We all wish Jane Austen had left more books behind for us to enjoy. Specifically, I would have requested a sequel to Pride and Prejudice and then a couple of dozen other new stories to add to the six we have. So, when I began writing JAFF, that was my guide. I started with the P&P sequel I envisioned (The Darcys of Pemberley), and then I tried to imagine what Miss Austen might have written next, had she lived.
But what would that have been? Well, she was very progressive for her time and would, I believed, have looked for a new angle or a different way of telling a story. So I didn’t feel forced to confine myself to ground she’d covered before. Might she have tried writing in first person? And as for the plot, how about giving the heroine a lot of money for a change? And the problems that come with it? That opened up all kinds of possibilities!
Set in nineteenth century Hampshire and Bath, For Myself Alone is the tale of Josephine Walker, a bright, young woman whose quiet life is turned upside-down by an unexpected inheritance. With a tempting fortune of twenty thousand pounds, she’s suddenly the most popular girl in town. Yet Jo longs to be valued for who she is, not for her bank balance. She cannot respect the men who pursue her for her money, and the only one she does admire is considered the rightful property of her best friend.
A sojourn in Bath, for treatment of her father’s gout, gives Jo a chance for a fresh start in a place where no one will know about her monetary attractions. But, as you might guess, even there the path to true love and a Jane-Austen-style happy ending does not run smoothly. Poor Jo. I really put her through the wringer – fortune hunters, a two-faced friend, a breach-of-promise suit, on top of the slanderous gossip of her neighbors.
When I began For Myself Alone, I didn’t have in mind any direct reference to Jane Austen’s existing work, only a compliment to her style. With her words so deeply entrenched in my mind, however, I often found myself thinking of and alluding to various passages from her books as I went along. Rather than fight the temptation to borrow some of her expertly turned phrases, I decided to go with it, making kind of a game out of tucking these little gems between the pages for Austen aficionados to find. What fun!
Jo parrots Marianne Dashwood’s immortal words, “Will you not shake hands with me?” saying them to boy-next-door Arthur Evensong instead of the attractive but dangerous Willoughby. And in another place Jo asks her father about his gout, saying, “Is there nothing you can take to give you present relief?” You get the idea.
All this goes to illustrate my purpose in writing For Myself Alone, which was to give the reader an experience much like enjoying a brand new – or possibly long lost and just rediscovered? – Jane Austen novel. How close I came to achieving that goal, you can be the judge.
Read the prologue to the book below, and see if you can find the two Jane Austen quotes hidden within it. Continue into chapter one. Then, if you want a chance to win a copy of For Myself Alone, visit my site, where I currently have a book give-away going to celebrate the first anniversary of the release of The Darcys of Pemberley!
Through the first two decades of her existence, Josephine Walker led a singularly uneventful and ordinary life that gave little hint of what was to come. She had done nothing in that period to significantly distinguish herself from her contemporaries by way of either excessively good or prodigiously bad behavior. So it was, therefore, a matter of considerable surprise to those who best knew her when, at the promising age of one-and-twenty, she became the concentrated focus of so much local speculation and gossip.
The inhabitants of a place so unaccustomed to serious scandal could not reasonably be expected to ignore an exceptional bit of news when it came their way. Tongues wagged tirelessly as accounts of “the trouble in Bath” made the rounds. Where or how it began not one of the residents of Wallerton, in Hampshire, could testify with any security. What is not in dispute, however, is that Mrs. Oddbody was overheard dishing out a fine portion of the story to her neighbor in the street one day.
“My dear Mrs. Givens, have you heard about Miss Walker? She is just returned from Bath, you know, and in quite a state of agitation. There is big trouble brewing with that young man of hers; depend upon it. I expect it is the corrupt atmosphere that worked the mischief. The things that go on in that town… Well, let me tell you, it is quite shocking! I daresay many a respectable young woman has lost her character in that heathen place.”
