When Frederick Just Isn’t Himself

(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

*To Read Shadows you may have to register on the Austen Author message board, Austen Interludes. Or, you can buy it  HERE.

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29 thoughts on “When Frederick Just Isn’t Himself

  1. Robin Helm

    In the end, Susan, you did have him do what the original character would have done. I don’t think changing the characters quite a bit is a problem as long as we don’t lose the essence of the original character. It’s hard to swallow a good Caroline or a virginal Lydia. I’m also uncomfortable when Jane doesn’t end up with Bingley (though I read them), and I don’t read stories in which Elizabeth and Darcy don’t marry each other.

    Obviously, I like putting the characters in different settings, and I will change secondary characters. My Mrs. Bennet is sensible, and my Mr. Bennet loves her. Though my Darcy is an angel/human, he has many similarities to the original Mr. Darcy.

    Would these stories work even if we changed the name of the characters and published the stories as fiction apart from the Austen fan fiction? Yes, they would.

    I am not interested in a retelling of the original Austen novels. I want a twist of some sort.

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    1. Susan Kaye Post author

      Well, as the writer who dared to marry Frederick off to Louisa Musgrove, I have to say I enjoy shaking things up occasionally. I’m just curious as to how far I can go before rebellion takes place. Oh, wait, IT DID.

      There are still some who want a warning label put on Love Suffers Long and is Kind!

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  2. Lindablanche

    Heck of an article, Susan despite being on the fly as you said.
    I think that as long as readers recognize part of the story or the personalities of the characters. It will fly in Jane Austen-FF land. But because what each of us tolerates in our favourite JA character is different for each reader, I could not even determine where that line is in writing JA fanfiction. In one of my stories, Caroline is nice (sorry, Robin) and Collins is becoming friends with Darcy. Even this story is finding fans because the fans recognize some of the scenes of Pride and Prejudice and they have falling in love all over again with my Darcy. I think the only way we are going to know if we went over the line will be when people no longer want to read our stories. Then I think it will be that we went to far, we should have name the characters something else and written a whole new story. But until then, I say what is wrong with a rogue Frederick. Your readers obviously loved it.
    Linda

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    1. Susan Kaye Post author

      Maybe it’s my somewhat if-it-was-fun-it-must-be-bad view of things. I had a heckuva lot of fun writing this bad boy Wentworth ans so wonder if he would have been so sympathetic with readers if I had named him “Bob” instead. Or, for a real wrench, what if this was William Elliot? The behavior in the opening half would have been booed and hissed, readers clutching their pearls for poor Anne. When the ending came and he let her go unmolested, THEN they would have been seeing him differently. More kindly? Who knows.

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      1. Lindablanche

        Susan,
        It is like catching lightening; figuring out what a reader will be willing to tolerate or read. I am starting your story. I am very interested to see what story started all this self-evaluation.
        My personal feeling is always write what I would want to see in a story and hope that it catches an audience.
        That is the best I can do.

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    2. Robin Helm

      I said a nice Caroline would be hard to swallow, not that I had never read one that I enjoyed. Actually I have. She just has to be well written, realistic, and convincing.

      And Susan, I could take Frederick going for someone else, just not Darcy. I guess it has to do with who a person’s favorite Austen man is. I don’t mind a rake Darcy or a dark Darcy, as long as he ends up with Elizabeth.

      My Caroline starts out being a bad girl but reforms. I have, in effect, written a nice Caroline by the end of the second book.

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      1. Lindablanche

        Robin,
        I was going to mention that I thought that your Caroline has reformed, but I thought maybe I am mixing stories. I think even your Caroline has apologized to Richard in a recent chapter, didn’t she. If I am remembering my stories correctly.

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      2. Susan Kaye Post author

        It’s interesting you mention Caroline. I recently read a Contemporary P&P in which Caroline is employed in a position with a lot of responsibility, longs for Darcy but from afar, is kind to Elizabeth, and in general very likeable. In fact, I think of ALL the characters, I liked her best.

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      3. Susan Kaye Post author

        I guess it has to do with who a person’s favorite Austen man is.

