Fan Phenomena: Jane Austen, edited by Gabrielle Malcolm – A Review

Fan Phenomena Jane Austen 2015 x 200From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

Jane Austen fans cannot be filed neatly into a single category any more than Austen’s works can be limited to one literary genre. How might an editor attempt to do justice to the multiplicity of Janeite fandom in a slim volume of essays and interviews? This question was uppermost in my mind as I began reading Fan Phenomena: Jane Austen. The Fan Phenomena series website explains that the goal of the series is to “look at particular examples of ‘fan culture’ and approach the subject in an accessible manner aimed at both fans and those interested in the cultural and social aspects of these fascinating–and often unusual–‘universes’.” 

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? Or is it a combination of all these factors? Many critics and authors have compiled works to analyse this vast and still growing phenomenon of fandom…This collection offers material about the fans, for the fans, by the fans, and offers a combination of the popular and the academic. (5)

Editor Gabrielle Malcom’s introduction provides a clear description of the purpose and scope of the collection. She acknowledges the differences between mainstream fan culture and the academic treatment of Austen. After setting Austen’s work in its historical context with a few concise and insightful paragraphs, she provides brief descriptions of the essays and interviews that follow. While Fan Phenomena: Jane Austen has the look of an academic journal, its design and use of color photographs creates a visually appealing experience for the reader, with the exception of the excessively small font size used for the text of the essays. Although I suspect that the text format is dictated by the Fan Phenomena series as a whole and not unique to this volume, the cramped appearance distracted me from the content at times. I found the format used in the Fan Appreciation interviews to be much more appropriate and reader-friendly.

Each essay is a standalone chapter, exploring these diverse topics: Jane Austen fanfiction, supernatural spin-offs of Austen works, transmedia fandom, architectural incarnations of Pemberley in film adaptations, Darcymania, Jane Austen biopics Becoming Jane and Miss Austen Regrets, “Which Jane Austen Heroine Are You?” online quizzes, Jane Austen-inspired crafts and gifts, the formation and growth of the Jane Austen Society of Italy, and Jane Austen-inspired blogs. A detailed reference section listing books, critical texts, and online links follows each essay, in addition to a more general reference section at the end of the book. My favorite chapters were “A Grand Tour of Pemberley” and “’Shall I Be Stared at Like a Wild Beast in a Zoo?’” Images of Austen in Becoming Jane and Miss Austen Regrets.

Interspersed throughout the book are Austen quotes as well as interviews with author Amanda Grange, members of web video production company Pemberley Digital, author and illustrator Jane Odiwe, and Bath’s Jane Austen Festival director Jackie Herring. These interviews or “Fan Appreciations” personalize fan experiences and were some of my favorite highlights.

Fan Phenomena: Jane Austen successfully presents a balance of popular and academic explorations of Janeite culture to describe many variations of Austen fandom. Internet memes and “I Love Darcy” bumper stickers are given the same cultural consideration as an analysis of Darcy as “an archetypal nineteenth-century hero…[who] has developed into one of the most recognizable and frequently cited romantic figures in popular culture.” (74) However, I was disappointed to find that several massively influential online sites devoted to Austen culture were omitted from the book. For example, no mention is made of the Republic of Pemberley website, apart from an oblique reference to the Pemberley Shoppe Gift Store in the chapter on Austen gifts. A pioneer of Austen online, this community has been active for nearly twenty years and has shaped and cultivated Austen fandom to a degree few other websites or blogs could hope to achieve. While I appreciate that Fan Phenomena: Jane Austen does not seek to present a comprehensive catalog of every expression of Austen fandom, the omission of The Republic of Pemberley represents a serious misstep in charting Jane Austen’s fan universe.

Despite several drawbacks, Fan Phenomena: Jane Austen does offer plenty of diversion, with its range of essays, interviews, and reference materials. Ms. Malcolm and her contributing writers understand much of what makes Jane Austen fans tick.

The fans love the way the clever material appeals to their wit and emotions; they enjoy the engagement with the text and the repetition of that via different means and form. It is the intelligence of Austen’s writing that makes this repeated enjoyment possible. One of the best representations of the fan culture is the sense of society and community that has developed and directly echoes some of the depictions of society in the novels, with the social gatherings, correspondence and knowing-wit within select groups. Fans enjoy the collective engagement and the sharing of the joy and the joke. (8)

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

Fan Phenomena: Jane Austen, edited by Gabrielle Malcolm
Intellect Books, The University of Chicago Press (2015)
Trade paperback (156) pages
ISBN: 978-1783204472

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Additional Reviews

Book cover image courtesy of Intellect Books © 2015; text Tracy Hickman © 2015, Austenprose.com

Disclosure of Material Connection: We received one review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

