I really struggled with chapter 9. Whereas while reading most of the other sections I found myself nodding vigorously, during this one I shook my head instead. It’s clear that Pugh hasn’t near the familiarity with the Austen fandom as she does with the other five that she focuses on in the book. Where this became more apparent is when she discussed individual voice versus mimetic. She claims that most Austen fanfic authors strive to be true to Austen’s voice and so do not have or develop an individual voice: “Most of the denizens of the Republic of Pemberley and the Derbyshire Writers’ Guild wish to hear not their own voices nor those of their colleagues but as near an approximation as they can get to Jane Austen’s. Their mission statements make that clear.”
While this may be true of the authors who posted solely on the Republic of Pemberley’s (RoP) Bits of Ivory board, which is an archive site only these days and in its heyday accepted only stories true to the canon (no what-ifs, non-Regency settings, etc.), it certainly is not of the Derbyshire Writers’ Guild (DWG), whose authors are free to post pretty much any story, up to PG-13, whose characters have Austen names. Had Pugh spent much time at DWG, she would have known that. In fact, I noticed that virtually all, if not all, of her urls for Austen stories come from RoP, which reinforces the idea that her research into Austen fandom was minimal. She also refers to Hyacinth’s Garden site as a place where Austen authors can “take the characters and relationships and set them in another time, which immediately precludes using the trademark Austen voice." This is true, but at the time she published the book (i.e., 2005), DWG had been allowing stories like this for years.
It’s not a big deal, and I certainly don’t want to come across as taking it personally, but it reflects a shallowness that I hadn’t detected before in Pugh’s work and undercuts statements like this: “…mostly, writers in these two fanfic universes [i.e., Austen and Pratchett’s Discworld] are more mimetic than original, because they want to be, and they don’t very often try to subvert their canon writers because they like them too much.” Pamela Aiden’s trilogy, A Novel of Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman, springs to mind—if mimetic at all, Aiden’s voice is more of Georgette Heyer’s than Austen, it is well-laden with original characters, and it departs heavily from canon in the portrait of Darcy as a profoundly religious man.
With regards to striving to sound like Austen, with rare exceptions, I believe most Austen fanfic readers humbly acknowledge her genius and know, intuitively or otherwise, than trying to “sound like Austen” is impossible. Apart from borrowing her dialogue and occasionally turns of phrase—a practice more adaptation screenwriters would be smart to follow—most Austen fanfic authors I have read utilize plot structure and characters and invent everything else. Some write with a stronger, more individualized voice than others, but I think that has more to do with a writer’s maturity, confidence, talent, and experience than the particularities of the specific fanfic universe.
One more example of how Pugh got it wrong in this chapter: “Among Austen fics, the one which struck me as being most successful at developing a voice which, thought it suited Austen’s world, was not obsessed with trying to reproduce her voice exactly, was Martine’s Le long retour vers Donwell, originally written in French. It may be that the distance interposed by a different language makes an authorial voice seem less daunting and inevitable.” I haven’t read this story yet—it looks interesting, but I think it is a vast overstatement to stay that it is unique in demonstrating individual voice among Austen fanfic.