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Tea with Miss Austen Mouse: What Makes a Good Jane Austen Retelling?

by Cassandra Bates

So many retellings…so little time

It is a truth universally acknowledged that if your favorite author has passed, you will indubitably want more of their works. Enter in the world of Jane Austen Fan Fiction, or JAFF. Later this month our region will be discussing “What makes a good Jane Austen retelling?” So, I decided to take tea with my good friend Miss Austen Mouse and discuss what DOES make a Jane Austen retelling good, and while we are at it ask some the officers of the region what their favorite retelling is.

I met my good friend Miss Austen Mouse in her garden, as the weather was quite delightful. We took tea under a trailing Wisteria, and she provided the most scrumptious tea biscuits. We started our discussion on what makes a Jane Austen retelling good, which really amounted to more questions than answers. What is a Jane Austen retelling, does it have to be in line with her works (canon) or not? What about the storyline can deviate from canon, or does it need to follow the Jane Austen formula? Does it need to be a social commentary, which many of her works are thought to be, or something totally light and easy to read? Can it expand on Jane Austen’s stories, like a continuation of sorts, or does a retelling need to be exactly that, a retelling of her stories? What about time periods, does it need to be set in Regency era, like Austen’s novels, or can it be set in other time periods, could it, gasp, include time travel?

Since it had seemed that we were coming up with more questions than an actual discussion we decided to talk with the officers of the region to see what their favorite Jane Austen retelling is.

We started with Regional Co-Coordinator, Michele Larrow. Michele took to a very contemporary retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in Soniah Kamal’s Unmarriageable. It tells the tale of a family in Pakistan over the course of a year (2000-2001). Alysba (Alys) Binat [Elizabeth] teaches English literature at a girls’ school in a fictional provincial town (Dilipabad) in Pakistan. Valentine (Val) Darsee [Darcy] meets her first at a wedding of mutual friends and has connections to the school she works at. Michele enjoyed the ways that P&P is transformed to a Muslim Pakistani family.  Alys teaches P&P to her teenage students and asks them to consider how the book’s themes apply to their lives.  Darsee and Alys have great discussions about post-colonial identity, the role of language in personal identity and literature, and the role of women in Pakistani society.  Sherry [Charlotte] gets a bit of a redemption in this telling, having a marriage to Dr. Farhat Kaleen [Mr. Collins] that seems fulfilling for her.  The descriptions of food will have you hungry and Michele has dreams of the rose-flavored rose garden cake that Nona Gardenaar [Mrs. Gardiner] makes for Darsee’s sister Jujeena (Juju).  Through the Qitty character [Kitty], Kamal explores body acceptance and oppressive standards of beauty. Showing the timelessness of P&P, Kamal addresses its themes in near-contemporary Pakistani culture, such as whether unmarried women can have independence, the role of family in our lives, the role money plays in marriage choices, and how challenging it can be to get to know people.  Michele has re-read this book several times with great pleasure!

Debra Peck, Secretary for the region had this to say about the very first continuation of Jane Austen’s novels, Old Friends and New Fancies written by Sybil G. Brinton. The book deals with many of the characters in Jane’s novels who were left without partners at the end of many of her stories. Many of the main characters of all 6 novels are a part of the story, and they all know each other! Lots of matchmaking going on, very entertaining!

Our own Miss Jane, Jane Provinsal, Regional Co-Coordinator, prefers the Southern side to Jane Austen retellings, with the Jane Austen Takes the South series by Mary Jane Hathaway! There are three books (hopefully she writes the other three, pretty please!) and she read book one Pride, Prejudice, and Cheese Grits, and book three Persuasion, Captain Wentworth, and Cracklin Cornbread the last two summers for our region’s Jane Austen July. Hathaway did a beautiful job of taking the essence of Jane’s stories and setting them in the modern South. The plots feel completely new and still wonderfully familiar. She enjoyed connecting characters and scenes with Jane’s novels, but it didn’t feel like someone just copied Jane’s words. Jane’s works and characters are timeless and these books show that so well without losing the charm! Our Jane LOVED that Hathaway included some recipes for dishes included in the books and can’t wait to try them! These books are lovely, fun, and uplifting. 

With such lovely conversations that Miss Austen Mouse and I had with the officers of the region, we were sad that our garden party was at the end, and we still had so much more to discuss about what makes a retelling of Jane Austen good. We hope you will join us for more discussion on September 19th at 2:30 PM (PST) for a continuation of Miss Austen Mouse’s and my discussion on what makes a retelling of Jane Austen good (and what makes one bad, if there is such a one). For more information on joining the discussion and the form to register, please go to our events page https://jasnaewanid.org/events/.

OH, and this would not be a Tea with Miss Austen Mouse without a recipe. Here is the scrumptious tea biscuits she served me under the trailing Wisteria, fit for Royalty!

Balmoral Shortbread (from Her Majesty’s own former personal Chef)

Ingredients:

225g (8oz) plain flour

225g (8oz) butter

115g (4oz) icing sugar

115g (4oz) corn flour (corn starch)

1tsp salt

1-2tsp vanilla paste

Method:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Add all of the ingredients, except vanilla in a large bowl and work together until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the vanilla and lightly bring together.

Tip out onto a lightly floured surface and gently knead to form a dough.

Dust a classic Scottish shortbread mold with flour and press the dough into the cavity. Using a sharp knife, trim the top to make a flat surface, alternatively you can use a round cake tin, or roll out and cut fingers or rounds.

Gently turn out the shortbread and place onto a lined baking tray. Using a fork, prick the surface of the shortbread all over and bake in the over for around 20 minutes (you want the shortbread to remain a light sandy color).

Once baked, remove from the oven and, using a sharp knife, score the surface of the shortbread into wedges, this will create a defined break when it comes to portioning. Dust the surface with sugar and leave to cool for 1 hour.

5 thoughts on “Tea with Miss Austen Mouse: What Makes a Good Jane Austen Retelling?”

  1. Most delightful!!!! I’m with Jane on the JA takes the South series(the Emma one is my favorite). You may know that the author is in/near your region. I made the Bayou Pie recipe from the P&P book. The taste was acceptable according to my southern partner (she doesn’t enjoy cooking). But (forgive me for retelling!) my usually awful presentation reached a new low with that one! Talk about the creature from the Bayou… yikes 😬!!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Michele,

        Savory! I think there were a couple of different meats and Worcestershire sauce. I have the book someplace. Must find and attempt again. Maybe FJA will provide some expert assistance.

        Cheers,
        Kirk

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I plan on baking the Balmoral Shortbreads for Sunday’s meeting. I will definitely be checking out the “Austen Takes the South” book. I’ll let y’all know if it’s authentically southern.

    Like

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