TOKYO Dear reader, if Jane Austen lived today, she'd be an avid blogger, she'd be on Facebook, and of course she'd also be tweeting away -- but mostly about other people, not herself.
That's because Austen had a passionate fascination with people and what made them who they were, an interest that keeps the modern world fascinated by the woman who wrote novels set in small villages nearly 200 years ago, said Laurel Ann Nattress, editor of an anthology of Austen-inspired stories.
"She would definitely be on Twitter, out there having fun. Blogging, connecting with people. Facebook," said Nattress in a phone interview about her book, "Jane Austen Made Me Do It."
"She loved understanding how people ticked, and you see that in her characterizations and her plots. So I think that the whole social networking thing would fascinate her too, because you learn more about people."
Nattress first read Austen as a schoolgirl, but her passion for the writer who gave the world "Sense and Sensibility" and a handful of other novels didn't truly begin until 1980, when a television production of "Pride and Prejudice" made the world of Regency England come alive for her.
"I loved the era, I loved the gentility, I loved the respect that the characters had for each other. I love their dialogue -- that sharp, witty, funny dialogue," she said.
"I wasn't really pleased with what life was happening around me, and so I saw this fabulous world 200 years ago. It was just amazing how civil these people were, the gentility and civility were really striking, I think, (compared) with what we were seeing on television."
Nattress immediately re-read "Pride and Prejudice," although she said she struggled a bit with the language at first, and then the other books. It was the start of a love affair that has led her to read the book again every year.
Though for years Nattress said she merely "worshipped in silence," the advent of the Internet in the mid-90s opened up a new world of sites where other Austen fans gathered.
In 2007, she began a blog, "Austenprose," (austenprose.com/)
to share her passion for all things Austen, including a growing body of "Austen sequels" and other Austen-inspired tales. These days this includes some with touches of vampires, zombies and hammerhead sharks.
Amidst this literary outpouring, Nattress suddenly realized there wasn't an anthology of Austen-inspired short stories. With the help of a literary agent who phoned to thank her about a review she'd done, she set out to rectify that.
"I think Jane Austen was looking down on me," she said.
Within a week of starting to sell the book, they had an offer. Within a month, they had 20 authors lined up, eager to write new Austen-inspired stories.
The resulting collection contains tales by seasoned authors in a variety of genres as well as one debut piece, chosen from among 88 in a short story contest.
There is one about a modern-day Austen giving her niece advice ahead of her wedding and another in which Mr. Darcy, the romantic hero of "Pride and Prejudice," sues all the writers of sequels and spin-offs.
Nattress, who said she now automatically associates anybody she meets with an Austen character, attributed her heroine's lasting appeal mainly to her take on human nature.
"She writes very astute observations of human personalities, foibles and things that are wonderful. It's universal and it still touches us today," she said.
And what would a modern Jane be doing, besides blogging?
"I think she would be a journalist because she loved the cutting edge of society. She loved talking about people, about human dynamics, about personal relations," Nattress said.
"If she wasn't a journalist I think she'd be a psychologist, because she was just so observant. I learn so much about life from Jane Austen."
(Editing by Paul Casciato)