Jon Kelly at BBC News: Janeites: The curious American cult of Jane Austen


With their conventions, Regency costumes and self-written “sequels” to their heroine’s novels, Austen’s most dedicated adherents display a fervency easily rivalling that of the subcultures around Star Trek or Harry Potter.

Some Janeites, as they call themselves, write their own fiction imagining the marital exploits of Mr and Mrs Darcy. Others don elaborate period dress and throw Jane Austen-themed tea parties and balls.

a) why has nobody invited me to an Austenian tea party? The people demand bonnets!

b) It made me so sad to see, in the article, that even though Jane Austen remains super popular there has been a decline in respect for her as a serious artist. Because it’s ‘chick lit’… as if any genre is Automatically Bad. And as if anything a woman created that a lot of women really like… is Automatically Bad.

I was reading some fan responses to the Vampire Diaries over the weekend (sharp left turn from Jane Austen! Also, yes, I’m very cool!) —and I started to get viscerally uncomfortable about how often the women involved in creating it were named and hated on. Julie Plec and Caroline Dries were brought up time and again, with a constant refrain that they shut up, drop out, SHUT UP, if only Kevin Wiliamson or Jose Molina would save the situation. The dudes’ names only ever came up associated with praise.

The stuff the fans didn’t like which was masterminded by dudes, was talked about differently: that episode sucked, that season had this off time. Never, ever ‘this dude sucks.’ 

It reminded me of how I used to see the same hatred of Marti Noxon on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Which really sharply contrasted with the refrain of ‘Joss Whedon is my master now.’

Look, I am no expert on television here: I never know who’s written an episode, or who’s behind a certain plot arc. (I also barely know how to turn it on or change the DVD player settings, but that’s shame for another day.) I’m sure all these ladies are imperfect. Maybe all these ladies have done terrible things to their shows! Please do not tell me all the details of any of these women’s awful crimes against fiction.

My point is that I doubt that the dudes were flawless in their handling of fiction: the problem is the insistent pattern that goes ‘SHUT UP, WOMAN’S NAME, SHUT UP!!’

I remember looking at one site and seeing a female YA author being discussed. Her appearance, her manners, whether she’d written too many books, too many books in one series—I have seen at least six female authors called ‘whores’ (OH. I. SEE.) and ‘money-grubbing hacks’ for writing a long series. I have never seen similar criticism for, say, Rick Riordan (don’t stop writing Rick Riordan, that’s not what I meant! I like a long series! I’m just making a point!)—whether she was grateful or gracious enough. 

Then I looked at what they had to say about a male author in the same field… apparently his worst offense was being friends with the female author… (Kind of like how the most criticism I see against Neil Gaiman is actually against Amanda Palmer, asking why he doesn’t get her to… guess what… shut up.)

It’s so much easier for people to hate on a girl than a guy. A lady’s success will so often be looked on with dark suspicion, while a dude’s success is looked on as his due.

Of course my opinion here is personal: I’m a lady creator, though not as fancy as the ones I’ve been discussing. I’ve had my appearance criticised, and the company I keep, and how I conduct myself, and that all sucks. Quite recently I remember a blogger described my behaviour at a public event as ‘attention-seeking’ (no! good gravy! who do I think I am, up on a stage talking?)… I’ve seen that word used for a lot of women, but I’ve never seen it used for a man. It’s almost as if… people see a dude up on stage talking and think ‘Yes, things are as they should be.’ And they see a lady and think ‘SHUT UP, WOMAN’S NAME, SHUT UP.’ 

I’ve said snarky things and been roundly criticised for my rudeness. (Like, this weekend.) So have many ladies! While snarky dudes are celebrated, quoted, applauded: while we all know that dudes can get away with a million more things than we can. 

Having a semi-public job means a certain amount of scrutiny. Creators are always going to get critiqued, because that’s what people should do with art, and if people don’t care about your fiction you’ve gone wrong somewhere! That’s all fine. 

But I wish, wish, wish there wasn’t that obstacle for women, that kneejerk ‘SHUT UP!’

Pride and Prejudice is two hundred years old today. Jane Austen wrote in another book, Persuasion, ‘Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story… The pen has been in their hands.’

The pen should not be seen as solely belonging in their hands.

(Wow, this got long.) (Maybe I should shut up.) (But I hardly ever do.)

We gotta say this. We gotta KEEP saying this. Nothing changes if you say nothing.