Jane Austen Made Me Do It, the book, is a collection of short stories inspired by the life and works of Jane Austen. Of course. The collection was edited by Laurel Ann Nattress, and features stories by a host of writers from Stephanie Barron to Lauren Willig.
I read most of the Jane Austen oeuvre during my interminably long commuting days, which means I listened to it on audio. I enjoyed them immensely, but I’m not obsessive. I say this because the stories in JAMMDI fall into two categories, the ones that require detailed knowledge of particular Austen works, and the ones that use Austen’s life and works as jumping-off points.
The stories that used Austen as inspiration were ones I particularly enjoyed. You might even say I found a couple of them, well, inspiring.
In “The Ghostwriter,” by Elizabeth Aston, Jane’s ghost comes to the aid of a 21st century author who has spent much too much time admiring Mr. Darcy and not nearly enough energy on her own love life or on her sagging book sales. Jane’s apparition leads Sara to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, an unpublished manuscript by one of Jane’s contemporaries that will be a shot in the arm for her dying career. While Sara copy-edits the found manuscript, Jane fixes up her love-life for her.
“The Chase,” by Carrie Bebris, is about how Jane’s brother Francis received his commission as Post-Captain, based on Francis own logbooks. This story was as vivid a recreation of a naval battle as any of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey and Maturin series.
My favorite was the story by Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway titled “What Would Austen Do?” A high school student whose mother is a Jane Austen aficionado has saddled him with the name James Austen. Mom may even have married Dad just so she could snag the Austen last name! The story starts with poor James getting hauled into the school principal’s office and being accused of becoming a drug user. Why? Because he’s been exhibiting unusual behavior. What unusual behavior? He’s become polite and mannerly to his teachers. He wears khakis and button-down shirts to school. And he has strange paperwork in his locker. With numbers on it, and weird words like “arming” and “inside hand” and “ECD”.
If you want to find out what “ECD” stands for, you have to read the story. It’s worth it.
Escape Rating B: Because this is an anthology, it’s a mixed bag. There were a couple of stories I absolutely adored. “What Would Austen Do?” being at the top of the list. The ones that required really deep knowledge of Jane Austen’s works were not as much fun for me. Collections like this are classic instances of the principle “your mileage may vary”.
The stories that used Jane Austen as a springboard were the best ones. The attempts to out-do or re-do her work fell a little flat. The stories that took flight from her, most of those were terrific.