Monday, May 21, 2012

Jane Austen Made Me Do It

Jane Austen Made Me Do It : Original Stories Inspired by Literature's Most Beloved Acute Observer of the Human Heart edited by Laurel Ann Nattress

This is an anthology of stories edited by AustenProse's Laurel Ann Nattress. The stories are inspired by Jane Austen, her family, her writings and her attitudes towards life and love. Most of the stories are written by Austenesque authors and other romance writers. One story is written by a contest winner.

The first story "Jane Austen's Nightmare" follows Jane into the depths of a dream in which she is confronted by her characters. Some of her characters are angry at her portrayal of them and others are happy. I really didn't like this story very much. It felt more like literary criticism than fiction. I felt sorry for Jane Austen to be thus confronted by her own creations.

"Waiting : A story inspired by Jane Austen's Persuasion" by Jane Odiwe fills in the blank between the final action of Persuasion and the conclusion. I liked reading this story about Anne and Frederick waiting for Sir Walter's blessing while they reflect back on how they met and fell in love. I think Jane Austen would have imagined the story like this. Anne and Frederick have long since been my favorite Austen couple and this story makes their romance all that much sweeter and more enjoyable. 

"A Night at Northanger" by Lauren Willing parodies ghost hunting shows and Northanger Abbey, which itself makes gentle fun of gothic novels. Since Ghost Hunters is one of my favorite TV shows and Jane Austen is one of my favorite authors, this story is my favorite of the bunch. It made me laugh a lot and roll my eyes a bit but I think the author intended it to be a gentle parody like Northanger Abbey. I highly recommend this one for those practical minded individuals who have enough sense of humor to laugh at their guilty pleasures.

"Jane and the Gentleman Rogue: Being a fragment of a Jane Austen mystery" by Stephanie Barron fills in the gap between her Jane Austen mysteries up to that date. Jane finds herself associating with the nobility in the company of Lord Harold, helps uncover a spy and is tormented by her own heart. Given what happens in the novels, this story is bittersweet. It doesn't work on it's own but having read the rest of the series and gone back to read this one, I enjoyed it much more. Read this if you liked the novels and loved Lord Harold. 

"Faux Jane" by F.J. Meier is a take on The Thin Man movie series. Nicola Scott and her beloved husband Charlie Scott have a brush with celebrity as they discover a young woman in love is attempting to appease her new mother-in-law to-be with a first edition signed copy of Pride and Prejudice. The problem? There is no such thing as Jane Austen wrote anonymously. The married couple, along with their disreputable uncle must work together to solve the mystery. I had high hopes for this story being a huge fan of the movies. The names are taken from the movies but that's about it. What I loved about Nick and Nora is that she never gets jealous, unlike Nicola. I couldn't like Nicola or Charlie in this story. They both acted like idiots. The mystery is unusual and figured out too quickly and introduces too many characters for a story of this length. Perhaps it would have worked better as a longer novel. This is my least favorite story in the collection.

"Nothing Less Than Fairy-Land" by Monica Fairview is an additional chapter of Emma dealing with Emma and Knightley's early married life. Not all is rosy in Highbury thanks to the constant demands of Mr. Woodhouse and Knigtley's estate duties. While I'm sure this story is realistic, it's a bit sad and I prefer to leave the story where it ended with everyone happy. 

"Love and Best Wishes, Aunt Jane" by Adriana Trigiani imagines a letter by a contemporary Jane Austen to her niece on the occasion of her niece's engagement. Aunt Jane offers advice on love and happiness. This letter is very long and boring. It feels more like the Trigiani is sharing her views with her daughter or someone younger. It is also not edited very well as the name of Anna's fiance changes halfway through. This is Trigiani's first attempt at publishing Austenesque fiction and she should stick to her usual romantic melodramas or find another format for her idea.

"Jane Austen and the Mistletoe Kiss" is a new story by one of my favorite Regency romance authors. This story is about a widow Elinor Carsholt who is struggling to care for her young adult daughters afte rher husband's death. The new estate owner, Sir Nicholas, is kind and attentive. Elinor is uncomfortable with his attentions, believing them to be charity. As Christmas approaches and the two families spend more time together, Elinor thinks her teenage daughter has been unduly influenced by Miss Austen's novels to think above her station. Can true love really cross class lines? Miss Austen has some advice for Elinor and her daughters that may solve the problem. This is a very sweet story by one of the masters of the genre. It lacks her usual passionate style, thankfully, and sticks to the heartwarming style of a typical Regency Christmas story. The story is a little slow and confusing but is sweet and happy at the end. This is my second favorite story in the collection.

