Wooing Mr Wickham: Stories Inspired by Jane Austen and Chawton House

I must confess that I pounced on this book as soon as I saw it on the new books shelf in the library.

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

I have been up into the attic ….

…. and I came down with a large carrier bag.

You may recall that a few weeks ago I was reorganising shelves and boxes of books, and bringing my LibraryThing records up to date. I should have known that as soon as I had everything straight books that I had put away in the attic would call. Loudly.

And so I went up with a bag, and I came down with this:

All of the Penguin Classics I could carry!

Next year I plan to read more classics and less crime. And maybe to knit a little less and read a little more.

Of course I won’t read all of the books I brought down next year, but I want to have them around again.

(I hate having to keep books in the attic, but there is no alternative while I am living with and caring for my mother in her home.)

It all started when I read the Review section of the Saturday Telegraph a week or two ago. There was an article about One Day by David Nicholls, pointing up all of the references to Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Suddenly I was interested in a book that hadn’t called me at all.

But then another thought struck. Wouldn’t it be better to re-read Tess?!

And then other classics began to call. It was time to go up into the attic.

Tess came down, and so did all of the other works by Thomas Hardy I own.

Middlemarch, and all of George Eliot’s other novels came down, because I really should like to read again, over an extended period, with Team Middlemarch.

Jane Austen’s novels came down, to celebrate Advent With Austen.

Les Miserables came down, because I have wanted to read this book for so long and Kate’s Library is hosting a readalong that will help me to work my way through slowly over the course of next year.

With all of those books coming down I really couldn’t leave Wilkie Collins or the three Bronte sisters behind.

It was fortunate that those works I own by Charles Dickens and Elizabeth Gaskell, plus my copy of Vanity Fair, were downstairs already, as my bag wouldn’t have held any more books.

I’ve also moved my Elizabeth Taylor collection to the front of the Virago bookcase, ready to read with the LibraryThing Virago Modern Classics Group.

My Virago copy of The Odd Women by George Gissing, that Darlene recommended so warmly is also to hand.

So I’m not going to run out of classics to read, and re-read, any time soon …..

A Classics Circuit Tour: Dickens versus Austen

 Jane Austen versus Charles Dickens?

Not a fair fight!

The two have very different attributes and most definitely would fight in different divisions, indeed in very disciplines.

I learned to love Jane Austen at a very young age, and with the passing of the years I have come to appreciate her writing even more.

It took me longer to learn to love Charles Dickens, but in time that love came. When I started treating his books as serials to be read over an extended period something finally clicked.

I have much unread Dickens but no unread Austen, and so it was Dickens I chose to read for the Classic Circuit.

And I chose The Pickwick Papers.


“Gardening, walks, rows on the river, and flower hunts employed the fine days, and for rainy ones, they had house diversions, some old, some new, all more or less original. One of these was the ‘P.C.’, for as secret societies were the fashion, it was thought proper to have one, and as all of the girls admired Dickens, they called themselves the Pickwick Club. With a few interruptions, they had kept this up for a year, and met every Saturday evening in the big garret, on which occasions the ceremonies were as follows: Three chairs were arranged in a row before a table on which was a lamp, also four white badges, with a big ‘P.C.’ in different colors on each, and the weekly newspaper called, The Pickwick Portfolio, to which all contributed something, while Jo, who reveled in pens and ink, was the editor. At seven o’clock, the four members ascended to the clubroom, tied their badges round their heads, and took their seats with great solemnity. Meg, as the eldest, was Samuel Pickwick, Jo, being of a literary turn, Augustus Snodgrass, Beth, because she was round and rosy, Tracy Tupman, and Amy, who was always trying to do what she couldn’t, was Nathaniel Winkle. Pickwick, the president, read the paper, which was filled with original tales, poetry, local news, funny advertisements, and hints, in which they good-naturedly reminded each other of their faults and short comings.”

(from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott)

It’s been quietly calling me ever since I first read those words.

But I must confess that I have read very little of The Pickwick Papers.

The time just hasn’t been right, and I have been trying to fit too many things into not quite enough time.

But the little I have read has already given me an inkling of just how it so inspired the March girls.

I’ll progress through The Pickwick Papers slowly, when the time is right, and I am quite sure that I will enjoy the journey.

But that may not be for a while. Now that I have picked up Little Women to pull up that quote I am very, very tempted to reread the whole book…

2009: A Year in the Library … and a Year in the Pub


Let’s start in the library.

J. Kaye from J. Kaye’s Book Blog hosted the 2009 Support Your Local Library Challenge.

You could commit to reading 12, 25 or 50 library books in 2009. I went for the maximum, and I knew it wouldn’t be a problem.