        Maybe this is what keeps bringing me back to this story. FW IS my fave Austen guy, but the story came to me, practically prewritten and came so easily when writing it. I could have kept going, even though FW is a real dark and sinister type.

        Oh well, no accounting for the Lightening In A Bottle Effect.

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  3. Monica P

    Hmm. Honestly, it’s hard for me to say beforehand how much change I would tolerate before it becomes TOO much. Sometimes I’ll just be reading and come across something and say “uhhh, NOPE!” and quit reading because it just rubs me the wrong way. When you have a “what-if” kind of story, where one detail changes everything that follows, it’s harder to say that a certain character would never do that/say that/think that. But although that character has been altered, I still hope they retain enough of the essentials that Austen gave them so that they are at least recognizable.

    I would stop reading a D&E story if a) one of them is unfaithful to the other after they’re married (I don’t care how historically accurate it is that a Regency Darcy would likely have a mistress. I ain’t readin’ it. Not that I expect characters to be perfect, but that is a degree of realism I don’t need) or b) If I know that one of them is going to die young. I read one where Elizabeth ended up dying shortly after her first baby, and I cried all day long. The writing was beautiful, though.

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  4. Susan Kaye Post author

    Monica, could you give me an example of an “uhhh, NOPE” sort of story? We don’t need titles or authors, just what circumstance or change put you off so much you quit reading. I’m just curious and would like to “see” an example.

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    1. Monica P

      It’s pretty rare that I just quit reading mid-way through, but it’s more likely to happen with online stories than published ones. Sometimes it’s just that they’re boring, or the writing is bad. It absolutely drives me crazy when people use “ok” in Regency stories, and persist in doing so even when they know it’s wrong.

      In one story, Lady Catherine was riding Darcy about taming Lizzy’s attitude and something or another, and when Lizzy spoke up, he slapped her across the face. I was SO stunned by it. Under stress or not, I cannot imagine him ever doing that. One other story involved a really creepy and physically abusive Mr Bennet. Another was a Mary story, which was actually ok plot-wise, but I hated the way Darcy was portrayed in it. He was cold to Lizzy (said he loved her but regretted marrying her) and to their child. I tried to get beyond it, since it wasn’t a D&E story, but I put it down for a day to go do something else, and never picked it back up.

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      1. Susan Kaye Post author

        Thanks, Monica. I’m the sort of learner who needs examples with pictures. 😉 Or, in this case, very clear instructions.

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    2. Susan Kaye Post author

      As for not wanting to read what is “likely” I always remember there were people who did not conduct themselves according to the times, just like there are people now who don’t. Pleasurable reading has to entertain and give a measure of comfort or we may as well just read the newspapers over and over.

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  5. Stephanie L

    I’m pretty open to all variations of endings and twists with a couple of exceptions and then I, like Monica P, will put the book down and walk away. I have read and had issues with D&E not winding up together, Darcy and Bingley being lovers, and Darcy being unfaithful. I’ve never been really attached to any of the other characters or other novels like that. They can be all over the place and I have been known to overlook historic inaccuracy and tone if the story is good. I think if I came across abusive characters I would be seriously put off, but that’s because of my personal feelings on the subject, not because of the characters. Just my opinion

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    1. Susan Kaye Post author

      I’ve read a lot of the older fics written when it was all kind of shiny new. It seemed there were purist writings that stayed true, and almost shadowed Austen turn-for-turn, and then there were stories by writers bursting to get out of the template of any sort of propriety. If you ever want to see a crazy one, try DWG’s Vodka and Coke. The story is very poorly written, and actually pretty abysmal. The firestorm of comments was it’s most interesting feature.

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  6. Robin Helm

    Linda, Caroline apologized to Richard by letter in SoulFire, but she didn’t come completely clean until the chapter I posted today. Because Richard confronted her, she finally admitted that she had drugged him. The two of them will NOT end up together. I know that stranger things have happened, but I just can’t stomach rewarding her after the awful things she did. One day, she can marry another nice man, but not Richard.

