Episode 76: Camp Austen
In Episode 76, “Camp Austen,” Flourish and Elizabeth talk to with Ted Scheinman, the author of Camp Austen, a book about his experiences at an Austen con attended by academics and fans (and academic/fans, too!). They also read a trio of listener letters: two on redemption and antiheroes and one on AUs and reading fanfiction by trope.
[00:00:00] As always our intro music is “Awel,” by Stefsax.
[00:01:28] Ted’s book is Camp Austen and it is a delight!! Also, find out about the actual Jane Austen Summer Camp.
[00:09:54] Kelly Marie Tran left Instagram over harassment, because people suck a lot.
[00:18:21] If you have somehow missed it, you should definitely subscribe to The Rec Center, Elizabeth (& Gavia Baker-Whitelaw’s) fic rec newsletter!
This amazing fanart is by panglossianparadox.
[00:23:06] Flourish is torturing Elizabeth by making the interstitial music a Haydn Cello Concerto in C, which was her audition piece for a long time, NOT SORRY ELIZABETH.
[00:30:03] If you haven’t read Austen’s Juvenilia, it’s worth a look! You can even read it in manuscript form (with transcriptions) which is excellent.
[00:37:03] Our interview with Lori Morimoto is in Episode 71.
[00:40:30] The database of all known Jane Austen fic is the Jane Austen Fanfiction Index.
[00:44:16] The tweet.
Flourish Klink: Hi, Elizabeth!
Elizabeth Minkel: Hi, Flourish!
FK: And welcome to Fansplaining, the podcast by, for, and about fandom!
ELM: This is Episode 76, “Camp Austen.”
FK: Camp Austen.
ELM: Austen, like A-U-S-T-E-N, Austen comma Jane. You excited, Flourish?
FK: I’m very excited. We’re gonna talk about the real life Mr. Darcy!
ELM: [laughing] Yes. Whose name…
FK: I probably shouldn’t call him the real life Mr. Darcy, but he cosplays Mr. Darcy and I hear he knows how to dance, so it’s fine.
ELM: [laughing] I like that’s how we’re setting him up, as a Mr. Darcy cosplayer.
FK: Yeah, totally! Completely!
ELM: Our guest today is Ted Scheinman, who is an editor and an academic who wrote a book called Camp Austen. He’s working and he also attends, I guess it’s part academic conference and part con I would say, called Jane Austen Summer Camp. It’s a great book, highly recommended, so I’m really excited to talk to him about it. You know, I kinda wanna dig in to some of these intersections. Contact zones.
FK: Me too! But first, we have some letters to read.
ELM: Yes. Ever more. We have so many letters now that we asked for them, we got them!
FK: We are very appreciative, everyone. Thank you for sending letters, send more! But especially send voicemails, we like those. OK! But we also like these letters that I’m about to read. Can I read the first one?
ELM: Oh my God, I like how you just undercut… [FK laughing] We love all correspondence! So the first two letters that we wanna read are in response to our last episode, which was about a lot of things. The impetus for that was another letter about whether we thought that characters could be redeemed, and that somehow turned into us talking about the Episcopal church at length. So these are some thoughts following on from that. Yes, you read the first one.
FK: All right, the first one is from PoetOfTragedy. “Third time caller writing in. This was definitely an ‘it me!’ episode, considering how I joke sometimes that my orientation, technically bi, is mainly for fictional serial killers.
“I saw Xena at a young age, fell in love with Xena, but imprinted on Callisto as my ultimate type, and now Hannibal and Villanelle are like, near peaks. I love evil characters, but only some types of ‘evil’ characters (i.e. not Kylo),” [FK laughing] “and I have no interest in redemption arcs. If a fic starts with a character in a less evil place than they are in canon, fine, but actual redemption during the course of the fic isn’t appealing to me. I’m one of those people who like it going the other way, which is why Hannibal fic is so good for me when the arc is trying to get Will to murder instead of having Hannibal give it up.
“Your discussion on grappling on why certain bad behaviors are more acceptable in characters, i.e. racist Archie Bunker versus, like, murderous Hannibal had me grappling why I have the tastes that I have, and I think that maybe it comes down to a power thing. I don’t perceive racists as holding a power position in the narrative of a story (or mentally in real life) and I see Kylo as a personally weak character putting on a show to compensate for the fact that he's a sad manchild (sorry Flourish!)”
ELM: Sorry, Flourish.
FK: Aside: I agree! He is a sad manchild.
ELM: Flourish has a fetish for sad manchildren, FYI.
FK: I love ’em. OK BACK TO THE LETTER. “But I see strong antiheroism or real villainy in story holding a power position in the story. They’re mentally or physically strong or smart enough to defy the rules that society and morality have defined as acceptable. And I’m drawn to that. Redemption arcs feel like weakening that character by having them cede some of their power to whatever someone defines as ‘good.’
“I’m always careful to not woobify evil characters or excuse bad behaviors—I’m perfectly aware that Villanelle killing a ton of people is definitely not great in real life. But I let myself be attracted to it in fiction because she’s so powerful in the world of the story, and I find that compelling. Thank you for putting out such interesting podcasts that keep me thinking from week to week! PoetOfTragedy.”
ELM: That’s really interesting. It just is. Just very interesting letter.
FK: I think it is, I think it’s also very honest and I appreciate that and also a little bit I’m like “Erhmagerd, Ayn Rand! RAND! Rand!”
ELM: Why are you shouting about Ayn Rand right now?
FK: Because I feel like that’s the entire point of a lot of Objectivism, it’s like, “I am personally the best! I am powerful, I am in charge of what’s going on, therefore I must be in charge,” and I mean I think that actually that is—
ELM: I think the fact that you went there from this letter is strange, Flourish.
FK: OK, look, there’s lots of other reasons to not like Objectivism, but I do think it’s one of the things that's appealing to a lot of people about Ayn Rand’s stuff, and I think that it’s appealing to a lot of people, the idea of being powerful and having that sort of ability to defy society. I think that’s very honest, I think that’s actually, I think a lot of people are attracted to it.
ELM: Not that I actually want to discuss Ayn Rand for more than six to seven seconds, [FK laughing] but I think that’s fundamentally…diverges from what PoetOfTragedy is talking about here. This letter is one of the purest examples of this point that we’re seeing constantly in this discourse right now about the space between what happens in fiction versus what happens in real life.
FK: Whereas Ayn Rand is like “Let’s do this in real life!”
ELM: Ayn Rand is like “Do this now, this is how we should live our lives.”
FK: That’s true, that’s true.
ELM: Everyone in Silicon Valley, blah blah blah. So I disagree with you going there. I think this is really interesting. I think there’s probably too much to dig into this idea of drawing these distinctions between behaviors that you see in real life and what power means in fiction and what power means…you know. There are fans of real serial killers, right? Even the true crime fandom can venture into that space where it’s like, “Do you enjoy the solving, or are you just into the crime committers,” you know? And that’s really really complicated and ambivalent and interesting. I think this is a great letter and probably we can’t give it the full justice that it deserves in this conversation.
FK: I agree.
ELM: So thank you!
FK: And thank you! Elizabeth, do you want to read the next one?
ELM: Yeah! Probably also gonna be too complicated for us to do it justice. [laughing] OK. “Elizabeth and Flourish, I just finished listening to Episode 75 and your discussion about irredeemable characters in fiction and the way fandom reacts to discussions of redemption. I belong to two communities—fandom and that of a person of faith (Christian to be specific)—and I often see parallels between the two. In your discussion I saw a lot of them.” Side note, we did explicitly talk about Christianity a whole bunch. [all laugh]
“I wanted to mention one on the off chance that it might add to the discussion…within Christianity, scripture acts as a kind of ‘canon’ for people, but in the 2,000 year history of the church (and going further back for the Jewish faith—but I’ll stick to what I know and talk about Christianity) —the church has never seen scripture as the only source of epistemology, i.e. how do we know what we know to be true. It is always in relationship with other ways of knowing: history, rational thought, tradition, personal witness, the Holy Spirit et cetera. Basically, no community of faith has ever only drawn upon one way of knowing. (Many suppress some ways of knowing, favor others, et cetera.)
