All posts by Ashley Oldham

Guest speaker Q&A: Maria Biajoli on Jane Austen and fan fic

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“Pride and Prejudice” fan fiction has taken on a life of its own over the years — hence our upcoming panel on the topic featuring Dr. Maria Biajoli. A postdoc from the University of São Paulo in Brazil, Biajoli has a PhD in English literature and a passion for Austen. She recently answered a few of our burning questions.

Why does she love Jane Austen?

Traditional canon novels are not usually taught in Brazilian high schools, so Biajoli was introduced to Austen for the first time when she was taking a class for her history major — her first major before literature. Her professor wanted to discuss the political side of “Sense and Sensibility.” That’s how she got to know Austen — through true political debate.

Impressed by the novel, Biajoli immediately saw the 1995 movie adaptation and realized that she had “Pride and Prejudice” at home. She read it, and of course she loved it. Her interest in studying Austen began when she discovered that people like Austen because they see her novels as romantic, sugary, and girly. That was not Biajoli’s view, so it surprised her. That’s why almost 10 years later, she started her PhD — trying to understand just why people see Austen that way.

What makes Austen fan fiction so fascinating to her?

Biajoli first discovered Austen fan fiction — and fan fiction in general — in the United States. While she was completing an internship with a museum in 2008 in rural Massachusetts, she found herself locked inside her house and reading when she wasn’t working. She discovered Austen fan fiction in a local Barnes & Noble store. She then started digging and found a huge fictional universe. For her, fan fic is an opportunity for fans to interact with TV, novels, etc., in a new way. It’s a way for creators to assess what fans like, what they don’t like, their frustrations, or things they wish creators had explored more. It’s Biajoli’s way to understand more about how current fans perceive Austen and her novels, and of course, enjoy them.

Has she taught any courses on Austen, and what has been her favorite topic to teach?

Biajoli has taught one course for undergraduate history students, and tried to combine Austen with her context. She talked a little about each novel and how it affords approaches to Austen’s time. Her favorite thing was her class discussions on Austen’s unfinished work “Sanditon.” Biajoli had a lot of participation because people were interested in hypothesizing where the story was going. Now, she’s teaching a course for graduate students at her current university. She has 10 students in a class on Jane Austen, and “Northanger Abbey” has led to the best class participation with plenty of debates and students trying to defend Catherine. This class has also talked a lot about Austen’s view of fiction and novel writing.

Does she have any memorable experiences presenting her work at JASNA meetings and conferences around the world?

For Biajoli, it’s been a huge honor to speak at Jane Austen Society of North America events — and it’s also very scary. Coming from Brazil and speaking in front of a knowledgeable audience, she often feels the pressure. In the beginning she was very insecure, but now she feels more confident and has received awesome feedback. Her sessions on fan fiction are always full of people who are interested in that field of study. In the beginning, she was afraid that people would be uncertain of fan fiction as an academic subject, but she has found that people are very open to it.

So far, her best experience was at a Cambridge “Sanditon” conference in 2017. It was a smaller event, featuring many renowned Austen scholars, so the pressure was high. Biajoli found that the quality of the papers presented on the incomplete novel was top-notch.

What is her favorite Austen novel, and why?

Besides “Sanditon,” “Mansfield Park” is her favorite Austen novel. She thinks that it’s interesting that no one likes Fanny Price, and she doesn’t know if she likes Fanny either but she does like the novel. Biajoli likes Austen’s sharp critique of society. You don’t get a “perfect” love story, Biajoli says, but rather, Austen at her most ironic. When Biajoli reads “Mansfield Park,” she laughs out loud because of how awesome Austen’s sentences are. However, her favorite novel changes all the time!

If she were to write her own Austen fan fiction, what would it be about and why?

Biajoli is most interested in stories regarding a term called “angst” fan fiction. She doesn’t like when there’s too much drama, but she does like when the stories postpone the final happy ending the final understanding between hero and heroine. She enjoys when authors aren’t getting to that happy ending, and likes this more psychological conflict. Austen fan fiction is based mostly on “Pride and Prejudice.”  While there are examples based on other novels, she would estimate that most fan fiction is about 90 percent based on “Pride and Prejudice.” If she were to write her own fan fiction, Biajoli says she would develop the period between Darcy’s first proposal and Darcy and Elizabeth’s meeting again at Pemberley.

Maria Biajoli is scheduled to speak at Panel 1 from 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. on Friday, June 21. For the full JASP schedule, click here.


‘The Lizzie Bennet Diaries’ 101: Everything You Need To Know Before Watching This ‘Pride and Prejudice’ Web Adaptation

True or false? Elizabeth Bennet is a communications graduate student living with her family in California. The answer is: True! Well, at least in “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries,” a modern-day web adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.”

The series began its run on YouTube in 2012 in the form of 100 short videos. This adaptation (produced by the aptly named Pemberley Digital production company) is exciting, witty, and so lovable that it’ll leave you wanting to watch the entire series in one sitting — which I may or may not have done myself.

If you’re in the market for a new series to enjoy, here’s everything you need to know before watching “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.” Consider this your “LBD 101.”

The Plot

lizzie bennet diariesIn this series, Lizzie Bennet gives viewers a peek into her family life through her video blog (vlog) as a grad-school project. She’s aided by her best friend, Charlotte; her sweet older sister, Jane; and her extremely enthusiastic younger sister, Lydia.

In true Austen fashion, Mrs. Bennet constantly pushes Lizzie and her two sisters to marry rich men — especially when medical student Bing Lee moves in down the street. With Bing Lee comes his sister, Caroline, and of course his best friend, William Darcy.

