I’ve never been a big fan of Jane Austen, but the premise of this short book convinced me 100% to read it — and I don’t regret picking it up at all! If you’re a fan of Austen or interested in the author, this book will be entertaining to you.
Title: Austentatious: The Evolving World of Jane Austen Fans
Author: Holly Luetkenhaus & Zoe Weinstein
Genre: Nonfiction, adult
Published on June 3rd, 2019 by Iowa University Press
Page count: 188 pages
For an author whose work was written almost two centuries ago, there are plenty of fan-made material online in a variety of different medias. From novel adaptations such as the 1995 Pride and Prejudice BBC mini-series or Clueless to thousands of fanfiction pieces, it is clear that the love for Jane Austen is far from being dead. The writers of this book explore how online fan spaces work, how Austen fans (“Janeites”) share their passion, and why being a Janeite matters to so many women and nonbinary people.
Disclaimer: I received an electronic review copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Now, I have never been a huge Jane Austen fan. For some reason, I never really clicked with her novels. Maybe it’s because I could barely understand the writing when I picked up my first Austen (I insisted that I should read it in English, despite the fact that my English wasn’t good back then). Maybe it’s because I watched the movie adaptations before actually picking up an Austen book. But I’m a BIG fan of the modern and Regency-era movie adaptations that have come out!
So, when I saw this book on NetGalley available for review, I immediately hit “request.” I am very much interested in academic looks at popular culture and fanbases. I was expecting a light book exploring the nuances of creating fan content and moderating fan websites/blogs in the Austen universe. And I was not disappointed at all — that’s exactly what you get with this book!
Luetkenhaus and Weinstein are self-proclaimed Janeites (Jane Austen fans) in addition to being academics. So, for them, Austen means different things. On one hand, they have a critical view of the author and her works, while on the other they thrive in Austen-fan online spaces. This mashup of interests was super interesting to me. After all, who better to write of the Jane Austen fandom than two big fans themselves who know academia??? The decision to write this book was bold and brilliant, and I highly commend the writers for making it.
Austentatious opens immediately with an introduction to the fan world of Jane Austen. It walks the reader through several Austen-novel adaptations (BBC’s Pride and Prejudice, Pemberley Digital’s Lizzie Bennet Diaries, and Clueless), fan-moderated online discussion boards, and Austen Tumblr and Reddit memes. It’s such a fun ride, to be honest. The fan world of Jane Austen is ridiculously broad and there is so much to be explored. This introduction is the perfect appetizer for what’s to come.
Several of the chapters are solely devoted to critiquing hallmark Austen adaptations. I can’t be mad about this. I mean, there’s a reason why they’re household names! Who doesn’t know the iconic “As If!” line or the preppy plaid look Alicia Silverstone sports as Emma in Clueless? At the same time, I thought this was a bit repetitive. Even though I had watched Clueless, I wasn’t expecting to find what very much felt like a critical movie review. The good thing is that these chapters are indeed short, but they did take some of the fun of this book away for me, especially near the end of Austentatious.
What shines brightest in this book is the authors’ exploration of fanfiction and fan-made worlds. It’s bitingly original and done so gracefully. There’s no shaming but there is also no worshipping. Janeneite communities obviously have their pros and cons, but that doesn’t really matter in the long run. What matters is that Austentatious explores the dynamics in these communities with such attention to detail and elegance.
One of the things that stuck out to me while reading Austentatious was reading about the link between a) professionalization of writing (aka being compensated for writing) and b) overlooked communities in the literary world (namely women and nonbinary folk). Of course, in popular culture we see women as writing [insert fandom] fanfiction, but see men writing [fandom-inspired] original works. This nuance isn’t unfamiliar to Luetkenhaus and Weinstein, and they explore it linking it to the biases that still persist against the monetization of writing. It’s superb and so, so accurate.
Lastly, the authors also dive into representation and diversity in Austen’s novels. They discuss how none of the characters are really given a race (I can’t comment on this, as I never read any of the novels, but if it is anything like the Rowling/Black Hermione debate, I have some doubts about its veracity) and how fanfiction allows people to see themselves represented in the Austen universe they love so deeply. This fresh take is developed really beautifully, and I couldn’t agree more with it. They do bring up the issue of “historical inaccuracy” which I have written about before here, and their stance is much different to mine. But, nonetheless, I loved how the authors highlighted the queerness of cannon Austen characters and how they left some space to discuss the writing of fanfictions with racially diverse characters at the forefront.
All in all, this is a brilliant book about fandoms and the Jane Austen fanworld. If you’re a fan of Austen’s works or want to read more about the links between classics & fandoms, pick this book up! It’s such an interesting short read ⭐️