“Within fandom, how you ‘know what you know’ about the fictional characters and world a fandom organizes around is equally as fluid. You see this when the canon is making specific craft and character choices to name someone like Walter White as an antihero, but some parts of fandom may disagree. Their subjective experience (‘I see myself in him and if you call him irredeemable you’re saying the same about me’) matter too, as does fic, and all the other epistemological means for being in relationship with the both canon and the community.
“And that is where I’m going with this: what if a discussion about redeemable characters is never actually about the characters, but about how we treat one another in the course of that discussion? In my years of fandom, every ship war, toxic discourse, et cetera starts as an intellectual argument (Character A abuses Character B so shipping them together is gross…) that very quickly unravels into interpersonal conflict. One set of shippers infiltrate the tags of an opposing ship. One sends hate to actors or creators. Another fandom has a rash of cruel anons poking at people through their ask boxes. Another fandom is super cliquey, etc.
“Christian ethicist Stanley Hauerwas has this quote I love: ‘The job of the church is to be the church.’ It isn't the job of the faith community to eliminate all poverty or racism. It isn’t to have all the answers or divide people into who God loves and doesn’t love. Rather, it's to be a community of people that loves the thing (here, Jesus) really well and to stay focused on that task. What if the job of fandom is less about having the ‘right’ discourse, and more how we treat one another? Katie.”
FK: Oh, that was the most…oh!
ELM: Yeah! I feel like we can’t do this one justice either. [laughing]
FK: Oh, I don’t think we can.
ELM: We should just read them and not comment ever. We should just be like “Yes, this is better than what we’re going to say,” which is how I feel about both these letters.
FK: I will say this is one of the few times that I’ve felt like it’s, a lot of times people make these very surfacey comparisons between religion and fandom and THIS IS NOT THAT! This is so nice.
ELM: Yeah, and also a very…you know, I feel like a lot of the time when people compare the two, they’re often talking about the relationship between the individual and the source material, and they’re rarely talking about the community elements—and even in the last week, so we’re recording this in the week where there’s been a lot of discussion about “toxic fandom” after Kelly Marie Tran was the victim of racist abuse and deleted her Instagram. It’s interesting, because I saw a lot of religious comparisons and they’re meant to be negative. They’re saying “Organized religion is bad and this is bad.” And it rarely got into, weirdly a lot of stuff I saw didn't even get into the idea that organized religion can be bad in the communal, right?
FK: Yeah, completely. Like you’re saying, I feel like almost always it’s not just that people are misunderstanding fandom when they compare fandom and religion, it’s that they’re misunderstanding religion. [laughing]
ELM: 100%. Yeah.
FK: What are we doing when we show up in this church or temple or mosque or wherever we’re gonna show up and exist together as a religion, right.
ELM: Yeah. I mean, it’s a complicated analogy because obviously the…at the heart of any religion, not any religion but there are core sets of beliefs, so you can then kind of fall back on that and say “Well, do you feel like we’re living our lives in a way that supports this teaching,” or this person, or whatever. And fandom, it’s rare that you can have that kind of central—even when there’s an author-god figure in an affirmational fandom. People still have different ways of engaging and different ideas of what that means.
FK: Yeah, and a clear moral statement from the author-god. Absolutely. But I do think that there are some things, like, I mean, anybody who goes to church knows the people who go to church because they find community only through their church, whether that’s because they’re all alone outside of it or because their social skills aren’t great and at church people accept you in a certain way, they don’t outside of it…this is a familiar type. And I feel like fandom can be like that too, and that’s an interpersonal thing that’s more about finding the community of people who are all together loving this thing and that therefore have a different relationship to each other than in any other space. I think that’s something that is similar and that Katie had a good point and that she’s really smart.
ELM: Yeah. Both these letter writers, fantastic. Thank you! Thank you to you both. Anyone else wants to write things that are smarter than anything we’ll say about redemption and fictional characters, please do. Fansplaining at gmail.com. I don’t wanna sell us, Flourish looked kind of insulted when I said that. Flourish, you said very smart things too, don’t worry.
FK: I didn’t feel insulted! Should I read the next letter though?
ELM: The next letter is not about this topic, the next letter is about everyone’s favorite topic, alternate universe fanfiction.
FK: We will talk about it forever. OK, here’s the letter. “First of all, thank you so much for all the work you do on this podcast! It’s so fascinating to hear you guys explore all these different facets of fandom. New episodes totally make the middle of my week.” Aw! Starting out buttering us up, it’s great, I love it.
ELM: Thank you!
FK: “I’m writing now in response to your ‘Alternate Universe’ episode, because I think I have a complete-180 experience of fic reading to what you two described. The vast majority of what I read on AO3—canon universe or AU—is based on source material that I’m either mostly or entirely unfamiliar with. This is because I search for stories by tag, rather than by fandom or character. When I pull up AO3 to find a new fic, my motivation is hardly ever ‘I want to read a Drarry fic’ or ‘I’m in the mood for some 1D today.’ It’s more, ‘I could really go for a fake dating AU’ or ‘I need a cathartic hurt/comfort scene with found family, please and thank you.’
“(This is perhaps a more extreme version of how Flourish read that Merlin fic—because it was a Regency story that happened to be Merlin, and not because it was a Merlin fic that happened to be Regency?)” It’s not Regency, it’s Wills and Kate, but YES it’s completely like that, totally, 100%, I support you reader! OK, back to the letter.
“In the five years I’ve been on AO3, I've found that I frequent some fandoms more than others, because it just so happens that, say, the Stucky or Johnlock dynamic is really conducive to lots of the tags that I want to read. But for the most part, I’m fandom-nomadic. In fact, I often have the opposite fic rec problem as Elizabeth: When people try to recommend stories in fandoms that I’ve visited, even if these are the top tier, most-in-character tales a fandom has to offer…if those stories don’t include particular plot elements or aren’t geared to elicit certain emotional responses, then I can’t read them. Give me an B- huddling-for-warmth fic with two characters that I’ve never met over an A+ high school AU for a pairing I know and love, any day.
“I’m probably doing fandom backwards—if I can even properly identify as someone ‘in fandom,’ when fandom particulars matter so little to my fic selection and enjoyment. But I think this gets back to Flourish’s question: What is fanfic for? For many people, it seems like fic is a tool to explore infinite experiences for particular characters. For me, fic is the opportunity to see particular experiences or themes played out in the lives of infinite different characters. And it’s about easily finding stories that push certain buttons that mainstream literature simply doesn’t—or, at least, buttons that are more difficult to push with published fiction, because you can’t just roll up to Barnes and Noble and head for the enemies-to-lovers section.
“None of my other fandom friends seem to feel this way about fic, but I do wonder whether there are other fic folks out there whose reading and writing is fueled by genre and trope, like my own, rather than character and other aspects of original source material. Are there people on AO3 just because they so love A/B/O stories, or soulmate AUs, or rescued-from-kidnapping fic, no matter which cast of characters is involved or universe it’s set in?
“Sorry this is sort of long and rambling, but your AU episode and subsequent listener comments really gave me a new appreciation the multiplicity of motivations for fandom and fic participation, and I just wanted to throw my two cents in there. Thanks again for all your work on the show! Amy.”
ELM: A third great letter!
FK: Ah, so good! But it did make me think, is this also a…is this also a more extreme version of, we all know people who are in migratory slash fandom! Or who gravitate to a certain type of character or something like that, across fandoms. Is this just another version of that? Or is that just another version of this?
ELM: I would say no. No, I think that’s something different. I don’t think that Amy is alone. But I do think that this is something that historically…I think this is relatively new, that’s not to say that there weren't people who read and wanted to read like Amy 10 or 15 years ago, but there was very little way to even realistically do this prior to AO3, right?