A School for Brides: A Story of Maidens, Mystery, and Matrimony, by Patrice Kindl – A Review

A School for Brides, by Patrice Kindl 2015From the desk of Katie Patchell:

In 2012, author Patrice Kindl published her Regency debut, Keeping the Castle. Heralded by critics as part Jane Austen and part I Capture the Castle (Dodie Smith’s classic), Keeping the Castle is set in the memorable town of Lesser Hoo, Yorkshire, and filled with quirky (and mostly loveable) characters, witty and very quote-worthy lines, and one very spectacular heroine. Really, what’s not to love? Sadly, a return to the characters and town discovered in Keeping the Castle seemed only possible through a re-read rather than a sequel…until this month, that is! In A School for Brides, Patrice Kindl’s companion novel to Keeping the Castle, readers return to the small village of Lesser Hoo to see the latest comedic mayhem caused by old and new residents alike.

“Mark my words. If something drastic is not done, none of us shall ever marry. We are doomed to die old maids, banished to the seat farthest from the fire, served with the toughest cuts of meat and the weakest cups of tea, objects of pity and scorn to all we meet. That shall be our fate, so long as we remain in Lesser Hoo.” (A School For Brides, p. 1)

Continue reading

Miss Georgiana Darcy of Pemberley, by Shannon Winslow – A Review

Miss Georgiana of Pemberley, by Shannon Winslow (2015)From the desk of Lisa Galek:

Georgiana Darcy might be a minor character in Pride and Prejudice, but we know that she’ll go on to play a very important role in the lives of the future Mr. and Mrs. Darcy. As a resident of Pemberley, Georgiana’s daily life would have been intimately connected with the lives of her brother and sister-in-law. How would she have learned from them? How would she grow into a woman? Would she ever find her own true love? In Shannon Winslow’s book, Miss Georgiana Darcy of Pemberley, all those questions are answered and more.

Our story begins about a year after the events of Pride and Prejudice. Georgiana Darcy is about to turn eighteen years old and lives at Pemberley with her brother and new sister-in-law. She is profoundly happy there and never has to worry about being married off to some odious relative for financial reasons. Of course, that doesn’t mean Georgiana doesn’t want to get married… if the right man comes along. Right now, she has her heart set on her cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam, who is starting to look less like a guardian and more like husband material every day. Continue reading

Pride and Proposals: A Pride and Prejudice Variation, by Victoria Kincaid – A Review

Pride and Proposals by Victoria Kincaid 2015 x 200From the desk of Monica Perry:

Readers of Pride and Prejudice retellings know that sometimes it’s a great thing when Mr. Darcy’s proposal to Elizabeth Bennet gets interrupted. It isn’t his best moment and perhaps if it’s averted, the universe will realign in his favor, giving him time to learn of her disdain for him and correct his behavior before she hands him his heart on a stick. In Victoria Kincaid’s Pride and Proposals, Darcy doesn’t get the chance to propose, yet he still has his heart broken, as he arrives at the parsonage just in time to learn his lady love just got engaged to his best friend and cousin, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam. What can he do? Richard is kind and honorable, and they seem to be very happy. If Darcy can’t have her, she could do far worse in a spouse. Can he risk embarrassing himself and harming his relationship with Richard by admitting his feelings? Does she truly love Richard or is she marrying for convenience? Colonel Fitzwilliam is such a beloved personage in Pride and Prejudice stories; in a world without Mr. Darcy, he and Elizabeth could be quite well- suited for each other. I wanted to know if Ms. Kincaid could possibly get Darcy and Elizabeth to a happy ending without breaking Richard’s heart in the process. Continue reading

Lady Maybe, by Julie Klassen – A Review

Lady Maybe, by Julie Klassen (2015)From the desk of Katie Patchell:

  • Betrayals and Lies. Harmful Secrets. Surprising Redemption.

For the past several years, Austenprose has had the joy of reviewing books inspired by beloved author, Jane Austen, as well as those set in the Regency period. One author in particular has appeared more than once, and has written numerous Regency books inspired by the timeless novels of Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters: Julie Klassen. In her latest novel Lady Maybe, Klassen blends notes of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, to create a mystery-filled Gothic romance about the power of truth, and the lengths people will go to conceal it.

Lady Marianna Mayfield: Pressured into a marriage to Sir John Mayfield by her money-obsessed father, Lady Marianna ignores her older husband to instead focus on her many flirts, especially her lover, Anthony Fontaine. When her husband suddenly decides to take her with him to a house far away from Bath, she obeys—her silent companion and husband beside her, and the surety that her lover will do anything to find her. Continue reading

Demelza: A Novel of Cornwall, by Winston Graham – A Review

Demelza A Novel of Cornwall, 1788-1790 by Winston Graham 2015 x 200From the desk of Pamela Mingle:

If you’re like me, you are spending your Sundays killing time until Poldark lights up the TV screen. When I learned that Season One would be based on Winston Graham’s first two books in the series, Ross Poldark and Demelza, I was determined to read them before viewing the adaptation. Although the episodes I’ve seen so far can stand on their own merit, reading the books has given me a richer understanding of the two protagonists. If Ross’s character functions as the moral compass of the story, Demelza’s represents the emotional heart of the books. Her struggle to be accepted as Ross’s wife makes us empathize with her, root for her, right from the start.

Demelza opens with the birth of Ross and Demelza’s baby girl. The new mother plans two christening parties, one for the country folk and another for the gentry. Trouble arises when her father, now a Methodist and wearing his religion like a cloak of righteousness, shows up on the wrong day and promptly insults some of the guests. Put in the uncomfortable position of defending his father-in-law, Ross must intervene. Demelza flees to the house, mortified. “…I thought I would show ’em I was a fit wife for you, that I could wear fine clothes and behave genteel an’ not disgrace you. An’ instead they will all ride home snickering behind their hands…” (51) Continue reading

The Suspicion at Sanditon, Or, The Disappearance of Lady Denham, by Carrie Bebris – A Review

The Suspicion at Sanditon Carrie Bebris 2015 x 200From the desk of Christina Boyd:

Seemingly moments after reading the end of award winning author’s Carrie Bebris, The Deception at Lyme (Or, The Peril of Persuasion) in 2011, the sixth novel in her Mr. and Mrs. Darcy Mystery series, I, along with other fans wondered what Bebris might write next. Much speculation surfaced whether she would attempt a mystery with Austen’s lesser known works: Sanditon, The Watsons, and Lady Susan or abandon the scheme altogether! Not four years later, and all anticipation, I had my hands on an advanced copy of Bebris’s seventh in the Mr. and Mrs. Darcy Mystery series, Suspicion at Sanditon (Or, the Disappearance of Lady Denham).

Only the most astute Austen fans will know Sanditon is the unfinished novel that Jane Austen began writing in January 1817 and forsook after the first eleven chapters on March 18—dying 4 months later on July 18, 1817. Others might be interested to understand this first draft centers on a Miss Charlotte Heywood, the daughter of a country gentleman, who travels to a developing seaside resort, Sanditon, and encounters a ridiculous baronet Sir Edward Denham, the Parker family who were always imagining themselves unwell, and the twice-widowed dowager Lady Denham with no heir apparent. “In those few chapters she sets her stage, populates it with memorable characters, and infuses the whole with humor reminiscent of her earlier writings.” (332) Author’s Note. Continue reading

A Will of Iron, by Linda Beutler – A Review

A Will of Iron by Linda Beutler 2015 x 200From the desk of Monica Perry:

In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Anne de Bourgh is a character who seems not to have much to offer. She’s just sort of there at Rosings Park, quiet and sickly and under her mother’s thumb. Readers can only hope that she occasionally has an original thought of her own. In A Will of Iron, a Pride and Prejudice what-if, author Linda Beutler exposes the last year of Anne’s journal. With her isolated life at Rosings, and a mother like Lady Catherine, who wouldn’t be curious what Anne has to say? I know I was! I was hooked from the second paragraph, where she drops quite the bomb. For months, she’s been scheming to extricate herself from Lady Catherine forever, and finally succeeded in setting her plan in motion. Sadly, she dies before getting the satisfaction of revealing her news in person, and seeing her meticulously plotted future come to fruition. Anne’s companion Mrs. Jenkinson knows all and delivers the journals to Charlotte Collins at Hunsford parsonage for safekeeping. Lady Catherine is desperate to get her hands on them to keep the circumstances of Anne’s death hidden, and as Charlotte makes her way through the journals she begins to suspect how far Lady Catherine might go to get her way.

I really liked Anne; she’s astute and blunt and had things gone differently, she and Elizabeth Bennet could have been great friends. Her journals chronicle not only her dealings with her mother and a Mr. C., her mysterious beau, but also her relationships with her Darcy and Fitzwilliam cousins, from their childhood to their current romantic tangle with Elizabeth. She genuinely cares for them and wants them to be happy, and has some very decided opinions on how she will make that come about. Anne’s logic with regard to her plan is a bit skewed, but her desire to be free from her mother makes her desperate and bold. It’s no wonder, as this Lady Catherine is truly cold- blooded! I had previously seen this book referred to as a macabre comedy. I’d say that’s a fitting description because as unhinged as Lady Catherine is, she is so outrageous I couldn’t help shaking my head and laughing. She even gave Mr. Collins the heebie-jeebies. I thought her final justice was perfectly done, if a bit messy! Continue reading