Austenesque Fiction – A Great Legacy

WELCOME! This is a great day for me personally. Starting a new project with amazing people will always be the best. There is so much excitement and promise. If you are here, then you are probably already a fan of one of the amazing writers contributing to this group, but if this is your first introduction to us, I want to make sure and give you a little bit about me in this first blog post.

My name is E.M. Storm-Smith. I’m a non-profit corporate attorney in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; mother to a wonderful little guy; wife to the best friend I’ve ever known; and coming up on 2 years in the world of writing and publishing Austenesque books! I grew up in a small town in central Indiana, and while I’ve moved around a lot since graduating high school, my family has now settled in the same county of my youth.  Before I became an attorney, I was a Nuclear Engineer civilian consultant for the US Navy. I got to work on nuclear powered submarines and aircraft carriers; designing and running tests of equipment alongside our impressive enlisted and commissioned sailors. Today, I work with nonprofit organizations to help them meet their impact goals and sustainably grow financial assets to ensure longevity.

Each of the contributors here comes from a different perspective and with a different life story. Many of the posts you will get to see will talk about Jane Austen’s time, life, and legacy. I am also a Jane Austen superfan with a healthy love of her original stories and the time in history which made them rich. My copy of Georgette Heyer’s Regency World by Jennifer Kloester is WELL-LOVED and heavily dog-eared. I’ve written entire 100k word novels centered around the intricate rules of primogeniture inheritance and male-body entails (I am a lawyer and super nerd).

However, the thing that really lights my fire is how and why Jane Austen is still so popular and relevant today.

Her books are still speaking to the experiences of women, mothers, lovers, and everyone in-between. I try to focus not just on what was special about the Regency period of British history, but what those themes can teach us about today.

I’m also deeply passionate about this community, especially growing it. Making Jane Austen accessible for the new generations, new readers and people who usually say that they don’t like classic literature.

So, without further ado, I’d love to talk about how the Austenesque pastiche fiction community is continuing a long, venerated history of classic literature.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” – Oscar Wilde

I write pastiche fiction. Almost exclusively Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice based pastiche fiction. My stories range from very close to cannon, to taking significant artistic license with Austen’s characters, themes and settings. I also consume massive amounts of pastiche fiction in a variety of fandoms.

There is a big debate right now, driven in large part by the recent, unexpected, commercial success of certain content that started as pastiche fiction – often called “Fanfiction” (50 Shades of Grey was originally Twilight Fanfiction available for free on several popular websites), about whether these kinds of stories are morally or culturally valuable. Also, the increased access to the internet and ease of making a website dedicated to your favorite fictional universe has some authors and original creators crying foul.

But is pastiche fiction new? Will the increased number of pastiche fiction writers and internet spaces dedicated to the distribution of such stories kill traditional publishing and stifle original creation?

Short answer is no. And there’s plenty of evidence for this stance.

Pastiche fiction stories based to some degree on the works of other creators (fanfic, fan fiction, ff, sampling, alternative fiction, alt-universe fiction, continuation fiction, Mary Sue fic, …) has a storied and venerated history. Most literary historians agree that many of Shakespeare’s most adored plays (including Romeo&Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing, and As You Like It) were based on the characters and plots of contemporary works previously published by other authors.

If we just want to take a moment to trace Romeo&Juliet backwards from Shakespeare it would look something like this:

Shakespeare based Romeo&Juliet (which first premiered at the Globe in 1597) on Arthur Brooke’s 1562 poem The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet – yes “tragical” – which was itself an English translation of a French novella by Luigi da Porto published in 1524, where the main characters were called “Romeo” and “Juliet”, which was in turn a retelling of the earliest version of Romeo and Juliet, published in 1476 by Italian poet Masuccio Salernitano. So, Shakespeare “sampled” the characters (including their names), the plot, and the Italian city setting for his most famous play from a 121-year-old Italian poem.

However! That’s not even the whole story.

The original story of the “star-crossed lovers” who are kept apart by a long-standing family feud, then kill themselves in successive suicides based on the mistaken belief that one of the lovers was already dead, is a roman tragedy called Pyramus and Thisbe. It was written by the Roman poet Ovid (43 BCE – 17/18 CE) and first published in 8 CE. But even Ovid wasn’t the original author of this story. He adopted an existing etiological myth from Babylon about the metamorphosis of a man into the Ceyhan River (originally called the Pyramus River) and his lover, a nearby spring called Thisbe.

Now, I’ve exhausted what I can get from Wikipedia and free articles on Google Scholar, so if there are any real historical literary scholars reading this, I apologize for all the missing pieces to this two plus millennia old story. If you want to drop links in the comments to more in-depth research about the history of this saga, I’d love more of the nuance.

Back to our regularly scheduled rant – pastiche fiction is NOT evil. It’s not even new.

From personal experience and deep discussions with other writers in and around the pastiche fiction space, one big point in pastiche fiction’s favor is how accessible it is, especially to young writers. I know that experienced, professional writers, even people who have award winning books, continue to create in pastiche fiction spaces purely for the enjoyment of it, and that’s great! But I think the advantages to young or inexperienced writers are more important than almost any of the supposed evils created by sampling. Using well established characters and background settings is freeing in a way. It makes writing your story less intimidating. A young writer with imposter syndrome can hone their craft in a familiar space without having to worry about building a whole new world. The reader doesn’t have to keep track of too many extraneous details because the whole world is already known. The choices that characters make don’t have to be fully justified if they are well inside that character’s established norms.

Simply put writing pastiche fiction as an inexperienced person helps the writer prove to themselves that they are good enough to do it.

That accessibility creates another incredibly important virtue for pastiche fiction – representation.