FK: Absolutely! One of the really interesting things for me has been going back and reading old fics and realizing “Oh my God, this was part of a whole trope situation that I had no clue about cause there was no way to search across fics!”
ELM: No one would tag it, right. I can’t remember…I can barely remember what it was like to spend significant amounts of time on fanfiction.net because it was so [laughing] it was like 15 years ago at this point.
FK: The filtering functionality is not great, Bob.
ELM: Yeah. I mean, I also just remember reading just some garbage. I mean, not to insult people’s fanfiction or whatever, but I was just like, “I don’t know what’s going on here, this is just nonsensetown.”
FK: Not to say that it’s necessarily actually garbage, but you were not looking for whatever that was. You were looking for something else. [laughing]
ELM: Yeah…yeah. All right. Prior to that I was reading in fandom specific archives so that’s gonna be about the source material, right? After that, I was reading on LiveJournal and that almost always was constructed around a ship or a fandom, or it would be an author, and that author obviously would have ways of writing about characters across fandoms, and I might read their work in more than one fandom, but. And I don’t know, because I didn’t experience this, how prevalent there might have been communities where there’d be multifandom recs for hurt/comfort or multifandom recs for fake dating AUs, you know what I mean?
FK: I actually think one of the first things like this, and maybe I’m wrong, but there was a multifandom fic fest of some sort and it was the Canadian Shack fic fest. All about huddling for warmth, you gotta strand your characters in a shack somewhere in Canada.
ELM: There were multifandom single trope fests, I do remember this.
FK: Exactly. So you had, it was not like…there were other fests that created tropes within particular areas, but this was I think maybe the earliest one I knew about where it was like, “Here’s one trope that we are gonna get people to write about for as many fandoms as we can.” And huddling for warmth is still a great trope and one Amy says she appreciates!
ELM: Sure. That’s a fine one! I always enjoy that as well. It’s interesting. I remember when we started “The Rec Center,” maybe six months in, maybe it was even sooner than that, we did a listener survey and actually we probably should do another one at some point cause we have exponentially…maybe I’m using that word wrong. We have thousands of readers now, and then I think we probably had fewer than a thousand at the time, cause it was relatively new. And we asked them about some of their preferences, and it wasn’t a majority but it was a significant portion said they would read fic without knowing the source material.
We were kind of curious as we would rec things, you know, and as we’ve gone along I do lists where it’s one kind of trope and it’s a multifandom list around a single trope, but I never think of it like “Oh, if you love huddling for warmth you’re gonna read all these regardless of what they are.” But people are totally doing that! Many people wrote to me and they were like “I was just going through the royal AU list one by one,” and I was like “Oh really?! You read all of these, huh?!” You know?
FK: I can say not only did I do that, but it inspired me to search on AO3 for the most kudosed royal AUs across fandoms, so.
ELM: Did we miss any?
FK: Probably, but a lot of them were in fandoms that I actively was not going to read in, unfortunately, so.
ELM: [laughing] OK!
FK: No, it’s not that I hate those, I just…sometimes there’s a thing you bounce off of and you’re like, “I just can’t go there.” So.
FK: It’s fine. There’s a lot of Teen Wolf.
ELM: Oh. All right, I’m sorry, Flourish.
FK: A LOT. [ELM laughing] You know what’s worse? The most kudosed, one of the most kudosed Voyager fanfics of all time is—in fact I think it is the most kudosed one—is a Teen Wolf fanfic set on Voyager where all of the characters are Teen Wolf characters and I saw this and I was just like, “I can’t! I can’t!”
ELM: Is it tagged in both fandoms?
ELM: You shouldn’t do that!
FK: And it's the most kudosed Voyager fanfic on the Archive of our Own, I’m not joking!!
ELM: Yeah well, the most kudosed fic in your fandom is the one sentence “Throw Kylo in the garbage can” one, so.
FK: Yeah, but I give, you know…
ELM: You just like that top tier burn? They went in, they did it.
FK: It’s just such a good burn. I can’t even be mad. It’s such a good burn. [laughing] God bless you, treezie.
ELM: The one thing I’ll say is, while I don't think anyone's doing anything wrong, and I don’t want Amy or anyone else who reads this way to beat themselves up and say “Oh I must not be doing fandom right,” it is true that I think a majority of the discussions you see in fandom are coming at it from the opposite angle, because people spend so much time arguing about characters.
ELM: That doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily doing it wrong, but it does kind of inherently remove you from those conversations, because if you don’t actually have any points of reference to see whether things are in character or how they relate to the source material, and that’s not something you’re interested in, that’s just gonna mean that, you know, you’re kind of doing your own thing. You’re basically…which I don’t think is necessarily bad, but I also think it is what it is in terms of…and I think Amy’s acknowledging that by saying “none of my friends do it this way,” but I don’t think that means if you don’t…you shouldn’t necessarily gatekeep yourself.
FK: Agreed! You are a beloved member of the fanfiction community, please continue.
ELM: Yeah! Maybe that’s part of it too. I wonder if this will change over time, if people will only have known AO3 and only have known of that way of organizing, only have known of the culture of extensive tagging, which wasn’t universal 10 years ago, I see people saying this all the time where they'll be like “Well, fanfiction is like X,” and I’ll be like “Eh, you know it’s like it now. It wasn’t like this 10 years ago.” That's not necessarily bad. There are things that I’m not gonna sit here and complain, about people tagging trigger warnings or something, absolutely not. And if you don’t wanna do it, then you say “choose not to warn,” and if you need trigger warnings then you’re not gonna read that person’s work, et cetera, et cetera. You know? No one’s…it’s an opt-in situation.
FK: For sure.
ELM: So. That’s that. [laughs]
FK: All right. These have been incredibly great letters.
ELM: SUCH good letters.
FK: I think that we can’t do any more justice to them, but we look forward to having other people write in, AND I think that we have to go and call Ted now because otherwise we won’t have time to hear all about dancing Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot. Which is the name of a dance.
ELM: You just wanted to get in some of your references.
FK: OF COURSE. [ELM laughing] All right, we’ll find out if he is wearing boots by Hoby and a Weston coat when we talk to him in a moment.
ELM: I’m going to hang up on you before we call him. I can’t take it anymore.
FK: OK great. Talk to you on the other side.
FK: All right, I think it’s time to welcome Ted to the podcast. Hooray, welcome Ted!
Ted Scheinman: Hey, you two, thanks for having me.
ELM: Thank you for coming on! I'm excited about this. Flourish I think is especially excited about this as a Regency romance fan.
FK: It’s practically like having actual Mr. Darcy on our podcast.
ELM: Oh wow, oh wow.
TS: I’ll try to live up to half of that. [all laughing]
ELM: OK no no no, because as you even say in the book, Mr. Darcy, do you want that? He’s…
FK: Not entirely.
ELM: He’s somewhat taciturn.
TS: Are you asking Flourish or are you asking me?
ELM: I’m asking you. It would take us more than the length of a podcast for you to really warm up to us and see the error of your ways, and I feel like that’s a bad start.
ELM: I read that book, I understand. [laughing]
TS: You do, clearly! I’ll say this: for me personally, and we’re talking aspirationally, not who I’m actually like, but for me Henry Tilney from Northanger Abbey, he’s the guy you really want to be if you’re a cis dude who reads these books. He’s not as rich as Darcy, but he’s funny, he’s got a wit, he’s got an easy manner, he makes shy country girls feel at their ease without being predatory with them, he’s just a good guy and everyone loves him. And Darcy’s much more awkward. You can play that as brooding, you can play that as whatever, but he’s really not good in company and he admits it. I guess in a sort of Rochester way that can be a little sexy, but that’s not my style. So Henry Tilney, if I could turn myself into any of them. That’s my answer.
ELM: Solid. Wait, if you had to pick any of the characters, would you pick him? Or is there a, do you relate to the heroines of her books?
