Jane Austen Ruined My Life by Beth Patillo

Jane Austen scholar Emma hunts Austen’s lost love letters in the hopes of restoring her besmirched academic name and to prove to the world that Austen was wrong about happy endings.

I came to Jane Austen relatively late in life. We were assigned Pride and Prejudice as summer reading in ninth grade. Honestly? It bored me to tears. For this sole reason I eschewed majoring in English in college in favor of a theater/American Studies combo just so that I could avoid British literature in general and Austen in particular.

In my late 20s I got it in my head that I wanted to “do the classics,” and picked up Sense and Sensibility. I absolutely loved it. I tore through the rest of her works, thoroughly enjoying myself. For the record, Mansfield Park is my favorite.

All this to say that I don’t quite get the Austen-mania that fuels heroines in books like Jane Austen Ruined My Life. I mean, I get being enthralled by books–that’s a phenomenon I’ve experienced–but there’s no one book or author around which I’ve shaped my life. But I certainly don’t begrudge women like Emma their infatuation with Austen, because if anyone’s worth it, she is.

Jane Austen Ruined My Life is a charming read that takes readers on a journey through Austen’s England, and, by extension, her life. In reading the book I gained a greater appreciation for her achievements, and got very excited to reread her books. Author Beth Patillo has crafted a Da Vinci Code-esque puzzle for Emma to unravel, and to her credit makes it completely plausible. While the love story isn’t going to shake the earth, I did have great sympathy for Emma’s disenchantment with romance after the failure of her marriage.

I was glad that Patillo left out some of the chick lit cliches like the meet-cute and the requisite “heroine falling down the stairs/out of a cab/into a swimming pool” clumsiness. Emma is wounded, but thoroughly capable, and that was a refreshing change from the spawn of Bridget Jones. (Not that I don’t love Bridget Jones’s Diary, I’m just tired of ersatz Bridget.)

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