Time travel? Wouldn’t we all love to travel through time to an era that fascinates us? In my latest novel, Becoming Elizabeth Darcy, Beth Hannigan of Cedar Grove, New Jersey does just that. After falling into a coma, she awakes in the bed and body of Elizabeth Bennet Darcy. At first, Beth refuses to believe that such a thing can happen, but then reality sets in with her first encounter with a chamber pot. This is followed by a visit from the Darcys’ doctor who would like to bleed her and administer a draught of calomel containing the heavy metal, mercury, and she wonders if she will make it out of the Regency Era alive.
Despite the problems, Beth soon adjusts to the slower rhythms of Pemberley. Putting on Elizabeth’s dresses and sitting at table with Mr. Darcy are enough for her to overlook the shortcomings of the era, but for how long? Remember the chamber pot?
If I could travel through time, where would I go? I would like to visit Ireland where my ancestors came from, but only for a day, as they were very poor. I’d like to peek in on Caravaggio and Michelangelo and watch these masters at work, but only for a day, as both would have thrown me out of their studios. I would like to sit down for a chat with Queen Elizabeth I and ask her what it was like to hold down a man’s job, and there are so many others: General George Washington, Rosa Parks, Isaac Newton, and Madame Curie, to name a few. How about having some quality time with fictional characters and quizzing them on their actions? Mr. Rochester, whatever possessed you to keep your mad wife in the attic? Mr. Knightley, please tell me exactly what you saw in Emma? Jane Fairfax, did Mr. Churchill ever grow up? Rhett Butler, was Scarlett worth the pain?
I could go on and on, but I’d rather hear from you. If you could travel through time, where would you go and why? If you could have a conversation with a famous literary person, who would it be? I’d love to hear from you.
Charlotte had now been married a month, and was quite as satisfied with her situation as she had ever dared hope to be. If her husband was not the pleasantest of companions, there was only one of him, and any man, not vicious, might easily be managed by a clever woman. In the case of Mr. Collins, it was only needful for Charlotte to be willing to adapt her expressions to the flattering sort he plainly needed for his contentment. This was but a small sacrifice, for Charlotte, though ordinarily a plain spoken woman, felt it a gratifying improvement to have only him to please, by such simple and expedient means. At Lucas Lodge, she had been required all through her young womanhood to assist her mother with the care of her many younger brothers and sisters, a slavery that had reduced her to little more than a bonne or nursemaid. How much, therefore, she now delighted in having her own house, may be imagined; and with her intelligence and tact she was quite equal to the business of keeping Mr. Collins happy, occupied, and not too much in her own way. In the intervals when Mr. Collins was silent, or away from the house, as did happen for several hours of each day, she could enjoy her own peaceful occupations, to her heart’s content. Continue reading →
My Jane Austen Summer was published last March and since then readers have raised their hands to ask lots of questions. Some questions arose in book club or library group discussions. Individual readers posed queries via cyberspace through email, Skype, or blog comments. Over the last ten months, I’ve discovered that most questions are variations on a few basic themes.
Are the characters in My Jane Austen Summer based on people you know? Are you Lily?
The answer is: not really. I’ve never been to a Jane Austen Literary Festival, do not know anyone remotely resembling Willis, Sixby, or Randolph, and absolutely never would make the mistakes Lily makes in my book. None of my characters are based on one person but, every creation is based on something. Imagination often works with memory to create original material. Characters and settings can be influenced by someone I’ve known or read about or seen in a film. Each of the characters I’ve created is a synthesis, using bits of memory, research, and scraps of myself or my personal experience. Readers assume novels are autobiographical, right? I do it, too. When I start a book, I flip to the back to find the author’s photo so I can imagine the author in the role of protagonist. Publishers understand another dynamic of reader psychology: imagining oneself as the novel’s protagonist. Have you ever noticed that book covers often do not show women’s faces? Women on covers are either cut off at the neck, as in the case of My Jane Austen Summer, or turned away from the camera. Keeping it vague allows the reader to imagine their head on the protagonist’s body. Either way, I am not Lily Berry.
Will there be a sequel to My Jane Austen Summer?
