Whose Jane Austen?
It’s a question I’ve often asked myself while researching and writing The Jane Austen Project, but never more insistently than when considering the works that make up the short story anthology “Jane Austen Made Me Do It, Original Stories Inspired by Literature’s Most Astute Observer of the Human Heart.” I use the subtitle advisedly, for this is one way of viewing Jane Austen, and perhaps a message from its editor, Laurel Ann Nattress of Austenprose, of how she, at least, does.
JAMMDI is on one hand a brilliant marketing idea, combining the brand recognition of Jane Austen with some of the biggest names in Austen and Austenesque fan fiction. But ideally it is more than that, being also an effort to wrestle with the question of what Jane Austen means to people living today, nearly 200 years after her death. Continue reading
I have mixed feelings about much of the contemporary fiction inspired by Jane Austen, despite or perhaps because of my own efforts to write some myself. The work, and I include my own in this comment, often disappoints. Perhaps, like Marianne Dashwood, “I require so much!” Or perhaps the problem is inherent in inviting comparison with one of the wittiest writers to ever pick up a pen; one’s efforts can hardly avoid seeming pallid by contrast. It fails to be Jane Austen, as most everything does.
Despite the perils, people keep doing it, drawn like moths to a flame: writing sequels and prequels, imagining Jane Austen as a vampire, a sleuth or a con artist who fakes her death at age 41 and runs away, disguised as a man, to start a theater troupe, for which she writes all the plays, that tours the young nation of America. Actually, I made that last bit up. Nobody has written that book, which is not to say nobody ever will.
What makes them (us) do it? I suppose there are as many reasons as there are retellings of “Pride and Prejudice” through Mr. Darcy’s eyes: simple homage, awareness that there is an already created fan base, the same spirit of fun that impelled the teenage Jane Austen to mock the fictional conventions of the late 18th century. Then, too, there is the desire to fill in the unknown bits, and a large element of wish fulfillment. If reading a story is a way to indulge one’s fantasy of being or having what one is not or lacks in real life, then writing one is even more so.
And perhaps the strongest wish of all is to somehow be closer to Jane Austen, to connect with her spirit, her genius. The same spirit animating the women who sew their own Regency outfits and then model them on YouTube videos inspires others, more adept with a keyboard than with a needle, to write fan fiction. Jane Austen Made Me Do It! one can imagine them explaining with a shrug. Continue reading