Just yesterday, I overheard a marvelous expression to describe reading for the fun of it. One of the rising seniors asked her friend if the book she had in her bag was for “joy reading.” What a wonderful phrase! The word joy is one of my favorites. The Concise Oxford English Dictionary offers this definition, “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.”
Indeed, reading provides great pleasure and happiness to many people. I always carry a book with me, and one author who tops my joy reading list is Jane Austen. I love Jane. In college, I took an entire course devoted to her life and literary works and I even joined the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA). Every so often, I feel compelled to revisit one of her genteel early nineteenth century villages and immerse myself in the romantic adventures of her heroines. My most beloved Austen novels are Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. Catherine Morland, with her good-natured innocence and wild imagination, is utterly endearing and Anne Elliot’s Captain Wentworth is the ideal suitor.
Not only are Jane Austen’s timeless novels still popular today, they have also inspired many contemporary novelists to write imaginary sequels to her works or even stories featuring Jane herself. Stephanie Barron has authored a series of Jane Austen Mysteries. Can you imagine Jane as a Regency era Nancy Drew? If you search Amazon.com or GoodReads, doubtless you’ll come up with a long list of Austen-inspired titles. Here are my thoughts on some of the Austen-related books I have read:
Old Friends and New Fancies by Sybil G. Brinton
Written in 1913, this delightful imaginary sequel" to Jane Austen's novels weaves the characters from all six books together. They interact, befriend each other and fall in love in Bath, in London and at Pemberley. The first of its kind, this novel successfully unites all six of Austen’s original works into a seamless tale of new friendships and unexpected romantic attachments.
I Was Jane Austen’s Best Friend by Cora Harrison
This young adult novel opens with Jane and her cousin Jenny Cooper languishing away at a horrible boarding school. Jane has fallen seriously ill and Jenny makes a dangerous nighttime trip into the streets of the city to dispatch a letter to Jane's mother. Thus begins a series of events that brings the girls back to Steventon and results in a fortuitous romantic attachment for one of the characters. Cora Harrison's characterization of a teenaged Jane, Mrs. Austen and Jane's older sister Cassandra is both realistic and entertaining. Cousin Jenny is also an appealing character. When I finished the book, I was curious to learn more about Jane's real-life cousin upon whom Jenny Cooper is based.
Pemberley by Emma Tennant
Emma Tennant, who is the half sister of a descendent of the Austen family, successfully imitates Austen’s writing style and revisits many of the same issues raised in Pride and Prejudice in this sequel. In the first year of their marriage, Elizabeth has had to adjust to her role as the mistress of Darcy’s imposing estate. She is also plagued by worries that they will never have a child. If they do not have a son, the estate may be entailed to a male cousin. Elizabeth and her sister Jane, now Mrs. Bingley, remain close confidantes. The widowed Mrs. Bennett is still in search of a suitable husband, this time for herself, and the Bennett family’s lack of social sophistication remains a point of contention. When their relations converge upon their peaceful home at Christmastime, Elizabeth and her beloved husband once again struggle against the forces of pride and prejudice as rumors and gossip lead to misunderstanding. Every devoted Jane Austen fan will enjoy reading this charming sequel to her most popular book.
The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen by Syrie James
In this fictional memoir, Jane Austen reflects on her secret romance with the genteel Mr. Ashford. Many of the scenes are reminiscent of events in Austen's novels. The character of Jane is well-drawn and appealing, as is Cassandra. Syrie James also portrays the dire financial circumstances of the Austen mother and daughters upon the death of Mr. Austen in a poignant manner. This is my favorite Austen-inspired contemporary novel to date.
I wonder if the romantic comedies of today's popular authors like Sophie Kinsella, Katie Fforde and Jennifer Weiner will stand the test of time and appear on joy reading lists two hundred years from now.
Mrs. Linda L. Walkins
Friday June, 3, 2011 at 01:25PM