Going Meta with Jane Austen

Going Meta with Jane Austen

Gratuitous self-promotion alert!!!!!

Last month, I released ALWAYS YOU, bringing a close to THE JANE AUSTEN ACADEMY, my contemporary retelling of Jane Austen’s novels which imagines each of her heroines as teenagers at an exclusive boarding school. ALWAYS YOU is available in eBook and paperback from Amazon, with other retailers coming online in July. Want to win a copy? Comment below (any comment!) or subscribe to my newsletter. Entries accepted through Sunday, March 8th midnight PST. giveaway colors

Now back to your regularly scheduled programming…

The Jane Austen Academy series is set at a fictitious boarding school called…drumroll….The Jane Austen Academy. Each of the six friends is named after the lead heroine of a Jane Austen novel. Their romantic entanglements resemble the major plot arc of a Jane Austen novel. The characters themselves even read Jane Austen, as it is part of the mandatory curriculum, as would be expected at The Jane Austen Academy.

Yet, at no point in the series does Lizzie Bennet (or anyone) say, “Hey…isn’t it weird that the six of us are best friends and we each share a name with one of Jane Austen’s heroines and we all go to a school named after her? Like, isn’t that the trippiest?????”

Nope. I decided to forgo being meta. I ran through every possible way I could conceive of for the characters to acknowledge the wink to the audience, and none of them felt satisfying – or anything worthy of what I suppose Jane herself could have conjured up if given the task.

I’m a fan of meta jokes, and while I wasn’t clever enough to think of one of my own, I thought I’d share my favorite examples of pop culture winks to the audience.

First, a definition: what does it mean to be meta?

Being meta is largely a reference to being self-referential or referential to another piece of parallel pop culture.

Second, why be meta?

Being meta is often comedy and commentary at the same time. It relies on the audience being aware of the source material and willing to allow you to comment on it, and since the mere act of commenting on pre-existing pop culture can be perceived as satirical, if you’re going to do it, you better have something worth saying. Which I did not…beyond how much I love Jane Austen (a worthy message but still pretty self-serving.)

Third, what kind of meta jokes are there?

Meta references range from clever to insulting to just plain fun, and here are some of my favorite examples.


Scream (honorable mention: Cabin in the Woods)

The 1996 horror film opened with Drew Barrymore being taunted by a killer while making fun of movies in which busty blondes are taunted by killers. While Whedon’s recent horror/comedy film, Cabin in the Woods, tries to explain why such tropes exist, nearly a decade ago Scream was the first horror film to tell the audience it understands its genre and intends to surprise us anyway. The question is whether the upcoming summer TV series based on the movie will be just as clever with nearly a decade passing since its original source material. Careful, the video below is pretty gruesome!




The hit TV series Supernatural is going to be at least ten seasons strong due in no small part to its rabid fan base, which goes so far as to sell out show conventions and create strong online communities with endless pages of fan fiction. The writers of the show gave a nod to the fans when the two brothers discover the fictional world they inhabit also has fans with the same zealous admiration of them as in real life. A recent 200th episode of the show was even titled Fan Fiction…and I’d show it to you but you should really watch the entire series yourself!!


Hot Tub Time Machine

This 2010 comedy shows you don’t have to be clever and self-referential to be meta – simple works, too. Perhaps recognizing the conceit of this show – that a hot tub has time travel properties – is too absurd not to mention, a character at one point in the movie breaks the fourth wall to acknowledge it.


The list above is by no means exhaustive. Even as I write this I keep thinking of how Glee’s earlier seasons had characters voice its fans’ complaints within the context of the show, how in Ocean’s 12 the character played by Julia Roberts is involved in a gag where she impersonates Julia Roberts, and pretty much every episode of Community, which is so clever and meta I’m sure I don’t get half of it.

I’d love to hear from you about your favorite meta pop culture bits, and if anyone has a meta Jane Austen book, I’m game to read it!!

41 Responses to Going Meta with Jane Austen

  1. Well, we are to learn something new every day and META is my new word, my new fact for the day. I have not read this series so will have to check it out. Have seen a number of Colin Firth films, including his latest (Kingsman). I always found it amusing to catch those cross references (Meta). Now I have a name to put to those.

  2. Hi Cecilia,

    I have all of the books in your series except this newest one. I’d love to win it. Thanks for the opportunity!

  3. I didn’t know what meta means until I read this post. I heard it banded about but I haven’t been curious enough to find out. Congrats on your latest book release, Cecilia and thanks for the generous donation.

  4. What a fun post! I was another one who didn’t know this definition. I loved YA fic and still pull out some of my faves. What could be better than combining it with Austen? Congrats on your newest release!

  5. Also my first on “Meta” although I did have a good laugh at the Darcy joke in Kingsman. Your books sound awesome and now I’ll have to go take a look see. Thanks for the give away and the blog post. Jen Red

  6. I love this! I’ve never heard the term itself – “meta” – but love when gags like this are pulled off. One of my personal favorites in recent years is on Castle. Nathan Fillion, who played cult-classic Captain Malcolm Reynolds in Firefly, and who now plays Castle, has several times referred to his “past.” Like when he dressed in complete Mal costume, browncoat and all, for Halloween one year. His daughter asked him what he was supposed to be, and he replied in deadpan seriousness that he was a “space cowboy” , to which she says is the dumbest thing ever. LOL! It was great. And I think at least twice he and Beckett have solved a murder case at a Comic Con like convention.

