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Thank You, Jane Austen

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I fell in love repeatedly in college. With authors. I was an English major and reeled from one new passion to another. Some of them feel like youthful indiscretions now. Tobias Smollett and Dreiser are two of those.

Other loves have lasted and deepened as I've grown older and become an author myself and made a career of it. I still read Henry James and Edith Wharton and they've inspired some of my stories and novels. Austen is another enduring love. I've returned to different novels of hers over the years, finding new delights, new insights, new inspiration. The writers an author loves became an eternal flame; it may dim sometimes, but it never goes out.

As authors, we're always writing one book or another in their heads, and often those books take unexpected turns. Sometimes they get sidelined when new books pop up that push their way to the head of the queue. I had some definite writing plans in 2011, but reading Austen mash-ups made me eager to try one of my own.

In a way, it's not complicated to superimpose something outrageous on an Austen novel because you break the rules of her universe and make everything conform to your rules. If you wanted, you could turn Fanny Price into the reincarnation of Queen Nefertiti and write The Mummy Returns to Mansfield Park (it might be fun to have her walk like an Egyptian).

But I didn't want to wreak havoc on Austen, I wanted to try working within her imaginative universe. I'd written a lot on Jewish themes, so what if I made Lizzie Bennet's's family Anglo-Jews? The book would still be Austen's novel, but re-imagined with a whole new set of prejudices and pride about very different things stealthily added to the mix. I did my research about Jews in Regency England, reread Pride and Prejudice and wove new threads of mine into her funny, touching, caustic tapestry.

Pride and Prejudice: The Jewess and the Gentile
isn't a violent mash-up. I haven't broken into Austen's house, trashed the piano, emptied the bedroom drawers, thrown all her dishes onto the floor. I've rearranged the furniture, so the changes I've made are subtle, but the ramifications are wide-ranging. It's a thank you note, written by an author in love.

An earlier version of this blog appeared on The Jane Austen Book Club.

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