I have only been writing Jane Austen fanfiction for a little over two years, but in that time, I’ve managed to post two stories that are pretty respectable in length. Both have explored dark themes. One is concerned with human trafficking, its impact on the victims and their families, and the personality of the victimizer. The other takes a look at the damage that can be done to a family by a person determined to ruin them. Very cheerful, yes, I know. Yet both end on a note of hope. The protagonists survive, they are together, they have each other, and their lives stretch ahead of them. To me, that makes a good ending. Life goes on, and in both my stories, I attempted to give the people I was writing about the opportunity to live that life.
What am I missing in my stories? Well, I am missing the epilogue with the Happily Ever After, which is assigned the acronym “HEA.” I had no idea of how important those three little initials were to this fandom. I exaggerate a little, but looking at it satirically, the HEA must consist of:
- Babies: Lizzy Bennet Darcy must at least be pregnant, or perhaps an infant (or twins) is born to her nine months and fifteen minutes after they sign the register. Jane, too, should have a baby in her lap, or at least one in the oven. Extra points if the baby(ies) are named after senior family members. Twins occur more frequently in these fandom-families than among the general population.
- Punishment of the Guilty: At bare minimum, Wickham should get his just deserts. Others who might receive a good setdown as part of the HEA might include Caroline Bingley, Lady Catherine De Bourgh, and Anne, to name the core group. If the Bennets have behaved badly, or if Mr. Collins has done something dastardly; well, the more punishment the merrier.
- Judicious Aging: It is lovely to visit the extended family in five, ten, twenty years. Children grow up and a lot of cousin marriages seem to take place, even though they were falling out of vogue. Again, bonus points might be accorded for partnering-up The Unattached. Members of The Unattached include, but are not limited to: Georgiana Darcy, Colonel Fitzwilliam, Anne De Bourgh, Mary Bennet, occasionally Kitty Bennet, and (if the author is feeling magnanimous) Caroline Bingley. N.B. It is vitally important that the Darcys not age too much. A little artistic gray around the temples for him, a little softening of the figure for her–that much is fine. But let us not dwell too much on those other, unpleasant aspects of growing old. Especially not the least pleasant aspect of all.
Angst is another key ingredient of the stories in this fandom, and many words are exchanged about it. I always considered “angst” to be a sort of low-level, nagging, existential anxiety, and according to several dictionaries I’m not far off the mark. It’s that feeling you feel when you think about the government shutdown or worry about whether you goofed on your taxes or perhaps even if there’s a God. Angst has another definition in fanfiction. It is a moving target, and if you get it wrong (that is, if your angst estimate does not coincide with that of your readers), you will hear about it. Darcy is shot dead at the altar by an angry Wickham on the day of his wedding to Elizabeth. Angst! Elizabeth develops a pesky cold and is unable to visit London. Angst! Elizabeth and Darcy experience and fend off a dire threat to their home, family, and future and end up more deeply and lovingly committed to each other. Angst!
Having learned the hard way that I have a faulty angst-o-meter, and having enough self-knowledge to realize I prefer actual life to fairy tales, I have a word for all the angst and all the HEA fuss: Basta! I plan to tell my tales as I wish them to be told. If they please a few readers, I’ll be happy.