Jane Austen Made Me Do It

Monday, December 19, 2011

Jane Austen Made Me Do It
Original Stories Inspired by Literature’s Most Astute Observer of the Human Heart
Edited by Laurel Ann Nattress

This collection contains more than 20 original short stories by many well-known authors. Some are set in modern day; others pick up the threads where they left off in one of Austen’s beloved classics. The book was edited by Austen fan Laurel Ann Nattress, creator of Austenprose.com.

The subject matter covers almost everything Austen wrote. We see what happens to Emma and Mr. Knightly after they marry and have to take care of her father. We learn about Mr. Bennet’s youth, before he married Lizzy’s exasperating mother. Persuasion’s Anne and Captain Wentworth retell the story of their romance to friends in “Waiting.”

Even though I did enjoy some of the pieces, I never found myself reaching for the book. Instead it sat, untouched, until I reminded myself that I really needed to finish it. I’d pick it up, read a few stories and by the next day I had all but forgotten them.

My problem with the collection is the same one I have with most Austen fan fiction. The stories either return to one of Austen’s original characters or the main character is obsessed with Austen’s work. They try to add a new element to the story or make some reader fantasy come to life. Either way, the stories tend to make me want to re-read the original books instead of the new one. They always feel a little weak or empty compared to Austen’s work and when you write fan fiction you can’t help but set yourself up for that comparison.

I did enjoy Syrie James’ story, which provides a nightmare scenario where all of Austen’s characters confront her with their complaints about how their stories unfolded. “Jane Austen and the Mistletoe Kiss," by Jo Beverley, was another one that worked well for me.

Interestingly, the book closes with Laurie Viera Rigler’s story "Intolerable Stupidity." The premise is that Darcy is suing authors of Pride and Prejudice spin-offs and films because their stories are affecting his everyday life. In other words, he’ll grow vampire fangs in the middle of dinner with his wife or walk down the street and realize his shirt is soaking wet. The reason this story was ironic, in my opinion, is because it’s criticizing the very category of fiction that it falls into. Obviously, by the end it justifies these stories and shows their importance, but I can’t say I was convinced.

I agree that fan fiction has made Austen more popular, but is that really a good thing if the people who are introduced to it never read the original books? I know many people who have read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies but don’t intend to ever read the original. In fact, they now think they already know the story, so they don’t need to and that’s truly a shame. I know many others read the fan fiction because they already love the originals, which is great, but it has never worked that way for me.

If you adore Austen fan fiction, you’ll probably love this. If you love Austen and have read all of her major novels, you might enjoy this one. If you have dabbled with a few books, but aren’t sold on her, this probably isn’t for you.

Other reviews:
Devourer of Books
Iris on Books

Also, here’s an interview with the editor done by Write Meg

I received my review copy from Laurel Ann Nattress.


Sandy Nawrot said...

I agree with that ultimate question you have asked. If you have read all the Austens and want more then there you go. Personally, I have never read an Austen spin-off. Seems sacreligious, and I have not read all of them yet anyway.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

I guess I would just prefer to re-read all of the originals. I'm always disappointed by the spin-offs.