"When Only a Darcy Will Do" by Beth Pattillo is set in contemporary London. Our heroine offers a bootleg Jane Austen tour to bored tourists. She thinks she's going crazy when she spots Mr. Darcy in the crowd and he asks to take her tour. Is he for real or is she hallucinating? This is a sweet story that could be about any one of us. I enjoyed the take on Pride and Prejudice and the contemporary twist worked quite well. This is definitely one of my favorite stories.

"Heard of You" by Margaret C. Sullivan tells the story of Admiral and Mrs. Croft, my favorite secondary characters of any of Austen's novels. When Frederick Wentworth was a young midshipman his sister Sophie was a teacher at a girls' school. They exchanged frequent letters which caught the attention of the ship's bully. Captain Croft was kind and sympathetic and longed to know more about Sophie. The rest as they say is history. I adored the Crofts and their relationship and this story is true to Austen's portrayal. It's a very sweet and soft romance. I loved it as a supplement to Persuasion and wish Jane Austen had thought of it!

"The Ghostwriter" by Elizabeth Aston borrows many elements from her previous book Writing Jane Austen. A contemporary writer with writer's block receives a visit from a mysterious visitor who helps revive Sara's career and helps her solve her romantic dilemma as well. I really didn't like this story. I couldn't relate to Sara except for the writer's block. I found her whiny and self-centered and the whole ghost plot stretched by credibility beyond belief because it was meant to be taken seriously. I'm more intrigued by the twist at the end. 

"Mr. Bennet Meets His Match" by Amanda Grange is a prequel to Pride and Prejudice telling the story of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. Mr. John Bennet is the only son of a minor gentry family. If John never marries the estate passes to a distant cousin who no one can stand. Miss Jane Gardiner and Miss Mary Gardiner are two lively girls from the village dreaming of romance. Their parents are dreaming of social climbing. The young ladies catch the eye of young Mr. John but only one catches his heart. This story is true to the portrayal of the Bennet parents in the original novel. He is indifferent to anything except books and she is silly. Jane and Mary are just like Kitty and Lydia. I am not overly fond of this story. I feel sorry for Mr. Bennet and would like to think that their relationship was more substantial in the beginning. 

In "Jane Austen, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah" by Janet Mullany a teacher in a girls' school in the 1960s attempts to teach her students about Jane Austen through their understanding of The Beetles and comes to an understanding of herself and her own relationship. This is one of the darker, more somber stories in the collection. The girls are funny and just like any teenage girl with a celebrity crush. The story would be better if it was longer so the characters could be fleshed out more. There's little motivation for the main character's actions in this brief space. I found this story interesting though and liked it well enough.

"Letters to Lydia" by Maya Slater is a fun take on Pride and Prejudice from Maria Lucas's point-of-view. She writes to Lydia Bennet with all the enthusiasm and exclamations of her tender years. This is a cute story. If you can stand Lydia, Kitty and Maria's youthfulness you will enjoy this different viewpoint. 

In "The Mysterious Closet" by Myretta Robens a young woman comes to stay at an old Gothic inn and discovers a mysterious closet that leads her to a handsome man and every expectation of happiness or unhappiness for surely she has dreamed up her true love. This story is one after Catherine Morland's own hart however, I found it too strange, especially the unusual ending. If you can swallow your disbelief and enjoy passionate (but clean) romances you'll like this one.

The premise of "Jane Austen's Cat" is very similar to Trigiani's story except it's told in story format. In the summer of 1813 brothers Edward and Charles and families are in residence at the Great House. Jane is busy writing Mansfield Park. Her writing is interrupted by a visit from two of her nieces. Anna, already grown, is unsure of herself. She enjoys writing horrid novels but would like to be a serious novelist like Aunt Jane. Anna's little sister Caroline doesn't care for romance, she would like Aunt Jane to tell her a story about a cat like her pet Tyger. Aunt Jane tells the tale of Mansfield Park in a simplistic way using cats as the main character. It's a cautionary tale for Anna sharing lessons on writing and on love. I liked this quiet story. I think it could have actually happened. Jane Austen was a devoted aunt and enjoyed telling stories. She was a keen observer who had much advice to offer on life and love and knew how best to deliver it. 

In "Me and Mr. Darcy, Again . . ." by Alexandra Potter, a contemporary young woman and her best friend are off on a girls only trip to London. Last time she was in London for a Jane Austen tour, she met Mr. Darcy. Then she found a real boyfriend in Spike but he hasn't been there for her lately and she's both dreaming of and dreading meeting Mr. Darcy again. When she does, it leads to unexpected results. Not having read the novel Me and Mr. Darcy, I feel like I missed a huge part of the story. This short story is more like an epilogue to the novel I suppose. I liked the message but the fantasy element just isn't my thing. 

