Austen’s Sacred Cows

sa·cred cow
an idea, custom, or institution held, especially unreasonably, to be above criticism
* * *
Last month, I blogged about fan possessiveness over Jane Austen, the author, and how love of her work can extend to love of her, the (very private) individual, leading us to feel ownership over her thoughts, feelings and beliefs.
This month, I’m extending that discussion to her works.
As authors of Jane Austen fan fiction, everyone on this site plays in the world of Jane Austen’s characters, and what I find interesting is which aspects of her story become our sacred cows, and how these differ between authors.
As an example, let’s use Austen’s most beloved character: Elizabeth Bennet.
Since I write contemporary, often young-adult, I am drawn to Lizzie’s intelligence, stubbornness and ferocity of character. I also think it’s important that she be attractive, yet not remarkably so. I’m indifferent, however, to her having sisters.
(I’ll pause to allow those in need an opportunity to gasp….)
Yes, in my retellings, Lizzie doesn’t need sisters or a particularly close family. She just needs someone she wants to protect – and a close friend will do. But to many, the Bennet family is a sacred cow – untouchable, immutable canon of Jane Austen. While I do relate to her love for her family, as someone without sisters, I also think it’s possible to reflect that love in other venues.
Other Austen sacred cows I tend to ignore?
* The villainess – I’m talking Mary Crawford or Isabelle Thorne or even Lucy Steele – I love myself a good female redemption and if given the space will ensure they come around.
* Walking scenes – I just can’t make a walking scene interesting unless a zombie is in tow, quite frankly
* Women’s issues – Marriage just isn’t what it used to be, and I’m not particularly interested in parsing out a contemporary reflection of this role expectation
There are a select few purists out there (kudos to you!) who manage to weave all her tropes into their retellings, but many of us pick and choose our favorites, disregarding others. So let me know: what’s your favorite scared cow and what’s the one you can live without?
(Let’s keep it a no judgment zone!)

28 Responses to Austen’s Sacred Cows

  1. My sacred cow would be that Darcy and Elizabeth get their happy ending, no matter how they get there…..but, they MUST get there together. No other ending is acceptable, like Ceri & Jen said.

  2. I agree that for me Elizabeth and Darcy have to have their Happily Ever After. I recently read a “Sample” in which Elizabeth eloped with Wickham and ended up in his bed before they got to Scotland, (Gretna Green). I did not buy the book and will not mention the name of the book or the author but I was revolted by the idea! I have read various treatments of the other characters, deaths, different pairings, bad parents, i.e., Mr. Darcy, Sr. or Mr. Bennet, and even one book in which Caroline made some changes and became a likable characters. In JAFF I am not critical of most changes but DO NOT change the pairing of E&D. And there have been good reads for me in which the family composition was different, with fewer sisters and/or a brother for Elizabeth.

  3. So my comment from Friday was lost… we’ll try this again!

    I go back and forth about Jane and Bingley. I used to think they HAD to be together, then I thought they absolutely were wrong for each other, and now I am sort of in an of-course-they’re-great-together place. She’s kind enough not to take advantage of his character or manipulate him, and he’s nice enough not to take advantage of her goodness, which could really land her in hot water with some people.

    Oddly enough, I don’t mind Wentworth with other women. I read something once where he and Elizabeth dated before they found their “true loves”. It was an interesting idea and I do like him as a hero. He strikes me as very real. But the girl that replaced Anne would have to be amazing. Like E.B. I do like it

    I HATE it when Georgiana ends up with Col. Fitzwilliam. He’s significantly older than her, which may not be a huge deal but seems ick to me when she’s that young (there’s a big difference in a 35/50 relationship and a 18/33 one.) And he is her guardian. Surely that’s a conflict of interests!?!? I also prefer it when he’s a good man, but I have read bad colonels in stories I liked.

    Time-wise, I feel it’s more of a JAFF if it’s regency. If it’s a modernized version of the story but nothing changes, it’s boring to me. If the story changes and the time changes, it’s a hard sell as a JAFF, though there are plenty of moderns that I love on the boards. I think of them more as based-on Austen than as variations of Austen.

