The Jane Austen Racket is a hard temptation for the writer to resist. It is only the iron-willed craftsman who has not lain awake into the small hours mentally tinkering with a plot that would bring the now middle-aged Knightleys, Darcys, and Captain Wentworths together for a house party at Pemberley, during which the Darcy’s daughter Imogen falls madly in love with Freddie Poots, the rascally ward of Captain Wentworth. I mean, if the formidable P.D. James cannot resist writing a murder mystery sequel to Pride and Prejudice, where does that leave the rest of us weak-willed types?
What is it exactly, that is so tempting to the writer in the Jane Austen Racket? Is it the allure of romance? But a romance writer can easily pursue 50 shades (and more!) of steamy romance by using a contemporary setting. I suppose to us workaholic westerners the leisureliness of a day that begins with a long healthy walk before a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast and marmalade is also an attraction. But does the thought of writing English breakfast passages provide sufficient fuel to get a writer through 80,000+ words?
I would like to suggest another reason for the attraction of the Jane Austen Racket. Perhaps it is only my way of justifying my weakness, but I believe we writers like to return to the world of Jane Austen because we believe there is something in that world that we are desperately missing in our own. Romance is part of it to be sure, but not just any notion of romance. Leisure and opulence are part of it, too, but not just wealth for the sake of further wealth. Walker Percy once wrote that when “people already know who they are, their literature celebrates and affirms the already existing relationships and hierarchies of society.” This is what Austen’s own books do. And in desiring to revisit and re-imagine her world–even to the point, as I did in my short story, “The Bureau of Myths,” of transplanting her world, or something very much like it, to the arid desert of a post-American dystopia–I believe we are, whether we are quite conscious of it or not, attempting to rediscover who we are. Romance in the context of courtship and aimed at marriage, the fairy tale ending by which a new family enters into the community whose task is to nourish it–these are the deeper elements in Austen that we cannot resist because we instinctively know they are integral to who we are as human beings.
That, at any rate, is why I am happy to succumb to the Jane Austen Racket.
“The Bureau of Myths” is available for just 99 cents at Amazon and barnesandnoble.com until the last reel is danced. (Sign up for my free monthly newsletter and receive a free digital copy of “The Bureau of Myths” for Kindle, Nook or iPad. See the email signup form on the homepage of danielmcinerny.com.)