Jane Austen and Professional Fanfiction

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After mapping out an expansive if brief overview of the long history of Austen rewrites, this chapter turns to a formal examination of the four novels that have been published so far in The Austen Project by The Borough Press (a subsidiary of HarperCollins, perhaps the most prolific purveyor of Austenian publications): Joanna Trollope’s Sense & Sensibility (2013), Alexander McCall Smith’s Emma (2014), Val McDermid’s Northanger Abbey (2014) and Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible (2016), a modern makeover of Pride and Prejudice. As a curated series, The Austen Project provides a convenient case study for an investigation into the figuration and function of the Austenian author today. Trollope, McCall Smith, McDermid and Sittenfeld were (and remain) established authors in different genres before they were commissioned. In their respective contributions to the series they also present themselves as Austen enthusiasts, thereby bridging the worlds of Jane Austen Fan Fiction (or JAFF, a discrete but large and diverse community) and professional secondary authorship (a broader category of rewriting with a combative literary history). What general observations about modern rewrites can we feasibly extrapolate from such a specific set of circumstances? What, if anything, can such a case study contribute to our critical understanding of rewriting? Rewriting here denotes an ongoing engagement with charismatic literature, with varying levels of textual familiarity, as distinct from ‘the rewrite’, a filmic term that refers to the mending of a failed screenplay by script doctors. Recent fanfiction (fan fiction, fanfic or fic) in this context, I want to suggest, is best understood in terms of enforced or (to use a milder term) belated co-authorship, which invites us to keep the original in parallel view at all times at both the levels of production and consumption: Austen-like works as co-written rather than over-written.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAusten After 200
Subtitle of host publicationNew Reading Spaces
EditorsKerry Sinanan, Annika Bautz, Daniel Cook
Number of pages23
ISBN (Electronic)9783031083723
ISBN (Print)9783031083747, 9783031083716
Publication statusPublished - 2022


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