There’s also a slew of other notable characters, such as Ricky Collins (creator of the media company Collins and Collins) and his patron, Ms. Catherine De Bourgh. Swim coach George Wickham also makes an appearance — first wooing Lizzie, then later Lydia.

LBD is fun and hilarious, and this is just a taste of the slew of shenanigans that ensue throughout the web series. Though the main ideas of “Pride and Prejudice” remain, the way it’s re-created allows for new adventures for these classic characters.

The Format

Though there are a few outliers, the episodes are generally around two to five minutes and were originally released twice a week or so. They usually involve Lizzie talking directly to the camera (with Charlotte assumed to be behind it), taking viewers through her most recent life updates.

Other characters will sometimes insert themselves into the videos. Other times, Lizzie will reenact her encounters with them using props (and Charlotte). Though most videos find Lizzie in her room, sometimes she’ll be at Bing Lee’s, a company office, or even a web video convention.

The Modern-Day Differences

Although this adaptation sticks closely to the heart and soul of the original novel, there are, of course, a few notable differences.

For starters, all the main characters have jobs or backgrounds that fit perfectly with their character traits. Lizzie is in grad school studying mass communications, Jane is a fashionista, Lydia is a seemingly flighty party girl, Bing Lee is a medical student, and Darcy runs his own company.

These characters also find themselves in all sorts of different situations, such as Ricky Collins attempting to make Lizzie his new business partner.

If you’re wondering about Mary and Kitty, then ponder no more. In this version, Mary is the Bennet sisters’ emo cousin and Kitty is — well, you’ll have to watch to find out.

All of this is to say that the vlog style gave the series producers more creative freedom.

Why It’s So Lovable

lizzieFor me, part of the appeal of LBD is its modern-day modifications to the original storyline of “Pride and Prejudice.” It stays true to the novel, but in doing so, crafts something special all its own. It’s charming, it’s funny, and it has heart. The plot is lovable, the format is new and innovative, and the characters are everything I could have ever wanted them to be.

Pemberley Digital aims to tell “timeless stories in innovative ways,” and that’s exactly what it does with the “Lizzie Bennet Diaries.” It breathes new life into this classic novel — and I really just can’t get enough of it.

So, if you’re looking for something to binge-watch, then look no further. “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” is sure to be one of your new favorite Austen adaptations.

Presenting Our 2019 Jane Austen Summer Program Teacher Scholars

The Jane Austen Summer Program is pleased to announce our six scholarship winners. Each year, JASP offers scholarships to North Carolina middle school and high school teachers who share a passion for Austen and a desire to bring her works into the classroom. Winners receive full program tuition, a scholar luncheon and a chance to attend the Regency tea. 

Kayla Bullock

Kayla Bullock

School: SandHoke Early College High School in Raeford

Subject: English IV

Literary character(s) I’m most like: I actually find myself being compared to Elinor Dashwood (“Sense and Sensibility”) at times. I tend to be very mothering in a way but am often taken as having too much of a stoic outlook on life.

What are you looking forward to most at JASP? I’m looking forward to learning more deeply about this time period, especially the dancing and tea!


Katie Garner

Katie Garner

School: Phillips Middle School in Chapel Hill

Subject: Sixth-grade English and language arts

Literary character(s) I’m most like: Levin (“Anna Karenina”), Francie Nolan (“A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”), Harriet (“Harriet the Spy”)

What are you looking forward to most at JASP? Reviving my love for Jane Austen and period drama, learning how to make Austen more accessible for younger readers, and participating in cultural activities to make literature a more immersive experience (the Regency ball)!


Jennifer Holston

Jennifer Holston

School: Mooresville High School in Mooresville

Subject: AP Literature and Composition, and English IV

Literary character(s) I’m most like: Elinor Dashwood (“Sense and Sensibility”)

What are you looking forward to most at JASP? I am most excited to interact with others who share a love of all things Austen! I’m looking forward to enjoying the program on a personal and professional level, enabling me to implement new and exciting things in my classroom.


Emily Phillips

Emily Phillips

School: Mooresville High School in Mooresville

Subject: English IV

Literary character(s) I’m most like: The literary character I most relate to is Mary Lennox from “The Secret Garden”; I admire her tenacity, her sense of exploration, and adaptability.

What are you looking forward to most at JASP? I am looking forward to getting to know other educators and fans of Austen and classic literature, and finding new ways to spark interest in my classroom.


Katie Souter

Katie Souter

School: East Bladen High School in Elizabethtown

Subject: English

Literary character(s) I’m most like: I’m probably most like Josephine March (“Little Women”). Jo thinks for herself, comes up with imaginative solutions to difficult problems, and doesn’t let other people’s opinions stop her from pursuing her dreams.

What are you looking forward to most at JASP? I’m excited about the tea — and also about diving deep into one of my absolute favorite novels.  “Pride and Prejudice” has been a favorite of mine since high school.


Lori Zeman

Lori Zeman

School: William A. Hough High School in Cornelius

Subject: Media coordinator

Literary character(s) I’m most like: Hermione Granger (in the “Harry Potter” series)

What are you looking forward to most at JASP? I am excited to attend JASP to have the opportunity to meet other educators and great readers who share my love for “Pride and Prejudice.” I love that I will get the opportunity to explore the classic book as well other adaptations that reflect various cultures from around the world. I look forward to working with other educators on how best to bring these great ideas back into the classroom.