Dancing With Mr. Darcy is a fabulous book. A book reviewer isn’t supposed to reveal an opinion right away, but I have many reasons for liking this compilation, which began as a short story competition in 2009 sponsored by Chawton House Library to celebrate the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s arrival in the Hampshire village of Chawton. This was a momentous occasion in Jane’s life, for she would enjoy her most productive years there.
Dancing with Mr. Darcy is great for bed time reading.
When my head hits the pillow, I can stay awake for 20 minutes at the most. That’s just the right amount of time to savor one of these stories, which is between 2,000-2,500 words in length, reflect upon it, and turn off the light. The book will remain on your bedstand for at least 20 nights if you stick to this schedule. But here’s the kicker: It’s hard to put down.
The stories are truly original.
The inspiration for these stories was taken from any theme in Jane Austen’s novels, like a character or single sentence. Authors could also draw upon Chawton House, an Elizabethan mansion, as their muse. Whatever they decided, they were encouraged to get their creative juices flowing. And were they ever!
The book opens with a story inspired by Chawton and a dead Jane Austen crossing the River Styx . She is accused in a Higher Court by the older female characters she created for wilfully portraying them as manipulative harpies and scolds. I wondered how author Victoria Owen would resolve this curious plot, but it ended beautifully and logically. Another story that drew my attention was Felicity Cowie’s ‘One Character in Search of Her Love Story Role‘, in which the central charcter, Hannah Peel, a contemporary heroine, finds her voice by interacting with classic literary heroines, including Jane Bennet and Jane Eyre.
Fresh voices are given an opportunity to shine.
Unknown authors do not often get to compete in a public forum for an opportunity to have their work published with the backing of a prestigious institution. I read the short biographies at the end of the book, and while many of the authors took creative writing or majored in English, some are still students, one lives on a farm, another is a book reviewer, several are scholars, another is a math and science teacher, and yet another was educated to be a lady. With such a variety of backgrounds, it is no wonder that the stories are not clichéd.
Many of the tales had contemporary settings, and there were times that I had to puzzle out just what their connection was to Jane Austen or Chawton house. Like all compilations, I preferred some stories over others, such as Kelly Brendel’s Somewhere, inspired by a passage in Mansfield Park, and Eight Years Later, which is Elaine Grotefeld’s take of love lost and found again in the mode of Persuasion.
Jane Austen would have approved.
The variety of the stories, and their excellence and fresh approach to the Austenesque genre makes this book stand out from the pack. Jane Austen would have approved of their original plots, their intelligent writing, and the variety of ideas that sprang from the original impetus. These twenty stories were selected from 300 submissions, and one can only imagine how many good stories barely missed the cut.
In a different way, I found this compilation equally as thrilling as A Truth Universally Acknowledged, edited by Susannah Carson, a book of critical insights by famous authors about Jane Austen that I adored and reviewed late last year. Stories that are judged, weighted, or juried tend to have an edginess and contemporary bite that attract me.
In this instance, the stories were judged by a Chair judge, Sarah Waters, the author of Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith, and a panel of judges: BBC journalist Lindsay Ashford; author Mary Hammond; Rebecca Smith (five-times great niece of Jane Austen, descended through her brother Frances); and freelance editor Janet Thomas.
The book is available today at your local or online bookseller. Run, don’t walk to obtain your own copy. I give it three out of three Regency fans and then some.