Featured Fellow: Alice Kelly

The Devil Wears Prada

Dr Alice Kelly is the Digital Scholarship Postdoctoral Fellow at IASH from September 2019 to June 2020.

The title of my research project "WINKING BACK: Femslash Fanfiction as Literature of Queer Survival in the Digital Age" comes from an email exchange I had with a fan writer called ‘chainofclovers’. I was asking her about the role of fanfiction (stories written by fans about pre-existing characters from TV, film, games, books etc.), and was struck by her own description of writing "The Devil Wears Prada" fanfiction. She said that while queerness in the film might be ‘just a wink’ – a few meaningful looks between the two main female characters – fanfiction was ‘locating that queer wink and winking back’. For me, this encapsulates the subversive playfulness of femslash (female-female) fanfiction as a cultural practice that is fuelled by an active, readerly investment in characters, desires and relationships that have always been relegated to the subtext. During my time at IASH, I am arguing that, in the context of heteronormative popular culture that refuses to represent LGBTQ+ lives, these nuanced, heartbreaking, humorous stories of lesbian relationships circulating online today are just as essential for their marginalised queer female audience as lesbian literature has ever been.

Over the course of my Fellowship, I am organising a queer media conference with Postdoctoral Fellow Dr Anamarija Horvat entitled ‘Queer Representation: Pasts, Presents and Futures,’ exploring the evolution of cultural depictions of LGBTQ+ desires and identities from art, literature, TV and film, to digital new media. I am also working on a paper about reading Tumblr ‘#fic rec’ posts (fanfiction recommendation lists) as texts in their own right, as well as one on the transmedia journey of "The Devil Wears Prada".

All of this is very different from my doctoral research on Joseph Conrad’s female characters, but my Fellowship is giving me the confidence and freedom to take everything I learnt during my PhD, about canon formation, high and low culture, adaptation and character, and bring it to bear on fields that are new to me, like fan studies and digital scholarship.