Guest speaker Q&A: Maria Biajoli on Jane Austen and fan fic
By Ashley Oldham
“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.