In celebration of the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s arrival at Chawton in Hampshire, the Jane Austen Short Story Award 2009 Competition was sponsored by the Jane Austen House Museum and Chawton House Library. Dancing with Mr. Darcy is a collection of winning entries from the competition. Comprising twenty stories inspired by Jane Austen and or Chawton Cottage, they include the grand prize winner Jane Austen over the Styx, by Victoria Owens, two runners up Jayne, by Kristy Mitchell and Second Thoughts, by Elsa A. Solender, and seventeen short listed stories chosen by a panel of judges and edited by author and Chair of Judges Sarah Waters.
Since the publication of her first novel Sense and Sensibility in 1811, Jane Austen’s works have been cherished by many for a variety of reasons. Some value her astute characterizations and biting wit, others her craft of language and social reproof. If my life-long admiration is any measure of my own flux in “favorite” characters, themes or stories over the years, then I am not surprised that my choice of the grand prize and runners up from this collection are different from the august panel of judges. Firstly, there were many fine stories in the collection. Secondly, which ones would Jane Austen choose?
Here is my breakdown of stories by star rating: 3 with 5 stars, 9 with 4 stars, 5 with 3 stars, 3 with 2 stars and 0 with 1 star. This was based on my first impression; I did not reread them. On analyzing my selection of 5-star stories, I found that they all had strong connections to Austen or her characters, we’re told in a simple and straightforward narrative, and either made me laugh or pulled at my heart. In short, they used some of the same techniques that make Austen’s writing so special. Here are my three 5 star story choices:
Grand Prize: Second Thoughts, by Elsa A. Solender
Poignantly told from Jane Austen’s perspective, we experience her acceptance and eventual rejection in 1802 of wealthy suitor Harris Bigg-Wither of Manydown Park. Torn between her need for financial independence and their unsuitability, Jane ultimately decides “that a marriage without affection can hardly be an agreeable enterprise.”
Runner Up: Eight Years Later, by Elaine Grotefeld
Mirroring Persuasion’s theme of finding the love that you thought you had lost, this story of a young school boy’s hidden regard for his teacher who because of their age difference and positions must remain unrequited. She loves Jane Austen, so over the years he reads her novels over and over to feel connected to her. He is “half agony, half hope” until their fateful reunion.
Runner Up: The Jane Austen Hen Weekend, by Clair Humphries
Four dear friends, two days and one country house should equal a joyous celebration by way of a carefully planned Jane Austen themed hen weekend, but disaster arrives with a sick child, an overflowing toilet and all around apathy at Regency distractions such as whist and the pianoforte, until a plumber arrives to save the day with more skills than expected.
Overall, this collection offered a few real gems, a few disappointing surprises, and solid array of creative inspirations that had nothing to do with dancing with Mr. Darcy. I don’t mind. Dancing might be a charming amusement considered one of the first refinements of polished societies, but, “Every savage can dance.”
4 out of 5 Stars
Dancing with Mr. Darcy: Stories Inspired by Jane Austen and Chawton House, edited by Sarah Waters
Trade paperback (256) pages
© 2007 – 2010 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose