Dancing with Mr. Darcy is a compilation of 20 of the best stories inspired by Jane Austen and Chawton House in particular. The anthology was created from the winning entries in the Jane Austen Short Story Award 2009, a celebration of the bicentenary of Austen’s arrival into the village of Chawton.
An all star cast of judges sat for the competition including Sarah Waters (Tipping the Velvet), Lindsay Ashford (Strange Blood), Mary Hammond (senior lecturer or 19th Century Literature at the University of Southampton), Rebecca Smith (five-times great niece of Jane Austen and teaching fellow at Southampton University) and Janet Thomas (Freelance editor for Honno).
With all this leading up the book, you can bet my sights were set high. Sadly, I was let down. I can count on my hand the number of stories I would recommend to a friend from this compilation. The rest were filler.
Five stars go to the following:
Jayne by Kirsty Mitchell
A gritty, realistic take on the sad fact that women were forced to focus on money for happiness in their lives during Austen’s time. Mitchell uses a modern occupation, a nude model, working her way through college by supporting herself. After answering a typical profile question in an intelligent manner, she realizes her professional mistake:
‘A woman especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can.’
She pats herself on the back for remembering the quote from Northanger Abbey fully.
Tears Fall on Orkney by Nancy Saunders
The narrator is simply ‘I’ and the entire story is written in somewhat of a letter-like fashion. Immediately you feel as though the story is less of a story and more of a personal conversation between you and the speaker.
‘I’ is writing to Jane Austen, and though the setting is modern, you can see that the writer is using this letter style as a cathartic method to move past unrequited love. A topic Austen has written a few paragraphs about.
This story worked for me, and probably will for others, because I think that we’ve all been there. Saunders scenes and descriptions are sparse yet intense enough to feel ‘I’s’ heart twisting and the sense the indifference from the one ‘I’ longs to be with.
Marianne and Ellie by Beth Cordingly
By the title you’ve probably deduced that this short story is a modern take on the interaction between the sisters in Sense and Sensibility. Bravo! Marianne, an actress who was just left by her actor boyfriend, is being comforted by Ellie
‘I am twenty-eight years old,’ she announced solemnly, ‘and I was thinking… if I were to meet myself when I was eighteen, say in the street or café, what would she think of me?’
Ellie listens to her rambling, her tears and stays with her at her apartment while she lets it all out, but hides her own relationship problems at the same time.
As female readers of Austen’s work, we are always provoked in to saying we are a Marianne or an Elinor, but I think deep down we embody both in some aspect. I love that Austen brought that into the light for us to reflect upon and I love when others show their take on it.
3 out of 5 stars for Dancing with Mr. Darcy.
On a side note, there was nothing about Mr. Darcy in the entirety of this book.
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