    I can see where tackling how to address the irony of writing modern JA in a world where JA novels exist would be a bit tricky. Coming up with a clever twist would have been fun, I suppose, but then again it is especially humorous to have the characters blind to the parallel!

    Thanks for teaching us something new, Cecilia. And MAJOR CONGRATULATIONS on the new release!!!!! More to come??? Gonna write one for Georgiana Darcy or Mary Bertram or Margaret Dashwood perhaps? 😉

    • Yes!!! (Here is a link to that scene for anyone who wants to see it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0g42UxfB6MI) And there was even a little “vampire” love reference later that kind of harkens to his time as an evil vamp on Buffy. So good!!!

      And as long as you brought it up…I do get a fair amount of email asking whether Wickham will get his redemption, and we all know I love me a good redemption. 🙂

      • Sharon and Rose – you both know Firefly? How awesome is that? One of the great injustices of TV programming when Fox decided, in their ultimate wisdom, to cancel it. ???? We were just watching the follow up film, Serenity, a couple of days ago.

        • Truly one of the best shows EVER! Serenity is a wonderful film, all on its own, but best of all it carried on the Firefly world for a little while longer. I still miss it, and rewatch the series often.

  7. Most recently in “The Kingsman” movie, Colin Firth is an agent for MI-6. In a bar scene, the street thugs say “You are not going all Darcy are you?”. Later, there is a reference to turning a “nobody” into something no one would expect. Firth mentions shows like “Nikita,” but the young man he has recruited says “like in My Fair Lady.” Firth and Carey Mulligan are to appear in a remake of My Fair Lady. In older films like “Eraser,” Arnold Schwarzenegger hides the Robert Pastorelli character in a witness protection program, where “Johnny” is a bartender in a gay bar. In the background, the song is “It’s Raining Men.” Movies such as “Shanghai Noon” are polluted with them: Chon Wang: [shaking his hand] My name is Chon Wang.
    Roy O’Bannon: John Wayne?
    Chon Wang: Chon Wang.
    Roy O’Bannon: That’s a terrible cowboy name!
    Roy O’Bannon: Now I’m gonna have to get rid of my outlaw name, it just won’t work anymore. My real name’s Wyatt Earp.

  8. I love the premise of your series! One could certainly have a heyday with the follies and inconsistencies of say, Katherine Morland and Emma Woodhouse right under the nose of Elizabeth Bennet! As teenagers no less … the possibilities boggle the mind!

    I also love picking up on the self-referential bits. It happens a lot in modern Jane Austen Fan Fiction, where at the very least, one or more of the main characters are big Austen fans. I keep waiting for the FF where one of the main characters can’t stand Austen even as they (unknowingly) quote her. The Bridget Jones meta bit was one of my favorites, where Bridget travels to Rome to interview Colin Firth, a crush she’s had since she saw him play Darcy in the A&E P&P, and also the part where the portrait of Darcy from the halls of Pemberley is hanging in the portrait gallery of ancestors in Mark Darcy’s childhood home.

    I also found numerous bits in Austenland to be rather meta, including main character being an Austen enthusiast named “Jane”, the cutout of Mr Darcy in Jane’s living room, casting of JJ Field (who played Henry Tilney in Northhanger Abbey) as the generic Austen hero, Henry Nobley and so on.

    Poorly done meta references are SO painful, but when added with a subtle stroke, the little wink wink, nudge nudge, did you see what I did there? is tons of fun!

    • I will have to watch Austenland – it’s been on my to-watch forever because I have a group of Austen-fan girlfriends and we keep trying to get together and see it, but maybe I need to just sneak a viewing myself. And yes! The idea of one hating Austen and still quoting her is UBER-meta (advanced stuff). Would love to see that, too.

  9. I’ve read all the other books in the series, I’d love to win the last book 🙂 Can’t say I’ve ever attempted to write anything ‘meta’. I do love Austen-esque books like your series though

  10. I’m another who didn’t know what “meta” was! Interesting post, Cecilia, I’ll have to look your books out. I’ve heard of them before but didn’t think that, as a Brit, US high school teenagers would be “my thing”. Time for a visit to the Kindle Store!

    • Haha, thanks Anji. I actually went to high school in Europe, not in the US, so it is quite possible my “US high school teenagers” aren’t so US after all!! Who knows. :):)

  11. I agree this was very educational and brilliant! Loved having my understanding of these concepts broadened!
    Best of luck to you!

  12. You have brought up something that I had noticed (even at my age I do occasionally get the references thrown in!) but I never knew that it was called Meta.

    Thanks for the information. Until now, I only associated META with where I signed in to a website. 🙂

  13. Soo I think I get this Meta thing. Bridget Jones Diary 2 would be a meta, right? Because Colin firth plays Darcy again. Hmmm. Interesting cecila. Thanks for a great post.

    • Oooh, I haven’t watched the second Bridget Jones but YES, if he plays Darcy in it then that is SUPER meta – am going to add it to my TBW list. Thank you!

  14. I have a few of the books on my very long JA TBR list. Until today I never hears of meta. Have to keep an eye out for it. I never paid attention to it before.

  15. I just read the book description and about the series! Sounds like a fun contemporary retelling of Jane Austen’s novels. They are on my TBR list. Looking forward to reading them.

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