14 March 2012

Jane Austen Fan Fiction: A Blogger Confession

Although I used the word "confessions," I don't actually feel guilty about reading books written as sequels or adaptations to novels written by one of the greatest female authors in literature.  That being said, these books are not up to literary scratch and certainly not intellectual novels for discussion at artsy fartsy cocktail parties.  JAFF is simple, usually predictable, hardly original, and thoroughly entertaining.  Typical reading time for an avid book reader would be 2, maybe 3 days if you're busy, and you won't be discussing themes and symbolism at your next book club gathering.

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 interesting book titled Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife at Borders and got really excited that people actually continued writing past the wedding of the Darcys.  For the most part, I enjoyed it... but what did I know?  I was 19, had never read erotic or romantic fiction,  and this was a story detailing my favorite characters from P&P plus it went into great detail when continuing the story lines of everyone, from Colonel Fitzwilliam to Mr. Wickham.  And Elizabeth Berdoll (the author) even incorporated a war, as well as servants, which is something Austen doesn't do in her novels.  But there was one major issue: the SEX.  Holy crap I'd never read anything so racy-- I liked it at first.  Thought it was controversial and interesting, but looking back on it, sex sullies the characters and name of Jane Austen.  I sound like such a prude.

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 Billington
The 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!

4 comments:

  1. Sooooo I have to admit that I've been tempted to buy those books a million times but I also fear it will sully the amazing pedestal I have JA on...I think graphic sex would do that for me, probably because I am a huge prude and I can't handle reading the sexy parts of the Sookie stackhouse books...let alone FF from Pride and Prejudice. I have however started (and still haven't gotten very far or read in a long time) Pride, Prejudice and Zombies. I need to make that at least happen! Long story short, thanks for helping my curiosity! XO Lori

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  2. It's funny you mention that-- I'm currently reading (and loving) "Weekend with Mr. Darcy" which is a modern day romance about the controversy behind Jane Austen fan fiction and literary snobbery, as well as a romance with... okay, there's a sex scene but it's not described, you just read a little about kissing and then "fade to black." That might be a great starting point for you. It's sweet and I like the characters (even though the women have a tendency to overreact).

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  3. Honored to be part of such a lovely list, Hodge Podge!

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    1. Well thanks for writing awesome books!

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