Jane Austen Made Me Do It
Jane Austen continues her afterlife as the Scylla and Charybdis of women’s fiction, luring innocent writers ever closer until she can swallow them whole. This book is a collection of short stories inspired by the sibyl of romance; like most anthologies, it’s an uneven jumble of work, from sketchy stories that hardly seem thought about, to some very clever pieces.
“Faux Jane,” for instance, is a lovely bit of work by F.J. Meier that seems as inspired by The Thin Man as by dear Austen: a collector has turned up a signed (!) first edition of Pride and Prejudice, and the husband and wife sleuths must expose the forger. The sharp conversations and tinge of the underworld make this story, which stands above any of the others.
“What Would Austen Do,” by Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway, exposes the possible radicalizing power of a good Jane Austen book in the world of Twilight. And if you ever wondered what it was like for dear Mr. Knightley, moving into the same house with Mr. Woodhouse, “Nothing Less than Fairyland,” by Monica Fairview, proposes a startling and satisfying resolution to the lives of two of the best characters in Emma.
Several of the stories take a turn at the classic first sentence “It is a truth universally acknowledged…” and all these writers know their Austen. But in the end, none of them can match her wit, her ear, her eye, or, in the end, the intense female anxiety that transforms her comedies of manners into literature. Nice try, people, but Jane wins again.