending. I am heartily amused by those readers, and love them dearly, for there are none more loyal than a Pride and Prejudice purist. I myself am not one, but I respect those who cannot handle anything other than a "D&E ending."

What about Austen's other books, you ask? Well, there is a smattering of fan fiction based on Emma, Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion and Mansfield Park, and perhaps one or two based on Northanger Abbey, Austen's satire on gothic novels and my personal favorite among her works. These are few and far between, and all are delightful looks into the what-if world of these novels. All have love stories, of course, and their share of witty ladies, elegant gentlemen and charming villains. And of course, each book has been made into at least one TV series, some multiple times, and Pride and Prejudice can claim its own motion picture. These productions and their actors have inspired many a story. Anyone ever hear of some bloke named Colin Firth?

The world of JAFF is a fun one, and can provide many years of enjoyment, especially now that many of these stories are being picked up by publishing houses. JAFF in print is becoming very popular and you can find many books to purchase at various sites, and many directly from the JAFF forums. Almost two years ago, I was given the opportunity to become a moderator on my favorite JAFF site, and I took the chance happily. In those almost two years, I worked with sensational women who are not only talented writers themselves, but readers of the fandom. So of course, we got along famously! I made friendships to last a lifetime. I'm sad to say I am no longer a moderator on that favorite board, but I can look back on my past with pleasure, and feel proud of what I accomplished for the JAFF community. There are many, many sites devoted to JAFF, too many to list here, and ones coming online all the time, but a quick Google search of JAFF will bring up enough to get you started. Then you can access the amazing Jane Austen Fan Fiction Index (JAFF Index), run by the lovely Victoria. (each site has its own password) This index is a treasure trove of links to stories categorized by their themes. If you want an angsty, dark Darcy, or a fun-loving romp, you can choose your category and browse at your leisure.

So, go forth and read! Or, if you are brave, go forth and write! There's room for everyone!

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