When I first started writing Jane Austen fan fiction back in 2014, I was still relatively new to the genre. I had read a fair share of some of the most popular authors, but there were things about JAFF that I didn’t know. Most importantly, I did not know that there are some “facts” that are so established in JAFF that they are nearly accepted as canon. Some are important, some are not. Some are just silly. But the items below are commonly accepted conventions in Jane Austen fan fiction. How many of them do you recognize?
I’m not sure where this one started (maybe the 2005 movie?), but Collins passing the boiled potatoes is a standard joke in Jane Austen fan fiction. (Let’s face it, anything with Collins is a joke!) Usually he hands them to Kitty in the middle of an awkward dinner scene. I suppose the idea is that if Collins is at the table, even something as mundane as passing the potatoes can become funny. It’s become such a common trope that if Collins is at the table and there is no mention of boiled potatoes, a person has to wonder why the writer left it out.
Mrs. Bennet and the hedgerows.
“Whatever shall become of us? If Mr. Bennet dies before one of you girls gets married, the Collinses will throw us out of Longbourn, and we shall be cast into the hedgerows!” As I mentioned in a previous post, Mrs. Bennet never utters the word hedgerows in Pride and Prejudice. In fact the word hedgerows is only used once in any of Austen’s books, and that one time is not in Pride and Prejudice. (Quick! Go look it up!) It’s a great line because it sounds like something Mrs. Bennet would say, but she doesn’t actually say it. No matter, this line or something like it is found in many JAFF stories.
Again, the source for this is murky. I have no idea who first decided that Madeline was a good first name for Mrs. Gardiner, but I am grateful, because it has saved me a lot of time trying to find her a name on my own! The name Madeline is cultured and refined without being pretentious, exactly like the personality of Mrs. Gardiner herself. It’s hard to imagine a better first name for this beloved secondary character, so well done to whoever came up with it!
Colonel Fitzwilliam is a gallant, dashing soldier (and maybe a womanizer).
We don’t know a lot about Colonel Fitwilliam in Pride and Prejudice. We are shown that he is courteous and congenial and we know that Elizabeth is mildly attracted to him. But In JAFF he tends to be more than this. He is not only courteous and congenial, but he has an eye for the ladies (and they for him). He also makes a terrific soldier; sometimes we are treated to stories of his exploits on the battlefield. He also likes to pour a drink now and then. And he is always, always gallant! Surprisingly he is also depicted as at least somewhat handsome, which is unexpected because in canon Austen makes a point of saying that he is not. But who cares? This is one JAFF convention I wholeheartedly support (and have used in at least one story!).
Darcy’s uncle is the Earl of Matlock
This JAFF convention is based on precedent and some research. It has long been surmised that Jane Austen based her description of Pemberley on Chatsworth House, which, like the fictional Pemberley, is in Derbyshire. Chatsworth is located almost on the River Derwent, which passes by the great house on its way to the first town of any size to its south, Matlock. The nobility usually had the names of prominent towns or landmarks as part of their title. (For example, the Earl of Chester or the Duke of Devonshire.) Thus it makes perfect sense that Darcy would a) own an estate somewhere near his uncle and that b) his uncle would take the name of Matlock as part of his title. Looking at the map, we could also choose to make Darcy’s uncle the Earl of Darley Dale, the Earl of Eyam, or even the Earl of Bakewell. But the Earl of Matlock he became and the Earl of Matlock he will remain. Again, this is a terribly convenient device for those of us who would otherwise be forced to come up with some suitable place name on our own.
Finally, we are left with what is possibly the most firmly set and well known JAFF “rule” of them all:
Colonel Fitzwilliam’s first name is Richard.
In my first JAFF story I called Darcy’s cousin Edward. And why not? After all, Austen gave the first name of Edward to several men in her stories, including Edward Ferrars, and it seemed logical that if she had given a first name to Colonel Fitzwilliam, she might have chosen to name him Edward. Plus I just liked the name.
This was a mistake. There is no reason why Colonel Fitzwilliam’s first name has to be Richard. Austen gives no sign of being particularly fond of the name. None of her brothers were named Richard and she assigns it only to minor characters in any of her stories. Nevertheless, if you bestow Colonel Fitzwilliam with any other first name besides Richard, you must be prepared for the backlash. He is Richard, Richard, I tell you!!! Good thing I like that name too. 🙂 Since that time, he has been Richard if I have ever needed to use his first name at all.
Did you recognize any of these conventions? Are there any others you think should be included? Please drop a line and let me know! And may everybody have a happy and blessed New Year!!!!