…”and laugh at them in our turn?”

It occurs to me – or rather it was just now shoved up through my subconscious, which is snickering madly at the idea of my setting up as a pop-cult snob – that the cult surrounding Jane Austen is in a lot of ways the hi-brow equivalent of the whole pretty pink tween experience. Granted, there’s a lot more snark and a lot fewer ballads, but when you look more closely, what both come down to is the cute.
The bright and sparkly fun and excitement of femininity unleashed. Playing with love, calling yourself empowered without having to deal with the unpleasant consequences. Also, as the clincher…shiny wet semitopless Darcy.

I rather suspect the real Jane would’ve viewed some of her more dedicated admirers with a distinctly sardonic eye.

That feeling extends to my current reading material, Darcy’s Story by Jane Aylmer. I tend to avoid the modern-day ‘sequels’ as a rule, just because they strike me as so wholly unnecessary, but the idea of Pride & Prejudice rewritten from the perspective of its most interesting character (sorry, Lizzy) was too delicious to resist.
As it turns out, I’ve really gotta work on my resisting skills. I will start by stiffening my resolve immediately I see the words ‘Austen enthusiast’ anywhere in the author’s bio. Because of course the POV turns out to be that of the Darcy of modern myth, the Colin Firth version, constantly brooding from across the room. Oooh, whatever could he be thinking?

…the trouble being, as anyone who’s honestly familiar with the book will realise instanter, that interesting does not automatically = mysterious. Mrs. Bennet-esque blithering on the dustjacket aside, Darcy really isn’t that much of an enigma after all; no more his author intended him to be. She named his major motivation in the title, for cripes sake. He summarises them to the midway mark in the big proposal scene, and goes into a two-page speech on the subject at the windup just to ram the point home.

Meanwhile the moderately-alert reader is generally able to make a decent guess as to what’s passing through his head at any given moment: He doesn’t like Elizabeth. Then he likes her. Then he proposes to her. Then he’s obviously struggling to make it up to her…etc, etc.
That’s what this book is: that decent guess. There are I’m sure any number of lovely dashing stories that could be told about Darcy, even woven around deep examination of his motives, but that’s no more the focus here than it is at any given moment in Zac & Vanessa’s (sorry, Troy & Gabriella’s) relationship.

So the original plot is reproduced down to big chunks of dialogue, with ‘Darcy thought/said  _________’ tacked on at the end. This is not, exactly, riotously fascinating. Save for some pleasant domestic scenes that nicely ground all the romantic speechifying at the end, even the most average Austen fan – ie. pretty much the entire target demographic – will probably find their own fantasies on the subject much more involving, not to say fulfilling.

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From the ridiculous to the sublime…

The current audiobook is Jane and the Stillroom Maid, one of the series by Stephanie Barron and read by Kate Reading, and it comes highly recommended indeed.

I’m not ordinarily a huge fan of novelists that use real historical figures. Even if the author is skilled enough – which is very skilled indeed – to incorporate fact into fiction without coming off as annoyingly arch, their affection inevitably starts to come off as blatant hero-worship, what I believe is known these days as a Canon Sue. (As happens to Bruce Alexander’s Sir John Fielding series after awhile, although the first three or four, before Jeremy becomes fairly convinced that his boss is God or the closest earthly equivalent, are still very readable.)

Barron’s Jane Austen pastiches, though, have managed to hold off the pitfalls admirably thus far – given her subject, even extraordinarily. Credit is due to any author who can sketch out a star-crossed romance between Austen and an aristocratic secret agent without giving the reader cause to believe the lady herself would laugh it out of court. More