Dancing with Mr. Darcy

Written by Sarah Waters
Review by Eva Ulett

Collected in Dancing with Mr. Darcy are the winner of the Jane Austen Short Story Award and nineteen other selections. The stories are introduced by judges Sarah Waters (The Little Stranger, Fingersmith) and Rebecca Smith, novelist and five-times great niece of Jane Austen. Though the tales vary in setting from contemporary to historical, the winning story “Jane Austen over the Styx” by Victoria Owens is set in Hades, they share a connection to Jane Austen, her fiction, or the home where Austen produced the majority of her work, Chawton House. All of the stories are fine examples of the civil art of prose, honoring one of its greatest practitioners.

My favorite in the collection is the runner-up “Jayne” by Kirsty Mitchell. This story concerns a nude model whose grasp of the economic challenges presented contemporary young women echoes Jane Austen’s shrewd social consciousness. Characters in “Jayne” and “The Delaford Ladies’ Detective Agency” by Elizabeth Hopkinson recognize that “A woman especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can.” Some of the stories, runner-up “Second Thoughts” by Elsa A. Solender and “Cleverclogs” by Hilary Spiers, are quite obviously linked to Austen. Other selections, “The Oxfam Dress” by Penelope Randall and “Second Fruits” by Stephanie Tillotson, have less accessible ties to Austen. Any puzzlement is cleared up by brief authors’ notes following each selection describing the authors’ inspirations. The whole is rounded out with biographies of judges and writers. Dancing with Mr. Darcy is a comfortable set of twenty tales to add to the Austen anthology.