There comes a time when you have devoured every novel that Jane Austen wrote – and even the ones, like The Watsons, which she only started to write and left unfinished. After the unsettling epiphany that you will never again encounter a new Jane Austen novel, you may enter a period of obsessive re-reading, which can last a lifetime. The corners of your personal copies of Austen’s books become dog-eared and worn. You pick favorites from her romantic heroes (Darcy or Captain Wentworth?), and from her deliciously irritating secondary characters. You approach with suspicion every new film adaptation, noting to long-suffering friends which details stray from the original — but singing the praises of BBC’s much-beloved Pride and Prejudice. (Whether we love this particular adaptation because it is so true to the spirit of the novel, or because it provides a generous four hours of Austen escapism, is an open question.) Eventually, you feel like an Austen expert, and begin to wonder — would it have been so bad for Mansfield Park‘s Fanny to have accepted Henry’s proposal? Why didn’t pompous Mr. Collins make a play for the bookish Bennet sister, Mary? But at this point, you are second guessing the master, and are in dangerous territory. Better to just pick up whichever Austen novel you haven’t yet memorized (Northanger Abbey, probably) and begin it again.
Unless… a few kind publishers take pity on you, and provide some variety in a seemingly endless series of Jane Austen knock-offs. Which is exactly what has happened, with a flood, over the past several years, of Austen continuations and revisitations. Many novels have borrowed the framework of an Austen classic (think about Bridget Jones’ Diary, for instance, and its similarities to Pride and Prejudice). But this new breed of Austen knockoffs wear their origins proudly in their titles — from Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Luckily, many of these books are available from the Sunnyvale Public Library. So you’ll have something to keep you busy while your battered copy of Mansfield Park is at the bindery.
Austen continuations: And then what happened?
Authors pick up the threads of Pride and Prejudice.
Publishers Weekly described this sequel to Pride and Prejudice as “surprisingly steamy.” The story picks up directly after the marriage of Elizabeth and Darcy.
See also Mr. Darcy takes a wife: pride and prejudice continues, by Linda Berdoll.
The Darcy connection : a novel, by Elizabeth Aston
Aston has written six Pride and Prejudice continuations, following up with secondary characters and exploring branches and twigs on the Darcy family tree. In The Darcy Connection, one of her latest, readers are treated to a plot that may sound familiar: two sisters, one more pretty and one more clever, are seeking husbands. No surprise that our clever heroine is named Eliza, and is Elizabeth’s god daughter. Their mother is Charlotte, who made a practical match with Elizabeth’s cousin, Mr. Collins.
Bebris has written a series of mysteries that bring Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy into contact with other Austen characters. In one book, for instance, Mansfield Park’s Henry Crawford has been murdered, and it’s up to the Darcys to find his killer. In Suspense and Sensibility, a cousin of the Dashwood family (from Sense and Sensibility) is in trouble.
The independence of Miss Mary Bennet, by Colleen McCullough
McCullough, best known as the author of the romantic drama The Thorn Birds, brings a darker touch to the world of Jane Austen knock-offs. In her continuation of the Bennets’ story, pious and pedantic sister Mary is grown-up, a budding feminist, and off on an adventure where Mr. Darcy is one of the bad guys.
Re-imaginings: a Man’s Eye View
Many of the titles in this vein purport to give us diaries from Austen’s leading men.
Captain Wentworth’s diary, by Amanda Grange
Readers spend much of Persuasion wondering, along with the heroine, what Captain Wentworth was thinking. Now, we can find out.
See also The private diary of Mr. Darcy : a novel / by Maya Slater, and Mr. Knightley’s diary, by Amanda Grange
Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman, Bks 1-3, by Pamela Aidan
This series, originally self-published, essentially retells Pride and Prejudice through Darcy’s eyes. Book two, Duty and Desire, imagines Darcy during the months when he is absent from Elizabeth Bennet’s narrative.
The Lady Herself: Jane Austen as Character
Forget her characters — some readers want to spend time with Jane herself.
The lost memoirs of Jane Austen, by Syrie James
Jane Austen meets a man she finds inspiring.
The ninth and most recent in Barron’s series of mysteries with Jane Austen for a sleuth. The series begins with Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor. In addition to giving us Jane as a character, Publishers Weekly says that Barron ” artfully replicates Austen’s voice.”
Modern Times and Strange Times
Time travel, zombies, book clubs, and other oddities that would alarm Mrs. Norris. Confessions of a Jane Austen addict: a novel, by Laurie Viera Rigler.
In Rigler’s debut novel, modern-day woman Courtney Stone finds herself transported back to Jane Austen’s England, where she must navigate social customs, suitors, and what passed for plumbing. Rigler follows this tale with a sequel, Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict, in which the woman Courtney displaced pops up in modern Los Angeles.
The Jane Austen book club, by Karen Joy Fowler
Fowler’s story is less about Jane Austen and more about the pleasure of reading her. Austen herself might have approved of this witty and wise story, which follows six people as they discuss and debate her works.
Pride and prejudice and zombies: the classic Regency romance — now with ultraviolent zombie mayhem!, by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith.
This mash-up infuses the original Pride and Prejudice text with a plot about brain-eating zombies, known as “unmentionables.” Both Elizabeth and Darcy are accomplished zombie slayers, while Lady Catherine de Bourgh, of course, has her own army of zombie-killing ninjas. As School Library Journal puts it, “There is the constant physical peril that echoes the menace underlying the original. In addition to a life of homeless spinsterhood, the sisters fear having their brains eaten.”
And of course, there are many more Austen-themed works out there to enjoy. Did I miss your favorite? Tell us in the comments.