Edited by Gabrielle Malcolm
Fan Phenomena Series
Bristol: Intellect Books, 2015
Paperback. 168 p. ISBN 978-1783204472. £15.50
Reviewed by Sandie Byrne
Kellogg College, Oxford
Gabrielle Malcolm opens her introduction to the collection by posing the questions ‘What is the joy of Jane? What is it about her work that keeps readers, and viewers, coming back for more? Is it the Darcy effect? Is it the irony, the wit, the romance?’ The questions addressed by the essays collected in Fan Phenomena: Jane Austen are less what makes Austen so re-readable and re-watchable than why and how those readers and viewers attempt to recreate, imitate, subvert, extend, or relive Austen’s narratives. Malcolm locates the impetus and justification for the ever-burgeoning corpus of fan productions in Austen’s own hybridity; her life straddled the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and she wrote at a time when the ‘intersection of different forms’ generated the influence of many different genres and styles, therefore fans ‘develop their creativity and invention’ from her work. This seems somewhat reductive, as does the assertion that ‘[C]hief among the driving forces’ of Austen’s writing were Richard Sheridan and Ann Radcliffe.
The afterlives of Austen’s fictions have already been ably catalogued and analysed by Kathryn Sutherland, Claire Harman, and Gillian Dow and Clare Hanson, among others, and screen adaptations have been well covered by authors such as Linda Troost and Sayre Greenfield, and Gina Macdonald and Andrew F. Macdonald. This collection does consider the products of what might be called mainstream and/or commercial culture, but its main focus, and strength, is on popular culture and amateur and not-for-profit endeavours. Mainstream film is touched on in, for example, chapters on ‘Pemberley’ locations (by Carl Wilson) and ‘Darcy mania’ (by Gabrielle Malcolm), and Rebecca White looks at images of Austen in the biopics Becoming Jane and Miss Austen Regrets. Similarly, Jennifer Malia discusses the ‘craze’ for supernatural spin-offs sparked by the bestselling Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. The remaining chapters consider fan, amateur, and non-commercial artefacts, fictional narratives and discussions (‘fanon’ as opposed to canon, in Deborah Kaplan’s definition). Alexandra Edwards looks at the Regency alternative universe (RAU); Scott Caddy at fan media and transmedia; Lindsey Seatter at readers’ feelings about Austen heroines as represented in ‘Which Heroine Are You?’ quizzes; Allison Thompson at handmade homages to Austen; Joanna Turner at Jane Austen gifts; Chris Loutitt at Austen in the blogosphere. Whilst the Austen industry is described as having a global market, only one chapter looks much beyond the UK and USA, Eleonora Capra’s piece on the celebration of Austen in Italy. Interspersed with the chapters and marked as different from them by their appearance on the contents page in marginal boxes, are four ‘fan appreciations’. These are interviews with Amanda Grange and Jane Odiwe, both authors of several Austen retellings, with the writer and producer of interactive digital adaptations, and with Jackie Herring, the director of the Bath Jane Austen Festival.
The narrower primary focus of the collection enables the contributors to consider some unexpected paths of Austen’s afterlives. Among these are: reading habits revealed by the tags of fan fiction; how the RAU can rehabilitate the character of Loki (from Norse mythology and the Marvel Thor comics and films) in ‘Sif and Sensibility’; Fry (of the cartoon Futurama) and an evil brain at a ball in a version of Pride and Prejudice; references to Pride and Prejudice in an ultra-violent video game; a vampiric Darcy; the black lace thong sent by ‘Willoughby’ to JASNA conference attendees; and some craftwork whose relationship to Austen is not always immediately apparent (including a ‘Jane Austen Coral Bohemian Spanish Red Pink Turquoise Navy Blue Mexican Embroidered Peonies Moroccan Motif Butterfly Wing Kaftan Tunic Dress’ for sale on etsy.com).
Interesting and insightful questions are raised and points are made about intertextuality, reading habits, social habits, and the effects and possibilities of new media, but some drawing together of these scattered references would have been welcome, as would an index. The book itself, perfect bound and with a large gulley, seems unlikely to be a lasting artefact; the typographical design, illustrations and captions position it between the academic and popular readership, and the font size, other than in the interviews section, is small, making the even smaller screen-shots on some pages difficult to read. The text contains a few minor errors which could easily be remedied in future editions.
Fan Phenomena : Jane Austen is part of series which has so far included volumes on Star Wars, Sherlock, Dr Who and Audrey Hepburn, which itself tells us something about celebrity culture, popular culture, and fandom.
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