Jane Austen died on July 18, 1817, of disputed causes, making this the 193rd anniversary of her death. Is it weird that we haven’t seen a book yet with Jane Austen as a ghost, ala Nearly Headless Nick in Harry Potter? We’ve been through swathes of the Austen undead without coming to this fairly obvious choice. Is it passe, perhaps? Rather than having a vampire Austen chomping on wine and chocolate, how about a ghostly Austen flitting through a Gothic story or setting, making sure all the mysteriously locked chests are only filled with laundry lists? I could go for that.
Or what about a banshee Austen shrieking when people misunderstand her take on marriage, again? Psst! Lydia and Wickham’s marriage was doomed because they got married out of lust and boredom, not because they got married quickly. And actually, it wasn’t all that quickly. Jane would have agreed that you should marry the “right” person (duh), but it’s a considerable leap from that to hustling to the church/registry office/destination wedding with any old man you happen to pick up. Quoth Charlotte Lucas, “It is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life,” and we all know how she fared at the marriage market.
Sorry, got a little sidetracked there. We were discussing sarcastic ghosts who make fun of the Gothic, and ironic banshees. Let’s see, what else has been missed? We could make a case for Jane Austen, Necromancer, raising armies of spin-offs, but I think my favorite glimpse of Jane Austen’s life after death comes from E.M. Forster, in “The Celestial Omnibus.” Jane drives a carriage to heaven. And it’s not a barouche-landau.
Photo: The ghost of Barbara Radziwiłł, by Wojciech Gerson.
I just came back from the mall, yo! That’s what you do when visiting the parental units in New Jersey. (And no, despite having grown up here I most certainly do not say “Joisey,” and I say “mall” not “maaauwl.”) And as I was driving home, I was thinking how appropriate it was that I was contemplating what to say about Michael Thomas Ford’s Jane Bites Back this week. The thing is, it reminded me of reading a Janet Evanovich novel. Evanovich’s main character, Stephanie Plum, is a wise-ass bond hunter in Trenton, New Jersey. While “Jane Fairfax,” the 200-and-something-year-old vampire Jane Austen, doesn’t carry a gun or drop f-bombs, she’s still a wise-ass, as is her sidekick assistant who works at her bookstore in upstate New York.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up Jane Bites Back. It sounded a bit cheesy, and there are so many mish-mash Jane Austen Meets Whatever Monster of the Week available now that I could have easily lumped it into that long list and never looked back. But I love vampire stories—from the original Dracula by Bram Stoker to Anne Rice’s books to Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Elizabeth Kostova‘s The Historian. When I was a kid, the next door neighbor would invite us over on a hot summer day, close the curtains, and play old radio broadcasts. The scariest ones always had vampires chasing lost people around abandoned castles. Mesmerizing! And now I’m just a little bit wigged out thinking about it.
What was I talking about? Oh yeah . . . vampire stories. I love them; therefore, I had to read Jane Bites Back. This isn’t a typical vampire story. It’s not scary, nor is it graphic with the blood sucking, and thankfully it’s devoid of Twilight-y teen angst. The characters aren’t particularly deep, and I’m sad to say that Jane Fairfax/Jane Austen is one-dimensional. (Single woman hanging out alone drinks red wine and eats lots of chocolate, is that they best you can do to describe the modern Jane Austen, Mr. Ford? Really?) But I found myself wanting to read more, and I laughed at Ford’s descriptions of the current Jane Austen industry. Actually, that’s probably the best part about the book, as I’m equal parts delighted and mortified with the variety of Austen-related crap, er, odds and ends available these days. The author isn’t taking any of this too seriously. Plus, hey, Jane Austen and other literary figures living among us because Lord Byron can’t keep his fangs to himself—I approve!