Nancy K. Baym recently wrote a piece pointing the way to a somewhat unique aspect of fan communities that moves into the realm of traditional literature: online fan communities built around Jane Austen's literature.
Baym's piece was inspired by a recent piece in The Times Book Online in the United Kingdom, entitled "Austen Mania.
While I'm not surprised to see fan communities built around WWE performer Stone Cold, this Austen may sound somewhat unlikely for a strong fan community online, but the Internet is a place for people of all sorts of common interest to meet, and those fans of fictional worlds aren't just relegated to the modern media and entertainment landscape. By the way, I know what Austin 3:16 says, but I'm not sure about Austen 3:16.
Having read and watched film adaptations of several of Austen's works, I can understand why it has retained its continued power for generations, so the wealth of Jane Austen fan sites may not be so shocking.
Journalist Richard Woods points out that some fans "have been prompted to write their own novels to fill in the lives of Austen's characters." Woods writes, "Austen inspires devotion like no other author and the internet has allowed her fans a voice that travels far faster and further than the quill-driven letters of the 19th century. If anything, it has intensified their adoration of Austen and their eagerness to defenstrate anyone who offends her.
Baym writes, "Having studied soap opera fans on the net for a long time, I can't say I'm surprised that Austen fans would be at it as well." She provides a lot of valuable links to various Austen fan sites.
I've written about some interesting fan communities in the past, such as United States Postal Service fans, fans of household brands, Paul Lynde fan sites, and the active Mama's Family fan sites, of which I would consider myself a fan.
Nancy's notes about the soap opera and its comparison to Austen is understandable, since both story types are built on the community, interpersonal relationships, romance, etc., and I think the comments in the Times article about how Austen remains relevant to a modern audience has some resonance.
As I read this, I keep thinking about some of those academics in the humanities who have bemoaned the study of fan communities, some of them popular culture in general. These Austen fan communities, however, are a reminder that Literature from the "canon" is just as apt as anything else to have a vibrant and active group of online fans reading, debating, and even actively adding to or reconceptualizing the work. In Austen's case, it's a sign that her stories remain as relevant today as they were when she wrote them, not just due to Austen's own talents but also to the active work of the readers, whose active social construction of the meaning of Austen's texts is apparent through the active participation these fans have in online forums.