On a steamy summer day in 2007, I drove up to Annapolis with my mom and sister to see a little film called “Becoming Jane.” Previews for the movie had interested me months ago, but it wasn’t playing in our neck of the woods. Eager for a girls’ day, we ventured north and settled into the cool theater with sodas and candy.
A controversial speculation on author Jane Austen’s life, “Becoming Jane” features Anne Hathaway as a sassy, erudite Austen and James McAvoy as Tom Lefroy, a crass but handsome law student sent to live with his uncle in the country. His wealthy uncle hopes this stay out in Hampshire will rid him of his silly whims and flirtations, but it’s there that he meets Jane — the studious, pretty and poor daughter of a clergyman, a woman known for her wit and writing but unable to move forward with any of it.
In short, I was mesmerized. I was familiar with Austen, of course, in the way that all good little English students must be. I read Pride & Prejudice for the first time during my sophomore year of high school, felt no particular affinity for it and quickly forgot about it — but, upon re-reading, everything started to change for me. Many of Austen’s turns of phrase have been seared into my memory, and “Becoming Jane” — though it may not have been accurate — awakened my great passion for the author.
And I’m most interested in Jane herself. How did a woman who lived her entire life with her family, shuffling between locations with her beloved sister, create such memorable characters — including the dashing, brooding but unbelievably hot Mr. Darcy? She was not extensively educated or traveled. Her father was the rector at small English parishes, and the Austen family was not affluent. Jane relied, it seems, on her imagination — her dreams of what love, family and life should or could be.
I could talk about Austen for the better part of the day — and that would be fitting considering that today, Dec. 16, would have been Jane’s 235th birthday! Our dear Jane’s spirit is alive in well in the countless retellings, spin-offs and tributes to her stories, and through the work of fabulous Janeites and bloggers like Laurel Ann at Austenprose, the first (and best!) Austen blog I discovered.
Laurel Ann is hard at work on an incredible project: editing Jane Austen Made Me Do It, an anthology of more than 20 short stories penned by such famous names as Lauren Willig, Karen Joy Fowler, Adriana Trigiani and Syrie James. And thanks to an upcoming contest, your name (or mine!) could be counted amongst the contributors.
Beginning Jan. 1, Laurel Ann and The Republic of Pemberley are hosting a contest seeking a new voice in Austenesque fiction. Entrants are asked to write a short story of roughly 5,000 words centering around Austen’s themes, characters, etc. There are no strict guidelines; as Laurel Ann quotes from our dear Jane, “give loose to your fancy.”
And I intend to do just that. I’m loathe to even tell you about the contest, friends, considering my hands are shaking at the prospect of penning something new to contribute — but I’m not selfish enough to keep this a secret. The contest runs from Jan. 1 to Feb. 13, at which time the submissions will be voted upon by the public and whittled down to the top ten. The grand prize winner, selected by Laurel Ann and the staff at Ballantine Books, will receive $500 and a publishing contract for inclusion in the anthology.
Sounds good, right?
Now I just have to come up with something witty, emotional, tempting, memorable, influential — and Austen related.
Okay, I got this.
Get more details on the contest here and sharpen your quills! Sounds like this could be a rollicking phaeton ride.
Also on Dec. 16, take advantage of a fun offer from Sourcebooks, the leading publisher of Austen fiction, by downloading ten of their best-selling Austen-related novels and six of Austen’s illustrated books for free. All are available as eBook downloads. More details (and titles!) are up at Austenprose.
And in honor of our dear Jane’s birthday and this exciting development, I’m happy to pass along two Austen-related novels from my collection: Jane Dawkins’ Letters From Pemberley and its sequel, More Letters From Pemberley. Both are in very gently read condition and ready for a new home!
To enter, please
fill out this form between now and Tuesday, Dec. 21, at 12 p.m. (noon) EST. One winner in the U.S. will be randomly selected and emailed by yours truly, plus announced in this post and on Twitter. I’ll have the books sent out after the holiday!
Happy birthday, Jane Austen! And happy writing, my fellow Janeites.
Update on Dec. 21: Congratulations to Hannah B., my randomly-selected winner of the two Dawkins novels! Hannah, you’ve been emailed. Thanks to all who entered.