SBD: bemused in Bath

Beth has not called for the SBD, but I have one, so I’ll share anyway.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I visited Bath a couple of weeks ago, a day trip while visiting London. Why Bath? Well, I decided that I wanted to visit one town outside of London, and it sprang to mind. Probably because it’s been mentioned in so many Regency novels. And architecturally, the town was beautiful, especially the Royal Crescent and its gorgeous homes and velvety green lawn. Easily walkable from the train station, it was the perfect day trip.

The highlight was the Roman Baths, but the Jane Austen Centre was certainly worth a visit. Located in Gay Street, it is several houses down from a home Jane Austen once lived in — that house is now a dental office. Upstairs on the second floor is a tea room, which I did not visit. On the first floor is a small sitting room with memorabilia from various productions of Austen film adaptations and correspondence from various celebrities and Important Personages. Best things: letter from Emma Thompson and still from the set of Sense and Sensibility of Alan Rickman in Colonel Brandon garb…and a satin sash reading "Artiste". A docent gave a short presentation on the life and family of Jane Austen. Some of it was new to me, some not, but it was nice to hear. Was reminded that for all that I associate Bath with Austen because it is the setting for two of her books, it was not a happy place for her. Easy to forget that.

Following the lecture, there was a self tour of the exhibit on the ground and lower floors. The exhibit included some JA items but also covered the Regency period more generally, including displays of fans and fan language/usage, clothing, furniture, uniforms, holiday celebrations, the continental campaigns, etc. There was also a 15 minute documentary about Austen and Bath narrated by Amanda Root, who played Anne Elliot in the 1995 adaptation of Persuasion. (Uh, I may have mentioned before that’s my favorite adaptation, right?)

The end of the exhibit wound up by the gift shop. How convenient. Had to buy a magnet and another edition of Persuasion. (Yes, that makes three paper editions plus the e-version downloaded from Project Gutenberg. My only excuse is that each of the three print editions have different critical essays. And, yes, I’ve read them. Very thought provoking, thank you.)

Anyhoo, the gift shop. Volume of JA "continuation" novels was *astounding*. Vampire Darcy, Lizzie Bennet Zombie Hunter, various diaries by Austen heroes, time/reality travel back into an Austen novel, contemporary adaptations. Books on Regency-style gardens, fashion, Regency-style paper dolls, sewing, the language of flowers, flirting, etc. It’s a thriving, profitable subsection of publishing industry, this Jane Austen book industry.

Looking at the offerings, I had to wonder: how are all of these continuation stories not considered fanfiction? Or are they? Published, yes, but at base they are peopled by characters created by Austen, even if AU — are they not written by fans of Austen using her original creations without her consent? I don’t say "fanfiction" in a negative or derogatory way — I’ve read some amazing fanfiction that is in some ways better than the original work. (Janet Evanovich, I’m looking at you, although it’s been a few years since I’ve read either Plum FF or JE’s original works.) I suppose I’m just confused by the distinction — is the mere fact of publication what separates them from the FF archives that abound on the internet?

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4 responses to “SBD: bemused in Bath

  1. The very few Austen continuation-ists I’ve met and/or talked with definitely consider what they do FF, if of a more high-brow-because-published variety. And there are not a few authors today who have roots in Austen FF.

    • That’s good to know.
      The distinction from “regular” FF due of publication is the thing I’m struggling with. It seems like many authors either do not like FF or look down on FF writers. How does an author of JAFF fit into the publishing hierarchy in their minds? A published author, yes, but of high-brow FF. Are they any less an author? And if publishing FF is okay, how to justify the general derogation of FF by unpublished authors? How is that FF writer any different from other unpublished or prepublished writers (to the extent that they are interested in becoming published by their own original fiction or sanctioned FF)?

  2. Anonymous

    I’d count all of the Austen stuff I’ve read as essentially published fanfic. I’d be almost tempted to say that the author’s intent is what matters – for me fanfic would be playing round in the author’s world – so if you’re imagining what happened to characters after the books are over, that’s fanfic. Something like the Vampire books – which I haven’t read – might be parody.
    Seems to me like it would stop being fanfic when you appropriate the characters to say something of your own – I haven’t read Rhys’ ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ but it sounds like it’s more a response to Jane Eyre than a fanfic about that world.
    Though, of course, a lot of what we accept as fanfic would be a response to the original material – it’d be a difficult distinction to police.

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