‘Jane Austen Ruined My Life’ a Satisfying First Novel

austenruinedlifeJane Austen Ruined My Life, by Beth Pattillo (Guideposts Books)

Emma Grant blames Jane Austen for encouraging her to believe in happy endings. Happy endings are in short supply in Emma’s life. First she found her husband Edward and her teaching assistant in flagrante delicto, on her kitchen table, no less. Then the assistant, with the backing of now ex-hubby, accused Emma of plagiarism, destroying her career as an English lit professor.

Emma responds to this insult by fleeing to England to track down an alleged cache of previously undiscovered letters by Jane Austen.

In England, she runs straight into Adam, the former best friend who dropped out of her life when she married Edward. And she encounters an eccentric grandmotherly woman who claims to have access to an unimaginable treasure—thousands of letters by Jane Austen.

Beth Pattillo’s first novel (to be followed this February by Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart) is an entertaining, emotionally satisfying story. Emma Grant is an independent, likable heroine with a sense of humor and a set of scruples, keeping her true to the spirit of Austen.

Jane Austen Ruined My Life moves quickly, pays homage to Austen’s characters and stories without being totally predictable, and includes plenty of fun Austen biographical and historical tidbits. I’m looking forward to Pattillo’s second book.

The Austen vs. Bronte Smackdown

The Bronte sisters

The Bronte sisters

Two names pretty much sum up 19th century “chick lit”: Austen and Brontë. Austen is Jane Austen, of course, who is often credited with inventing the genre. Brontë is the surname of sisters Charlotte, Emily and Anne, who wrote gothic tales of romance.

People sometimes get them  mixed up. “Jane Austen…didn’t she write Jane Eyre?” someone asked me recently. It’s amusing, really, since Austen and the Brontës wrote in radically different styles. Charlotte Brontë, author of Jane Eyre, wrote disdainfully of Austen:

“She does her business of delineating the surface of the lives of genteel English people curiously well. There is a Chinese fidelity, a miniature delicacy, in the painting. She ruffles her reader by nothing vehement, disturbs him with nothing profound. The passions are perfectly unknown to her: she rejects even a speaking acquaintance with that stormy sisterhood…”

Austen couldn’t return the compliment because she was dead by the time the Brontës were setting pen to paper, but Northanger Abbey nicely parodies the sort of hyper-imaginative tales the trio of sisters excelled at.

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