Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Jane Austen Made Me Do It: "Heard of You" by Margaret C. Sullivan, "The Ghostwriter" by Elizabeth Aston, and "Mr. Bennet Meets His Match" by Amanda Grange

Today my daughter started preschool. Though I am feeling immense separation anxiety, the couple of days a week she will be so occupied gives me much needed time to catch up on my life, including pursuit of my Austen related interests. Therefore, I suddenly have the time to review more than one story from Jane Austen Made Me Do It at a time, and as I just completed three delightful stories in a row, all by writers I have long admired, I will address all three here. The first, "Heard of You" by Margaret C. Sullivan, whose book There Must be Murder (read my review here) is by far the best piece of Northanger Abbey Austenesque I have yet encountered, is a prequel to Persuasion, focused on how Admiral and Mrs. Croft met and fell in love. This was such a great notion for a story - recounting how one of the happiest married couples in Austen came together - while portraying Wentworth in his early days as a midshipman. I particularly appreciated how Ms. Sullivan captured Admiral Croft's (a mere Commander in our story) unique voice: "A fine day for sailing, is not it? And if we are lucky, the French wil stop skulking about and come out boldly to meet us, and then we shall have a fine battle." His joviality and enthusiasm for his profession are beautifully rendered. It is an endearing story which I highly recommend.

The next story is "The Ghostwriter" by Elizabeth Aston, author of the Mr. Darcy's Daughters series of books (excellent fun!), a tale which brings long deceased writers into the present to haunt failing writers and inspire them to greatness. In this case, one Miss Jane Austen appears before rabid Janeite Sara, whose obsession has destroyed her relationship. Miss Austen not only provides a much needed swift kick in the you know what, but also a heavy dose of reality. This is what she has to say on the subject of Mr. Darcy as an idealized man:
"I myself am Mr. Darcy. Had I been born male instead of female, and in affluent circumstances, I would have been just such a man: reserved, proud, and clever. And no doubt have made some women's life a misery. Put him out of your head, or at least leave him on the page where he belongs and, as you say today, get a life."
I love that! This story is very cute, and I adore the representation of Austen, but I do have two bones to pick with Ms. Aston. The first regards Sara, who perhaps did need to learn not to compare real men with Mr. Darcy, but she certainly did not need to settle for Charles, the so-called hero of our little tale. He is, quite frankly, an ass. I would also like to mention that if there was a locket floating around containing a lock of Jane Austen's hair, a pivotal item in this story, it would be worth far more than 5,000 pounds.

Finally I come to "Mr. Bennet Meets His Match" by Amanda Grange, the author of so many diaries by Austen heroes and, more recently, Mr. Wickham (in my TBR list). So often we dwell on the problems with the marriage between Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, while this story refreshingly considers the benefits of the match. Also a prequel, the tale reflects back on the pressures Mr. Bennet labored under when looking for a wife, creating a reasonable scenario for why he made the choice he did. The story echoes many of the episodes from Pride and Prejudice, particularly those enacted between Mrs. Bennet and her daughters and Mr. Collins unwelcome visit to Longbourn. I thought this series of musings from a Miss Jane Gardiner particularly poignant in the development of her latter character:
A large estate or a red coat? Happy were Jane's deliberations as the carriage took her home. Should she marry Captain Quentin or should she marry Mr. Bennet? In her mind's eye she saw both men proposing, and pictured herself, first as the wife of an officer, established in neat lodgings, and then as the wife of a landowner, established in Longbourn, the finest house in the neighborhood.

At that, the image began to fade. Much as he liked her - and she had not been mistaken, she was sure he did like her - and much as she liked him, he would never marry her. What, Jane Gardiner, daughter of a country attorney, to be the mistress of Longbourn? Such things only happened in fairy tales.
This story is definitely one of my favorites in the collection so far. It not only humanizes the Bennets, it also dwells on the very real difficulties an entail posed for a family. And as the entire thing is told in a tone worthy of Austen, I can say little more than an ardent "Brava" to Ms. Grange. It is my favorite thing I have ever read by her. 

Stay tuned for more reviews as I slowly make my way through this fabulous book, definitely the best collection of Austen inspired short stories I have come across. A hearty congratulations to Laurel Ann Nattress of Austenprose for compiling this treasure.


  1. So great to see you reviewing, friend! I've missed comparing notes with you! I hope your little one does well in preschool! I completely agree with your review, Ms. Sullivan's contribution was one of my most favorites in the collection!

    Thank you for the beautifully kind words you said on my blog!

  2. Thanks Meredith. It's good to be back. I need to remember how to be Alexa, not just Eliza's mom.

  3. Thank you for sharing your thoughtful reviews. I haven't gotten quite that far in yet, but I'm going to skip ahead and read "Mr. Bennet Meets His Match."

  4. You're welcome Ally. Happy reading!