TS: Some of them more than others. As Lionel Trilling says, all male readers are meant to fall in love with Lizzie Bennett in Pride and Prejudice, and I’m sure the first couple of times I read it I did that. I think most of us, though, men and women, really identify with her particularly. She’s specifically crafted in a petri dish to be maximally seductive in terms of her point of view. You’re supposed to share her point of view, you’re supposed to think “Oh yes, if I were one of these five sisters, I would be Lizzie.” Or you’d aspire to be Lizzy, because she’s the fun one.
FK: Yeah, the reality is we’re probably all Kitty and it’s all sad. [laughing]
TS: Or, Kitty’s not the worst person to be! You know. I don’t know. Maybe Lydia’s not the worst person to be.
FK: Oh, poor Mary! Cause you can’t mean Jane.
TS: No, very few of us are good enough to be Jane. Jane is sort of just an angel. I don’t mean to get us too far off track here.
ELM: Yeah, that was not meant to be our first question, but I just had to ask.
FK: You know, my mother identifies with Mrs. Bennet, which distresses me a great deal.
TS: Oh, see, that’s fascinating. I love that it’s a minority report, because everybody in the book thinks Mr. Bennet…most casual readers think Mr. Bennet is harassed in an unhappy marriage or that he’s dealing very philosophically with a very silly wife. But she’s got very real concerns. What’s she gonna do with all these daughters? You’d be crazy too!
ELM: That’s right!
TS: I might be of the generation that is over-correcting for previous generations’ excesses of adoration for Mr. Bennet, but I think the book really is all about Lizzie going from thinking that Mr. Bennet is the sane one to being a little more in the middle. “Mom has a point, and Dad really fucked up with Lydia.”
ELM: You know, I only read Pride and Prejudice a couple years…actually it was awhile ago. Maybe it was eight years ago. Do you feel like 2010 was last year, do you guys still have this issue?
TS: I still think that, yes.
ELM: Yeah. So. I think that was around when I read it. But the only other one I’ve read is Mansfield Park, which is a weird choice.
FK: Oh, but it’s nice!
TS: It is really nice. I discovered, or I was reminded, last week on the phone with my dad, that while my mom was in labor with me she was reading Mansfield Park aloud to my father.
ELM: While she was in labor.
TS: That was how she was taking her mind off it.
FK: She was reading it to your dad, he was not reading it to her.
ELM: He was just sittin’ there, listening.
TS: No, that was her preferred way to do it. She’d read all of Austen to him, so she was like “Yeah, get in here, sit down.”
ELM: Incredible. OK, wait. I wanted to ask about your origin story and I think your mom is definitely a big part of it, so do you want to talk a little bit about that?
TS: Yeah, sure. So Austen fandom in my case is sort of inherited, or to the extent that I am really an Austen fan I get it from my mom.
FK: You seemed pretty deep on Austen.
ELM: Why are you gatekeeping yourself?
FK: Don’t gatekeep yourself! You are definitely an Austen fan.
TS: I appreciate that. I’m not trying to erase myself from this story, I’m just not trying to speak for every Austen fan and there are just way bigger ones than me. That’s the only point. But yeah, so it’s inherited from my mom, she teaches English literature at Colgate University, this tiny private school in the northeast, and her favorite author is Jane Austen, so I was raised with Austen as an ambient presence in the household. I was also raised in part in England while my mom was teaching over there, and we would visit Jane Austen’s grave in Winchester Cathedral, and we would go to Chawton House where she lived, and some of it I don’t remember at all, other times I recall it being a really foggy day and I was super annoyed, and other times I was like “Oh, this is really cool, who’s this author again?” And eventually, you know. Eventually I sort of…
TS: Exactly. But I only read the weird juvenilia when I was a kid, when she was like between 12 and 16 or 17 she wrote a whole variety of works, some of them serious and most of them very very sorta corrosively unserious, and I got super into that cause they were violent, they were sexy, everything the adult novels you’re told they are not.
So I got into those, but that’s really all I read for a long time, so I think I resisted my mom’s Austen inputs for a long time. And then eventually fate just came up and offered me a little bit of money to help out with this one weekend of Austen summer camp. And then I got sucked into the world.
ELM: Cause you were doing a PhD, but you weren’t studying that period at all. It was still an English PhD, right?
TS: English PhD, and Austen was basically the tail end of my period.
ELM: You’re doing 18th century.
TS: 18th century, she probably would have been the last chapter of my dissertation, which I might still write someday.
ELM: Oh, you’re, you abandoned it?
TS: I’m ABD, yeah. I went back, I left the life.
ELM: To join the lucrative world of magazine editing.
TS: To go back into journalism, yeah. [ELM laughing] It’s been a revolving door, honestly, between those two for my brief career, and it’s so hard to choose. How do you want to be come obsolete?
FK: Right, right, or starve, in the state of academic hiring that we’re in.
TS: So yeah. So then my mom gave me this whole weird world.
FK: So you must be the only person in the entire world who started with the juvenilia except for Jane Austen herself and possibly her siblings. Was that interesting, did you have…did you find, when you dove into this world of Jane Austen superfans, that you had a different perspective on her than they did because you have this weird entry point?
TS: I think a little bit, yeah. Because the juvenilia are somewhat famously—they’re really madcap, they’re very weird, they’re experimental. They make very ruthless fun of the forms. So you'll have a 12-chapter novel that happens within a page. You’ll have an epistolary novel where every letter is so crammed full of exposition, it’s just making fun of badly done epistolary novels. Really good ones, Austen really loved.
So yeah, I think I came in with an idea that “Oh, Austen isn’t this stuffy matchmaker or proponent of a really respectable marriage. But rather, she's something swashbuckling and subversive and cool!” Which of course, plenty of people who read the novels think that too, but I think it was…I think there was a closely guarded thing that I held. At first I believed that was a way of justifying things to myself, or to the world. That “Oh no, Austen’s not merely an author of chick lit, she’s also a really swashbuckling satirist.” I’m not the first person to overinvest that truth with some sort of importance to make my presence in Austen world feel more comfortable, cause I’m a cis dude. But after awhile I think I let go of the chip on my shoulder.
ELM: So you attribute that to discomfort, that’s a gendered perspective that you…
TS: Yeah, a little bit. Cause the books, they’re structured as comedies, which means they end in marriage. And because most of us in our generation and maybe even Gen X honestly experience them first through movies, it’s like “Oh, it’s just like a romantic comedy except with different clothes.”
I actually still don’t think the books are like that at all, but when you go in with the perspective of the juvenilia, it’s like seeing Dylan go from folk music to something else. “Oh, this person can work in a variety of forms.” And her mastery of the romcom form doesn’t mean she’s the queen of romcom, it just means that she slayed in that particular idiom.
FK: You know, that brings up something that I wondered about in your book, because my own experience of Jane Austen fandom is fairly limited—I’ve never been to a physical gathering, but I do read a lot of Jane Austen fanfic and also all the other, you know, attached things—and one of the things that I wondered about was I’ve encountered a lot of people who are very religious, for whom Jane Austen is an acceptable thing to be really into. It’s like “Phew! I can be into this, it’s allowed!” But it seems to me to really conflict with that madcap…“madcap satire” is not exactly something. And I’ve always wondered about that, because when I read fanfic by people who clearly have that perspective, it’s very serious and it’s very strong on that end. Is that a conflict in the physical meetings of real Jane Austen fans that I’ve never attended? What’s that like?
TS: That’s such a great question. Is it a big explosive conflict, no, I wouldn’t say so. I have met pretty high numbers of evangelicals who are also academics, or who are sort of adjacent to academia or who work in library science for example who are some of the most passionate Janeites that there are, some of the most passionate superfans. And you can understand why! Everyone goes to church in the novels, Austen herself was devout, especially in her later years, clergymen are considered by the most virtuous women in the novels and also the heroines to be desirable…relatively desirable men to marry, especially if they can tell jokes. [all laugh] It’s not like Harry Potter where it’s deeply heretical and anti-Christian, you can see how a Christian could sort of easily slip into this world and find it welcoming.
