In 2009, Chawton House Library held a competition for writers to compose short stories inspired by Jane Austen and Chawton House. This book is the final longlist of entries, consisting of 20 stories.
The stories are indeed short – all about 7 or 8 pages long, with a little note of explanation from the authors at the end of their respective offerings, where they state their inspiration.
The authors have taken such inspiration from different aspects of Jane’s life and home, and their approaches to the stories vary widely. Some take characters from Austen’s novels and create a new story around them; several explored the effect that Austen’s writing has on people today; one in particular took a specific moment from Jane Austen’s life and recreated it. Sometimes the connection to Jane Austen was obvious, sometimes more tenuous, but it was always there.
There were hundreds of entries to the competition and with such a plethora of choices, it’s probably fair to say that the final 20 should all have something special. Happily, they do. As with all short story collections, I enjoyed some more than others, but they were all very well crafted and all had something unique.
My personal favourites were Jane Over The Styx, by Victoria Owens (which was the eventual winner of the competition) and Eight Years Later, by Elaine Grotefield. Jane Over The Styx features Jane Austen after her death being put on trial by some of the characters in her books, who feel resentful at the way they were portrayed. This is no zombie/afterlife mash up, but rather an interesting way of examining how Jane chose to depict older women in her novels. Eight Years Later is a gentle love story set at Chawton House, and was simply a lovely heartwarming tale.
I would certainly recommend this collection of stories. For many of the entries it is not necessary to be an Austen fan, or to be familiar with her characters, but I certainly think that a couple of the stories benefit from the readers knowledge of specific Austen novels. It’s worth mentioning also that the introduction by Sarah Waters (another excellent novelist) is worth reading in itself.