By Various Authors
Publisher: Random House/Ballantine
Release Date: October 11, 2011
Jane Austen Made Me Do It, subtitled Original Stories Inspired by Literature’s Most Astute Observer of the Human Heart, is a collection of original short stories edited by Laurel Ann Nattress of Austenprose. Nattress asked the authors 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.” Contributors include Pamela Aidan, Elizabeth Aston, Stephanie Barron, Carrie Bebris, Jo Beverley, Diana Birchall, Frank Delaney & Diane Meier, Monica Fairview, Amanda Grange, Syrie James, Janet Mullany, Jane Odiwe, Beth Pattillo, Alexandra Potter, Myretta Robens, Jane Rubino & Caitlen Rubino Bradway, Maya Slater, Margaret Sullivan, Adriana Trigiani, Laurie Viera Rigler, Lauren Willig, and debut author Brenna Aubrey, Grand Prize winner of a short story contest sponsored by Ballantine Books, Austenprose, and The Republic of Pemberley. The overall quality of the collection is high, and rare will be the reader who fails to find a few favorites to delight an Austen-loving heart.
I was excited to see that several of my favorite authors had stories in the collection. Jo Beverley’s “Jane and the Mistletoe Kiss” features Miss Austen as a character, a true romantic who encourages the widowed heroine to believe in another chance at love. “Love and Best Wishes, Aunt Jane” by Adriana Trigiani is an epistolary story with a contemporary “Aunt Jane” giving advice and expressing her hopes for a beloved niece. A ghostly Jane Austen surprises a young skeptic who is part of a ghosthunting TV crew in Lauren Willig’s “A Night at Northanger.” Syrie James has Austen finding inspiration for Persuasion after unhappy characters from her other novels invade her dreams with accusations and pleas in “Jane Austen’s Nightmare.” In Janet Mullany’s “Jane Austen, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah,” set in the 1960s, a teacher uses the Beatles to help her students connect to Sense and Sensibility and learns something about herself in the process.
Some of the stories I liked best were by authors new to me. “What Would Austen Do?” by Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway is the sweet and funny story of fifteen-year-old James Austen who enrolls in an English Country Dance course expecting to line dance and ends up having fun with Regency dances, reading Jane Austen, and making friends with a pretty girl. In Elizabeth Ashton’s “The Ghostwriter,” Austen is an acerbic, mind-reading spirit of “ferocious intelligence” who tells a young writer whose boyfriend has left her because he can’t measure up to Darcy, “There’s nothing wrong with your mind, except sentimentality and stupidity.” Ghostly Jane also reveals that “reserved, proud, and clever” Darcy is her character most like Austen herself. “Intolerable Stupidity” by Laurie Viera Rigler has Lady Catherine de Bourgh as the presiding judge in Mr. Darcy’s case against authors of Pride and Prejudice spinoffs. Brenna Aubrey’s prize-winning story “The Love Letter” is a lovely account of how Wentworth’s written declaration of his love for Anne Elliot in Persuasion leads a young doctor back to the great love from his past.
The collection contains historicals and contemporaries, romances, gothic tales, mysteries, and fantasies, each one affirming Jane Austen as influence and inspiration. It’s no surprise that Pride and Prejudice is the most frequently used novel, but most of the others are represented. I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley, but I’ll be buying a print copy of this one so I can reread some of the stories. If you are a Jane Austen fan, I recommend Jane Austen Made Me Do It without reservation. If you’ve never read Austen, reading these stories may be just the push you need to direct you to the originals. You can check out excerpts here.
What's your favorite Jane Austen novel? How do you feel about Austen spinoffs?