There is a stove in my brain, and that stove has many burners. On the front burner, I’m cooking a novel I’ll call Margot and Gina through its final revisions. There is another novel just starting to simmer on the left burner and I’ll probably move it over to front right burner as soon as Margot and Gina moves into editorial submission. Somewhere on the mid-burners is a series of stories that I think of as The Lily Chronicles. This saga will take the reader through Lily’s life after Willis and Literature Live, up to the time when she returns to England and meets Willis again. I see him as a vampire novelist struggling to publish a mainstream novel when Lily returns for Vera’s funeral. On the back burner is a young adult series. Continue reading →
Every once in a while something happens in my day-to-day life – or someone tells me a story about an incident in his or hers – that makes me think about how we develop and maintain friendships. That happened again this past week when I got an email from an old friend. In our modern cyber world, we’re no longer restricted to forming acquaintanceships and deeper relationships with people who live in our neighborhood or general community. We no longer have to wait a week or more to receive a letter that was sent from across the country or the other side of the globe — email allows our correspondence to be nearly instantaneous. Cell phones and skyping make it simple to keep in touch in a more personal way with friends who aren’t nearby. And social networks, like Twitter and Facebook, facilitate introductions to people who share our interests (or who are just nice!) and that we never would have met otherwise.
I think of the Austen “communities” on blogs like ours at AuAu and, also, on both Twitter and Facebook. I marvel at how just using the #Austen tag on a tweet is like a calling card saying, “Hey, I love JA’s writing! Who else is with me on this?” But these online social networks have done something else, too. They’ve expanded our ability to be social from our homes or our cars, even when we’re otherwise alone. They’ve given us the ability to share our knowledge with strangers in another time zone and to have endless streams of information shared with us in return. Of course, along with these potential pros, there are a few cons to such constant connections. One downside, in my opinion, is how difficult it can be to take a serious break from the Internet without people sending you messages asking, “Are you okay? It’s been 7 minutes and you still haven’t answered me…didn’t you get my email?” (I’m kidding, but only about the number of minutes… ;) ) Continue reading →
This post is largely a response to an issue raised at Austenprose about an author apologizing to Jane Austen for using her characters in his book.
I’ve thanked Jane Austen lots of times – across five books, one eBooks, and I will continue to thank her because she deserves to be thanked. In coming up with new ways to say it I’ll probably say that I “stole” from her if I haven’t already. But this, like I think the author of the book in question, is in jest. I don’t have to do it. I’m not thanking Jane; I’m making a public acknowledgment of the origin of some of my characters. It’s for my reading audience, not anyone else.
The truth is that Jane Austen is dead. She is completely and utterly dead. And she’s gone. I don’t know about the afterlife, because Judaism has changed its mind a couple times over the past 3000 years (apparently we believe in reincarnation now? And have since the 16th century? Whatever. We face G-d, we’re judged, things happen) but I do believe that people who I’ve never even known are not floating above my head, judging me for what I do, because that sounds like the worst possible kind of afterlife. Wherever Jane is, if she’s anywhere, it’s not the Barnes and Noble at Union Square, browsing through the mid-A section of “Fiction and Literature.” If there’s a heaven it definitely has better stores.
So Jane isn’t judging me, and I’m not stealing from her. Her literary works have entered the public domain. They are owner-less. They are public ideas to be used by anyone for anything, and cannot be claimed by anyone as “their own.” According to American copyright law, even if Jane were to rise from the dead, she couldn’t claim royalties on the endless reprints of her work because once something is in the public domain, it can never go back into the private one. Continue reading →
I realize it’s Dr. Martin Luther King Day, and for the record, I believe that Jane Austen would’ve fully supported Dr. King’s vision. Both of them were only too aware of inequality and its consequences. Both had a dream of the future that I hope we’ve nearly achieved. They were also talented writers, impacting so many with their words.
Bonnets off to Dr. Martin Luther King.
But, I’m here today on Austen Authors to indulge in a little mid-winter escape…
I’d like to whisk us all away to a Salon, and I’m not talking about getting our hair and nails done!
I’d like to announce something very exciting…
Lady Jane’s Salon, a reading series dedicated to romantic fiction, and, as rumor has it, named with a nod toward our own Jane Austen, is sprouting up all over the country. The newest Lady Jane’s will be:
Tuesday February 7th
Le Chocolat du Bourchard, 2nd Fl
129 S. Washington St. Naperville, IL Continue reading →
I’ve been learning some surprising things from rewriting scenes from Pride & Prejudice from a different point of view for the P&P200 project, where a group of us are following the course of Pride & Prejudice in real time exactly 200 years after the events of the book. Here’s one example of something I see differently now.
