(I’m writing this on the fly so please excuse the inevitable grammar gaffs and goofs. ~SK)
I’ve been reading and writing around the Austen Fan Fiction world for over ten years now.I’ve read very sweet, awww-producing stories to raucous “oh no, cover the baby’s eyes” sort of FF. I’ve also read some that changes the basic characters so much, I have to wonder if it can really be called Jane Austen FF.
Even I have done a story that changes Frederick from the honorable man Austen created into a manipulative debaucher. In Shadows in a Brilliant Life * I wrote a Frederick Wentworth who is still actively angry with Anne Elliot for rejecting him. So angry in fact that he is willing, and eager, to force Anne Elliot to exchange her own virtue for that of Louisa Musgrove. To be honest, it was one of the most interesting stories I’ve written using the characters.
Here’s an excerpt:
They watched her red pelisse disappear into the house, leaving them to themselves. Wentworth felt no need to speak to Anne, so went to the horse and began an unnecessary examination of the leather straps and buckles of the tack. As he walked about the gig, he could feel her moving with him. Glancing under the brim of his hat, she was indeed following in his wake. “If you have something to say, please feel free to do so.”
“Louisa has been secreting things away from the house. Bedding mostly.”
He stayed to his task. “And why should this concern me? I am told that young women do odd things all time.”
“I know where the two of you are bound for.”
He looked her way, smiling. “Then you know more than I.” He found a loose buckle and set about tightening it. It was perverse that her strained voice pleased him so, but it wasn’t his fault that she was bothered by his actions. There had been more than enough opportunity for her to make amends for the past. If jealousy was at play, he could only see it as justice being meted out on his behalf.
“She intends to take you to a secluded hunting cottage in the deep woods of Winthrop.” Rarely was Anne cheerful, but she was positively depressing now. It seemed that there were no calamities worse than a friendly picnic on a slightly cloudy day. Or, perhaps Miss Anne harboured suspicions about the intentions of the participants.
Feigning an adjustment, he stepped closer to her. Looking directly into her eyes, he said, “So she told me.” She inhaled sharply, her face froze and her eyes widened. Anne never was an overly animated person, so it was not the outward reaction that pleased him, but the turmoil he knew was erupting inside her mind.
This certainly NOT the Frederick Wentworth I came to admire in reading Persuasion. My question to you is, when do the changes a FF writer makes in the character destroy any connection they have with the original?
As the story goes on, Frederick bullies and berates Anne into coming with him to the cottage, his intention is clear and she agrees. A turn ends the story with him releasing her to go home untouched. But I have always wondered if I just did that to save the real Wentworth. The Frederick I created for the story could have gone ahead and ruined Anne.
I’m curious with so many Austen retellings, and so many reconfigurings, when should we strip the name Austen off the work and go it alone? Was this Frederick the same one that Jane created, with me just fiddling a bit? Or was this Frederick mine completely, created with only a nod to the original?
I’ll be interested to see how far readers are willing to let us writers go in pursuit of good fan fiction. (And sometimes not-so-good.)
Take care–Susan Kaye