During March and April, a website offering free book recommendations called The Fussy Librarian asked subscribers to fill out brackets for “Book Brawl” — a book lover’s counterpart to March Madness.
The title game has come down to Jane Austen vs. Mark Twain.
Both authors have generated heaven-knows-how-many derivative works and/or books written in homage, including a Mark Twain inspired novel Becky, written by my former fiction teacher in the Wilkes Creative Writing program Lenore Hart.
Even the highly imaginative Mr. Twain could not have in his wildest dreams conceived of the vast number of Pride and Prejudice variations that would be published every year—just check out this collection on Goodreads.com for starters.
Not readily listed in that collection is a hilarious send-up called Pride and Promiscuity: The Lost Sex Scenes of Jane Austen written by Arielle Eckstut and Dennis Ashton and another new novel called The Bad Miss Bennet which I recently profiled on my blog.
Tough vote—choosing between Mark Twain and Jane Austen. Many contemporary novels have a style and swagger that remind me Twain's writings. So Brave, Young, and Handsome by Leif Enger and The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt might be two of my favorites.
Even though "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" is one of my favorite short stories, I voted for Jane Austen. And here's why.
Sidebar: No, not just because Colin Firth was a total hottie as Mr. Darcy.
Though I have published nothing anyone would consider a derivative work, I have been profoundly influenced by the Austen works I’ve read.
For example, the romance waiting to happen in Pride and Prejudice between Elizabeth and Darcy hangs in the air like too sweet fruit aching to be devoured, rousing every romantic notion, pore, and cell in my body like five-alarm fire sirens.
It’s the expectation of romance that I find so utterly enlivening and appealing. Since societal mores have changed, I do occasionally have couples rolling between the sheets in my books. Who Killed ‘Tom Jones’? moves along to a steamy love scene but not before I’ve raised the reader’s hairs on her arms (I hope) in expectation of an intimate encounter.
Besides simmering romance, I love Austen’s colorful characters. If there are other more laughable characters than Mr. Collins, Mrs. Bennet, and Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Pride and Prejudice) in a single novel, please feel free to recommend those titles because I would love to read them.
If you don't know Lady Catherine De Bourgh, she is an insufferable rich old snob, daughter of an earl, who has a laughably high opinion of herself. I love this exchange at Rosings, Lady Catherine's home, that is incited by Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Bennet engaged in private conversation, which annoys Lady Catherine:
I must have my share in the conversation if you are speaking of music. There are few people in England, I suppose, who have more true enjoyment of music than myself, or a better natural taste. If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient. And so would Anne, if her health had allowed her to apply. -- Lady Catherine de Bourgh
In all three of my published novels, I must confess that while writing the funniest characters in them, the most colorful of them, I was thinking about the mark that Jane Austen’s comic characters have made on her readers and aspired to do the same.
Whether authors pen strictly derivative works or not (like my colleague Jon Pinnock did with Mrs. Darcy versus the Aliens), we are all profoundly influenced by what we have read and these works will continue to inform our writing ever hereafter. I thank the firmament and all the stars twinkling in it for having read Austen. For good or for ill, I will forever be inspired by her genius.
In case you were wondering, don’t ever expect to see Mrs. Darcy Kills Tom Jones on the shelves anytime soon. At least not written by Gale Martin. Now that mashup would be going a tad too far.
And what about you, dear readers? Whom would you choose?