Charlotte Brontë famously wrote of Jane Austen, “Jane Austen was a complete and most sensible lady, but a very incomplete and rather insensible (not senseless) woman.” One can only imagine what sister Emily thought (though we like to think that Anne enjoyed Austen’s novels, and just didn’t tell her big sister). Though of course we disagree most vehemently with Miss Brontë’s opinion, we get what she was saying. Jane Austen herself wrote, “Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery,” though she wrote it with a wink and a smile. Though her books are grounded thoroughly in real life, they rarely stray into the darker side of it; Jane preferred to stay in the sun, and we love her for it.
We think Miss Brontë might have liked Jane Greensmith’s collection of short stories, Intimations of Austen. While we recognize Jane Austen’s characters, there often is as much shadow as anything “light, bright, and sparkling.” Many of the stories are quite short, and most in first person; character sketches and bits of backstory, filling in where Jane Austen smoothed over and sometimes delving a little deeper than Austen felt necessary. The stories are by turns poignant, funny, thoughtful, suspenseful, and romantic, and none insult the reader’s intelligence.
The stories include a dark fairytale of three sisters who aren’t quite who they seem; mischievous fates sorting Captain Wentworth’s love life; Mrs. Edmund Bertram embarking on marriage while seemingly stumbling into another familiar novel; and other tales, short and long, glimpses into Jane Austen’s characters’ lives outside her purview. Ms. Greensmith wisely trusts her own narrative voice and does not attempt to imitate Jane Austen’s, with excellent results. These are very much her own takes on the characters, but respectful of the original, and we think most Janeites will recognize the characters and novels that they love and perhaps be given some food for thought about them, just the sort of paraliterature that we like best.
For readers not quite sure about this collection, you can sample the stories first on Ms. Greensmith’s website.