Time Out of Place: The Origins of Taken
By Mary Anne Mushatt
It was in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, more than 10 years ago, when I first read Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice and began exploring fanfiction’s possibilities and expanding the worlds of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy. One of my favorite sub-genres are stories where Elizabeth is not a Bennet.
In Taken, Elizabeth—despite being a foundling—discovers her true, inner worth when she is finally reunited with her true birth family and moves into their larger social sphere. Her journey reveals and tests her self-worth, affirming who she is and what she believes. Even before she meets Darcy, her world is on the brink of fundamental and dramatic change and Elizabeth must search her heart to find the strength to move beyond Longbourn so she can step into her future.
Although not my first venture creating Jane Austen fanfiction, Taken has more to do with me personally than the others. My family lives in New Orleans, and as Katrina and its aftermath upended my world, I struggled to find stable ground. The act of writing was instrumental to my finding a way through those tumultuous time, and as I write this my governor in on the radio talking about the progress my state is making through our current, tumultuous time.
What I cherished in this story was Elizabeth’s courage to confront her fear and that unrelenting, hollow part of her heart that felt “less than,” no matter how accomplished she became, nor how much love and reassurance she received from her “new” family—Edwin, Gloria and Jane, and then later, the Raleighs and her uncle, Thomas Bennet. Writing Elizabeth as she stared down her feelings of inadequacies, I gained the courage to face my own, to put on my big girl panties, and face the challenges of my day.
I think it is the genius of Jane Austen that her Elizabeth Bennet has the internal strength and goodness of character to stretch in each of the varieties of stories her acolytes have created and which captivates each one of us. While we may swoon at the myriad Darcys in fandom, it is Elizabeth who we relate to and celebrate: her success, her wit, her brilliance and ability to be her better self no matter what the circumstance. She taught me that regardless of what we are faced with, it is what we chose to do, how we open our hearts and minds to the challenges of each day that signifies. I don’t mean to sound Pollyannaish, but when I look back at that time in my life and the days and nights working on Taken, it is the comfort and relish I felt of being wrapped in this particular world, that remains.
Through the intervening years, I have taken her lesson to heart, to live more fully in this world. After I wrote a story involving human trafficking in Regency England, I began volunteering with the Greater New Orleans Human Trafficking Task Force to help educate people of its existence in our midst and what we can do to both stop it and help its victims—young and old, male and female—become survivors.