Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Source: Review Copy from Publisher
OVERVIEW: This is the third collection of winning entries from the Jane Austen Short Story Competition hosted by Chawton House Library. The first two collections are Dancing with Mr. Darcy (2010) and Wooing Mr. Wickham (2011). All three collections include an introduction, foreward, and biographies of each contributor and editor. Each collection contains twenty short stories, and the stories in this collection are inspired by minor characters and Jane Austen’s lesser known works, to my pleasure and delight! The stories range from five to nine pages in length and are about an equal mixture of Regency and modern-day settings. These vignettes range from sequels, prequels, and alternate point-of-view scenes to contemporary retellings and abstract reinterpretations.
MY READING EXPERIENCE:
I enjoyed this lovely anthology over the course of four days, reading about four to six stories in each sitting. If I were to judge each individual story on a 1-5 star rating scale, my average rating would total out 4.05 stars with five stories earning 5 stars, six stories earning 4.5 stars, two stories earning 4 stars, two stories earning 3.5 stars, three stories earning 3 stars, and only 2 stories earning 2.5 stars.
I greatly enjoyed this diverse collection of Austen-inspired stories and I’m so glad the Chawton House Library continues to hold the Jane Austen Short Story Competition. Back in 2010 I read and reviewed Dancing with Mr. Darcy and took pleasure in the creativity and merit I found in many of the stories. I was thrilled that this anthology focused a spotlight on some minor characters and equally impressed that some authors found their inspiration in some unlikely characters such as Mrs. Clay’s daughter, Mary Price, Frederica Vernon, and Nurse Rooke.
I loved the digital style of retelling Lady Susan found in “The Wedding Planner.” This clever and modern retelling was fully comprised of communication via email, instagram, text, twitter, and phone calls – it was brilliant and skillfully executed. I also enjoyed revisiting an unhappy and bitter Mary Crawford in “Mary Crawford’s Last Letter” and a hopeful yet high-handed Willoughby in “A Thing of Beauty.” Both stories accurately illustrate the regret these characters experience and reveal how their hearts truly were touched long ago. In addition, I admired “The Austen Factor” and “Romance and Rehydration,” which were inventive little tales that showed us a modern-day Mary Bennet about to audition for a television music competition and an older and wiser Lydia Wickham returning to the field of dating.
The small group of stories that didn’t float my boat were either a little too obscure in their connection to Jane Austen or too brief. Some stories felt the need of more resolution and explanation. Moreover, I was a little sad to not see one story inspired by Emma. But I understand how that wasn’t something the editors could control, these stories were the top twenty carefully culled from all the entries submitted.
Looking for little snapshots and vignettes of Austen-inspired tales to enjoy? This charming compilation would definitely be one of my recommendations! Beguiling Miss Bennet offers diversity and originality while presenting an astute and contemplative variety of homages for Jane Austen and her characters, both big and small. I sincerely hope Chawton House Library continues to hold these competitions and Honno Press publishes more anthologies!