I used to keep my Austenesque books in a drawer, but after I won a few giveaways, they suddenly no longer fit. So then I stacked them on the top of a bookcase, spines facing towards the wall. That worked until the pile reached the ceiling. I’d intercept the packages marked “media rate” before my husband came home. I’d use my e-reader with the cover tilted up to ward off my neighbor’s curious glances.
You see, I was a closet Austenesque fan. To the world, I was a purist, but it was becoming too hard to keep up the pretense, between the giveaways coming in the mail, the library calling to say the Austen sequel I asked them to buy was in, my pink cheeks whenever someone asked me what I was reading.
For years, I thought Austen wasn’t for me. I’m an avid reader, and if there was a classic that you had to read, I probably read it because I wanted to. And I probably liked it. I even have a fondness for British authors. But when I tried to readEmma in high school, I hated it. Or, more to the point, I hated her. Miss Emma Woodhouse was spoiled, meddlesome and I never finished the book.
“That’s all right,” I thought. “I’ll stick with the Bronte sisters, with Dickens, Verne, Stevenson. Plenty of 19th century British authors in the sea!”
And then, my husband, a closet romantic if there ever was one, wanted to see the 2005 Pride and Prejudicemovie. Well, I was not about to see a movie based on a book without reading the book! So I checked it out from the library. And I fell in love. Head over heels, all-consuming love! I adored the dialogue between Darcy and Elizabeth, I loved Austen’s humor, her clever wit, the romantic ending for two flawed characters who become better people and then find true happiness together.
I read Austen’s other works; Pride and Prejudice will always be my favorite, followed by Persuasion. I’ll never like Emma Woodhouse, but I appreciated her more at 24 than at 14. But what else was there? I read literary criticisms, joined JASNA, and I own multiple copies of my favorites just for their unique introductions and annotations. What else is there for the fan of an author who has been dead for nearly 200 years?
Full disclosure: My husband once had to drag me from a bookstore while I was ranting and raving about Austen reimaginings. Wait! Let me explain: I wanted a particular edition of P&P. Not only did this national chain not have my edition, but there was no edition in stock. None. There was a rumpled Northanger Abbey and Persuasion paperback and at least 3 copies of S&S. So I was irritated. Then I turned a corner and what do I see, but 2 shelves of sequels and retellings, with the name Darcy in every title, and a sultry woman in regency dress on each cover. And I snapped. Not my finest moment, I admit. So, you see, I was not predisposed to become an Austenesque fan.
And then, while working the desk at the library, a patron told me she had enjoyed Jane Eyre and were there other authors who continued her story? “Well, there’s the Wide Sargasso Sea that tells the story of Bertha Mason … but, umm,” I floundered. I had no idea if the concept was a popular one. I had to know: did anyone write a continuation about Darcy and Elizabeth’s life at Pemberley?
When more discerning eyes weren’t watching, I typed ‘Darcy, Fitzwilliam fictitious character’ into the catalog’s subject field. In 2007, there were not nearly as many titles as there are today, but I was surprised to see how many were available. I skipped over the modern ones and those with more provocative cover art and chose from what was left: a trilogy of three books by Pamela Aidan that retold Pride and Prejudice from Darcy’s perspective. I requested the first one and devoured it. That night, I requested the second one. Then, horror of horrors, the library didn’t own the final book! Waiting a week for a copy from a neighboring library was nerve-racking, even though I knew how it ended.
Amanda Grange, Abigail Reynolds, and Sharon Lathan regencies followed, and of course there was no way to avoid the vampyres and zombies. When my husband noticed a book I had foolishly left out in the open, he teased me for reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. “They’ll revoke your JASNA membership for that.” I gave a shaky laugh and decided to be more careful about where I left my books. Pretty soon I had read most of the available books in our library system.
Foolish me, for thinking those few books were the end of Austen retellings and sequels! Last summer, in that serendipitous way of blogs, someone had a link that directed me to Austenesque Reviews and Austenesque Extravaganza!
Oh. My. Goodness. Pages and pages of reviews of Austen fan fiction, links to authors’ websites and blogs, and what is this? Giveaways! Through Meredith’s site and last year’s Extravaganza, I discovered a rich world full of people who cherish Jane Austen, her novels, and the world that she lived in. It made me realize that I was hardly alone in my appreciation of Austenesque books. There were others who also loved retellings through Darcy’s eyes, mysteries solved by Jane Austen, what if variations, and on and on.
So I no longer hide my Austenesque books and pretend that I’m a Jane purist. I love participating in a large community who find as much enjoyment from the expanding world that Austen created as I do. I think Jane would tell me that the person who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid; so instead of limiting myself to her 6 novels, I’ll happily read whatever good Austen paraliterature novel I can find.
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