Here are a few reasons why I love  libraries:

  • I am lucky to have a good public library service – I can order any book in the county or in a large reserve stock for just 50p.
  • I also belong to the wonderful Morrab Library. There are only 19 private subscription libraries in the UK and this one is just a few minutes walk from home.
  • I can still visualise where my favourite books were in the library when I was a child.
  • Without libraries I wouldn’t be able to read anything like as widely as I do.
  • I pass the library as I walk home from work. A little look around the shelves after a difficult day is wonderfully theraputic!
  • I like to think I can influence what the library stocks by ordering and borrowing books. I have been known to borrow under-borrowed books that I own to help their statistics.
  • Don’t book lovers have a duty to support libraries? If we don’t we can’t assume they will still be there and then how will people who can’t afford to buy books read and how will other people discover books?
  • I first met my fiancé in the library!

I’ve  read 106 library books this year.

Some wonderful new authors and a few books that I hadn’t heard of until I saw them on the shelves.

I’ve added some to my shelves since, there are more I’d like to.

And I’ve uncovered a few put of print gems.

The full  list is here.


And so to the pub

The 2009 Pub Challenge was hosted by Michelle at 1morechapter.com.

Read at least nine books published for the first time in your country in 2009. I’ve done 3 rounds – 27 books.

Here they are:




(There are a few more I’ve read but not written about yet and, I suspect, a couple I’ve missed.)

Some great books – the ones I’ve starred are la creme de la creme!

18th & 19th Century Women Writers Challenge – Complete


Becky from Becky’s Book Reviews has been hosting  the 18th and 19th Century Women Writers Reading Challenge for 2009.

Pparticipants are asked to read no fewer than four and no more than twelve books written by a woman who lived and wrote from 1700 to 1900.

I’ve read six:

All good but The Yellow Wallpaper has to be my favourite, with Paul Ferroll and Behind a Mask not to far behind.

A lovely challenge!

Austen-fest Day 2 – Dancing With Mr Darcy

I saw this book for the first time in the window of a local bookshop, went straight in for a closer look and handed over my money straight away.

Something special? Definitely!

First there was the title – Dancing With Mr Darcy: stories inspired by Jane Austen and Chawton House, It sounded charming, and definitely a better class of Jane Austen spin-off.

And then a little further down the page – Introduced by Sarah Waters. Her involvement had to be a positive sign.

And on the back cover – 20 original stories. Wonderful! And I discovered that the book was published by Honno – a small press I have come to love this year.

More than enough for me to know that this was a book that I had to bring home.

Sarah Waters, I learned from her introduction, was asked by Chawton House Library to judge the final stages of its short story competition. She had reservations – fearful that she would meet a “cartoon Austen” – but she went ahead, and writes that she was impressed by the quality and diversity of the stories.

Certainly, every type of Austen related story that you might want is here.

Jane herself, in familiar and unfamiliar settings.

Victoria Owens’ winning story, “Jane Austen Over The Styx”, had Jane in the afterlife brought to task by certain of her own characters.

In the wrong hands this could have been awful, but this story was quite brilliantly executed. The narrative voice is wonderful, and it balanced a love of the original texts with a willingness to question them and maybe look from a new point of view.

New stories for well-loved characters.

“We Need To Talk About Mr Collins” suggested Mary Howell. Her story suggested other possibilities for Charlotte Lucas. and was very nicely done.

Or modern visitors into familiar stories.

I wondered about Felicity Cowie’s “One Character in Search of Her Love Story.” Dispatching an agent into a book made me wonder if I was going to get a reworking of Thursday Next, but actually what I got was something rather different and very interesting. A modern heroine seeking answers in old books:

“But Mr Darcy is every woman’s ideal man, Jane. Aren’t you secretly disappointed that you don’t end up with him?”

Miss Bennett shook her head firmly.

“Mr Bingley singles me out from the start of our acquaintance and, as soon as he is sensible of my returned feelings , he proposes marriage to me. But I am not sure that Mr Darcy is such a good man until Lizzy speaks to him of his improper pride.”

Quite wonderful. And in her afterword Felicity Cowrie explains that this story started as an exercise to help her to get to know the heroine of her new. I definitely want that novel! Now!

Jane’s character’s in new settings.

“The Delaford Ladies Detective Agency” by Elizabeth Hopkinson saw the new Mrs Ferrars, at a loose end, investigating a mystery. Miss Austen meets Mr McCall Smith. In the wrong hands it could have been awful but as a short story in this particular author’s hands it was rather fun.

Or modern-day equivalents of those characters.

Beth Cordingly’s “Ellie and Marianne” saw Ellie hide her own broken heart while she tended to her sister’s. Sounds familiar? A lovely and moving story, simply and beautifully told.

