Every so often, I get on a Jane Austen kick.
I’ll go to the library to check out literary critiques of Austen’s works. One of the books currently on my nightstand is called Flirting with Pride and Prejudice (edited by Jennifer Crusie). The book is a compilation of various essays about the most famous of Austen’s books. My favourite essay is entitled “Plenty of Pride and Prejudice to Go Around” by Lauren Baratz-Logsted. In it, she compares Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet with the many incarnations of the Elizabeth in the movies either based upon or inspired by Pride and Prejudice.
Baratz-Logsted questions why the Elizabeth Bennet characters have been deteriorated “into characters who, however lofty their careers, however many modern choices arrayed before them, are charming ditzes at best, babbling and insecure bumblers at worst?”
Which makes me think of a comment made by one of my friends regarding Bridget Jones Diary a few years ago. It’s no great secret that Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones Diary was inspired by Pride and Prejudice. My friend pointed out that Bridget is in fact NOT really an Elizabeth Bennet. She argued that the book is really the story of Mr. Darcy and Lydia Bennet. And I think she has a point. Bridget Jones really does have more in common with Lydia. She’s just masquerading around behind the mask of the Elizabeth Bennet character.
But back to the book on my night stand (which is now on my lap since I had to look up that quote above). The book isn’t just essays. It also has some pieces of… what to call it?… fan fiction, I guess. Fictionalized mini-stories based on various characters from the book.
And for some reason, these type of stories always make me cringe. It feels wrong to me somehow. Here’s another person trying to take Jane Austen’s place and write Georgiana’s story. Or tell what happened to Elizabeth after she married Darcy.
The one account I did manage to read (it wasn’t long—about five pages) was “The Secret Life of Mary”. Boy, was it convoluted. I mean, a love story between Mary and some Irish footman named Rory who works for Sir William Lucas?! Where Mary becomes famous for writing Austen-esque sketches of her family?! Um…
It’s stories like these that make me NOT want to read Austen-inspired
rip-offs works. It makes me want to shout, “People, please leave the Jane Austen characters in the capable hands of Jane Austen!”
Yes, it’s bad Jane-Austen-inspired-stories that make me shy to read the good ones. And there ARE ones out there that aren’t bad. But to find the good ones… That is the problem. It means wading through so many disappointments. (At least for me.)
Here’s a list of books I liked/didn’t like. And some I thought were okay, but nothing to get too excited about…
Books I Liked
Austenland and Midnight in Austenland // by Shannon Hale
A Walk with Jane Austen // by Lori Smith (this is more of a memoir)
Bridget Jones Diary // by Helen Fielding (although, it’s been quite a while since I read this book; and I haven’t read the sequels because they didn’t really interest me)
Books I Thought Were Okay
Emma // by Alexander McCall Smith
Sense and Sensibility // by Joanna Trollope
Pemberley // by Emma Tennant
Prom and Prejudice // by Elizabeth Eulberg
Pride, Prejudice, and Cheese Grits // by Mary Jane Hathaway
Books I Did NOT Like
Eligible // by Curtis Sittenfeld (DNF)
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies // by Seth Grahame-Smith (DNF)
Confession of a Jane Austen Addict // by Laurie Viera Rigler (Not crazy about the time-travelling thing)
Longbourne // by Jo Baker (DNF)
Jane and the Man of the Cloth // by Stephanie Barron (Jane Austen solving mysteries? That was just weird.)
So… Sometimes I think I’m better off to just re-read the originals. And hey! Pride and Prejudice (or Emma, or Persuasion, et al) do very well on multiple re-reads.
Because Jane Austen was the master!
What about you? Do you like to read books inspired by Jane Austen’s world? Have you read any good ones that you’d recommend?