Contemporary Jane Austen tells all

Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen in "Pride & Prejudice," based on the novel by Jane Austen.

Jane Austen, the beloved Regency novelist, died 200 years ago on July 18. Given the state of the contemporary publishing industry in this era of celebrity, I can only imagine what it would be like if Austen were writing today:

Best-selling author Jane Austen is reported to be engaged in a bidding war for a three-book contract. Record sums are expected.

"Two hundred years is a long time to be in print," commented one industry expert. "Editors want assurance of that kind of longevity when they sign book contracts these days."

Austen, who has penned six novels in the so-called "chick lit" genre, is acclaimed for creating compelling romantic plots without resorting to sexually explicit material. Her works have been positively cited by such groups as the Mothers Affirming Modesty Association (MAMA).

The three books under negotiation are said to depart from Austen's trademark style. According to Cassie Austen, spokeswoman for her sister, "Jane is tired of being the spinster aunt of romantic fiction."

Austen herself, in a recent appearance on The View, told Whoopi Goldberg: "It may surprise you to know that I've had sex, I like sex, and I think sex is fun."

Goldberg responded enthusiastically, but Joy Behar expressed the hope that Austen would remain true to her previous, tasteful plots. "It's nice to leave something to the imagination," said Behar, "though I know I'm showing my age."

Cassie Austen explained: "I trust that my sister will find a narrative framework that will allow her to address material heretofore unexplored."

The three books under discussion include two novels that would capitalize on the Austen brand while breaking new ground. Among titles rumored to be under consideration are: Prose and Prostitution - about two sisters, one getting a Ph.D. in literature and the other paying the bills by working as a lady of the night; and Domination - a sequel to Persuasion - that follows heroine Anne Elliot as she attains fulfillment through kinky sex with her husband, Capt. Frederick Wentworth.

Cassie Austen has hinted that a lingerie line, designed by Jane herself ("elegantly steamy," according to industry insiders) will be in the stores in advance of publication.

The third and most anticipated book will be a memoir, tentatively titled: Tempest in a Teapot: Jane Austen Tells All.

The book will feature surprising events in Austen seemingly uneventful life. Some of the highlights to be addressed include:

The secrets of multitasking: How to write six literary masterpieces while crocheting, serving tea, and engaging in inane conversation.

A who's who for the novels: Discover the real nincompoop behind Mr. Collins; the annoying cad who inspired Frank Churchill; the bitch who was the model for Mary Crawford.

The conundrum of the portrait: Was malice or lack of talent behind Cassandra's portrayal of her sister - since we all know that Jane Austen looks exactly like Keira Knightley?

Bloopers: The time a gentleman accidentally-on-purpose snatched the lace from the front of Jane's gown, requiring that her brother quickly give her a hanky to cover up.

The mystery of the proposal: Why Jane recanted - and why a good mouthwash might have changed literary history.

Bonnets, bonnets, bonnets. Yes, Jane Austen was a shopaholic in the millinery department. And how, coupled with Cassie's thing for shoes, they practically bankrupted their brother.

And one final, great reveal: What really happened during that undocumented stretch in Bath? Hint from Cassie Austen: "Thank God for high-waisted Empire gowns and our relatives in France."

Paula Marantz Cohen is dean of the Pennoni Honors College at Drexel University and author of several comic novels, including "Jane Austen in Boca." cohenpm@drexel.edu

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