And I think if you're being very very literal-minded, I think the subversive or the anti-traditionalist take takes a little bit more reading, takes a little bit of a keener eye. I am a little bit skeptical of people who take the Austen-as-radical argument too far. If you look in the books, and in the novels, and granted this is part of the form, but they’re not about the developing egalitarian circumstances, they’re about this reasonable and sensible and responsible administration of hierarchy, which is fundamentally un-subversive and stylistically very subversive. I understand why that world is very welcoming to the evangelical mindset.
I think it also leads us to one reason that Austen is so popular and so mysterious at once, is that she has this almost perfect degree of negative space around her that you can invest in. You know just enough about Jane Austen, just enough. You know a little bit about her suitors, and then a lot of people who connect with the books feel as though she knows them. But in between all of that there’s such a great deal of projection. Her sister Cassandra burned all of the raciest letters, all of the most, you know, most inflammatory letters, explicitly we know that a lot of her private writing and correspondence has been destroyed out of concern for the delicacy of her family’s feelings or something.
You almost couldn’t have, I feel, engineered it better for a sort of contemporary truly modern fandom to have that degree of creative space around what feels like a really well defined figure, and that’s…so you have all this fanfiction that crops up, you have evangelicals sliding in, not necessarily claiming Jane but claiming space within the world of Jane. You’ve got tons of Marxists, who are heading in now, and who have great readings, and some great postcolonialists, some of them who are actually from colonial countries themselves.
Although I will say that I think you hit a limit sometimes. There are scholars of the period who sort of know how badly the Caribbean was being raped during this time, they’re like “Yeah, I honestly just can’t go to this ball and have a carefree resurrection of the celebration of colonial privilege. It’s honestly just a little distracting and weird for me," and I think that’s super honest, I totally get that, it’s an element of weirdness whenever you take part in that whole thing, but it’s also easy for people who don’t think about it too much, because of course there are no visible slaves. There were just willing servants who were getting paid. It’s this crazy pre-industrial idyll that whether you’re pretty far to the left or if you're crazy right-reactionary you can really get down. I haven’t studied very closely how the alt-right has tried to claim Jane Austen, although I’ve seen it happening.
ELM: They have, really?
FK: What. I mean, that makes sense.
TS: The pre-industrial, it’s very georgic, it’s based in farming and the land, I totally get it. I don’t know much about what they’re doing to claim her but I will say the people in the novels who are most obsessed with blood and lineage are not the heroes. No. [all laughing] It’s Sir Walter, it’s all the idiots, so.
ELM: The reason I read Mansfield Park is I studied, I’m a postcolonial, I studied British conceptions of themselves as colonizers from about 1800 to the end of the…so that was the lens through which I read the book. It is what it is. So it’s interesting though, because one thing we talk a lot about on the podcast in all sorts of fandoms, and we had a fan studies scholar, Lori Morimoto, on recently to talk about transcultural fandom—by which she meant different cultures, not necessarily transnational, but producers vs. fans can be different cultures, right, in their friction points and points of contact.
She talked a lot about those points of contact and I’m wondering—initially when I read the book I was thinking most about these clashes, the convention being a point where academics and quote-unquote “civilians” are meeting, but it sounds like there are actually many cultures meeting and those…obviously within academia there are different cultures, you have Marxists and feminists and postcolonialists, I don’t know, other groups, people who love only close reading? I don’t know.
FK: Uh, there definitely are people who love only close reading.
ELM: Are they still alive?
FK: They’re still alive, they still exist, they teach at small colleges and sometimes they crawl into your vision and you’re like… [gasps]
ELM: So I’m just wondering if you could speak a little bit about not necessarily points of friction, but points of contact, and what that’s like not only in the physical space but also in the world at large as you experience it.
TS: Sure. So, there is the basic sort of distinction between people who have PhDs or people who are writing or speaking in an academic register, and people who are more lay reader fans. The nice thing in Austen world is that expertise is generally equitably divided between these groups. There are people who bring a lot of terminology and some perceptive critical lenses from the world of the academy to Austen, and if they’re from the academic side, but the way lay scholars and independent scholars and fans, the way they steep themselves in…especially the material history of the period, is extraordinary, and it’s very humbling if you’re an academic or a quasi-academic who’s sharing that space with them. You’re like, “Wait a second, I thought I was supposed to be the learned one here, but these people know everything about marriage and contract law from the Regency period and they also know way more than I do about agrarian practices in the Home Counties.”
Beyond that, you have a group of overlapping and only occasionally competing…the kind of things that the primary groups are the costumers who have to be at every one of the major events cause not everybody owns…although you'd be surprised. If you rent a Mr. Darcy costume more than five times a year, you should probably buy one already. This is my advice to young men. [all laugh]
There are a lot of people who are deeply into tea and recipes and period culinary creations, and the world of fanfiction, which is maybe most pertinent for this discussion, or the worlds of fanfiction and slash fiction coming off of the novels, those writers are represented in almost every one of the Austen events I’ve been to.
FK: So what's interesting to me about that catalog is, one of the most striking things about Jane Austen fanfic to me is how much it is simultaneously a really separate culture from the rest of fanfiction culture, and also connects through. There’s all of this stuff about Jane Austen fanfic where people…there’s a whole separate terminology, people post their fanfic for sale frequently on Amazon, self-published, there’s a huge—historically there’s been a huge number of sites that were Jane Austen fanfic only, there’s an amazing site that collects all of them in a database and you can search by pairing and so forth. And this is entirely separate from the Archive of our Own and many of the things that people in the rest of fanfiction culture seem to be using. I find it really interesting how many times I’ve had people be like “Oh yeah, I sometimes wander over to Jane Austen land, and then I come back to the other fanfiction world.” It’s not…it’s a weird point of contact I think, because it’s not that it’s not a fanfiction culture, it’s just that it’s a very…
ELM: Isolated one.
FK: Yeah, or not isolated but…
ELM: Yeah, not isolated but separate.
FK: People cross over, but.
TS: Is it separate because of its size or because people perceive there’s a certain degree of expertise you have to have before you participate? Why do you think it’s isolated?
ELM: I don’t know, it’s not the only one. Definitely the cultures around Holmesian writing…
TS: Oh yes.
ELM: The difference is with Holmes writing, depending on what adaptation you like. For the modern adaptations, the movies and BBC and Elementary, there are lots of fans writing fic who are amongst the general...you write Sherlock fic and you also write Teen Wolf fic or whatever. That crosses over with other Holmesian essentially, the pastiche writing and all of that. Whereas my perception with Jane Austen, and Flourish you're definitely closer to this than I am, being a Regency romance…
ELM: Have you told Ted what you’re working on? You have to tell him.
TS: What is it?
FK: So, not under my real name, which is unusual for me, I’m writing a Georgette Heyer pastiche which is about Rey and Kylo Ren [laughing] from…
ELM: I can’t believe you just called it a pastiche.
FK: It is a pastiche!!
ELM: She’s writing Reylo Regency forced marriage romance.
FK: It’s not forced!
ELM: Arranged marriage.
FK: No, I would say it’s of convenience. [ELM laughs]
TS: So is this…
FK: It’s Heyer, not Austen, very clearly.
ELM: All right.
FK: It’s not Austen!
TS: This sounds like a very ambitious crossover event.
ELM: It’s the most ambitious crossover event.
FK: It’s a Regency alternate universe, so they’re all in the Regency period, and I’ve already written upwards of 40,000 words of it, and it’s probably gonna be about 100,000 words because why.
ELM: Just go for it.
TS: I’m floored.
ELM: Dedicated to the Regency period.
FK: I wouldn’t say that. I've already had to make up a bunch of slang. Because it turns out that you…yeah.
ELM: She made up some good stuff though.
FK: My goal is, I’m gonna make up some cant, and someone’s gonna believe it’s real, and they’re gonna take it up, and I’m gonna see it in a published novel, and I bet it’s gonna happen.
TS: A published novel or an academic paper!
ELM: That’d be incredible.
FK: Cause Georgette Heyer did that all the time, right?
TS: Oh my God.
FK: [stage whispering] Secret guys, a lot of that shit is stuff she just made up!