"What Would Jane Austen Do?" by Jane Rubio and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway is the most surprising story in the collection. A fourteen year-old boy has gotten in trouble at school - not for the usual reasons but because of a change in behavior that has resulted in James becoming gentlemanly! James's mother was on his case to do something with his summer so he signed up for a country dancing class at the library thinking it was country western line dancing. Instead he discovered that country dancing is the style of dance done in Jane Austen's day. At first James is not impressed but the more he gets to know the other dancers, especially the beautiful Cathy, the more he enjoys himself. With some help from his mom, a devoted Jane Austen scholar, he develops an understanding of the human heart and an appreciation for nineteenth century manners that helps him stand out in the treacherous high school world. This is such a cute story. I could picture everything that was happening in my mind and felt very engaged in the story. I adored young James (where was he when I was in High School?) and wanted him to succeed. James's voice is wry and a little old for his years which may turn off some readers. The author bio says they are developing this story into a full length novel. I can't wait to read it. The ending left me hanging a bit. I hope mothers make their sons read this story for the world needs more boys like James!

"The Riding Habit" by Pamela Aidan is a continuation of Pride and Prejudice. The Darcys are in London for the peace celebrations of 1814 and Georgiana's come out. Mr. Darcy is extraordinarily happy. He has a thriving young heir in the nursery and his Elizabeth by his side to love him and guide Georgiana to womanhood. His only regret is that his beloved Elizabeth does not ride. He hits upon the grand plan to teach Elizabeth to ride. Elizabeth has her hands full planning Georgiana's debut. She hardly has time for herself, let alone time to learn to ride. She's determined to please her beloved and show him she belongs in his world by learning to drive. A near tragedy results in the moral of the story. This is not Pamela Aidan's best story. She gets inside Darcy's head very well but I think she lacks understanding of Elizabeth. A story about riding turns into a self-confidence tale that while realistic, I do not think would happen given what we know about Elizabeth. The story didn't captivate me the way Aidan's Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman novels did but fans of her writing and of Pride and Prejudice will certainly enjoy this story.

"The Love Letter" by Brenna Aubrey is the winner of the short story contest. It's a contemporary take on Persuasion. Dr. Mark Hinton receives a mysterious message in the mail quoting from some unknown book. His quest to find out which book leads him to reflect on his lost love Justine and face to face with the lady once again. This story is rather sad. The forces that separated the main character and his love are more dramatic and of course contemporary than in the original. The story is more bittersweet as a result. It didn't appeal to me because of the contemporary setting and the plot dragged on in flashback before suddenly and randomly turning back to present time then came to an abrupt ending. I enjoyed some of the other stories in the contest a lot more than this one. 

"The Chase" by Carrie Bebris is something different from her. Instead of a gothic mystery, this story follows Jane Austen's brother Francis on board his ship The Petterel in pursuit of a French ship. The subject matter of this story is quite unusual and frankly, quite boring. If you enjoy nautical stories and British Navy stories like Horatio Hornblower and Master and Commander, you would probably like this one.

"Intolerable Stupidity" by Laurie Viera Rigler is also a new theme for this author. It resembles the first story in this anthology as Jane Austen's characters appear outside the pages of their books. In this story, The Court of Intolerable Stupidity, presided over by Judge Lady Catherine de Bourgh pits the young untried lawyer Fitz Williams against super star advocate for the plaintiff Tawny Wolfson. The defendant claims that so-called literary works have cause grave and irreparable harm to the plaintiffs who only wish to continue living their lives as their creator intended. What does this mean? Well, it means that Andrew Davies and other screenwriters and novelists who write and rewrite Jane Austen's novels are intolerably stupid. Mr. Darcy appears dripping wet and complaining of living constantly with a cold and being the object of obsession of many hysterical women. Wolfson vows to burn every Creator-inspired work she owns when she wins the case but Fitz Williams discovers a secret that he could use to win this case. Will he let his infatuation for Tawny bring him down or win the case of a lifetime? This story raises some issues that I don't think need to be dealt with in a short story anthology. Though I agree that most Jane Austen inspired creations are intolerably stupid, this story IS one, so what does that say about Laurie Viera Rigler? It's all in good fun I suppose. I'd rather read a fun and frivolous story than literary criticism.

Overall, I expected more from this anthology and many of my favorite writers. I think by and large the stories failed to live up to my expectations. Like all anthologies, some stories were suited to my taste and others weren't. There were some fabulous stories in the contest that would be better suited to this collection than some of the ones which were included by well-known authors.

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