Michael Ford: Jane Bites Back

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Michael Ford Jane Bites Back
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    Jane Bites Back
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    Ballantine Books
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    Фантастические любовные романы / Юмористическая фантастика / на английском языке
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    New York
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Jane Bites Back: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Two hundred years after her death, Jane Austen is still surrounded by the literature she loves—but now it's because she's the owner of Flyleaf Books in a sleepy college town in Upstate New York. Every day she watches her novels fly off the shelves—along with dozens of unauthorized sequels, spin-offs, and adaptations. Jane may be undead, but her books have taken on a life of their own. To make matters worse, the manuscript she finished just before being turned into a vampire has been rejected by publishers—116 times. Jane longs to let the world know who she is, but when a sudden twist of fate thrusts her back into the spotlight, she must hide her real identity—and fend off a dark man from her past while juggling two modern suitors. Will the inimitable Jane Austen be able to keep her cool in this comedy of manners, or will she show everyone what a woman with a sharp wit and an even sharper set of fangs can do?

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Michael Thomas Ford

Jane Bites Back

For Liz Waters,

who gives very good advice

Chapter 1

My dear Cassandra, I do wish you could have been at the party last night. I was compelled to converse with the most disagreeable woman. But then, as I have said to you before, I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.

—Jane Austen, in a letter to her sister, Cassandra, 24 December 1798

It was not, of course, exactly what Jane had written to her sister that long-ago Christmas Eve, but the sentiment was the same. Besides, after more than two hundred years, she could hardly be expected to remember every little detail of her voluminous correspondence. Although she supposed she could check for herself—there was a collection of her letters sitting on a shelf not ten feet away. Instead, she remained where she was and imagined how she would describe the disagreeable woman standing before her in a letter to Cassie.

Melodie Gladstone was slight, her birdlike arms and pale skin giving her the appearance of fragility, as if she might at any moment collapse under the weight of her own head. Her hair, blond as summer wheat, was gathered at the nape of her neck and tied with a pink ribbon. When she spoke her voice was soft, and every head in the room was forced to lean toward her as she read.

Elizabeth’s spirits soon rising to playfulness again, she wanted Mr. Darcy to account for his having ever fallen in love with her. “How could you begin?” said she. “I can comprehend your going on charmingly, when you had once made a beginning; but what could set you off in the first place?”

“I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.”

“My beauty you had early withstood, and as for my manners—my behaviour to you was at least always bordering on the uncivil, and I never spoke to you without rather wishing to give you pain than not. Now be sincere; did you admire me for my impertinence?”

“For the liveliness of your mind, I did.”

“You may as well call it impertinence at once. It was very little less. The fact is, that you were sick of civility, of deference, of officious attention. You were disgusted with the women who were always speaking, and looking, and thinking for your approbation alone. I roused, and interested you, because I was so unlike them. Had you not been really amiable, you would have hated me for it; but in spite of the pains you took to disguise yourself, your feelings were always noble and just; and in your heart, you thoroughly despised the persons who so assiduously courted you. There—I have saved you the trouble of accounting for it; and really, all things considered, I begin to think it perfectly reasonable. To be sure, you knew no actual good of me—but nobody thinks of that when they fall in love.”

Melodie Gladstone closed the book in her hands and gazed intently at her audience. “You see,” she said, “Mr. Darcy fell in love with Elizabeth because she wasn’t afraid to be herself. This was her reward for not accepting the first proposal offered to her.”

A murmur of agreement rippled through the crowd.

“I told you we’d have a packed house.” Lucy had come to stand beside Jane at the back of the store. She was surveying with obvious satisfaction the crowd perched on folding chairs set up between the bookcases.

“We certainly do,” Jane replied to her young assistant. “I can’t believe they’re actually buying this nonsense.” It was bad enough, she thought, that so many of them had arrived in costume. She counted two dozen Elizabeths, and perhaps a quarter that many Darcys. Although I suppose some of the Elizabeths could be Emmas. Or Mariannes or Catherines or Annes. Possibly some of them were even Fannys, although she doubted this. Very few readers seemed to like Fanny.

“We’ve already sold sixty-three copies of the book,” Lucy informed her. “And I guarantee you we’ll break a hundred once she’s done talking.”

Jane said nothing. Although she was grateful for the sales, she couldn’t help wishing they were for some other book. Any other book.

“We’re all here tonight because we believe—as Elizabeth Bennet believed, and as Jane believed—that true love is life’s most precious gift.”

Jane regarded Melodie Gladstone with a mixture of active dislike and reluctant awe. How had this book of hers become such a phenomenon? She remembered glancing through an advance copy of it six months earlier and thinking it was doomed to failure. Now she realized that not only were very many people foolish enough to embrace it, they were embracing it with an excitement that bordered on the hysterical.

“The message of Waiting for Mr. Darcy is this,” Melodie said, holding up her book as if it were some kind of holy text. “If you really want to experience the beauty of love—true love—you won’t give yourself to anyone until you’ve found it.”

The audience applauded. Melodie beamed, then raised a hand, silencing them. “I know many of you have already committed yourselves to this ideal,” she said. “I can tell by the number of lockets I see out there.”

Laughter filled the air as people turned their heads to look at one another. Some raised their hands to their throats and clutched at the silver lockets that hung from chains around their necks. Melodie held up an identical locket, letting it dangle in the air like a hypnotist’s charm. Her sky-blue eyes surveyed her listeners.

“For those of you who don’t know,” she said, “this locket is the symbol of those of us who have decided that we will indeed wait for our Mr. Darcy to come to us.” She opened the locket to reveal a portrait inside. “Isn’t he handsome?” Melodie asked. “His portrait was painted especially for us by none other than Paul Henry Mattheson, the same artist who created all of the beautiful covers for the collection of Jane Austen novels my publisher has reissued in conjunction with Waiting for Mr. Darcy. This locket is available only to those who sign the contract found at the back of my book and send it in along with receipts for the purchase of the book and the novels. So, if you have one, you’re part of a very special club.”

Jane saw heads nodding all over the room. The reading was starting to feel like a religious revival. She half expected Melodie Gladstone to call forward those wishing to be saved from sin while the devout fell out in the aisles weeping and shouting hallelujahs. Instead, the author put the locket down and clasped her hands together.

“It has been such a joy to meet you all tonight,” she said. “I can’t tell you how thankful I am to see you all and to know that perhaps, in some small way, I’ve encouraged you to embrace our beloved Jane’s message of purity and self-respect.”

As the room erupted in thunderous applause, Lucy called out, “Miss Gladstone will be signing books in just a moment. As she mentioned, those of you who purchase a copy of her book as well as the set of Jane Austen novels will be eligible to also purchase one of the lockets with Mr. Darcy’s portrait inside. We have a limited number of—”

Before she could finish, the audience stood up and stampeded for the tables stacked high with books, shouting and pushing one another out of the way. Jane stepped back as two girls, both in Empire-waist dresses, elbowed past her in a mad dash to be the first ones to the table.

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