TS: Oh for sure!
FK: Now we all use it cause that’s how it goes!
TS: I’m just gonna ask how long you’ve been writing Regency novels?
FK: I’ve never written a Regency novel before. I’ve written some other Georgette Heyer fanfic in the past that was for Yuletide and so on, but.
TS: But you’ve been reading Regency fiction for a long time.
FK: My mom gave me Pride and Prejudice when I was 12, I thought it was really dumb, it took till I was in college to pick up other Regency romance, discovered Heyer, then that actually got me back into Austen. I was like “Wait a minute, hold up, I should reread this cause Heyer’s great and she thought Austen was great so why don’t I look at Austen.”
ELM: I wonder if people who approach Jane Austen through someone like Georgette Heyer or through the romance genre have a different read on it. Cause Ted, you’re talking about not necessarily rejecting them as romances, but framing them as…that man on the internet made a big stir this past week when, you saw this commentary that he had? How they’re not about romance at all or something like that, and everybody was like…
TS: Jake Weisman.
ELM: Do you know him? Are you best friends with him?
TS: I don’t know him. [ELM laughing]
FK: Don’t all men on the internet know each other?
TS: We’re actually all the same person. Yeah. No, I do not know Jake Weisman. I think that was, he might actually believe that. To me that seemed an inartfully worded version of what could be a useful corrective reading. But you can’t throw out the romance.
ELM: Yeah, I understand, cause…well, the romance genre has specific conventions and it definitely doesn’t adhere to those.
FK: But the thing is [laughing] that Georgette Heyer literally based all of the stuff that was in her books, which became the foundation of modern Regency romance, on Austen. She was like “I wanna write Austen but with more terroir.” You know what I mean? [all laughing] That’s the best way I can put it! That was supposedly what she was thinking. I think she said so a bunch of times. “I wanna put in the slang and all the stuff that Jane Austen wouldn't put in, some of which I’m gonna have to make up but whatever.” And everybody sort of took that and ran with it, so it’s actually weird to say that Austen isn’t romance, not because of Austen’s intentions, but because the entire Regency romance genre is totally based on it. I don’t know what to say.
FK: And by the way, a lot of fanfic in other areas, not just Regency fanfic, draws on the same things. Draws on the same tropes.
ELM: Are you aware that Pride and Prejudice AU is a trope across fanfiction?
ELM: So this is like a thing, there’s no good term for it but there’s…Inception AUs, right, where I’ll take my Harry Potter characters and they’ll be in the world, they’ll be makin’ people do things in dreams or whatever happened in Inception, right.
FK: So in Pride and Prejudice AU it’s like, Kirk is Lizzie Bennet and Spock is Mr. Darcy and they’re gonna bang it out.
ELM: And sometimes it follows, really you’re just slotting Kirk and Spock into the plot of Pride and Prejudice. It’s not that you're engaging with Star Trek in any significant way, right. So.
FK: A lot of times.
ELM: This is a thing!
FK: Making them wear breeches. This is a big thing. There’s breeches involved.
ELM: Vital. Vital.
TS: Hell yeah. That is vital.
ELM: So that’ll be your next step. You can just go around reading Jane Austen AUs in various fandoms.
TS: Right, but not actually meaningfully connecting the worlds, just parachuting some characters in.
ELM: Exactly. No, some of them definitely do, but we don’t need to go into this. So. [laughing] OK. But to follow up from…I’m just wondering if you could talk a little bit, cause most of our listeners won’t have read the book yet, I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about the actual experience of this, which is basically a con. Well, it’s this cross between a convention and an academic conference, right?
TS: Exactly. It’s got a convention element, festival element, yeah. So if you’ve never been before, the Jane Austen Summer Camp—which I’m going to in five days actually, I’m going to this year’s one. [FK gasps]
TS: I’ll be in the tights as of next Thursday! In Chapel Hill, North Carolina. And my mom…
FK: Will you be live tweeting?
TS: I’ll be tweeting and I’ll be alive, yeah! [all laugh]
ELM: OK perfect.
TS: And my mom will also be there in a Regency dress that she’s arranged!
ELM: Incredible, is she doing that, are her knees OK?
TS: Her knees are a lot better. She had a hip replacement in December before she went back to teach in London, and I think she’s gonna be able to dance! So if she is I’ll have my evening spoken for.
ELM: That’s so pure!
FK: For context for anybody who did not read the book yet, the entire reason that he was involved in going to these cons anyway was that his mom’s knees were very bad and she couldn’t go.
TS: Totally, and this is background that I should probably supply. So yeah, I was drawn into this world in part because I was standing in for my mom, the Austen scholar, who was getting knee replacements and generally healing up from a couple of bad falls, and yet…so I went to the first Jane Austen Summer Camp at Chapel Hill, and I was working there cause it was also where I was teaching and going to school, and this thing just sort of washed over me. It was wild.
I had never seen this many people in the clothes before, but I’d also never seen this many people talking with such passion and fire in their eyes about Jane Austen. Everything from really serious questions of textual emendation, like whether they should have moved this comma in one of the editions of the novels, to something more like “Well, would we go with Tilney or Darcy if we had our choice? Would we be one or the other, would we marry one or the other?” It’s this constant mixing of high and low, different modes of reading and enjoyment and fandom and scholarship and criticism, and in between you’re having meals, some of them are period meals, some of them are like an English tea with a lot of clotted cream and so forth, and then the grad students put on the theatricals, which are these sort of imitations of what Jane Austen’s family did. They would stage these amateur theatricals in the rectory or in the barn, which was one of their ways of enacting their own fandom in the Austen family. They would do their favorite stuff for each other, and it’s how she got her start writing.
FK: What were they fans of?
TS: Oh, they were fans of…they liked the theater, they liked comic theater, her brothers liked high tragedy, they thought they were tragic dramatists and they wrote these really lugubrious prologues for other people's plays.
ELM: That’s really good.
TS: Yeah, but Austen wrote some really funny plays…
FK: Lugubrious prologues for other people’s plays…basically prequel fanfic for other people’s plays!
TS: 100%! They also were always writing fanfiction, or fanfiction-adjacent things, or you know, parodies of things, all these parasitic modes of composition sort of overlapping fanfiction and satire.
FK: Yeah. Can we call it fanfiction before modern copyright law, question mark, question mark, let’s not.
TS: Yeah, and also parody and fanfiction can be coextensive but also can be distinct, so. One of my favorites is they really really liked Samuel Richardson, the epistolary novelist, who wrote Clarissa and Pamela and Sir Charles Grandison, which was Jane Austen's favorite novel. But she did a stage version of Sir Charles Grandison that took 15 minutes, I think. This is in the introduction to my book, but it’s hilarious, cause it’s at least a 700 page novel even if you sort of whittle it down a bit.
FK: I was gonna say, I’ve only tried with Pamela and that was [laughing] that was slow going, man.
TS: So do a 10 minute version of your favorite novel! And she wrote it when she was 13, 14 or something. So that was how the Austen family did or perpetrated their fandom. They performed plays for each other, they would write squibs for each other. So the grad students do that at the Jane Austen Summer Camp. At the bigger meetings there are always theatricals in some way, and of course the costumes are wild. There’s almost inevitably, by necessity, crossdressing or at least gender flexibility in the roles, because there are generally not enough men to take all the men’s roles. You get cool scholars like Julia McMasters showing up in a baller 1811 clergyman’s outfit and pretending to be Edmund Bertram.
ELM: So good.
TS: She was a very good Edmund Bertram, too! And an excellent sport. So there’s that and then the big climax is the ball, which is usually on the Saturday night of whether it’s the big meeting or the Austen Summer Camp or what have you, and they do these in other countries too. There’s a Jane Austen Club of Pakistan, or Jane Austen Society of Pakistan actually. But there’s…so this is generally, if you go to an Austen thing that involves the fancy dress, this is what you’ll get. You’ll get some plays, you’ll get some period food, you’ll get the big ball, and you’ll get usually a very sort of stentorian dancing master who yells at you and teaches you how to do the steps, which is the only way to get people to do them.
