Happy Birthday Amiable Jane

Pride and Prejudice coverIt is a truth universally acknowledged... that readers of Jane Austen must be in want of more!

I can still remember it so clearly - my first encounter with Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy. I was in my pink-walled, sloping-ceilinged, shoe-box bedroom, staying up way past bedtime reading Pride and Prejudice, opens a new window for 7th Form English. I was just as captivated by Austen as Mr Darcy was by Elizabeth's fine eyes and lively, playful disposition. Till then, the books my teachers had made me read were nothing short of torture (Lord of the Flies, opens a new window, anyone?) But with Austen, I was in heaven!

I laughed. I cried. I held my breath when Mr Darcy told Elizabeth how ardently he loved and admired her. And when Elizabeth told him he was the last man in the world she could ever marry. Would they ever get their happy ending? I couldn't turn the pages fast enough!

I couldn't wait for the end - and I wished it never would end. Isn't that the paradox of a great book?

If a book is well written, I always find it too short. Jane Austen

Of course I didn't stop with Pride and Prejudice. Without a next chapter, the next book is the next best thing. But sadly, the list of "Next Books" is tragically short. Austen only wrote six novels. Six! Die hard fans can also read the half-finished-only-just-begun novels Lady Susan, opens a new window, The Watsons, opens a new window, and Sanditon, opens a new window, and there's her teenage writings, opens a new window, but after that there really is no more.

Pride and Prejudice and ZombiesUn-less, that is, you make a foray into the weird and wonder-ful world of Austenesque and fan-girl novels. Our catalogue is just bulging at the seams with sequels and sidequels, spinoffs and knockoffs, re-writes and re-hashes. These spin-offs take Austen in every literary direction imaginable. Of course there are your regular, romantic, chick-lit books. Then there are zombie-monster-vampire, opens a new window stories, murder mysteries, opens a new window, modern retellings - even duckish picture books, opens a new window!

And, I was surprised to find, this is not a new phenomenon. Joan Aiken revisited Mansfield Park, opens a new window back in 1984. "Another Lady" (aka Marie Dobbs) completed Sanditon, opens a new window in 1975. And in 1926, Rudyard Kipling (I know! Kipling!?) wrote The Janeites, opens a new window.

You might think that I, being an Austen fan and all, would have read some of these books. But no. With some trepidation, I decided it was time to change that. I wasn't sure what to expect...could anything be as good as Austen?? Would they be...well --crappy??

Well, you won't know till you try, will you? So here is what I've been reading lately:

So I've rather enjoyed my trip into Austenland, after all!

It's Jane's 239th birthday today - she was born on 16 December 1775, so why not celebrate with an Austen-inspired read yourself? I've put together a list, opens a new window of some likely looking titles, and I'd love to know how you enjoy them!

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