In recent years there’s been a swell of Austen remixes, retelling, sequels, and prequels. Miss Austen may have died almost 195 years ago, but her stories are alive and well in the hearts of millions of people — including the 22 authors whose short stories make up Jane Austen Made Me Do It.
The stories may be set in different time periods and genres, and focus on different characters, but they all incorporate Jane Austen’s ideals and philosophies on life and love.
Although the stories by Pamela Aiden and Lauren Willig—giants of the contemporary Regency genre (that sure reads funny, doesn’t it?)—were good, three others in particular were my favorites:
“Jane Austen’s Nightmare” (Syrie James)
Jane has a dream in which her novels’ characters complain about their characterization. Why did you present me as the most selfish and self-involved creature in the world, laments Marianne; Why are we so perfect and long-suffering, demand Elinor and Fanny; Why did you make me so manipulative and snobbish, opines Emma. Jane awakens from her nightmare determined to do justice to her characters — by writing a story about a woman who is not perfect, who has made mistakes and regrets them, and longs for a second chance.
“Love and Best Wishes, Aunt Jane” (Adriana Trigiani)
Although a contemporary Jane Austen would likely enjoy modern life, I doubt that she would give up her letter writing. Trigiani’s contribution to the collection is written in the voice of a modern-day Jane, where words like “tweet” and “email” merge seamlessly with Jane’s advice to her recently-engaged niece. A wonderful story, and possibly my favorite.
“What Would Austen Do?” (Jane Rubino, Caitlin Rubino-Bradway)
James’ mother is a fan of Jane Austen, and also of what James calls “Making a Productive Use of Your Summer.” Which is how he ends up joining the “Country Dance for Beginners” class at the library. A misinterpretation ends with James showing up the first day in a western shirt (pearl snaps, too) and corded yoke, only to discover that it’s not so much line dancing as Georgian and Regency line dances. James feels like an idiot, but the girl in the back row is awfully cute…
Otherwise, a bit hit and miss
While it was nice to read lots of Austen-esque stories in quick succession, I’ve never been the biggest fan of short stories. They never go on long enough, and leave questions unanswered. I always want to know more than the story gives me.
I wanted this book to have 22 amazing stories, but there were a couple of duds, especially “The Chase” (Carrie Bebris). I skimmed through several sections that dragged (which should be hard for a short story to do).
Personal preferences notwithstanding, I really enjoyed Jane Austen Made Me Do It. I like knowing that Austen’s writings are more popular than ever, and that people are discovering and re-discovering the Regency genre. I think Miss Austen would be a bit perplexed at our obsession with her writings (and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies might be a bit much for her), but she would also be thoroughly amused, and maybe just a little bit proud.
What do you think of Regency stories, and of Jane Austen? Short stories, love ’em or leave ’em?