    • I don’t like Colonel Fitzwilliam with Georgiana because of the guardian thing either. I don’t mind him with Anne de Bourgh, as long as she has a hidden personality. With Darcy no longer available, and Anne not active in society it wouldn’t surprise me at all for Lady Catherine to switch to her other nephew, particularly as he has his eye on a fortune.

      • Exactly! I’ve always wondered why the family, meaning his parents, weren’t pushing for that. Clearly Ann is too sickly to be much of a proper wife and having two large estates to take care of would likely be awful for her. Darcy needs an heir and if there were two estates, that would be even more important. Col. Fitzwilliam is loyal to the family, could be trusted to be good to his sickly wife/cousin, and doesn’t have as great a need for an heir. The estate could be inherited by a cousin.

        • Anne is very funny in The Darcy Brothers, extremely eccentric. I know I’ve read at least one where she and Colonel Fitzwilliam fall in love and marry secretly, but I can’t recall the title. Humph!

          • I can’t remember the names of the books but there are more than one out there that have Anne with a personality she keeps hidden from her mother, especially.

  4. Defiantly Mr. Darcy….. The way you write their love story is beautiful….swoon….I am a fan and can’t wait to read more from you…. I’ve tried other P&P authors, but there’s something in the way that you write their story that I’m hopelessly devoted to….thank you for keeping them alive

  5. What an interesting post! I’ve recently written a Regency work that started out as a few what-ifs and then a few more and then a few more and suddenly I realized I had really changed the story. BUUUUUUUTTTT, I’m still a bit tempted to say it’s just an extreme what-if. I need someone other than me to look at it, apparently.

    My sacred cows: Darcy and Elizabeth HEA (well, any of the original Austen couplings actually), just about every minor character can swing either way- so long as it makes sense. There are some where I wonder if someone time traveled and stole Caroline’s body or something. I really prefer a close resemblance for Darcy and Elizabeth but minor characters I care less about. I do try to consider the unexpected when I write, but everything is fair game when I read. If characters are changed a lot, then I think following the general story arc makes it work better as a JAFF.

    But then this is where we all differ, isn’t it? Was Darcy a terrible, proud jerk his whole life and had to have a big shout fest with the woman he “loved” (because many say he didn’t really love her then if he thought so horribly of the whole world) in order to see the light? Or was he raised with certain expectations, which he may never have fully accepted for himself? Could he overcome them easier if presented differently or even by other people? Ergo, I like many books where he starts out proud and by page 30 he’s over it, in love with Lizzy, and they’re working for their HEA but there’s outside trouble.

    Oooh, another one. If it’s a true sequel meaning all their Canon misunderstandings have happened, please don’t give them a troubled marriage. Have the whole world want to kill them, but only little spats between each other, please. I really think they developed a special bond with unbreakable trust, so it tears me up to have Elizabeth think Darcy is cheating etc.

    • Rose! i SO agree with the no troubled marriage for D&E. Let the conflict in their sequels be of the you-and-me-against-the-world variety. For me, infidelity on either’s part shatters their basic character.

      • Oooh, I normally consider myself pretty open-minded to anything, but I will not read a troubled marriage retelling. I just don’t have the stomach for it!!! So weak, lol.

  6. The HEA for all of the books for me is important. Exceptions: I don’t care if Jane and Bingley (they are too bland as a couple and need something to make them grow) get together and have the same feeling about Fanny. In P & P variations siblings and family can die or just not be in existence at all, but but Darcy and Elizabeth must have an HEA. Period. Colonel Fitzwilliam can be good or bad (actually read one where he was not only bad, but killed off and enjoyed the book) but I agree with Ceri: if everything is changed so radically, including the personalities, then don’t call it JAFF because it isn’t. The characters and their basic personalities and interactions must remain. One peeve I have is with an author whom I shall not name who has written several variations that have Elizabeth as a super talented, super perfect, super musical, superb at everything she attempts person and is beloved by all. It is not Elizabeth Bennet. The joy in the reading of P & P is the growth and maturing of Darcy and Elizabeth. If she is perfect to begin with, there is really no place to go with it. To work as JAFF, parts of canon must remain. And, I am very sorry to say this for those who write it, I am not a fan of modern JAFF. I have read only 2 I like at all: Barbara Silkstone’s Mr Darcy series and Mary Lydon Simonsen’s which is actually a time travel back to the Regency story. For me, it must be in the Regency period in order for it to work well, or for me to be interested. I have tried to read moderns on the fan fiction sites and just end up not liking them. moved in location, hovere