FK: I am really interested in your experience, maybe this is because when I was involved in running Harry Potter conferences it was really interesting because there would always be one or two guys who showed up and were like “OH MY GOD ALL OF THE WOMEN, THEY'VE BEEN HIDING HERE!” And we would be like “Yes, it is not a very gender-balanced crowd here, there are a lot of women drinking a lot and dancing and having a great time.”
ELM: Drinking a lot?
TS: Drinking a lot of butterbeer!
FK: Point being though, I’m always interested in what men who go to conventions that are highly gender…non-male…think about it because I feel like it’s an unusual experience for men to have. Does that sound awful? But I am in a lot of places where it’s mostly men, and most men I know don’t spend a lot of time in places where it’s mostly women, so I’m curious what that experience is like.
TS: No, I think that…that all sounds fair to me. I regret to inform you that being the only man at an Austen conference basically confers the same degree of privilege as being in the majority. It’s weird. I think I write a little bit in the book about this, that there is this affirmative action for, oh I don’t know, straight or straight-presenting cis guys at these conventions where it’s like—it’s not even necessarily that people wanna be matchmaking and all this stuff, it’s that they want to have enough people wearing the right costumes on either side of the dance floor. [laughter]
But I mean, you solve that problem, as we’ve said, through crossdressing, and just through women or whoever wearing dresses dancing with each other. Which is done constantly. But yeah, my own experience was it was a sort of flattering kind of self-consciousness that it conferred, because first of all you’re dressed up really nice and you’re in this topcoat—which even if you don't have great posture it sort of makes it look like you have great posture, makes your chest pop, it’s tight! And in the meantime people are like “Oh, you have to meet my daughter!” and all this weird stuff. [laughter] So again it’s a very flattering position to be in. My recommendation to young men, if they’re pure of heart and eager to mix with the opposite gender or really any gender, just it’s a very low threshold for entry, you just have to be willing to put on a pair of tights and just listen a little bit and make some jokes. They need warm bodies in those rooms and you are made to feel very welcome. So I don’t know. Ooh, but now I worry that this is gonna make it to, like, a PUA forum or something like that.
ELM: Oh no! [laughing]
TS: Scratch that, scratch all of this!
ELM: I don’t think PUAs listen to this, don’t worry.
FK: I don’t think they listen to our podcast.
TS: I don’t think they’d listen to me either. So.
ELM: Can I ask you an adjacent question about the embodiment element? This is sort of a two-pronged question I guess. One of them is, we’ve talked to academics in the past before about this, sort of academic disconnect between…the distance from affect. Or a reticence to sort of own your enthusiasm when you’re trying to seem super smart about it, or that’s a…that’s a really reductive way of talking about academic scholarship.
TS: No, I know exactly what you mean!
ELM: The anxiety about showing that you’re into something, even if you’re really into it. And I’m wondering if your feelings about that changed at all over the course of being there physically, but also, it seems like you got a lot out of kind of physically embodying this thing that you had read. And I’m wondering if that was a part of it too. That’s kind of the second prong of the same question, if that makes sense.
TS: I think that’s really fair. On the one hand, there’s a sort of life-boating aspect to it, where academics want to, say, get tenure, then you have a lot of incentives to maintain generally applied standards of professional decorum and all this other stuff. To keep things buttoned up, to make people walk the same path you did.
At the same time, and for the past 70 years, 60 years, the weird bureaucratization of the university and in a way the partial scientization of the humanities, I think these have bled a certain ability to just be openly enthusiastic and openly fannish out of the academy. Now, everyone also has memory of like, or stories at least, about some undergraduate teacher who walked around without shoes or dressed up like Shakespeare that one time or something. Academics still get weird, don’t get me wrong. But I think there is a sort of inherent snobbishness and a protectiveness, again, parts of which I understand, that tend to make most scholars avoid or even shun the breeches.
So in my case it’s a little bit fanciful and a little bit illusory. I wasn’t actually wearing real clothes from the period; I was wearing reconstructed clothes made out of modern fabrics and so forth. I’m not saying that to be pedantic, but they did feel differently from what the clothes would have felt like. So it is illusory, but even given the whatever, it’s not actually time travel, you are still brought into some degree of contact or at least perception that you’re in contact with this earlier age. And the artificiality is undeniable, I also think it is something that you get through, reach something real, as with most things. As with most organized bits of fun or organized types of study.
I don’t know, I did find myself acting more polite, speaking in more richly periodic sentences! [laughter] It was probably easier for me when someone came up to me on the dance floor and was like “…and now it is your turn to talk,” prompting me with literal dialogue from the novels. “Perhaps you should say something about the number of couples in the room.” Instead of being like “Oh man, this chick’s crazy!” It’s like “Oh no! All of a sudden I’ve got it tucked right in this pocket right here.” It might be entirely imaginary and whimsical, but any contact with a previous age is going to involve some degree of imagination and whimsy, so yeah. I’m a big advocate of academics putting themselves out there. I also think that academics can, most of us could probably learn a lot even if the experience embarrasses us, from hanging out with fans, with laypeople, and not necessarily always embracing hard distinctions between high and low, between academic and public.
And Austen is probably a uniquely or at least especially useful figure here, because she is this object of intense study, she for a long time probably longer than any woman writer I can think of has been considered a fit and proper and serious enough subject for men in tweed to read next to Seneca or Euripides or whatever, but she’s also just undeniably lovable, she’s a page-turner, she feels constantly modern because the female friendships are so real, because she’s honest about money…you read Agatha Christie, maybe, and Agatha Christie you know everyone’s worth.
ELM: Yeah but we don’t know what “10,000 a year” means.
FK: We have to have “10,000 a year” explained to us by people who go to the same Austen conventions that you do!
TS: Yes, although I guarantee you that most of the laypeople who have been going to these things for years can tell you much better than I can what the rate of conversion is.
FK: [laughing] You also have to consider the fact that labor was easier to come by than goods!
TS: How purchasing power has changed, absolutely. And that’s why I love hanging out with these people.
ELM: I have to wonder though in the book you talk about how this was inspired by a Dickens event. Some of the books that I studied in school, I feel like you can be fannish about anything, but maybe not. I feel like this can’t work for everything. Is that too pessimistic?
TS: No, I think you’re right. But I also…
ELM: It doesn’t have to work for everything, though, why is that the goal.
TS: Having a club big enough to fill a ballroom or whatever, it wouldn’t work for everybody, but a fan club of two is obviously still a fan club.
FK: Also look, people have managed to be fans of James Joyce’s Ulysses, every serious, very deep fan culture there, so. You know. Maybe it’s not that bad.
TS: In a way I think Joyce is probably more…I think he’s hipper as an object of fandom than Dickens or Austen. If you think about the…
FK: A Bloomsday thing.
TS: If you think about Bloomsday in Dublin or even in New York, it’s…
ELM: Wait, Flourish, you know, I told you that I went on, it was years ago, there was a pub crawl along Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn, which is all the old Irish bars and I went, I wrote an article about it for I was blogging for the New Yorker book blog at the time. And it was an amazing fannish experience, because everyone there was like, the old political machine. So the D.A. was there. And they were all, at every pub we all just drank a bunch, I don’t think I drank that much cause I was trying to write about it, and read parts of it out loud. And it was like…
FK: You didn’t tell me about this.
TS: I’m gonna look this up.
FK: The only time I’ve ever been to Dublin, Nick was at a conference and I was alone, and I wandered around seeing all the sights and buying lemon soap at the drugstore that was still there and that he buys lemon soap at.
ELM: Yes, yes. But was the D.A. of Brooklyn there?
FK: The D.A. of Brooklyn was not there and that’s what makes yours better!! This was not on Bloomsday, I was just wandering around drinking and doing this all alone.
ELM: It was incredible too, because everyone was a 60-year-old man plus, and I was like a 25-year-old woman, and they were like “Whoa!!” And I was like “Hello, sirs!” You know.
