“A modern-day Jane Austen!”
August 2016

George Eliot called her “The greatest artist that has ever written.” Elizabeth Bowen observed, “She applies big truths to little scenes.” With her wonderful witty, wise, ironic narrator and her wonderful, flawed, but loveable heroines, Jane Austen is the undisputed queen of Delightful Reads!

But she only wrote six novels! So what are we devotees to do? Well, definitely not read the literally hundreds of “based on” books—such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Prom and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife (sequel), Vanity and Verity (prequel), or Undressing Mr. Darcy (no idea!) And definitely not read the hundreds of books with “a modern-day Jane Austen” on their covers—such as Sex and the City, Confessions of a Shopaholic, or The Devil Wears Prada.

Instead, we must sadly accept that there is no “modern-day Jane Austen,” any more than there is a modern Shakespeare. No, Jane is in a class by herself.

Having said that, however, I would like to hesitantly offer my nominations for four authors who come the closest to the magic of Jane Austen:

  • Barbara Pym, (e.g., Crampton Hobnet and Jane and Prudence): Pym writes amusing sketches of middle-class English village life post-WWII. She enjoyed a comeback after the Times Literary Supplement named her “the most underrated novelist of the century” in 1977. “The rarest of treasures, [Pym] reminds us of the heart-breaking silliness of daily life.”  (The New York Times); “Witty and dry, accurate and cozily English” (Newsweek).
  • Nancy Mitford, (e.g., Love in a Cold Climate and The Blessing): Also set post-WWII, Mitford’s novels are set among the British upper class. “Unabashedly snobbish and devastatingly witty, Miss Mitford achieved enormous success and popularity as one of Britain’s most piercing observers of social manners. (The New York Times); “Mitford tells her story with much wit, intelligence, and polish.” (The London Times); “Deliciously funny.” (Evelyn Waugh)
  • Georgette Heyer, (e.g., The Grand Sophy and Frederica): Heyer, a prolific writer of over 50 books, created the Regency England genre of romance novels.  (Because of her intelligence and wit, Heyer is the only romance writer I would ever recommend.) “Stylish, witty, and bang up to the mark!” (Punch);
 “Georgette Heyer is a highly gifted writer who creates amazing characters, witty dialogue, and fabulous intrigue that is combined with well-researched Regency cant, dress, food and behavior as no one else can.” (source unknown); “My favorite historical novelist.”
 (Margaret Drabble)
  • Elizabeth Taylor (e.g., In a Summer Season and Blaming): “Few have heard of National Velvet’s namesake, but she was one of the best novelists of the 20th century.” (The Guardian). Taylor deals with the nuances of everyday life in England. “One of the best English novelists born in this century” (Kingsley Amis); “one of the most underrated writers of the 20th century” (Antonia Frazer).

What other novelists would you put in this category? Let me know and I’ll include them next month’s posting.

And here are some reader suggestions from last month’s posting on Wacky Comedies.

  • Possible additions to the list: Where’d You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple; Insane City by Dave Barry; They Eat Puppies, Don’t They? by Christopher Buckley; Noises Off, a play by Michael Frayne; and Wake Up Happy Every Day by Stephen May.
  • Possible names for the genre: Quirky Comedies, Fantastical Comedic Melodramas, Pythonesque Comedies, and Farce (from multiple readers). Personally, I would only call Skios a farce.