Sometimes you just have to wonder what Jane Austen would think if she ever had a glimpse of the passion and enthusiasm her books inspire these days, nearly two centuries after their publication. Austen herself never saw much fame or fortune from her novels, but nowadays, Austen-inspired spin-offs, sequels, prequels and other such creations fill bookstore shelves and movie collections. Thanks in part to Colin Firth in a wet shirt, Austen and her novels are probably more beloved today than they were when she wrote them.
And now, there is a new collection of original short stories to pay homage to Austen and her legacy. Jane Austen Made Me Do It: Original Stories Inspired by Literature’s Most Astute Observer of the Human Heart is a wonderful, heartwarming, witty and all-together delightful mixture of stories from some of the best contemporary Austen-esque authors. These original stories are varied and diverse, from historical fiction and romance and gothic-inspired tales to contemporary continuations of previous novels and even a few epistolary stories that pay tribute to Austen’s penchant for including letters in her books. Throughout the collection, the respect, love and admiration these authors have for Austen is abundantly evident, which makes this book a real treat for any ardent Austen fan. Edited and introduced by Laural Ann Nattress, the blogger behind the Internet’s number-one Austen blog, Austenprose, reading Jane Austen Made Me Do It is like gossiping with Emma Woodhouse and commiserating with Jane and Lizzie Bennett – it leaves you feeling comfortable and satisfied.
The collection as a whole works very well, though there were a few stories that stood out as my favorites:
In Jane Odiwe’s “Waiting,” Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth are put through one more test as they anxiously await approval from Anne’s father for their engagement. Persuasion is my favorite Austen novel and I loved being able to return to it through Odiwe’s imagination. She manages to recreate Austen’s delicate balance of anxiety and anticipation as Anne and Wentworth face yet one more obstacle on their way to a happy ending. Even when you know that their happiness is most likely assured, it’s still agonizing to wait with them.
In “Jane Austen’s Nightmare,” Syrie James conjures up a slightly paranormal story as some of Austen’s greatest characters come to life and interact with the author herself. Thoroughly confused by the appearance of her creations, Miss Austen is also quite distraught to realize that many of her heroines are quite unhappy with the personalities and characteristics Jane had given them. I loved the cleverness of James’ story as well as her supposition that only Elizabeth, Mr. Darcy, Jane and Bingley end up happy with Austen’s depiction of them. Austen wrote such wonderfully flawed characters that it is interesting to wonder what they would have thought of themselves.
And I was especially impressed with Brenna Aubrey’s story, “The Love Letter.” Aubrey won the online story contest hosted by the Republic of Pemberley, of which the grand prize was having her original story included in this collection. “The Love Letter” is a heartwarming, bittersweet and hopeful look at first loves, love lost and the unexpected opportunity for a second chance. Inspired by Persuasion, Aubrey does a tremendous job at recapturing the feel of Anne and Wentworth and I found I really liked the twist of having a man as her main character.
Among my other favorites in the collection were Beth Pattillo’s “Only a Darcy Will Do,” a sweet story about a young woman’s encounter with her very own Mr. Darcy; the hilariously imaginative “Intolerable Stupidity” by Laurie Viera Rigler, which finds Lady Catherine presiding over a trial in which Mr. Darcy decides to sue the authors of Austen spin-offs and sequels; and Janet Mullany’s highly original “Jane Austen, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!” in which a high school teacher manages to reach out to students by comparing Austen’s heroes in Sense and Sensibility to the Beatles.
In truth, all of the stories shine brilliantly because the authors are so clearly enamored with Austen and took their assignment – explore Austen through her novels, her wit, and her takes on life and love – quite seriously. Nattress does include a collection of Austen quotes and reading group questions at the end of the book, both of which make Jane Austen Made Me Do It an excellent choice for book clubs. But you don’t need a book club to enjoy these stories. Any Austen fan, whether fair-weather or lifelong devotee, will devour this collection. It simply should not be missed.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
[Photo Credit: Good Reads]