Note: This post discusses my upcoming series “Queering the Canon” from Second Growth Books. If you’re interested in helping crowdfund the series, please visit my Patreon profile.
Recently, a reader who has become a friend and regular correspondent about books, ideas, and life mentioned that as a Jane Austen fan, he had been somewhat worried about my P&P adaptation, Gay Pride and Prejudice, in which I added roughly 10,000 words to Austen’s novel in order to shift the classic love story from supposedly heteronormative to distinctly homo. Not everyone in Gay P&P is queer, you understand, but enough characters are switch hitters (or, as it was apparently known in the eighteenth century, practitioners of “the game of flats”) to tilt the novel’s central romance off-center—a revisionist choice that more than one reader has disliked. Intensely.
This wasn’t the first time someone who generally likes my writing confessed their doubts about my goal of queering Austen’s best-known novel. Prior to writing and publishing Gay P&P, in fact, I very much shared those concerns. I hesitated for more than a year to attempt an LGBT rewrite of P&P because, well, JANE AUSTEN. But at last, I grew tired of waiting for the novel I’d always longed to read, and went ahead and adapted the mother of all romance novels to make it queer.
To my surprise, doing so wasn’t all that difficult. Austen’s text is rife with hidden commentary, queer and otherwise. Those who take her writing at face value as unequivocally reifying heterosexism and the patriarchal marriage tradition strike me as people who are likely content with the status quo and unaware of the many cultural and societal systems exerting power over their own lives. Mostly, I suspect, these folks are straight and therefore accustomed to seeing themselves in every story ever written. For LGBTQ+ people, on the other hand, reading ourselves back into stories and history is almost second nature.
Even as a self-published title with next to no promotion, Gay Pride and Prejudice has sold consistently well since I published it in 2012, and even garnered a shout-out on NPR recently in a review of Unmarriageable, a new P&P adaptation set in Pakistan. Gay P&P’s modest success over the years has convinced me that there is an established fandom eager to read “queerified” classics. So in the next year or so, I’m hoping to finally launch a project I’ve long wanted to pursue: queering additional classics of the Western literary canon. Once Book Five of my soccer series, Girls of Summer, is out in a few months, I will turn my attention to converting more straight peopl—er, literary characters to the queer side of the spectrum. And because I’m going to actually try to promote the series, I’ll be using #QueeringTheCanon. Ad nauseum, probably.
The next classic novel in my sights is another Austen title, one I’m sure many people could guess due to its obvious lesbian tendencies: Emma. In preparation for tackling more LGBTQ+ adaptations, I’ve been downloading assorted scholarly articles from JSTOR and other digital clearinghouses that discuss relevant issues. Thanks to a few historians and graduate students who are fighting the good fight, finding queer takes on Austen and others is easier now than it was twenty years ago—or even seven years ago. If you’re interested in reading more about my research, I recently penned a Patreon post for subscribers called “’I Saw You’ Antiquity Edition: Adding Queer Folks back into the Western Literary Canon.” The Patreon essay picks up where this post ends, and includes additional details on my approach, discusses more canonical titles I’m planning to adapt, and links to some of the academic texts I’ve stumbled across in my research process.
It’s only been in the past year as I’ve thought more deeply about creating an entire revisionist series for queer readers that I realized I should probably investigate some of the relevant scholarly work out there. In 2012, I approached P&P without considering the plot or characters or historical context at all. I simply downloaded the public domain text from an online clearing house, copied it into Word, and started revising it to suit my readerly tastes. My lack of preparation and winging-it approach can be seen in some of the well-deserved criticism of the end result. The famous Darcy and Lizzy scene where he shows up at Mr. Collins’s house and proposes (the first time) doesn’t really work in my version, which is probably why I rewrote that scene more than any other I worked on. I suspect that a more organized approach to other titles will improve the finished result. Plus, reading of any kind is fun and inspirational, even supposedly dry academic tomes. At least, in my opinion.
Several of the essays/graduate theses I have read quote the same line from Emma as evidence that Austen very much knew what she was doing when she intertwined homosocial and homoerotic themes into her works: “Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised or a little mistaken.” Of course we’ll never know what she actually intended, especially since her family destroyed the bulk of her personal letters after she died, but as a fan of her work, I have always believed there was more going on beneath the surface in her novels. That’s likely because as a queer person I have been trained since early adulthood to look for subtext both in the media I consume and in real life.
If my #QueeringTheCanon project sounds interesting to you and you have even $1 per month to spare, I hope you will consider helping to crowdfund the series on Patreon. As a subscriber, you’ll get behind-the-scenes glimpses of my research and writing process and early access to excerpts and book blurbs.
Most subscribers also receive free advance e-book copies of anything I release through my Second Growth Books imprint, including all #QueeringTheCanon titles. Plus, you’ll get the knowledge that you are supporting a radical act of queer revisionism and promoting #OwnVoices literature with a twist. Because why should the literary past be any less twisty and turny than actual human history? Or, as I say in the blurb for Gay Pride and Prejudice, “Because Queer People Deserve Happily Ever After, Too.”