Fansplaining: Fangirling Through Time

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Title: Fansplaining: Fangirling Through Time
Created by: Flourish Klink and Elizabeth Minkel
Date(s): December 2, 2015
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Fansplaining: Fangirling Through Time is a podcast consisting of an interview with Evan Hayles Gledhill conducted by Flourish Klink and Elizabeth Minkel. The podcast also includes other commentary by Klink and Minkel.

For others in the series, see Fansplaining.


Can you believe we’ve made ten episodes?! In this episode, we interview Evan Hayles Gledhill about the Tumblr of the Victorian era, Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey and other depictions of fans in media, Walt Whitman’s reaction to his gushy fanmail (and other topics covered by historicalsquee), and the enduring patriarchal effort to police women’s reading and writing. In addition, we read listener stories about how fanfic has helped at difficult times in people’s lives.


Topics Discussed

  • the responses to the last podfic, and fans' sharing of how fandom changed their life
  • fanfiction reading and writing as an act as it is about the content of the stories, fanworks and feminism, Virginia Woolf’s “A Room Of One’s Own," Twilight and the dissing of its authors as "just" teenage girls and bored housewives
  • Castiel, Pride and Prejudice, Doctor Who, Shakespeare
  • 1700s, sentiment albums, sharing poetry then has similarities to Tumblr today, historical tradition of fandom
  • Brontë sisters writing RPF
  • the way that fans are portrayed in Gothic literature
  • lots about Northanger Abbey
  • Supernatural, Sherlock BBC, Buffy, depicting fans on screen
  • interaction between TPTB and fans
  • Madame Bovary as simultaneously a great book and the worst portrayal of a fan in the history of the universe
  • Srsly, a culture podcast


[Evan Hayles Gledhill]: Some of them were just text, so people would copy out chunks of poems that they liked, and the text ones have been looked at by another academic—a different collection of books, but she looked at the ways that the big six of Romantic poetry, so people like Byron, Keats, Shelley, how these guys’ poems were transmitted and transformed in these books. So people were rewriting certain sections of it, or just changing little words to just change the meaning enough that it was becoming their own. The same thing that people do now. You recopy a quote, but you might change it a bit, because it doesn’t quite suit exactly what you wanted it to say, or the lyrics or whatever. So some of them are just text on a page, and then you’d get some which had a bit of visual imagery, so someone who would have tried out their sketching, because of course it was considered to be a thing that young ladies did to become accomplished, that they would be good at drawing things. So there’s sketches, some of which are clearly sort of learning tools, so someone’s trying to learn to draw all the parts of the flower. Some of them are sketches from like a holiday snap of where they are. And you’ll also get pictures cut out from the early sort of newspapers, and flyers, handbills for stage productions that they were going to see, even text cut out from the local paper or text cut out from a pamphlet that’s been sent round. Sometimes you even find pages that look like they’ve been cut out of books with bits of poetry or sketches, funny little snippets, sort of jokes, and anybody who knows anything about Victorian humor knows that their jokes were absolutely terrible. It’s sort of an accepted fact among Victorianists that they just wrote really terrible jokes in that era. So these books really, really have a wide variety from simple little journals through to full on productions. I saw one where somebody had divided each page up to make it look like it was another stack of paper, so there’d be borders and some of those papers would be music, some of them would be scraps where there was a little aphorism written on, some would be pictures, but every page looked like it had multiple other pages in a sort of what they call a trompe l’oeil trick of the eyes test. So you look at it and you thought, “did someone stick pieces of paper in? Oh no, they’ve just drawn it like that.”

[Flourish Klink]: That’s amazing, because it’s sort of like some of Tumblr—

[Evan Hayles Gledhill]: Yes, people had different themes in their books. So some people decided they wanted every picture on their page to have a little frame, just like you were framing your pictures of Scully or framing your pictures of something. They did the same things, and this is why I got so excited when I first saw these. I was like “oh my God, this is Tumblr.” Some people’s were more like Pinterest, though, you know, quite rigidly laid out and very structured.

[Elizabeth Minkel]: Some Tumblr themes—I’m a creeper and sometimes I just randomly click on people who have reblogged me [Flourish laughs] and I see a wide variety of Tumblr themes, but anyway… I can’t remember if it was another paper I was reading by someone else or you talking about how one of the complaints about these books from dudes was that women were taking things that were very serious, serious literature, serious poetry, taking it out of its original context and putting it into their frivolous context. Was that… was that something that you were writing about, or am I conflating it…?

[Evan Hayles Gledhill]: I don’t think I ever said something quite exactly like that, but definitely the responses to how women read and what they were reading was very much a topic of conversation and derision from men. That oh, these women don’t know how to read. And some of the books that we’ve got, scrapbooks, are identified, so you can tell whether it’s a man or a woman who owns it. Some of them you can’t, because they haven’t been passed down through families or anything, they’ve been bought at yard sales or some other sale, and you don’t know who they belonged to originally, no one’s written their name in the front of it, so we can’t categorically make distinctions about gender. We can say that more books were made by women than men, from the ones that we have identified that is extant, but what is said in discussions of these commonplace books is that basically women are doing culture wrong. That you’re misinterpreting things. That they’re concentrating on the figure of Byron and not his writing. “Oh, they’re only interested because he’s hot,” that sort of—worded differently.

EHG: There’s lots of spoilers throughout [Madame Bovary] but basically it’s all about commodification. The only things that this fan wants, the only things she takes from these novels, are objects. She wants a lifestyle that’s entirely about sort of capitalist materialism. Wow, thanks guys. That’s exactly how we want to be portrayed as fans of any fiction. Oh, it’s all about you know let me have my replica Mjolnir. Let me spend money rather than let me create, let me be creative, let me enjoy these things. It’s like you were talking last week, no not last week, one of the previous episodes where you’re talking about commodification and collecting.

EM: And how foreign it is to me.

EHG: But, like, how, if you walk into somebody’s apartment and see books all over the walls or DVDs, you don’t think of them as a crass materialist, whereas if you walk in and you see other signs of enjoyment and engagement with culture, you might. If you walked into somebody’s house and they’ve got lots and lots of Star Trek memorabilia, it’s judged differently.