I have also, I failed to mention yesterday, taken a break from Samuel Richardson (which is itself a break what I actually ought to be doing, writing TJAP) by reading some of the many Jane Austen-themed books that have been published in recent years. They shall remain nameless here for reasons that will soon be clear.
I read them strictly in the interests of market research, you might say. It was work, for it certainly could not be called pleasure. Horrible dictu, there is some really bad writing going on out there under the name of homage to Jane Austen. In part it goes back to the question of Whose Jane Austen? The Harlequin-infused chick-lit writers have claimed her as a kindred spirit, but to write a romance that invokes Jane Austen is to play a very dangerous game, by inviting comparisons that one is sure to lose. The only person I can think of who has really managed it is Helen Fielding in Bridget Jones's Diary, who not coincidentally has a firm grasp of irony, goes light on the Austen allusions and is very, very funny. If Jane Austen were alive today it is not difficult to imagine her writing a book like BJD. It is harder to imagine her writing something like --- no names, never mind. The usual suspects -- you know who they are. Some have even been made into movies. They all have "Jane Austen" somewhere in their titles, which might serve as a lighthouse, warning readers of rocky shoals of bad writing ahead.
But wait, my book has "Jane Austen" in the title! And there is, no doubt, some very bad writing in it, at least in the first draft I am positive there is. And since I haven't even finished the first draft, isn't a wee bit presumptuous to be criticizing writers who not only finished their (however dreadfully written) books, but actually found publishers for them? And so who, exactly, do I think I am?
You might well ask. All right, back to work.