Mrs. Givens, being of an unselfish nature, shared the somewhat-altered morsel with her husband. “Miss Walker has completely lost her character, Mr. Givens. I have just had it from Mrs. Oddbody, a most reliable source. Evidently, she began cavorting with a very unsavory element in town, keeping company with some strange man. Now she has brought a great calamity down upon her head.”
Mr. Givens, in turn, generously passed the tidbit on to his brother-in-law Mr. Pigeon, adding his own considered opinion to the report. “It will lead to legal action, I shouldn’t wonder. It shows a careless disregard for the credit of her family to involve herself with a man of obscurity. Then, as they say, ‘The apple does not fall far from the tree.’ Was there not rumor of some trouble of that kind with the mother years ago?”
Mr. Pigeon recapitulated the account to his wife. “They say the mother is to blame. But mark my words, Agatha, it is the money at the heart of the matter,” he concluded with irrefutable sagacity. “By heaven! A woman should never be trusted with money. No doubt it has completely gone to her head. She would have done much better never to have been given it in the first place. Bad judgment on the part of the uncle; bad judgment indeed.”
“Unfortunate as the event may be,” summarized Mrs. Pigeon for her brood of three fledgling girls, “we may draw this useful lesson from Miss Walker’s plight. A lady cannot be too much guarded in her behavior towards the undeserving of the other sex. No matter who is to blame, it is the woman who gets the worst of it when things go wrong. We must take care that nothing of the kind will ever befall any of you, my pets.”
Miss Walker’s name was on everybody’s lips. The more her story was exaggerated and embellished by repetition, the better it suited the assorted purposes of those who told it. To the charitable, she became an object of pity; to the hard-hearted, a source of cruel diversion; and to every teacher of morality, an example conveniently close to hand. Various versions of the tale, containing various proportions of truth to fiction, spread throughout the village at lightening speed. No one could agree upon the particulars, but about one idea all opinions united. This misstep was sure to damage the lady’s standing in the community and be the ruination of her chances of ever making a respectable match.
I know that in the grand scheme of things the misadventures of one country girl amount to no more than a drop in the great watery deep. However, in the infinitely smaller scope of that particular young lady’s imagination, the very same drop may prove enough to thoroughly drench her. I am one such girl, just come in from a soaking rain.
With my hand still damp, metaphorically speaking, I take up my diary from its traditional resting spot on the bedside table. I stroke the pebbled surface of the embossed red leather binding and trace the name engraved on the cover in gilt lettering: Josephine Walker. The book was a present for my seventeenth birthday, a parting gift of sorts from my hapless governess. In it I have diligently documented, without embellishment, the meager fare of which my life has consisted for the four years since. Putting pen to paper always gives me comfort, although the stories I write for children are on the whole, I trust, far more entertaining than the entries in my diary.
Judging from the stillness of the house, even the last of the servants has retired. Only the great clock in the hall and a distant discontented dog keep me company through the watches of the night. The relief of sleep escapes me. My restless mind continues pacing to and fro, retracing the turbulent events of the past few weeks. How glad I am to be home at Fairfield again; vain was my wish to leave it in the first place. How much misery might I have been spared had I never gone to Bath? I craved adventure then. Now the peace of privacy and the company of my closest friends are all I yearn for.
By the flickering candlelight, I revisit a simpler past as set down in the foremost part of the volume in my hand. As I leaf through, my eye catches upon a date with a small star carefully drawn beside it. A significant day: my first grown-up ball, I remember, smiling. A dozen other entries of similar import are denoted by the same fanciful symbol, marking bits and pieces of my innocent youth.
As I continue turning forward in time, my diary falls open to the twenty-seventh day of April, the current year – a day which earned not just one star, but an entire constellation. With equal agitation of an entirely different sort, I likewise opened to a fresh page in my diary that night. I remember taking inordinate care writing the date, adorning the capital “A” with as many scrolls and flourishes as I could devise. I was in no hurry. At last I had something truly worth recording for posterity. Yet in my excitement, I hardly knew where to begin. Nothing in my past had prepared me for the circumstances in which I found myself…