And maybe best of all stories of those who love Jane Austen.

“Tears Fall on Orkney” by Nancy Saunders found a  young woman whose love was unrequited looking to the works of Jane Austen for guidance and support.  A simple story, beautifully written and quite heartbreaking.

But if I had to pick a favourite I think it would have to be “Cleverclogs” by Hilary Spiers. A schoolgirl becomes a bibliophile after her grandmother introduces her to the works of Jane Austen. The joys of loving books are so wonderfully conveyed.

“Sometimes when I’m lying in bed at night, all of the characters in all of the books I’ve read swim around my head in a mad dance. My head feels like it might burst with words sometimes and then I think that I’ve got years and years of reading still to come and where do all the words go?”

It’s story that will make you nod with recognition, and make you both laugh and cry.

I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point – this is a quite wonderful collection of stories.

Teaser Tuesdays / It’s Tuesday, where are you ? /Forthcoming


Just quote a couple of spoiler-free sentences the book you’re reading to tempt other readers.

Here is mine:-

“Prisoner in the dock, what is your name?
“Jane Austen, sir,” said Jane crisply

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by MizB


I am a clerk in the court of the dead. All mortals may have charges to answer here before they can settle. Today six ladies – Mrs Bennet, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Mrs Ferrars, Mrs Churchill, Lady Russell and Mrs Norris – have bought charges against a Miss Jane Austen. She is their creator, but they allege that she maliciously undercut the respect due from youth to age. I wonder how it will go…

It’s Tuesday, where are you? is hosted by raidergirl3.

All of this comes  from the short story Jane Austen Over The Styx by Victoria Owens, winner of the Jane Austen Short Story Award 2009.

The longlisted entries are collected in Dancing With Mr Darcy.

And forthcoming? Well, I don’t usually plan in advance, but this weekend I am having an Austen-fest to round off my Everything Austen challenge.

Friday – The modern take on Austen on film – Bride and Prejudice

Saturday – The Austen-inspired short stories – Dancing With Mr Darcy

Sunday – The early writings – Love and Friendship

Watch this space!

In The Steps of Jane Austen by Anne-Marie Edwards

What do you do when the temperature drops, the wind howls and the rain pours?

I often escape in a book. And this book took me on a walking tour with Jane Austen.

First we walked near Jane’s childhood home in Steventon. The church walk and the woodland walk were both lovely. We saw the homes of many of Jane’s friends, and visited one or two. And along the way we spoke of our families and we agreed that we had both been blessed.

Then we were off to Ibthorpe – such a pretty little hamlet – to visit Jane’s good friends Martha and Mary Lloyd. And do you know, while we were walking we bumped into two ladies upon whom Jane based characters. Mrs Stent became Miss Bates and Mrs Craven became Lady Susan. I wonder if they recognised themselves in print.

We had a lovely long weekend in Kent, with Jane’s brother Edward. It was good that we were able to spend a little more time here, because there really was so much lovely countryside, so many wonderful houses, and, of course, calls to pay. I’m sure that Jane’s many visits here over the years provided her with so much inspiration for her writing. And I’m quite certain that Pemberley was based on one of the big houses we visited.

Now where did we go next? Of course, it was Bath – wonderful city. Jane has visited Bath many times and I have been there before too, but it is a marvellous place and I was delighted to see it all again, and with such wonderful company. And, just for fun, Jane pointed out the places where she had imagined Catherine Moreland and Anne Elliott walking and spending time.

And then we went down to the coast, to Lyme Regis. Yes, we were still following in the footsteps of Anne Elliott! It’s such a pretty town and a lovely stretch of coast. I’d been missing the sea. We had a lovely walk on the Cobb and we went up and down the very steps where the fictional Caroline Hargreaves fell. I’m pleased to say that Jane and I both remained firmly on our feet.

We went a little way up the coast to Southampton as well. Not such a pretty town, but it is, of course, a navy town and Jane and I both have navy connections.

After all of that activity a few quiet days in at Jane’s home in Chawton were just what we both needed. We called on a number of Jane’s friends and we had some gentle walks. And when we went further afield Jane pointed out some of Emma’s favourite places.

After that it was time for me to go home. Jane came up to London with me: she saw me off on the train from Paddington and then she went to call on her brother Henry in Kensington.

A quite wonderful holiday!


In The Steps of Jane Austen is a very well written book of walks through towns and countryside that Jane Austen knew well.

And it weaves in a wealth of details about her books and her own life so cleverly.

You could happilywalk with it in Jane’s footsteps – or you could do what I did, and just escape in a book.

Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen by Fay Weldon

Letter to Alice

Imagine you are a novelist. You love Jane Austen and you want to pay tribute to her. What do you do?

A sequel? An Austen plot in a modern setting? A biography? Essays? Focus on one angle?

All of these have been done many, many times, but Fay Weldon has done something a little different.

She has created two fictional characters:

Alice is an eighteen year old with green and black hair. She is about to begin a course in English literature and is starting to write a novel. But she thinks that Jane Austen is “petty, boring and irrelevant.”

Alice’s Aunt Fay is a novelist, in Australia at present but soon to return home to England. She loves Jane Austen and determines to change Alice’s mind.

And then she has created a series of letters from aunt to niece expounding on the life, times and works of Jane Austen. All wrapped up in a simple fictional conceit.

Letter one is dazzling. Aunt Fay enthuses about the joy of reading and books. And she floats the idea of a City of Invention. Books are buildings, writers are architects and characters are the population. A simple idea made wonderful by enthusiasm and detail.

“Sometimes you’ll find quite a shoddy building so well placed and painted that it quite takes the visitor in, and the critics as well – and all cluster round, crying, ‘Lo, a masterpiece!’ and award it prizes. But the passage of time, the peeling of paint, the very lack of concerned visitors, reveals it in the end for what it is: a house of no interest or significance.”

“The good builders, the really good builders, carry a vision out of the real world and transpose it into the City of Invention, and refresh and enlighten the visitor, so that on his, or her, return to reality, that reality is changed, however minutely. A book that has no base in an initial reality, written out of reason and not conviction, is a house built of – what shall we say? – bricks and no mortar? Walk into it, brush against a door frame, and the whole edifice falls down about your ears. Like the first little pig’s house of straw, when the big bad wolf huffed and puffed.”

“Romance Alley is of course, as your mother, I am sure, will tell you. It’s a boom town too! And it really is a pretty place. Everything is lavender-tinted, and the cottages have roses round the door, and knights ride by in shining armour and amazingly beautiful couples stroll by under the blossoming trees, though he perhaps has a slightly cruel mouth, and she has a tendency to swoon.”

You really can’t help but be swept along. I found myself wondering about the many different buildings with the green doors of Virago Modern Classics. And where the elegant dove-grey buildings of Persephone Buildings might be.

Which part of town would you head for first?

It’s a dizzying start, but things move along quickly. The next few letters find Aunt Fay expounding on the life and times of Jane Austen. I am sure that after reading them Alice would understand that Jane Austen lived in a world that, though different, was every bit as joyful, trying, vivid and downright complex as the world we live in now. Maybe she would have even been inspired to pick up an Austen novel

And then it’s off into the writings Aunt Fay clearly has her favourites. Lesley Castle and Mansfield Park receive a great deal of attention, but Persuasion is quickly brushed aside and, from her aunt’s letters, Alice would not know that Jane Austen wrote Sense and Sensibility. But of course Aunt Fay must be allowed her opinions – ever if they differ rather from mine!

The pace slows rather at this point. Plots are gone over and characters analysed. All very readable though, and of course Alice must be told. For the most part it’s all comfortingly familar, but every now and again Aunt Fay shines a fresh light or captures something so well that you cannot help but be dazzled once again. Surely Alice must be reading by now. Job done.

But there is a problem. The fictional backstory that has been holding things together comes to the fore and takes up more and more of the space in the latter letters. Necessary, to a point, to hold things together and reach a conclusion, but it all feels rather contrived, and it is far from Fay Weldon’s best work.

And my conclusion? – Flawed but still fabulous!

Bui before we leave let’s go back to the City of Invention:

“Personally, I see critics as bus drivers. they ferry the visitors round the City of Invention and stop the bus here or there, at whimand act as guides, and feel that, if not for them there would be no City. But of course there would be – people would walk, and save the fares, and make up their own minds where to pause and what to enjoy.”

I like that thought, and it put another thought into my head. This book predates book bloggers, but what would we be in the Cty of Invention? Conservators perhaps? Or maybe cartographers? Lots of possibilities!

Teaser Tuesdays / It’s Tuesday, where are you ?


Just quote a couple of spoiler-free sentences the book you’re reading to tempt other readers.

Here is mine:-

“You must read Alice, before it’s too late. You must fill your mind with the invented images of the past: the more the better.”

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by MizB.


I’m in Australia, in Cairns. I’m writing to Alice, my niece. She’s going to college to study English literature, but she says she doesn’t want to read Jane Austen. Says she’s boring and irrelevant. Can you believe it? I must show her the error of her ways!

It’s Tuesday, where are you? is hosted by raidergirl3.

This all comes courtesy of Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen by Fay Weldon

A wonderful book!