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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Unforced Confession

I'll admit it.

I love Jane Austen.

There were a lot of authors I read in college that were hard work for me, that I developed no affection for. But I liked Jane Austen right off. Sure, it took me time to learn the cadences of her diction, and sort out the norms of British society, but I liked the characters, and I liked her tone--once I learned to hear it. Jane Austen, as careful readers know, is terribly funny. (Though I'm sure I'm missing a lot.)
My favorite novel back then was Mansfield Park, especially because the heroine was the underdog who deserved better and finally ended up on top. (I've since discovered, re-reading the novel, that Fanny and Edmund are too prudish to remain sympathetic to me, but I still love the movie interpretation with Frances O'Connor as the smarter-than-everyone heroine.) Pride and Prejudice is in danger of over-exposure because of its popularity, but that doesn't make me enjoy it less. I like Emma (though NOT the Gwyneth Paltrow movie version) and especially enjoy Sense and Sensibility, my more recent favorite. I'm only now reading Northanger Abbey, and haven't read Persuasion yet, but I'm sure I'll get there. It's a rule, apparently, when you admit to being a fan of Jane Austen, that you read each novel and see at least two movie versions of each. My failure there may put me only on the fringes of fandom--but I'll accept that.

Recently, I found an author and a series that I should have known about years ago. Stephanie Barron writes an amazing mystery series with Jane Austen as protagonist. The language is dead on, the scholarship meticulous, and the plots are engaging and tight. Jane is allowed to behave in a much more daring way than any of her heroines, but the author doesn't change any of the facts of her life. The sixth novel--Jane and the Ghosts of Netley--is the best so far, though I have a few more to read.

If I'm honest, I'll admit that I enjoy reading Stephanie Barron's mystery series more than I enjoy Jane Austen's own novels. But part of the pleasure is imagining that I am traveling with Jane, meeting her family, learning how she lived. I like her. I like how she thinks. And I want to hang out with her.

copyright Dusk comics
This brings me to a comic I'm very much looking forward to, coming from Dusk Comics in Texas. Written by David Doub, and drawn by Jolene Houser, The Trials and Tribulations of Miss Tilney is the story of a courageous young female journalist in Victorian England. (Hmmm. The heroine in this comic is Henrietta Tilney. The hero in Northanger Abbey is Henry Tilney. Surely no coincidence!) The setting and characters in the preview copy which I got signed by the creators strongly reminds me of the Jane Austen mystery novels, which is what drew my interest in the first place.

Miss Tilney is looking for more challenging stories, and is assigned to  investigate a series of murders. She goes to interview the suspect in jail, the very sort of thing Jane would be doing in Stephanie Barron's novels. The art is attractive, and establishes a sense of place with a palette of browns and grays. And though the story--being a preview only--is incomplete, I found it intriguing, and look forward to its publication.

If the comic lives up to its promise, I may have a new favorite female character, one to rival Elizabeth Bennet, or Elinor Dashwood, or Jane Austen herself.

I hope so!

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