I know Pride and Prejudice variations is a pretty niche genre, so I’m aware that doing reviews of these books isn’t going to be a hugely popular feature on my blog. However, when I first got into them, I looked for recommendations, and I had a hard time finding any. Of course, there are reviews on individual books on Amazon. But there are a surprisingly large number of P&P variations out there, and I didn’t know where to start. Eventually I did find someone who had a recommendation list, and I was grateful that I did. So that’s why I want to do this. Also, I have now read over 150 variations, and I need to do something with all this information!
I’ve taken some steps towards this before. I’ve already posted the list of my absolute favorite variations: https://amandadowntherabbithole.wordpress.com/2020/03/06/my-favorite-pride-and-prejudice-variations/. But before I forge ahead with more variations lists, I’m going to take a step backwards and talk about the books that lead me to P&P variations: what I call, Jane Austen Adjacent books. These are books that are not strict adaptations or modernizations or variations on Jane Austen’s works but works that were influenced by Jane Austen or that heavily reference Jane Austen.
It was because I enjoyed these books and wanted more that I ended up discovering P&P variations, which admittedly are not at all like these books. All of these books are light, charming, and fun.
Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler
Courtney Stone, a young, brokenhearted modern Los Angeles woman, wakes up after a night of drowning her sorrows in vodka and the 1995 BBC version of Pride and Prejudice, to find that she’s in the body of woman in Regency England. She’s not in Jane Austen’s literary world, she’s in Jane Austen’s literal world. At first she thinks she’s dreaming, but quickly realizes she’s now inhabiting the body of Jane Mansfield, and if she doesn’t want to be sent to an asylum, she’s going to have to figure out how to live without toilets and telephonesd, what to make of the eligible Mr. Edgeworth, and ultimately how and if she’ll get her old life back.
This is a really charming, fish-out-of-water story: Modern American woman in Regency England. It’s fun to see her navigate the unfamiliar world. But you do also feel the danger she’s in if she can’t convince everyone she’s the woman whose body she possesses. As she gets to know her suitor, she has to try to see past rumors and her own past experience with men. There’s an interesting mystical element that helps explain what happened. There’s also a fun cameo by Jane Austen herself.
Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler
This is more a parallel story than a sequel to Rigler’s Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict. In the previous book Courtney Stone wakes to find herself in Regency England in Jane Mansfield’s body. Here is the story of what happened to Jane: she wakes up in Courtney’s body in modern day L.A. She suddenly goes from a privileged and rather pampered lifestyle to living on her own, having to navigate modern technology and getting a job. And then there are the modern dating rituals.
This is another fun fish-out-of-water story: Regency English woman in Modern America. Her initial reaction to her new life is entertaining. I enjoyed seeing her really take to the independence of her new position and create a life for herself—something different from what Courtney had been doing. And it’s fun to see her reaction to film versions of Jane Austen’s books. Delightful read.
Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler
The eponymous club is made up of five women and one man.They are different ages and situations in life, and over the course of the novel, as they meet to discuss JA’s works, they deal with their own issues. Each chapter is a JA book and the month in which the group discusses it. The month’s books is also a sort of frame through which to see the characters and events. The characters can be seen as analogs to JA’s characters, for instance Jocelyn is a sort of Emma, yet the story as a whole is not trying to modernize/update any one of JA’s novels.
It is an engaging read. I love the opening line “Each of us has a private Austen.” And I really like how each character is introduced by detailing both how they all know each other and what each of their “private Austen’s” is. Plus there’s a bit of a mystery in that the first person narrator is one of the book club members, but you don’t know which one yet.
First Impressions by Charlie Lovett
This is a dual story: A “what if” tale of a formative friendship between Jane Austen and the elderly Reverend Richard Mansfield, and a modern literary mystery. The modern part of the novel is about how an employee of an antiquarian bookshop in London, Sophie Collingwood, becomes embroiled in the mystery of an obscure book written by Richard Mansfield. Along the way she must sort out the mystery of the book and what it might mean for the provenance of Pride and Prejudice and also her feeling for the two men she meets along the way.
Despite its suspense and mystery, this is a light story. It’s fun and charming. It could appeal to bibliophiles as well as JA fans, and to people who are ignorant of both. It does have it’s own P&P influence in the characters of Sophie’s suitors, who are basically Darcy and Wickham.
Austenland by Shannon Hale
In Austenland, a young American woman, Jane, whose love life suffers because she is constantly comparing the men she meets to Mr. Darcy, gets a chance to spend a three weeks at an Austen-themed resort where she and the other female guests dress in Regency fashions, use Regency etiquette, language, and technology, and are “courted” by actors who seem to be gentlemen lifted straight from the pages of Austen’s novels.
This is fun and funny. Jane at first struggles to get into the spirit of the thing and finds herself drawn to a seemingly “real” gardener rather than to the obviously “fake” gentlemen. She must determine, what, if anything, in a constructed reality is real and how much it matters.
Me and Mr. Darcy by Alexandra Potter
Yet another American woman (Emily Albright) for whom Mr. Darcy has set too high a bar for real men to meet who finds herself in England, this time on a Jane Austen bus tour. Her tour companions are mostly older woman, but there is also a slovenly, but funny and handsome journalist trying to understand Mr. Darcy’s allure for a piece he’s writing. There is a slight supernatural aspect to this story that allows Emily to meet and be courted by Mr. Darcy.
It’s fun to see what happens when someone who holds Mr. Darcy up as the ideal man actually meets him. Is he everything she thought he would be? Would a relationship with him really be what she wants? Potter answers these questions in a likable story with likable characters.
Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay
This story deals with the most serious issues: orphans and abuse in foster care. Main character, Sam, has learned to deal with those issues by retreating into classic literature. She wants to be a journalist and is given a scholarship to a prestigious journalism school, the only catch is she must write letters, detailing her progress, to her benefactor, Mr. Knightley. Along the way, she meets and befriends the author Alex Powell. Over time her letters become more confessional, and through her friendship with Alex she starts to open up and trust more.
I have a bit more to say about this book than the others because it disappointed me. I would still say it is good and worth reading, but I was frustrated by the end. I’ve read other reviews of this book from people who found the beginning disappointing and the end redeeming, but I feel exactly the opposite.
I like the premise of someone who hides from their trauma and protects themselves from further harm by retreating into books so completely that they no longer know how to speak for themselves. The many literary quotes and how they’re used is fun and creative. And overall, it was well written and engaging.
One of the things that didn’t work for me was the pace of the protagonist’s recovery—it is a little on the fast side: 15 months and no ongoing counseling felt unrealistic. I felt the ending got a little too preachy without earning it, as if the God stuff was added just so it could get published by a Christian publisher. And the happy ending didn’t feel earned either—not that it shouldn’t have ended the way it did, but it was too quick, making it feel too pat.