Fan fiction and The Jane Austen Marriage Manual


First aired on The Next Chapter (3/12/12)

The phenomenon of amateur writers basing their works of fiction on favourite characters from books, movies and TV series mostly exists on the internet as a kind of subculture of fans writing for other fans. But occasionally it breaks into the mainstream. Jane Austen has been the source for a number of novels that have become popular in their own right, such as Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary and P.D. James's Murder at Pemberley, which is a kind of sequel to Pride and Prejudice.

Now the Canadian writer Kim Izzo has added her interpretation with The Jane Austen Marriage Manual. Izzo said she first read Austen when she was in junior high and wasn't impressed. But she revisited Pride and Prejudice after seeing the 1995 BBC mini-series based on the novel and found "the humour, the social commentary, the manners, all those things, just hooked me." Then she went out and bought all the books, and she has been a fan ever since. JaneAustenMarriageManual-128.jpg

With The Jane Austen Marriage Manual, Izzo said she wanted to "revisit that idea of a modern woman being faced with some of the same problems that an Austen heroine had. Which was [being] on the verge of losing your home, but being unable to work for it because in the recession you couldn't find a job." In the Austen books, the solution was "to make a good match, marry an eligible man, meaning a wealthy one." Izzo made her heroine 40, thus adding an extra twist: is it too late for her to marry for money? "Sad to say, in my own life at the time when I came up with the book idea, I was also turning 40 in the recession," Izzo said. "I just wasn't where I really wanted to be in my life."

She joked that the novel was a way of "writing a happy ending to my own story." Izzo acknowledged that the story might seem to have an anti-feminist message, but she considers herself a feminist and believes that it accurately portrays how many women feel. She said that a number of successful women in their 30s and 40s have told her, privately, that they're tired of doing it all alone.

The Next Chapter's columnist Jen Sookfong Lee was asked for her take on the practice of spinning off from an original text and creating a new piece of fiction. She said that fan fiction has been around for a while, in a sense, but because of social media, it "has become this huge thing."

As a child, Sookfong Lee wrote stories based on books she liked, such as Harriet the Spy. But she kept those stories to herself. "Now it's so much easier just to put it on a fan fiction site, and have everybody comment on it and everybody look at it," she said.

When asked to comment on how well Izzo updates Jane Austen's themes, Sookfong Lee said that Izzo "takes a lot from Pride and Prejudice, in particular, and some of the other books as well, about making a good marriage, about trying to support your family by making a marriage." But she added that she found the novel " to be almost a bit of a fan fiction of Bridget Jones's Diary, which is strange, because it's a fan fiction of fan fiction." The main character, Kate Shaw, "is bumbling, she makes a lot of mistakes, she puts her foot in her mouth. She's basically quite slapstick, far more than Elizabeth Bennet ever was. But you know, Kim's done a good job of taking the Bridget Jones's Diary sort of schtick and making it a little older, a little more serious."

As for fan fiction generally, Sookfong Lee commented that "in terms of novelty, they're always amusing. But I do think that sometimes fan fiction can go a little bit far." What bothers her is when people take children's books and make them very sexual. "That's what happens when adults read children's books, sometimes they want to take it to another place. I guess it's good for them, but it's not something that I really want to read."

There's also a form of fan fiction called "Mary Sue," Sookfong Lee said, "where the fan fiction writer actually inserts him or herself into the story. ..It means that you love the book so much you want to be a part of it. And that's wonderful. But also, you're a real person and this is fiction."

As for whether she'd ever try her hand at fan fiction, Sookfong Lee said Austen would be her author of choice, but she's already been well covered. "Maybe I'll do Harriet the Spy one day. Look out for that."

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