    I really like variations – way “out there” stories. I loved Regina Jeffer’s vampire story and Mary Simonsen’s werewolf story. I’m a science fiction buff, and one day I may populate the Enterprise with a whole host of Austen characters. Ha!

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  7. AmyFlo

    Writing AUs is tricky for the very reasons you listed. I take fanfic a little too seriously, so I prefer the characters to remain as true to the orignal as possible. That’s what makes writing AUs hard. It’s easy to write a crazy story and put the names “Darcy,” “Elizabeth”, etc. on them. But then that’s not fanfic; that’s original fiction. To be honest, I don’t see Austen’s Wentworth acting as he did in your vignette, Susan. But it’s a writing exercise and you were playing around with your interpretation of a character. No harm in that. You write what you want and you’re kind enough to share.

    Characters are in the eye of their creator. Or in the case of fanfic, their borrowed creator. One person might see Anne acting a certain way, and to another, that same action would be completely out of character. I find it sad when “wars” break out over such things. I’ve seen it happen, and it’s so uncessary.

    Me? I quietly avoid stories that don’t appeal to me. My time is my own, so why spend it reading something that I know I won’t enjoy?

    This really is of no true help, but I think the answerr to your question is a bit blurry. At what point to the characters stop being Austen’s and become your own? That’s a moving target because personal interpretation and opinion is so varied.

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  8. Wendy

    I keep looking at LSLaiK, but just can’t bring myself to read non-canon couples no matter much I love your writing, Susan. I did enjoy this peek at a Darker!Wentworth though. I kept wondering what rakish deeds he’d been up to in the last 9 years, or if he was simply going for a revenge tryst on Anne’s home turf to give his heart ease. Or something! Anyway, I enjoyed it very much, as always!

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    1. Susan Kaye Post author

      You’re not the only one, Wendy. There are plenty of people who pass it by. At this point, you’re wise to do so as there is no resolution. One day, we will pull it all together, but that’s in the future. The far, far future.

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    2. Laura Hile

      Hi Wendy! Another hard thing about Love Suffers Long and is Kind is how much Captain Benwick will grow on you. He has none of Frederick Wentworth’s dash or presence, but he’s a force to be reckoned with in his own way.

      I didn’t sleep much last night — bah, too much thinking! — so I’ll have to come back to this discussion tomorrow. So many good thoughts here.

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  9. LucyParker

    What a great topic! I’d want to be forewarned that Miss Austen’s heroines don’t end up the hero of their choice, because to me, that’s what her stories are all about. Imperfect women learning about themselves, making mistakes along the way to their HEA.

    Having said that, I’m willing to read a non-canon tale, if it’s well written and there’s something believable about each character’s actions.

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    1. Susan Kaye Post author

      We worked very hard with LSL to make Wentworth marrying Louisa was a believable act and not just squashing them together to make readers scream. I think we did a good job of putting FW into the vice of honor.

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      1. LucyParker

        I’m very much in love with canon Frederick; he talks, flirts, and the man writes one hot letter! But now you have me intrigued and can’t wait to find a new dimension to the man.

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  10. Ellen

    I think what makes us read stories that seem to change a Wentworth in a major way is actually our trust that he is still, at his core, the same honorable character that Austen wrote.

    I don’t care for FF that strays from essentials. I might like the story as an independent piece, but it’s not Austen. Somewhere in that story would have to be the redemption of this man who would try to seduce the woman he once loved. In general, I don’t think I could care about a cad who manipulated his way to what he wanted.

    But it also has to do with the creation of the character; Austen gave him certain qualities and traits and it just plain isn’t logical that he would do things that contradict those fundamental qualities. Example, I am a reserved person – in the normal course, I would not choose to get up on a stage and dance in front of a crowd. When I had to do this as part of a school event, it was all the funnier (to the students) because I was so awkward whereas the gal next to me was totally natural. It’s more believable to me the Wentworth would remain faithful to Anne for 8 years, and act spitefully as he does, than that he would become a seducer who then lets Anne go.

