Inside the head of the Austen fan

Inside the head of the Austen fan

20 Apr 2009

La Trobe University academic Laura Carroll – who teaches Jane Austen, film adaptation and women’s writing – takes her role as a cultural analyst to heart. 

While other academics explore historicist, post-colonial and post-Foucauldian approaches to Austen’s six novels – Ms Carroll has added to her research repertoire a Regency-style dress which she will wear to tomorrow night’s Jane Austen Festival Ball in Canberra.

The ball is part of Canberra’s Jane Austen Festival. There she will mingle with other Austen fans so she can better understand how it feels to be a heart-struck fan from the inside.

Following another wave of Austenmania – with the recent screening of Lost in Austen – Ms Carroll will canvas the views of the women who are not content to be passive readers, but who want to fully immerse themselves in the manners and feelings of the time by dressing up in period costume.

She will also be interviewing them by email after the ball is over in an empirical study of Austenmania in Australia and reporting the results back to an international conference on the much-loved writer.

Ms Carroll has a few hypotheses she wants to test in the study. She believes the novels are popular because they are comedies, have happy endings and solve problems.

‘Beyond that, they describe a social world in meaningful detail. Everything that’s in the novels has significance that can be translated to the readers’ own lives.’

Austen often includes readers amongst her characters and these have become emblems of an inner life – desires and imagination – that were not historically allowed.

‘Everyone thought the Austen hype would phase out after the mini-series but in the last three years there have been at least 30 sequels published or produced,’ the La Trobe academic says.

The latest is a must for cross-genre aficionados - Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – now a book and soon to be a movie.

Other readers can take their choice from a host of titles that privilege the male characters. Mr Darcy takes a Wife is a soft porn sequel while Mills and Boon is offering rewrites of the novels from the male hero point of view.

‘I’m irritated by this kind of stuff,’ Ms Carroll says. ‘I force myself to read them but they’re generally dreadful. I try and put that aside. What I love is the process of ordinary readers taking back the right to have their own take on Austen.’

Some fans post ‘mash-ups’ on YouTube. These are re-edited collages of bits and pieces of Austen movies put to popular songs which re-arrange elements of the stories to have them turn out in different ways.

Ms Carroll sees this as a democratic reclaiming of Jane Austen from the Hollywood juggernaut.

Some fans have taken their adulation so far as to call themselves Janeites.

‘They use her first name to indicate a more deeply personal intimate friendship.  They read with such passionate attention that they find different enjoyments in the text to the more detached reader.’


Laura Carroll
Phone: 0412 338 758




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