But JAFF sure is entertaining. If you love the romantic plots of Persuasion, Emma, and Pride and Prejudice-- the 3 main novels used as JAFF foundations, P&P being the headliner-- and want to either relive the story or find out what happens next, these are the books for you. As I said, Pride and Prejudice is the most popular adaptation, mainly because of Literature's sexiest leading man: Fitzwilliam Darcy. And there are TONS of novels about Darcy and the women who fantasize about him... those aren't always the greatest.
Then there's the JAFF that is all about the man's perspective: diaries of Mr. Knightley/ Mr. Darcy/ Captain Wentworth, letters from these men, or retellings of Austen's stories through their eyes. I've read a few of those books and they're pretty good.
My favorite are the sequels, the continuations of the romances and the various perspectives from authors (many of whom are Austen scholars) on where the story of Elizabeth and Darcy would lead. Though I enjoy a modern love story on film, I'm a sucker for period romance in books. I think it has something to do with the sexual tension created by not being able to touch the opposite sex unless dancing, not kissing until you're engaged and even then it's something to be done away from prying eyes. There was mystery and risk in loving during the 19th century. Like I said, these aren't the next "Great American" or "Great British" novels, but they're wonderfully entertaining and sweet.
However, you do get Romance/Erotic books masquerading as JAFF, and I've read one of those... actually that was my introduction to the genre. I found this
Don't misunderstand, the idea of sex in the 19th century is interesting because in the upper class (and the other classes too) the act happened behind closed doors and was NEVER talked about. I like when it's subtly addressed in JAFF, but to have it thrown in my face (for example, there's a scene where Mr. Darcy is performing oral sex on his new wife while riding in the carriage to Pemberly) is rather shocking and inappropriate given the overall tone of Austen's novels. And this isn't the only book of its kind either. Actually, I think I'm one of a few that doesn't enjoy the sex scenes in JAFF; so many women have Colin-Firth-as-Darcy sexual fantasies and these are outlets for them. Sex happens A LOT in the modern JAFF adaptations. If that's your thing, coolpants, it's just not mine. Funny story: I was so excited about Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife that I stupidly recommended it to my Austenite cousin (who happens to have a Bachelor's in English Lit) as her introduction to JAFF... yeah... needless to say she was polite about her critique but the sex didn't go over well. And I don't think she's read any more JAFF since-- oops! The lesson? When recommending ANYTHING, Know.Your.Audience.
Which brings me to my Top 10 Jane Austen Fan Fiction Reads! Here's a list of the novels I personally love and recommend if you too love the works of J.A.
1. A Match for Mary Bennett by Eucharista Ward
I have talked about/ recommended this book before and I will always stand by it. It's romantic in the Jane Austen sense, I LOVE reading a story from Mary's perspective and watching her change yet maintain her principles, and the language is similar to Austen's which gives the book an authentic feel. I've read it 3 times and plan on picking it up again... like tonight.
2. Sanditon by Jane Austen and "Another Lady"
This is the final, incomplete seventh novel, finished by an anonymous woman who very clearly knows her Jane Austen. It's a lovely story with another classic heroine, and I have a feeling Jane Austen herself would approve.
3. Mr. Darcy's Daughters series by Elizabeth Aston
This is a 6 book series chronicling the "exploits and adventures" of the Darcys' five grown daughters (their 2 sons are young and away at school during the series-- don't worry, the Darcy name will carry on!). Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam are hardly in the books which I kind of love. The daughters are wonderfully entertaining and the books are full of interesting recurring side characters, not to mention there's always a romantic escapade. I also read Aston's modern JAFF book Writing Jane Austen-- about a writer who has to finish a newly discovered Austen manuscript and has never read one of her books (gasp!)-- and thoroughly enjoyed that book as well.
4. Fitzwilliam Darcy: Gentleman trilogy by Pamela Aiden
The books are An Assembly Such As This, Duty and Desire, and These Three Remain. The trilogy is a detailed retelling of P&P through the eyes of Darcy-- he basically tells the story. I loved reading the romance through a man's perspective.
5. Pemberly Manor by Kathryn L. Nelson
A sequel to P&P that takes place right after the weddings of Jane and Elizabeth, how they cope with married life, life with Caroline, finding men for their younger sisters, and the pressures of producing an heir. It's certainly more dramatic and there were a few subplots I wasn't crazy about, but I loved the writing, tone, and one of my favorite quotations comes from this book:
"As much as I regret that you have chosen a path of unhappiness for yourself, I choose to be happy, and you have no power to change that."
6. Captain Wentworth's Diary by Amanda Grange
Persuasion is my favorite Jane Austen novel so how could I not love reading Wentworth's diary about his love for Anne?!
7. The Other Mr. Darcy by Monica Fairview
Caroline Bingley is the heroine in this novel... wait, what? It's true, this book is all about Miss Bingley finally finding love, and I have to say, I'm a sucker for character redemption. Definitely worth a read... and RE-read since I just finished her two books again!
8. The Darcy Cousins (sequel to #7) by Monica Fairview
The story continues...
9. Old Friends and New Fancies by Sybil G. Brinton
This is an especially interesting JAFF book because it intertwines many of the main characters from all 6 of Austen's novels; after all, many of them run in the same social circles. There's matchmaking, romance, unrequited love, and a couple villains to keep you entertained. The best part? It was written in 1913!! We Austenites have been around for AGES!
10. Emma & Knightley by Rachel BillingtonThe story takes place one year after Emma and Knightley are married and the matchmaking exploits that happen.
I find it interesting that there's not a lot of JAFF written for Sense and Sensibility, another favorite of mine. Also, I haven't found anything for Northanger Abbey (not a surprise), but I did find something for Mansfield Park. It's a murder mystery in which Fanny Price becomes a horrible bitch "lady of the manor" and is thus found murdered on the grounds... crazy! Haven't read it yet but it's for the immediate future-- I'll let you know what I think.
So that's my confession: I love Jane Austen Fan Fiction. If you look hard enough, read reviews, and take the time to skim the books in the bookstore, you can find some wonderful homages to the great Jane Austen. Happy reading!