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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Growth spurt

Back in the 2010s, when I first started reading Jane Austen fanfic, the typical example of the genre was a romance novel, either Regency or contemporary, featuring white, heterosexual protagonists.


My, how times have changed.


Although plenty of that older type of JAFF is still being published, fanfic that riffs on Austen’s stories using characters who don’t match her straight-white-Christian-British prototypes has become common--so much so that a new example seems to appear every other month.


Literally. In the ten months since I last blogged about this topic, I’ve run across five new Austen spinoffs featuring protagonists whose racial, sexual, or gender identities somehow diverge from Austen’s originals. This roundup is entirely unscientific—I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve omitted other examples—but here’s what I’ve got:


* Manslaughter Park, by Tirzah Price. A bisexual Fanny Price tries to solve Sir Thomas Bertram’s murder, in this YA Regency mystery. (June 2023)

* Good Fortune, by C.K. Chau: A Chinese American Elizabeth Bennet fights gentrification, in a Pride and Prejudice update set in contemporary New York City’s Chinatown. (July 2023)


* Emmett, by L.C. Rosen. A gay, male Emma Woodhouse matchmakes in a modern American high school. (November 2023)


* Sex, Lies and Sensibility, by Nikki Payne. A Black Elinor Dashwood finds romance with a Native American tour guide in the backwoods of Maine. (February 2024)


* Relative Strangers, by A.H. Kim. Half-Korean sisters struggle to make their way in reduced circumstances, in a Sense and Sensibility update set in contemporary California. (April 2024)


It’s easy to be cynical about this trend—look at all the white male publishers trying belatedly to diversify their lists!—but although commercial imperatives are surely at work here, interviews* show that these authors also hold varied and interesting views on Austen, fanfic, and representation.


Some choose to foreground representational issues: Price, who finds (possibly unintended) queer subtext in Austen’s novels, says that “LGBTQ+ books save lives” by making queer teenagers feel less alone. Payne, who holds a doctorate in anthropology, says in a recent podcast that her Austen-inspired romances interrogate cultural assumptions about what kinds of people are beautiful and desirable.


Inserting characters of color into famous old stories has further resonance, Payne adds. “Blacks and Native Americans have a complex relationship to modernity,” she says, with Black characters often erased from historical fictions while Native characters are barely mentioned in contemporary ones. “Writing a contemporary romance in a small town with both of these subjectivities—I think it does interesting work,” Payne says.


But not all of these writers want their work seen through a representational lens. “My books aren’t really about the struggle of being Asian American or the trials and tribulations of immigrating to this country,” Kim says in a recent podcast interview. “I try to make them kind of page-turners, interesting stories about aspects of American life where the characters happen to be Korean American . . . but the books aren’t necessarily about that experience.”


In other words, Jane Austen fanfic now features enough diversity that it’s possible to have arguments about the significance of that diversity. The genre is growing up. I call that a good thing.

* In addition to those I quote from in this post, here's one with Rosen and one with Chau.

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5 opmerkingen

Kylowna Moton
Kylowna Moton
10 mei

Agreed! 😆


Kylowna Moton
Kylowna Moton
09 mei

Hmmm…I am not so sure about this. I know I have a bias against JAFF—only because I find most of what I have read in full, part, or synopsis (99% if I’m being generous) to be unoriginal, garbage writing piggybacking on JAs popularity rather than writing a book wholly their own—but that’s just me.

Deborah Yaffe
Deborah Yaffe
10 mei
Reageren op

I can't disagree about the likely existence of other, better books that are more deserving of your scarce reading time. I must admit that I spend way too much of MY scarce reading time on the literary equivalent of popcorn and Cheetohs, a category into which much JAFF falls. I guess I'd say that if you've decided to give some time to pure entertainment reads, some (definitely not all!) JAFF could fill that bill.

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