Suck the lightheartedness out of “The Jane Austen Handbook,” and you get something like Patrice Hannon’s “Dear Jane Austen: A Heroine’s Guide to Life and Love,” in which a fictional Jane answers a slew of Dear Abby-ish questions posed by modern women.
Jane weighs in “ heavily “ on family, finances, sex and dating, and Hannon sprinkles in a few charming statements like: “Jane Austen says: A heroine would sooner sit down to a supper of thin gruel than give her heart to a bad boy.”
The author seems to know her source, hinting at biographical events in Austen’s life, and kudos for that. But, the book’s fictional wrapping fails to mask its overly pedantic tone, which makes this read more like a repackaged dissertation on mores than a helpful, relevant or even interesting bit of fiction. Not even Jane can save it “ she comes across more matronly than magical.
By taking itself and its advice-seekers “ who are so needy as to seem demeaning “ too seriously, the work makes a Janeite see her love of all things Austen as silly. And who wants that?