Dancing with Mr. Darcy
is a charming collection of short stories inspired by Jane Austen and Chawton House, edited by Sara Waters. After Jane's father left the ministry and the family was forced out of their home in Hampshire Jane was unable to write for over ten years. It was only after her brother Edward invited them to live at his Chawton House estate that Jane was able to write again. We know what she wrote at Chawton House has become some of the most popular and enduring novels ever written. The Jane Austen Short Story Competition celebrates Miss Austen and this home which provided her with enough peace and security to create them. This book is a compilation of the winning short story and the other finalists of the competition.
Being a Jane Austen fan I often enjoy reading retellings of her famous works and other stories about the author herself. So when I saw this book on the sale shelf at Borders Books (before they went out of business) I thought it would be right up my alley. After reading the first two or three stories I set it aside, deciding that short stories weren't my thing and these stories seemed only loosely related to Austen anyway. Then, while packing for our trip abroad, I decided to throw the book into my bag, in case I ran out of other reading material. The book is small, I reasoned, and it could be discarded along the way to lighten my load, if needed.
To my delight I discovered that short stories are perfect reading materials for traveling. One can start and finish a story during a short train trip or at the end of a busy day sightseeing. Because of the nature of short stories there is no time for lengthy plot development or tedious descriptions of settings, things that might deter a traveler from enjoying an otherwise enjoyable book.
My favorite story entitled "One Character in Search of Her Love Story Role" by Felicity Cowie reminds me a lot of Jasper Fford's Thurday Next
series. In this story a character in a book is dispatched to shadow heroines from Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre. She actually goes inside the story and meets with the heroines when their character is not "on stage". It is such a clever literary device. One character giving another character advice about how to handle men or other situations. I found what Jane Bennet shares about the differences between Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy to be very insightful and actually helpful in my understanding of the book.
Another story, "Somewhere" by Kelly Brendel, takes a look at Mansfield Park from the point of view of a very minor character, Mrs. Grant. She is Mary and Henry's aunt that lives in the rectory. She is convinced that Mary and Edmund are perfect together. I'd agree with her if my only knowledge of the couple came from this delightful and thoughtful tale.
In "Cleverclogs" by Hilary Spiers a young girl finds a connection to her grandmother through books, especially Austen novels. In the end Sense and Sensibility
provides comfort and solace as her grandmother is gravely ill in the hospital. In "The School Trip" by Jacqui Hazell a high school class makes a field trip to Chawton House. One student gains insight from Jane Austen's writing desk about what she needs to become a writer herself, "I see that you need only a little space, a tiny desk, and a creaky door."
By the way, I didn't throw this book away, like I threatened I'd do to lighten my load. Instead I brought it home and will add it to my Jane Austen collection here.