Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Jane Austen Made Me Do It: "Jane Austen, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!" by Janet Mullany and "Letters to Lydia" by Maya Slater

Two more Jane Austen Made Me Do It reviews, both by well-established Austen writers. The two stories looked at side by side reveal the extraordinary diversity of this collection, edited by Laurel Ann Nattress of Austenprose. The first, "Jane Austen, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!" by Janet Mullany (author of the awesome vampirization of our beloved Miss Austen, Jane and the Damned), reflects on the enduring nature of Austen's appeal. Set in an all girls high school in the early 1960s, Julie Morton, the young Latin teacher, finds the satisfaction her job and personal life has previously lacked while monitoring detention. The three girls she oversees got in trouble for telling "Mrs. Henderson what we thought of Sense and Sensibility". Julie begins questioning them about the story, using their feelings for The Beatles to make Austen's work accessible. The story captures the sensations of a time of great cultural changes, both showing how the appeal of great art, like Austen (and The Beatles), is timeless, while also provoking the reader to dwell on the nature of popular phenomenon. In this sense, it is a thoroughly modern tale that Ms. Mullany presents, despite the fact that its topic is rooted in the past. It strikes me as one of the most literary contributions to this collection.

What a contrast to the next story! "Letters to Lydia" by Maya Slater (author of The Private Life of Mr. Darcy) is a traditional Austenesque undertaking, an epistolary collection from the pen of Maria Lucas which presents a very different perspective on the events of Pride and Prejudice. The tale begins with letters from Maria while she stays at Hunsford to Lydia Bennet, the focal subject of the correspondence being the young ladies' assumptions regarding a clandestine relationship between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. The story continues through Lydia's elopement and marriage, offering explanations as to how Lady Catherine learned of Elizabeth and Darcy's potential union and hinting at Wickham's motivations when he seduced Lydia. The story is very well executed, providing precisely the kind of cathartic extras that drive Janeites to consume JAFF. It is exactly the kind of story that I hoped for in this collection. 

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