    I could handle a Mr. and Mrs. Bennett that love each other, because I think they do still care for each other in some way, though not as they should. But a Collins becoming friends with Darcy! That seems to ask too much of both those characters. They still have to follow the rules of human behavior. I suppose if there’s a lot of development showing the change in the character, it could work. It would be taking us pretty far from Austen’s originals, but with solid characterization, it would at least be believable. I hated Elizabeth Elliot in Austen’s work, but then we don’t see much of her. The Mercy’s Embrace books do a great job of providing a different motive for most of her actions, and then also showing a real growth and change of heart occurring over time. It works.

    What I love about Austen is the clarity of her insight into character; her people act consistently, both according to real life and according to the people she has created them to be. Also, I like that a good man prospers and a bad one flounders. Lydia is a great punishment for Wickham. The loss of Fanny is a loss that Henry Crawford is just good enough, and smart enough to feel and regret.

    I’ll still read almost any FF by authors I trust (I can’t take the ones that are just about the sex), but I guess I’m also ready to walk away from ones where I feel the writer isn’t paying attention to her own and Austen’s existing characterization. I’m so glad to have found all of you ladies that write quality pieces. I’ll even try the far out pieces because my experience so far has been that you do take the craft of writing character seriously.

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  11. Susan Kaye Post author

    I don’t care for the sensual Austen stories because the sex act gets in the way of the story. “Hey, let’s interrupt character development and advancing the plot so (usually) Lizzie and Darcy can have naughty sex somewhere around Pemberley.” We live in a day in which we have to make a concerted effort to keep sexual pictures and topics from being permanently embedded in our brains. I escape by trying to find writers who acknowledge sex (and the consequences for good and bad of it) but don’t require that I participate by reading every single movement.

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  12. Sophia Rose

    Now don’t take this wrong as I happen to think the Captain Frederick Wentworth stories are pretty bang on the button as far as Austen’s voice. But, I do not think every character re-write will fall short of the original because it is not the original.
    I have read some that echo Austen very strongly and others that there is no echo at all. When I pick a story up to read Austen fan fiction, I am delighted when I hear what sounds like Austen and when I pick up another that bears little resemblance, I just accept it as another romance.
    I do appreciate when an author/publisher is up front about their intentions for the book like that one that admitted to being a wild and wanton edition, thus, I could say ‘no thanks, don’t want to read wild and wanton’. But I suppose its harder with the ones who are closer to pure Austen.
    I guess what I’m saying is the publisher has a responsibility to be honest about the book they are promoting and the reader has to be savvy and check out what they are picking up to read.

    Fun discussion!

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  13. Eileen

    Good idea for a discussion! I have to admit that when I first read Shadows, I did not really recognize Frederick in the beginning, which was unusual for a story of yours. Then it became clear rather quickly. All it took was the reveal that Frederick loved Anne as passionately as always!
    To be honest, I have never read LSL because of the warning that the couples “switch” partners. That’s a deal breaker for me! haha
    I probably have read all of the Persuasion FF out there – there’s so few it’s easy to do. I’m not a fan of the way that Anne is often portrayed as a meek or submissive character. She’s quiet, but as they say, still waters run deep. She also can’t turn into a silly or strident character…that’s just not her either. Let’s face it, though, beggars can’t be choosers! I will devour any new Persuasion story when it comes across my radar.
    (The only one that I can remember fleeing right in the middle of reading was a story in which Croft and Wentworth were gay for each other. Whaaaaa!!?? Um, no. I’m not a homophobe. That’s your brother-in-law..good God, nooo!!)

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    1. Susan Kaye Post author

      LOL, Croft and Wentworth … haha. Unappealing, AND fraternization between officers. Not allowed. Articles of War and all.

      As for LSL, we didn’t just switch to see what happened, Wentworth says to Anne at the end of Persuasion that he was Louisa’s in honor if she wanted and so, in our universe, she wanted. Everything in Persuasion hinges on Louisa becoming attracted to Benwick. She doesn’t really love Wentworth anyway so Benwick is really the hero of Persuasion. Even if Harville is a bit put out at him. 😉

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