I’m not often drawn to Jane Austen spin-offs, sequels and reworkings, but this one was irresistable.
It’s an anthology of the winning entries in Chawton House Library’s Jane Austen Short Story Award for 2010.
What wonderful credentials!
And the anthology from the inaugural award in 2009 – Dancing with Mr Darcy – was wonderful.
I had high hopes.
The brief was wonderful:
“We are looking for short stories of 2,000-2,500 words in length. This year the theme is ‘the heroes and villains in Jane Austen’s novels’. You can draw inspiration from any character or characters, male or female, whom you perceive to be heroic or villainous. Stories can have a historical or a contemporary setting – anything goes as long as it is well written and you state on the entry form how your idea originated.”
So many possibilities! How could you not be inspired? The twenty writers selected for this anthology certainly were!
Mr Wickham was exceedingly popular.
The winning story – The Pleasures of the Other by Paul Brownsey – found him in Wales, trying to recover his runaway wife from the Ladies of Llangollen. So clever, and so funny.
Judith Earnshaw sent him to war in Afghanistan, and Sulaxania Hippesley brought him back to life as a newly wed in contemporary India. Both stories worked wonderfully well.
And then there was Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
“Elizabeth was a good girl, intelligent and pretty, and I loved every minute of her visits – such feist and fury and forthrightness! The days she spent here as a guest were bright and lively. She will never know that I was on the point of offering her a position in my house. She will never know how rarely such an offer is made. But the girl gave her heart in error. She put her heart in a place reserved for another and manipulated her position as a guest in my world to do it.”
Katie by Susan Piper revisits her in old age, and casts new light on what might of made her, why she did what she did. A story that made me catch my breath and think again.
So many characters inspired a wonderful range of stories. I can’t mention them all. But I must mention my favourites.
Both were inspired by Persuasion.
Blue Lias by Sarah Barr sets a story inspired by Anne Elliot in contemporary Lyme Regis. It’s beautifully told, moving, and a wonderful tribute to an Austen heroine.
And then there’s In The Way of Happiness by MaryBeth Ihle. Two people are brought together by a shared love of Persuasion in an air raid shelter. And their own stories echo that book quite beautifully.
And just one more:
“Men are at play in a field. It is a sodden field, foul. They are wearing military uniforms. English and German, but their weapons are stewn on the ground, unused, at least for now. For once theirs is not a game to the death; they are kicking a football. It is Christmas, so eventually presents change hands. Nothing is new, the men give what they have carried with them from home. My father hands over his sygnet ring. The Englishman opposite him offers him a small green book. My father reads the words “Pride and Prejudice” … “
That gift sustains a German woman living through another war.
And Jane Austen 1945 by Elizabeth Lenckos strikes exactly the right note to end this collection.
Not every story hits the same heights, but the quality is wonderful, and that all of the authors were inspired I have no doubt.
They have made me want to re-read all of Jane Austen’s novels.
I’m in the middle of Northanger Abbey, and I think Persuasion must be next … Or maybe Pride and Prejudice …