“It is only a novel… or, in short, some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour are conveyed to the world in the best chosen language.” Northanger Abbey, Volume 1, Chapter 5
Jane Austen Made Me Do It, Original Stories Inspired by Literature‘s Most Astute Observer of the Human Heart is a collection of twenty-two original Jane Austen-inspired stories including contributions from best-selling authors Pamela Aidan, Stephanie Barron, Carrie Bebris, Laurie Viera Rigler and Lauren Willig. Editor Laurel Ann Nattress, and blog mistress of Austenprose – A Jane Austen Blog, has assembled her dream team of authors and for this anthology asking them to “stay within the theme of exploring Austen’s philosophies of life and love by reacquainting readers with characters from her novels or introducing original stories inspired by her ideals. From historical to contemporary to young-adult fiction to paranormal, five of the major novels and Austen’s life are featured in this anthology,” p. xiv. In addition, one story by a previously unpublished author, Brenna Aubrey, was picked as Grand Prize winner via a contest hosted by the Austen fan site Pemberley.com. With such a significant range in this compilation, surely one would agree, “One cannot have too large a party. A large party secures its own amusement.” Emma, Volume 3, Chapter 6
On my first reading of this anthology, I must admit that I singled out my favorite authors first. Yes, yes. I realize out of order was not how the editor intended it to be read, but, “One man’s way may be as good as anothers, but we all like our own best.” Persuasion, Volume 2, Chapter 1. So of course, for me, I began with “Jane & the Gentleman Rogue,” by Stephanie Barron. What can I say? You had me with the title. Anything that has more of the Gentleman Rogue must be 5 stars. This was a terrific “fragment of a Jane Austen Mystery” chocked full of treason and breathless intrigue, that Barron surely knocked out of the park!
Another stand out was “Letters to Lydia” by Maya Slater. In the spirit of Jane Austen’s much studied remaining correspondence, these are letters from Pride and Prejudice’s minor character Maria Lucas, the younger sister of Mrs. William Collins, nee Miss Charlotte Lucas to Elizabeth Bennet’s youngest and wildest sister, Lydia Bennet. Loved, loved, loved how I could truly hear Maria’s voice as she recounts a supposed secret Love Affair and tryst between Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet– and how she unwittingly “helped them along.” (Bonus points for Mr. Collins’ lisp!)
“Jane Austen and the Mistletoe Kiss,” by Jo Beverley was a definite favorite. Flowing with Austen-like brilliance, this tale about a genteel, but impoverished, widow and her three daughters who have an amiable, rich neighbor who often meet was CHARMING from beginning to end. Anytime there is a clear, happy ending, preferably resulting marriage, I am bound to be enchanted!
I was totally caught unawares by the cleverness in “What Would Austen Do?,” by Jane Rubino & Caitlen Rubino-Bradway. A contemporary story about a teenage boy who inadvertently signs up for a Country Dance for Beginners class (and not the “Boot, Scoot, Boogie” kind of country dance!) and must learn how to make the most of this summer experience. Fortunately, his keen wit and willingness to read Austen’s novels helps him befriend the new girl in town. Just loved! ALL OF IT! Fantastic– a teenage hero quoting Austen appropriately and with a terrific moral ending? Even better, the authors biography states that they are currently developing “What Would Austen Do?” into a full length novel!
But, “All Merit you know is comparative,” Catharine. In such a large collection of works there is bound to be a slight disappointment or two. While reading “Me and Mr. Darcy, Again,” a short extension of the novel, “Me and Mr. Darcy,” by Alexander Potter, I suffered not just a little discomfort with the idea that a now married Mr. Darcy is wandering outside heroine Emily’s hotel at night, staring up at her room, still carrying some sort of torch for her. In the end, Mr. Darcy does act honorably, and even charitably, in bringing about a happy resolution, but its conclusion was rather “vague.” But I liked the story, despite myself. “A fondness for reading… must be an education in itself.” Mansfield Park, Volume 1, Chapter 2
I was somewhat under-whelmed by Pamela Aidan’s “The Riding Habit” as the now married Mr. Darcy seems to steam roll wife Elizabeth into riding, an activity she somewhat fears and takes no joy in. I also found it strangely odd that the pinnacle riding accident would bring about such a comparison to an upcoming ball and how she can surely expect the support of her loved ones around her. Indeed? Don’t get me wrong: Aiden’s writing style, language and cadence is pitch-perfect as ever. Beautiful even. I simply found the story disjointed from the Darcy and Elizabeth she wrote so well of in her awe-inspiring, tremendously popular trilogy, Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman. However, “One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.” Emma, Volume 1, Chapter 9
Still, there are a surfeit of solidly entertaining, easy to love stories. Syrie James’ highly amusing “Jane Austen’s Nightmare” is just that! While sleeping, our dear Jane is beset with characters from her novels, all with complaints on how she has represented their person. I particularly delighted in how the dream inspires her to write Persuasion.
One of the stories inspired by Persuasion is Margaret C. Sullivan‘s “Heard of You.” I found this smart telling of how Admiral Croft and the former Miss Sophia Wentworth met as exciting at sea, as it was in the ballroom; making me sigh in all the right places!
“The Chase” by Carrie Bebris did not disappoint! Her depiction of a riveting and historic sea battle had me on the edge of my seat; truly captivated by this insight of how Jane Austen’s brother Frank became post-captain.
Laurie Viera Rigler offers the wickedly satirical and campy “Intolerable Stupidity” that imagines a courtroom drama where Mr. Darcy sues authors of Pride and Prejudice spin-offs for how they have sketched his character. Of course, the honorable Lady Catherine de Bourgh presides!
The anthology opens with an introduction by the editor, Laurel Ann Nattress, as she pays deference to Jane Austen as well as the many novels, sub-genre and films Austen has inspired. Nattress shares how she came to love Austen’s work in the ‘80s and how Austen has since catapulted to “megastar status” by means of “her strongest catalyst: the Internet and a wet shirt.” p. xii. Also, I took particular delight in the Readers Guide where the 22 contributing authors selected their favorite Austen quote. It was as if taking a stroll down memory lane with a dear friend. Reading groups and book clubs will find the Questions and Topics for Discussion pages beneficial.
The Austen Legacy continues to grow and this collection of wonderful short stories is a brilliant tribute. Janeites and historical fiction readers alike will inhale this book! But with a dream team of Austen inspired writers under the deft editing skills of Laurel Ann Nattress, how could this be anything but a grand slam! “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” Northanger Abbey, Volume 1, Chapter 14
Authors included: Lauren Willig • Adriana Trigiani • Jo Beverley • Alexandra Potter • Laurie Viera Rigler • Frank Delaney & Diane Meier • Syrie James • Stephanie Barron • Amanda Grange • Pamela Aidan • Elizabeth Aston • Carrie Bebris • Diana Birchall • Monica Fairview • Janet Mullany • Jane Odiwe • Beth Pattillo • Myretta Robens • Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway • Maya Slater • Margaret C. Sullivan • and Brenna Aubrey, the winner of a story contest hosted by the Republic of Pemberley
5 out of 5 Stars
Jane Austen Made Me Do It: Original Stories Inspired by Literature’s Most Astute Observer of the Human Heart, edited by Laurel Ann Nattress
Ballantine Books (2011)
Trade paperback (446) pages
Cover image courtesy of Ballantine Books © 2011, text Christina Boyd © 2011, Austenprose.com