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