FK: So you had the opposite experience to Ted!
ELM: [laughing] Yeah but it’s, obviously there’s the broader systemic gender relations going on.
FK: And it’s the Brooklyn D.A.
ELM: I mean, I work at a race track also, so this is a demographic that I am used to interacting with.
ELM: As an aside. Not to say, but I think that your comment about postcolonial scholars feeling like it’s hard to engage with this culture, I think that there’s a limit to the kind of fannishness that you can bring into…without being very critical. Cause there’s an inherent celebration.
TS: Of white supremacy? [ELM laughs] I mean, that’s sort of what it is.
ELM: I just think that fandom is this balance of fascination and frustration, but it sounds like this experience is leaning more towards the fascination side, whereas the people who…obviously these scholars are also going to be critical of Jane Austen, but it’s hard to do that critique while you’re dancing at the ball, you know. That has to be something that’s kept maybe to a session, you know.
TS: It is. I think that’s true. I think generally people do try to quarantine those things a little bit. But I also don’t wanna make it sound as though it’s this…guilt is really not a part of these, it’s maybe not as big a part as some people would like it to be, of these gatherings, and I will say there’s something cool about how, and weird to me at first, about how you go to this woman-dominated place and you’re like, “Well this is wild, it seems like these people are all very very nostalgic for a time when most of them couldn’t or wouldn’t have owned property, at least a handful of them would have been sent off as a sort of mail-order bride to a colonial overseer in India or Bangladesh or wherever or in the Caribbean, and how does that square?”
But of course it squares, because they’re having it all. You can, what did one woman say. You can flirt…oh yes! “You can dress like Emma but you can still go to bed with Frank Churchill.” You can have the best of everything! You can say “Yes, this is ridiculous and I’m really glad a lot of things have changed since then, but fuck it, I’m gonna put on my Empire waist gown and go out and have a crazy one at the ball, drink a lot of shrub,” which is a period appropriate punch spiked with fortified wine and stuff.
FK: Orgeat. Ratafia.
TS: It’s a large and carefree celebration of colonial wealth, but I, you know. [all laughing] These people work hard, it’s cool.
FK: There’s also, I think there is something to be said for the sort of reclaiming of this period. I mean, [laughing] Star Trek deals with this a little bit in their Holodeck episodes…
FK: But also…
ELM: This is the second Star Trek reference in one episode.
FK: I know, I just have to, I’m sorry. [ELM sighs] Janeway and 7 of 9 five-ever. But also, there;s a web series right now, Black Girl In A Big Dress, which is about a black girl who likes to do historical cosplay, and she’s just like, “Yeah, you know what? Whatever! I don’t care. I’m going to go and enjoy this and I think that you can have lots of different takes on whether you ‘should’ or ‘should not’ do this but it’s obvious that…”
FK: It doesn’t have to be about historical accuracy. It can also be about the imagined past.
TS: Totally, and it being a truth universally acknowledged that any fave is probably problematic. [all laughing] I will also say…
FK: Especially Mr. Darcy.
TS: ESPECIALLY Mr. Darcy. I will say the coolest power move I ever saw at a ball is this great Indian scholar I know who just wears a bright red sari to the ball, so everyone around her is dressed in almost unfailingly really period appropriate stuff, whether it's an officer’s jacket or something more like Mr. Darcy, Mr. Bingley. And she just shows up, I don’t know. It’s sort of a mic drop thing. It’s very cool.
ELM: That’s excellent.
TS: I agree, Flourish, I think people should get joy where they can right now for God’s sake. But yeah. [all laughing] I think it’s interesting to talk about these questions, and that’s one of the reasons that I find these events really interesting, is cause you can have fun and blow off a lot of steam but also be like, “Yeah. Let’s talk about it!”
FK: I think that’s an excellent note on which to end. It has been such a pleasure having you on, and I also really want nothing more than to see a lot of pictures of these balls, you wearing a Mr. Darcy outfit…
ELM: Yes, we need that.
FK: Let’s note, that does not appear in your book, and which I feel fairly cheated!
ELM: Should have been on the cover!
FK: Why isn’t there a photo spread in here, really seems important to me, you need to have a word with your editor.
TS: You know, they exist, they’re on the ’gram, and I will definitely… [all laughing] I'll send you guys some updates from Carolina next week!
ELM: Yes please! Thank you so much. Have fun!
TS: Thank you guys for having me! I’ll let you know how it goes.
FK: Thank you! All right, bye.
FK: I feel thoroughly satisfied that I got to talk to Mr. Darcy, thank you Ted.
ELM: As you heard, he doesn’t wanna be compared to Mr. Darcy.
FK: Look, we established this at the beginning, I’m just rolling with this theme.
ELM: Fine, fine. That was delightful, as delightful as I thought it was going to be! So as a reminder, the book is called Camp Austen, we’ll have a link in the show notes, and you’re highly encouraged to purchase and read it!
FK: Cause it’s a delight.
ELM: Yeah, absolutely! So. So! That’s that.
FK: So once you’ve read it and if you have any thoughts about this episode, or previous episodes for that matter, you can…
ELM: Or AUs! That's the only thing we want letters on, just more letters about AUs.
FK: Forever. You can contact us, fansplaining at gmail.com. You can also get in touch with us on Tumblr, our Tumblr is fansplaining, fansplaining.com will also get you there. The ask box is open, anon is on, everyone has been kind so far, please keep being kind. You can also reach us on Twitter if you have a very short question or comment [laughing] @fansplaining, or on Facebook, guess what we are there…it’s fansplaining…
ELM: Flourish, you’re so cheesy. You’re literally the cheesiest person.
FK: Just slather me in parmesan.
ELM: Oh my God, you made it worse.
FK: Can you be slathered in parmesan? No. It has to be like, you have to be slathered in…
ELM: Cream cheese.
FK: Cream cheese.
ELM: And just ignore her. So [laughing] if you are a Patron, at the $10 level, you should have in your hands—or in your mailperson’s hands, mail carrier's hands?
FK: Mail carrier, that’s the ungendered way to say it.
ELM: The latest tiny zine! And if you would like a tiny zine in the future, and are not currently a Patron, it’s patreon.com/fansplaining, obviously you don’t have to pay $10 a month, you can pay as little as $1 a month, and there’s a whole bunch of rewards, and you know, good stuff. Special episodes! We gotta do a new special episode.
FK: And the next tiny zine should be very soon cause our goal is to get it out ASAP, so.
ELM: Yeah this is the spring tiny zine so we’re gonna give you the summer tiny one, yeah, ASAP is correct.
ELM: And, final thing, discoverability, as they say in my job! [laughing] If you enjoy it and enjoy the podcast, we would love a rating and a review on iTunes. Strongly encouraged to give five stars. We are not forcing anyone to give us five stars. And also, we are on a whole bunch of different podcast apps, but if you don’t see us on your app of choice and would like us to try to submit…we got an ask last week about Spotify, they’re not accepting new podcasts right now so it won’t be there, but if there’s another place…
FK: We’re in progress. They’re supposed to be opening up soon again, so.
ELM: Yeah, there’s another place where you listen to stuff and if you think there’s a place, podcast community that you think would be interested, let us know and we’ll try to submit and see if we can get on there. Cause we’d love to reach new people!
FK: Cool, I think that’s it!
ELM: That’s that. So the next time I talk to you once again, I’ll be in the land of Jane Austen.
FK: Woo hoo!
FK: You won’t be dancing, you won’t be…will you be wearing an Empire waist gown?
ELM: I would be more likely to be dancing than wearing an Empire waist gown, it’s just not a silhouette that I think really works for most people. So. But that’s fine. I don’t really think of England or the United Kingdom as the land of Jane Austen, but I could be convinced.
FK: All right, we'll work on it.
ELM: Yeah. I’ll have to read some of the other books. [laughing]
FK: Oh my God, I’ll talk to you later Elizabeth.
ELM: K, bye Flourish!
[Outro music, thank yous and disclaimers]