There are countless articles, academic analyses, and pearl-clutching exclamations discussing the history, evolution, moral ambiguity, and general cultural value of pastiche fiction. If you are interested, a quick google search for ‘history of fanfiction’ will take you on a great journey. (Did you know that Jane Austen based fiction is considered the largest genre of pastiche fiction in the world?) But what is most important to me, and why I believe there is such an explosion of pastiche fiction, is how I, and many of my close friends who are big consumers of pastiche fiction, relate to these stories.

Let’s start with a quote from some people who actually formally research this kind of thing:

“Transformative fiction (also known as fanfiction, fanfic, or, most commonly among those who write and read it, fic) offers an alternative form of both close-reading and contextual criticism when applied to premodern writers, just as it does for contemporary media properties, and in many ways allows for the inclusion of otherwise marginalized voices.” (emphasis added). [1]

This tells the whole story for me. Pastiche fiction is a way for people who are marginalized, in one way or another, to find themselves represented in valuable, inclusive, and complex ways.

I am a cis-gendered, white, heterosexual woman. I have a traditional education (4-year university + university graduate school), a traditional job (attorney), a (mostly) traditional marriage to a cis-gendered white heterosexual male husband, and a cis-gendered white heterosexual male child (as far as we can tell – he might change is mind as he grows up). I have one gay uncle and one gay first cousin, but other than that, even my extended family is very majority heteronormative. I have always seen myself and my family represented in media. Representation and inclusiveness have never been a question or a thought in my mind since it’s very hard to see things that you don’t know you’re missing.

As I left my small-town childhood and moved on to college, then full-time work in another state, then graduate school, I have significantly expanded my social circles to include people of color, non-heteronormative individuals, and other marginalized voices. Once I started thinking about the people represented in traditionally produced media, it was eye opening to see how extremely narrow the range of views shown in TV, movies, books, and everything in between.

My first introduction to pastiche fiction was during graduate school. I was looking for some free outlet to help increase my reading speed and keep it up during school breaks. A good friend of mine who is a lesbian suggested Archive of Our Own as a place to start looking for stories I might enjoy in about 2012. But it came with a warning. Knowing I was a pretty vanilla person, she told me that there was a lot of LGBTQIA+ content on the site and I should pay attention to the tags if I wanted to steer clear of that kind of writing.

It was innocent enough of a warning, and at the time I had just starting my own journey as an ally. I didn’t even know what being an ally was, I’m not really sure that “ally” had become a widely used term by 2012. There wasn’t any TicTok or Instagram yet. This was even still a whole year out from the Obergefell v. Hodges SCOTUS case codifying marriage equality in the US Constitution.

Looking back now, I’m sad that she felt like she HAD to give me that warning. I hope I’ve made big strides in my own growth in the last decade+.

So, when I started reading pastiche fiction, I shied away from the tags that specified certain types of relationships, certain voices. But over time, I found creatives that I really liked, whose stories were wonderfully woven, and included representations of marginalized people and relationships. It also probably helped that I was starting in the Doctor Who TV show fandom which, since it’s reboot in 2005, has not been shy about non-heteronormative relationships between characters. Especially one character, Captain Jack Harkness (played by John Barrowman) who is actively portrayed as pansexual.

I started following stories that were by authors I really liked, even if they were in fandoms or genres that I didn’t typically seek out. And you know what I found, if the story was good and the main characters compelling, it didn’t matter to me what letter of the alphabet soup the relationship belonged in. The tags became just tags. I stopped filtering for certain kinds of relationships and expanded even deeper into the world of really well written pastiche fiction and was really happy for it.

I don’t think that reading pastiche fiction is what made me an ally for the various marginalized communities I encounter. I still have had to do the work of learning about the trauma our society inflicts on BIPOC, LGBTQIA+ and other marginalized people. And I’m still doing that work every day. But I do firmly believe that pastiche fiction was a significant part of my journey into seeing other people represented in the ways they wanted to be represented, not just the way that majority voices have chosen to incorporate marginalized people into media. A lot of pastiche fiction is written by the people who belong to those communities, who get to tell their own story in their own words.

No editors, no publishers, no producers, no sensors.

So, whether or not certain high-profile original creators of very popular fandoms fear that pastiche fiction is “tainting their brands,” its value is incomparable.

You will come across a lot of different stories, authors and experiences here at Always Austen. It’s what makes this group so amazing and unique. There are authors here who center their faith in their writings. There are authors who center romance. And there are authors who write about modern themes or transport Austen’s characters to modern times. No matter who you are or what your story is, I am sure that you will be able to find yourself a place here with us.

[1]      Finn, Kavita Mudan, and Jessica McCall. “Exit, Pursued by a Fan: Shakespeare, Fandom, and the Lure of the Alternate Universe.” Critical Survey, vol. 28, no. 2, 2016, pp. 27–38. JSTOR, Accessed 6 July 2021.

If you like my writing, maybe try my book!

3 responses to “Austenesque Fiction – A Great Legacy”

  1. cindie snyder Avatar
    cindie snyder

    Interesting post!

  2. donjacobsoncarpediem Avatar

    What a fantastic column! For the first timdd we I understand the term “pastiche.” It seems that our world of Austen Variations is right there! Really find your journey compelling. I also appreciate how you have embraced “Austenesque” fiction. I personally do not like the “fanfic” label. I always feel that it devalues the work..if not in our eyes, then in those public’s who have yet to try our genre.

  3. Char Avatar

    Thanks so much for the blog. I have been reading JA since my university days. And I always excited and pleased to see another variation to the her books. My preference is P&P too. 🙂 I love the term “pastiche.” I had to go to the online dictionary to get the exact definition and how it was pronounced, I like it! I have read your Reputation Verse Book 1, I loved it!! I am keeping a look out for Book 2. Thank you for words.

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