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Jane Austen Made Me Do It    by Laurel Ann Nattress order for
Jane Austen Made Me Do It
by Laurel Ann Nattress
Order:  USA  Can
Balzer & Bray, 2011 (2011)
Softcover, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

I admit it: I'm a Jane Austen snob. I love the original works, and have always looked down my nose at all the stories and books that have been written using Austen's characters or, worse yet, Austen and her family as protagonists. However, a delightful book of short fiction with the interesting title Jane Austen Made Me Do It has changed my mind. The authors of the stories in this collection all love Austen as much as I do, but they have been inspired by that love to write continuations of her novels or mysteries using Jane or her characters as the clever people who solve crimes. They've written prequels, sequels, and lovely little tales that are simply about people whose lives are changed because of their love for Jane.

Some of them are a bit too romantic for my taste, it's true, but more of them are fun to read, especially the last one, Intolerable Stupidity. This caboose story of the collection presents a rebuttal to those stuffy literary snobs like me who think that there's something wrong with taking liberties with Austen's plots or, heaven forbid, her life. A lawsuit has been brought by the characters of the novels against those authors who have dared to change them or give new information about them that Jane never intended. Darcy is depicted as a constantly changing, but terribly handsome, masculine creature, who is swooned over by the crowds of ladies who are in the courtroom to observe the trial. His appearance changes to match the various actors who have played him in movies, and he claims that he is constantly dripping wet and chilled because of a scene in one of the movies where he took a swim in the lake at Pemberley, emerging just as Miss Elizabeth Bennet was visiting. Women throw water at him regardless of where he is, even blasting him with a water gun in the courtroom. You'll have to read the story to find out how it ends and how it changed my mind.

I also loved two of the stories that take place in present-day schools. Jane Austen, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah tells us about a young teacher who realizes how much she enjoys teaching when she finds herself having to stay late on a Friday to monitor three students who have been given detention. She starts a discussion of an Austen book with them, sparking an interest in these intelligent girls that was lacking before. The other story that takes place in a school, What Would Austen Do?, is about a young teenage boy whose mother is such a strong Janeite that she has been quoting bits from Jane's books to him for his entire life. He finds himself in an interesting situation with a new girl in town when he signs up for Country Dance for Beginners, a class at the community center which he takes during the summer before high school. I started both of these stories grumbling and finished them laughing in delight.

I have decided that Jane Austen would be amazed and possibly humbled at how popular she has become these days, and she wouldn't mind one bit that sometimes her books are even changed horribly to include vampires and sea monsters. I think she would think the whole thing was terribly amusing and wonderful, although she might resent, just a tiny bit, how much other people have earned from their takes on her books when she made so little. She's wildly popular now, and some of that fame probably comes from the books, stories, and movies that she inspired, such as this collection.

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