    I like when they are moved in location, however (The Falmouth Connection and a couple I have read that have moved them to meet in Ramsgate or London). Personalities remained the same but the circumstances were changed and it remained a good story. Also, having them meet earlier has also worked.This is just from a fan’s perspective

  7. For me too, Darcy and Elizabeth must end up together. Also, Darcy must be the model of the hero. I’m writing stories centered around the secondary ladies of Pride and Prejudice, and while they do get their HFNs and HEAs, and their heroes are lovely, my internal rule that Darcy must always be better: taller, handsomer, richer, and do more to ensure the happiness and well-being of those he loves and is responsible for.

    Caroline Bingley must always be evil and suffer for it (though her motives can be explained and justified).

    Wickham must always be evil, though he may not suffer for it – which makes me loathe him more!

    I too can’t bring myself to see Colonel Fitzwilliam as a bad guy. I did NOT like his character in Death Comes to Pemberley!

    I can’t see Elizabeth without sisters. They are her fundamental blessing (Jane) and curse (Lydia).

  8. Totally agree with Ceri. Elizabeth must end up with Darcy in the end even if they married other people (gasps!) before they met. If they don’t, please don’t use their names at all. Same goes to Wentworth and Anne although I can be forgiving for my second most favourite couple if authors can weave a wonderful story that make me forget that but definitely don’t mess with D&E.

  9. I agree with Ceri! First and foremost they must end up together. My next scared cow (personally) is Colonel Fitzwilliam. I see him as a good friend of Darcy’s and cannot write or read him as a villain. That’s just me.

    Since my books are ‘what if’ I hardly mention most of the sisters in my books for I have too many other characters to feature. In fact, I often kill off some of the family members early so I can focus on D&L and their new circumstances. 🙂 Interesting thing to consider. Thanks for sharing.

  10. I agree, the HEA for E&D is key — the sooner the better. I also prefer the stories where they actually communicate instead of just staring or glaring at each other without being honest about their thoughts or feelings. Putting that together along with my aversion to conflict and I must be an “angst weenie”. In the JAFF, I don’t care what happens to them as long as they go through it together as a team.

  11. Interesting post! Well, for me the sacred cow is Elizabeth and Darcy ending up together. I know some people might be interested in seeing how they could end up with other people but for myself, I don’t want to read that.

    I don’t think it’s necessary for there to be Bennet sisters but I like there to be at least one. I know you can feel protective over a friend but the sibling bond is something special. Even the closest friendship can be changed over time or by circumstances, but the sibling bond can endure over years even if you don’t like your sibling, so I feel a bit sad for Lizzy if she doesn’t have that certainty while the rest of her world is turned upside down.

    I don’t really mind what else is changed but I like it to still be recognisable as P&P, the dynamics between the characters and the progression in the relationships. If all that is the same is character names then it’s not really JAFF anymore.

    • That brings up another interesting point: the character names itself! I tend to change/update them from time to time, which occasionally annoys readers, too! The name is definitely a sacred cow for some. 🙂

      • Re. the names, I don’t mind if they’re updated but if a character is clearly supposed to be Charlotte, for example, then I prefer for her to be called something recognisable as Charlotte. Sometimes an author will make the names completely different but the character is obviously equivalent to one of Austen’s and you find yourself trying to remember which name corresponds with which character, which can be tiresome.

Your thoughts are precious!