‘Original Stories Inspired by Literature’s Most Astute Observer of the Human Heart’ – Front Cover
This compilation, edited by Laurel Ann Nattress (of Jane Austen blog, AustenProse, fame), was a complete surprise to me. I was unsure of what I was expecting, but picked the paperback up regardless for (AU)$21.95 from Dymocks in Castle Towers, Castle Hill ISBN: 978-0345524966. As someone who generally does not read short stories, I found some beautiful gems within this 464-page anthology – and many of them had a Pride and Prejudice slant.
Featuring 22 different stories, each lovely in their own way (and I mean that; not all of them will suit every taste, but you’ll get something out of each), this is a fantastic book for both those just starting to read beyond the canonical Austens and for those who are already well schooled in the works of Laurie Viera Rigler, Amanda Grange and co. Expect to see familiar names, and a few less familiar, in what has been called a coming together of a Jane Austen ‘dream team’. While it isn’t specifically slanted towards Pride and Prejudice, and if you’re a fan of the other Austens then enjoy the mentions of her other novels (including a lovely sequel to Emma discussing how Knightley and herself handle her father in the days after their marriage, ‘Nothing less than Fairy-land’ – Monica Fairview), there is a great splattering of Darcy and P&P anecdotes throughout.
The Pride and Prejudice stories that you will come across include: ‘Faux Jane’ (F. J. Meier), which focuses on a fake Pride and Prejudice signed manuscript, ‘When Only a Darcy Will Do’ (Beth Pattillo), about a girl running a Jane Austen tour who may or may not bump into a Darcy, ‘Mr Bennet Meets His Match’ (Amanda Grange), about Mr and Mrs Bennet’s early courtship days, ‘Letters to Lydia’ (Maya Slater), looking at P&P from Maria Lucas’ point of view, ‘Me and Mr. Darcy Again…’ (Alexandra Potter), looking at how a Darcy can come into the 21st Century to still save the day, ‘The Riding Habit’ (Pamela Aiden), which is a small sequel to P&P and ‘Intolerable Stupidity’ (Laurie Viera Rigler), which has Lizzy and Darcy on the stand of Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s courtroom. As you can tell, the selection is broad!
If that doesn’t explain the variety in this book, then not much else will convince you! My favourite was actually Jane Odiwe’s ‘Waiting’, a gorgeous tribute to Persuasion that is deeply felt, closely followed by (Republic of Pemberley competition winner) Brenna Aubrey’s ‘The Love Letter’, how one page of Jane Austen can bring love back (also Persuasion inspired).
Some others that stood out to me included:
‘What Would Jane Austen Do?’ by Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway – a humorous take on the different cliques at school (including zombie, werewolf and vampire cosplay-style groups) and the effect of country dancing and Jane Austen on one different young man.
‘Carrie Bebris’ ‘The Chase’ – a spirited and energetic take on Jane Austen’s brother in naval battle. Expect your heart to be thumping in this very different angle placed on the Regency era.
Personally, I wasn’t a huge fan of ‘Jane Austen’s Cat’ nor ‘Jane and the Gentleman Rogue: Being a fragment of a Jane Austen mystery’. The first was a bit stagnant and childish for my liking, while the second was far too melodramatic.
What strikes me most about this compilation is the absolutely huge variety. Spanning eras from Regency to 21st Century, genres from romance and letters to historical and the supernatural, characters as diverse as Doctors, ghosthunters, Regency ladies, dream characters and Jane Austen herself, it is a head spinning combination that will have you suckered in for many hours of good reading. Even those with shorter attention spans will enjoy these bite sized stories, each around 20 pages each. It’s a testament to the variety of Janeites themselves, and the universality of Austen. All of these authors is remarkably different, and yet they are all brought together through an enjoyment of Jane that is common to them.
Never before published, these original stories for the book do Ms Nattress proud. Her quality editing puts the book a mile above many other Jane Austen compilations, and includes extra material at the back in a ‘Reader’s guide’, with a quote from Austen to sum up each story and some points that could be discussed in a book club environment. She has also ordered the stories well. While a reader could dive in and read ad lib, I definitely recommend reading them in the order they have been presented in – each is different enough from that around it that you won’t start finding the material tedious, the focused-on novels have been mixed up (so you may have Northanger-inspired pieces next to those more about Sense and Sensibility) and the flow is perfect. Each story is also ended with a little bio about the author/s of each piece, which I found was a really nice touch – it also helps if you really like their writing and want to pick up more!
A quick note: Amanda Grange, whose short story ‘Mr Bennet meets his Match’ was in this collection, will be answering a Q&A for me to be posted on 1 August along with an advance review of her book ‘Letters to Mr Darcy’. She will be answering a question about her short story within this Q&A as well, so stay tuned!
How do these short stories stack up for you? Any favourites?