Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Jane Austen Made Me Do It: "What Would Austen Do?" by Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway

I'm skipping over a couple of stories in Jane Austen Made Me Do It which I intend to review because I just finished "What Would Austen Do?" by Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway and am "all alive", as Lady Bertram might say, with the story. This tale was a very unexpected pleasure as I found the authoresses' novel, Lady Vernon and her Daughter (read my review, one of the first I ever wrote, here), extremely frustrating, and because the first paragraph seemed particularly unpromising. How wrong I was! I loved this depiction of teenage rebellion being channeled trough Jane Austen, even though it was almost as fantastic as the vampire, werewolf, and zombie stories it mocks. It was a decidedly fun tale, and I wish it was far longer than a short story.

James Austen is definitely a character I could have followed for a few hundred pages. Ordered by his Janeite mother to spend his summer constructively, he accidentally signs up for an English country dance seminar. His interest in Jane Austen explodes and instead of spending the summer months conforming to one of the dominant cliches at school, each determined to be real-life incarnations of their favorite monsters, he transforms himself into the modern parody of Mr. Darcy. When the story begins, James' parents have been called into the principals office, for such unaccountabel behavior as their son has displayed requires explanation:

"For example - the way he's been coming to school. His attire," Mr. Oakes said.

"His attire?" Mom could go the full Lady Catherine de Bourgh in three syllables flat.

Taptaptaptaptap. "I know we don't have a dress code - per se - but don't you think the way he's dressing - every day a button-down shirt, slacks. A, um, yie?"

And Mom goes, "In the hall, I saw two kids with their incisors capped with fangs, a half dozen girls with Kabuki makeup and black lipstick, and someone of indeterminate gender who was sporting a tail."...

M. Oakes sighed. "And it's his language."

"His language?"

"It's not just the 'please' and 'thank you' and "i beg your pardon' and -"

"Excuse me?"

"That too. Not just what he says, Mrs. Austen, it's the way he says it. His teachers tell me when he's called on, he stands up. He holds doors open for them. He's gotten extremely..."

"'Well behaved, polite, and unassuming?'"

This story is a Janeites daydream of the perfect teenage son, rebelling by taking to heart the lessons of Austen, making others feel good by following the dictates of polite society, and finding success with the ladies by being the perfect gentleman. It is by far one of the best modern-set, Austen-themed tales I have ever read. My prejudices against the authoresses are entire undone.


  1. I also loved this story and found it a delightful surprise. As a major fan of their novel 'Lady Vernon and Her Daughter' which I found to be the most authentic in tone to Austen's style (and full confession - I went to the Morgan in 2010 where I saw mother and daughter speak) I was amazed at their ability to shift styles from the more refined 19th century prose to a modern day teen in the first person.
    I do think there were a few other very interesting tales in the book and rather liked Amanda Grange's story. It was one of the others that I thought might have enough 'idea' for a book.
    Ingrid D
    (What? Is there no Yahoo sign-in?)

    1. Hi Ingrid. Is there indeed no Yahoo sign in? Quite strange. Sorry about that.

      My issues with Lady Vernon and Her Daughter entirely stem from an inflexible love of the original story and dismay at how far the authoresses strayed from it. These criticisms have nothing to do with their talent. This story was fabulous, as was Ms. Grange's contribution (which I also reviewed, read it here: http://alexaadams.blogspot.com/2012/01/jane-austen-made-me-do-it-heard-of-you.html).

      Thanks for your comment!

  2. In total agreement with Ingrid D. In an interview the authors talked about the conversion of Elinor & Marianne to what we know to be Sense & Sensibility and how Lady Susan was more like 18th century writing than Janes 19th century novels. I got what the author was saying - may be an arguable point but what they said was all very grounded in Austen and showed that what they did was grounded in a very strong knowledge of Austen. As someone who is okay with sequels and adapttions but not a big fan of fan fiction i appreciated it.
    As for What Would Austen Do i thought it was hysterical. When i got the book i expected that they would do something Regency. Surprise! I would say on rereading the book i liked about half the stories which makes it a better find than most anthologies

    1. Hi Luci. I guess ive sparked a bit of controversy. I have read the authoresses' defense of their novel, and do not question their knowledge of Austen, but Jane explicitly made Lady Susan a villain, and any redemption of her, regardless of whether it makes her more akin to the characters Austen created later in life, kind of infuriates me. I want her to be a conniving, scandalous creature. Anything else will not satisfy me, but we are certainly intitled to our own opinions. I look forward to reading Helen Baker's take on Lady Susan, as I understand it to be more in keeping with the original tale. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!