Deborah Yaffe


By Deborah Yaffe, Jul 11 2013 01:00PM

Donald Measham’s Jane Austen Out of the Blue, the Sanditon continuation I’ll be discussing today in my ongoing Sanditon Summer blog series, is unlike any other Austen spinoff I’ve read. This is not a bad thing. The marketplace of Austen spinoffs is clogged with the saccharine, the slavishly imitative and the poorly written, and Measham’s book is none of these things. If it’s not, for my tastes, entirely successful in what it tries to accomplish, it is nonetheless an interesting experiment whose results I would commend to the notice of fellow Janeites.

Donald Charles Measham (b. 1932) grew up in Birmingham, England, but has lived for decades in Derbyshire, land of Mr. Darcy. In his twenties, he taught English and drama at a rural, state-funded high school, and he edited two collections of his students’ writings, published as Fourteen and Leaving. He went on to teach English at the college level, to edit a literary magazine called Staple, and to write a number of other books, including a novel about the Victorian art critic John Ruskin; critical works on Ruskin and D.H. Lawrence; and Jane Austen and the Polite Puzzle, which reconstructs a lost Regency card game and speculates about its impact on Austen’s work.

An interesting man, in other words. And Jane Austen Out of the Blue is an interesting book. Its early pages seem to promise a standard-issue Austen sequel of a particular kind – the all-Austen-novels-are-the-same-novel kind, in which characters from, say, Mansfield Park are found hobnobbing with Bennets and Elliots and Dashwoods. (The first published Austen sequel, Sybil Brinton’s Old Friends and New Fancies, from 1913, is of just this type.)

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