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Mailbox Monday #201

Mailbox Mondays (click the icon to check out the new blog) has gone on tour since Marcia at A Girl and Her Books, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch. This month’s host is Bermudaonion.

The meme allows bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.

Here’s what I received:

1.  Cascade by MaryAnne O’Hara for a TLC Book Tour in December.

2.  The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen by Syrie James for review.

What did you receive?

Jane Austen Made Me Do It Edited by Laurel Ann Nattress

Laurel Ann Nattress, the woman behind Austenprose.com, is now the editor of Jane Austen Made Me Do It, a collection of Jane Austen-inspired short stories (check out the tour).  Authors not considered Austenites per se, like Frank Delaney writes with Diane Meier and Adriana Trigiani join those known for their Austen spinoffs, like Amanda Grange, Jane Odiwe, Alexandra Potter, and more.  The collection even includes the winner of the Jane Austen Made Me Do It short story contest — Brenna Aubrey’s “The Love Letter.”  But some Austen retelling favorites like Abigail Reynolds, Mary Simonsen, and Eucharista Ward are notably absent.  However, this only begs the question as to whether there will be another anthology in the future as the Austen subgenre continues to grow.

It is only fitting that the collection begins with the woman who started my journey onward into the world of Jane Austen and subsequent retellings and inspired novels, Syrie James with “Jane Austen’s Nightmare.”  The short story personifies every writer’s nightmare — that the characters will not like how they have been drawn and will seek justice.  From characters perceived as too perfect to those with a great number of flaws, Austen meets them all in her nightmare set in Bath, a city she despises.  Kicking off the collection here is a great introduction to all of Austen’s novels and characters and to her own fears and character as we know her to have been, possibly.

“Austen’s rise to fame has been steady since her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh’s biography, A Memoir of Jane Austen, introduced ‘dear Aunt Jane’ to broader readership in 1869, but recently, two elements have been her strongest catalyst:  the Internet and a wet shirt.”  (page xii)

There are stories for five of her six novels, and Mansfield Park, though mentioned in passing or referred to slightly, is the one left out as an inspiration for a complete story.  Each author tackles a different novel and/or theme from the ridiculousness of ghost stories in “A Night at Northanger” by Lauren Willig to the trials of living with one’s in-laws, like in “Nothing Less Than Fairy-Land” by Monica Fairview.  Clever renderings of finding love in the most unlikely places in Beth Patillo’s “When Only a Darcy Will Do” are joined by modernized stories of renewed love and patience.  These stories are perfect for those looking for more Austen and for those who are unsure whether they would like Austen retellings/continuations.

There are outstanding stories and those that are not quite as good, but let’s be clear, if you love all-things Austen, you want this collection and there are no stories here that you will want to miss.  Writing Austenesque stories requires a certain level of imagination, while at the same time a certain commitment to her characters as she has created them.  Each of these writers does just that.  Jane Austen Made Me Do It has enough clever wit and modern sensibility for any reader, and would suit those looking for prime examples of how a short story can capture the heart.

About the Editor:

A life-long acolyte of Jane Austen, Laurel Ann Nattress is the author/editor of Austenprose.com a blog devoted to the oeuvre of her favorite author and the many books and movies that she has inspired. She is a life member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, a regular contributor to the PBS blog Remotely Connected and the Jane Austen Centre online magazine. An expatriate of southern California, Laurel Ann lives in a country cottage near Snohomish, Washington. Visit Laurel Ann at her blogs Austenprose.com and JaneAustenMadeMeDoIt.com, on Twitter as @Austenprose, and on Facebook as Laurel Ann Nattress.

Memoirs of Fiction

Syrie James‘ The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen is a fantastic addition to all things Jane. The novel invents the discovery of Jane Austen’s memoirs in an attic chest and spins a artistic web that intertwines the beauty of Austen’s novels with historical truths and imagined fictions.

***Spoiler Alert***

The memoir is discovered in an old seaman’s chest, which has been bricked up into a wall–perhaps by Jane’s sister Cassandra. Many of the facts we know about Jane’s life are peppered throughout the book, but the crux of the novel for me was the way in which James easily winds in bits of Austen’s novel, Sense and Sensibility.

Like Elinor, Jane falls in love with a gentleman who matches her wit and humor–Mr. Frederick Ashford. Ashford is a man of great fortune who is taken with Jane almost instantly. And we wondered why Jane could write such romantic novels without having experienced love or passion. This fiction sheds light on a possible reason why Jane succumbed to spinsterhood, or should I say chose to remain a single woman.

Ashford is not only resembles Edward Ferrars, but he also bears some of the similar burdens of Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy in Pride & Prejudice, though not in personality, but in familial burdens that come with wealth.

Tragically, Jane does not get the happy endings her readers so desire or that she provides to her readers without a second thought. However, she does get the passion, love, and kisses she deserves for her brilliance, her humor, her love of life, and her devotion.

***End Spoiler Alert***

I don’t say this often, but this is one of those books that must go into the pile that I will read again and again in the coming years. Perhaps after re-reading various Austen novels and following supplemental novels with her characters as seen through the eyes of contemporary authors, like Mr. Darcy’s Diary by Amanda Grange.

After the fiasco that was The Jane Austen Book Club, I was a bit tentative about picking up another contemporary book about Austen and her characters, but James does a beautiful job weaving together elements of fact, fiction, and imagination, which made this reader believe in the truth of her fiction.

Also Reviewed Here:

Book Escape