Leave Austen Alone (or Not!!)

Leave Austen Alone (or Not!!)

When I posted the second installment of my series “The Wives of Highbury,” which is a prequel to Austen’s “Emma,” I got a lot of positive comments.  But as anyone that writes knows, you have to expect that some people are not going to like your work, for whatever reason.  But I have to admit, what one person wrote I was not expecting.  She wrote:

“Please leave Jane Austen’s works and other classics alone.  They were not meant to be used in this way.  Do not disrespect these authors…….”

You get the picture so I won’t give you more of what this diatribe contained.  Now, my first inclination was to reply to this, but then I decided I would be breaking one of the golden rules of writer reviews, which is you don’t reply when someone gives you a bad one.

Then again, this wasn’t really a bad review on my story.  It was an opinion about the Fan Fiction world in general.  And if I were to reply, what I would say is this:

I don’t write fan fiction to disrespect or offend anyone.  Myself and other fan fiction writers create these stories because they love these authors (in our case, Jane Austen) and the characters they created.  I believe readers love these characters as much as we do, and appreciate us keeping them alive with the stories we create based on them.

I started my prequel “The Wives of Highbury,” because I always wondered about Emma’s mother.  Austen does not mention her much in the novel.  I wanted to create a history for Emma Woodhouse.  Her mother was said to be a kind woman, but that was the extent of the development of her character.  I wanted more than just her kindness.  I wanted a real person.  In the process of creating Emma’s mother, who now is Emily Woodhouse, I had to create her world, and her world was Highbury.  In Emma, Highbury was the Westons, the Knightleys, the Bates, the Coles, and even Mrs. Goddard.  In my story, I gave these characters and families a history.  I wished to create a legacy for the Westons, the Knightleys, even for a minor character like Mrs. Goddard, in a way readers will enjoy.

Would Austen approve? That is a subject that has been debated over and over.  But I must say I am not as concerned about that as I am catering to the interests of 21st century readers.  I think readers of Austen’s work today enjoy reading about what may have happened to her characters in the past and future, and even variations that give a different view of the characters in Austen’s world.

Austen’s stories and characters are timeless.  Her characters have meaning to us 200 plus years after her death.  And I think writing stories based on her books not only honors her work, but lets us continue to develop and enjoy that work indefinitely.  I guess that doesn’t make everyone happy.  And they are entitled to their opinions.  But I know many of us will continue to enjoy Austen fan fiction, and those of us that write it will enjoy creating it for our audience.

Interested in “The Wives of Highbury?” It’s on my website blog at www.girlwiththebook.com.  Let me know what you think!!




13 Responses to Leave Austen Alone (or Not!!)

  1. I love adaptations, and especially if they are “what if”, alternate storylines, or stories about secondary characters that give us insight into alternate or parallel stories, prologues or prior histories! I find they enhance the original Austin tale so much, especially if they are well written and keeping with the time, setting and languages! I can’t wait to read “The Wives..” but so far, am unable to find for sale anywhere, although I did download the “Miss Bates” stories, AND the “Mrs Dasheood” books, And can’t wait to dive into those!!

  2. You are correct… everyone has an opinion and this is a free country where you can express your opinion. I don’t think you can go to jail for disagreeing with authors. LOL! The prisons would be full if that were the case. There would be a special cell for your critic. LOL!

    I love JAFF and enjoy reading the many variations, prequels, sequels, side-stories, re-imaginings, and such. However… I do feel there are certain lines that should not be crossed. I have refused to buy books due to content and I loathe, hate, and despise reading a story where Darcy and Elizabeth do not find happiness with each other. That is sacrilege as far as I am concerned. However, that is my opinion. I know that there are some readers who rejoice in finding authors brave enough to step outside of the boundaries of Austen’s P&P and present a very different characterization of our beloved D&E. Again, that is an opinion and they are welcome to it. I just won’t go there nor buy their books.

    This was an interesting post. I wish you all the best and have a safe and healthy rest of the month.

    • You’re right; they have done some really interesting stuff with Austen’s works, everything from vampires to porn. I prefer JAFF that adheres to the Regency period (I don’t like the modern interpretations at all). To me, taking Austen out of the Regency is like taking the cream out of ice cream, it just doesn’t work. But that is my opinion. I respect the right for writers, and all artists, to find their own creativity, and the right for people to enjoy it.

      Thanks for your response, and I wish you safety and health as well.

  3. Your book sounds VERY interesting and I hope to read it someday! It reminds me of the fascinating/informative first scenes of the Ramola Garai “Emma” (where we see little Emma as well as little Jane and little Frank leaving their families to settle in strange, new families away from Highbury). I’ve spent a great deal of time soul searching my views of literary adaptation. I’ve come down to this: the adapter is a collaborator with the original author. As a book coach/collaborator myself, I know I have to believe in the author’s work in order to give good service. Even if the work needs TONS of fine tuning, I need to be its biggest fan. To me, just because an author has been dead in the ground for two hundred years, this still applies. So my rule of thumb is, if that long-ago author could get behind someone’s choices as an interesting variation, then I say, “Godspeed!” If a fan fiction writer is, as the Chicago Tribune once said, “selling tickets [or books] on the back of the Austen name and then blowing up her worldview,” then I am not in favor. Hope that makes sense.

    • I agree that “blowing up her worldview,” doesn’t work, and honestly, it’s been my experience that most reader that read JAFF don’t want that either. I try to very careful, even with the smallest details, because if I don’t, readers will call me out on it. The majority of our readers know the novels and know Austen pretty well. Once I had a reader from the UK (I’m American) tell me that “there are no skunks in England,” when I put a skunk in one of my stories. I did some research, and sure enough, they don’t have them there. I learn from my readers all the time! Thanks for your response!!

  4. I love JAFF. And I love the people I meet through comments on Goodreads in that community. Please don’t stop writing. I may not have time to read every author who adds his or her variation but I do respect their creativity and hard work. Thank you.

    • Honestly, I didn’t start out wanting to write fan fiction. But after loving Austen’s writing for so many years, I got this idea of wanting to expand on the minor characters in her stories that were not developed. The first one was Mrs. Dashwood, which led to my book “Mrs. Dashwood Returns.” After I saw how much people enjoyed them, I just kept writing. And as long as readers keep enjoying them, I’ll keep writing. Austen left plenty of material!! Thanks for your support!!

  5. In my humble opinion,as long as writers treat these beloved characters with the respect, reverence and understanding they deserve,then their taking pen to paper and imagining them in different situations,confronted with new scenarios and with the resultant consequences, only serves to enrich the reading experience for reader and writer alike.

    • I agree. I think JAFF honors Austen’s works, and many times though fan fiction, we bring readers to Austen’s novels for the first time. People who wanted to read “Mrs. Dashwood Returns,” often wanted to read “Sense and Sensibility,” first to have a better understanding. Now those reading are Austen fans!!

  6. I don’t think any Jaff writers disrespect Jane Austen! I think like you said you are just keeping her characters alive. I love reading the different variations.

    • Jane Austen always struck me as a humble human being. I think she would have been flattered my all the attention she’s gotten hundreds of years later!!

Comments are precious!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.