The plot of Pride & Prejudice relies on many coincidences. It’s coincidence that Darcy and Elizabeth meet three times in three different counties in less than a year. There seem to be a lot of coincidences about George Wickham as well. Wickham happens to show up in Meryton, then he chooses Elizabeth and no one else to confide in, then he elopes with Elizabeth’s sister as opposed to any other woman, just at the precise time that Elizabeth would be able to tell Darcy about it. Hmm. That’s a lot of coincidences.
On top of that, I’ve always wondered why Wickham would choose Elizabeth of all the Bennet sisters to favor with his attentions. He seems to like women who are compliant, preferably with money, yet he picks Elizabeth, who is not as beautiful as Jane, nor as flirtatious as Lydia, and who has no money. He doesn’t seem the sort of fellow who would like a woman who challenges and teases him, yet he still chooses Elizabeth. Why?
Working on P&P200 made me realize it wasn’t a coincidence at all. Rewriting scenes from the point of view of another character forces me to break down scenes line by line to figure out the precise action. Often Jane Austen doesn’t give us any stage directions for a scene, but for Wickham’s first appearance, she gives us incredible detail, so she must have thought that scene through very carefully. Let’s break it down together. Continue reading →
I’m away from home today, helping my mother after the death of her husband. It was not an unexpected death, but that doesn’t seem to matter. When death comes, it rocks us back on our heels for a time.
Austen would have known about death more intimately than most of us in this day. It was all around her and there was little to cushion anyone emotionally. We have many distractions and processes that keep us away from the actual body, and duties that keep us from thinking too much about it all.
A word of advice, keep your papers in order and information up to date. You will be dying at some point, and someone will have to put your affairs in order. At some point you will likely be clearing up the affairs of a loved one, so be prepared for that as well. Be prepared to look through a lot of papers that under ordinary circumstances are none of your business. Avert your eyes from amounts in accounts, and don’t forget to laugh at some of the foibles you will discover. (My stepdad was highly organized, but he organied a lot of stuff that should have been tossed years ago!) Continue reading →
A friend of mine who is a feminist and bemused by my interest in Jane Austen said to me the other day, “I don’t know how you can like Jane Austen. She’s so mean to mothers.”
After a bit of thought I realized she had a point. Not about me liking Jane Austen but about Jane Austen being mean to mothers. I thought of all the mothers (and mother-figures) that pass through her pages and was struck by how many there were. Not one could accuse her of ignoring mothers the way she ignored the war with Napoleon. Yet generally speaking, her maternal figures tend to have something wrong with them.
1. The Absent Mother
It doesn’t help that some of the mothers who could have provided helpful advice for the heroines, or supported them in some way, are not even alive to do so. Of course, that is hardly their fault. It’s only to be expected, at a time when 1-2 % of women died giving birth (Since women often had multiple children, this translated into something close to a one in eight chance of dying in childbirth). It isn’t surprising then, that several of JA’s characters have lost their mothers. Fitzwilliam & Georgiana Darcy, Henry & Eleanor Tilney, Anne Elliot, Mary & Henry Crawford, Emma Woodhouse, Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax are all motherless.
Even though she is dead, the “absent mother” is ironically very much present in Northanger Abbey. Catherine’s conclusions about how Henry’s mother died almost destroys their relationship. In a way, Henry’s dead mother “haunts” the novel and creates problems. Continue reading →
As we watched Kate Middleton marry into the Royal Family last year, people kept saying things that made the life of a princess seem “ideal,” but we who have studied the Regency Period can name six princesses who knew nothing of the glam and glamour of being named “princess.” The Princess Royal, Charlotte Augusta Matilda, was the oldest of those.
George III and Queen Charlotte beget a total of 15 children: nine sons and six daughters. Life in the royal household was anything but ideal. Reportedly, the boys were often beaten for the least infraction, but they also had their “freedom.” So, despite George III’s “whip hand,” the king’s sons were given money and their own residences, some receiving these liberties as early as age eleven. The King’s daughters, however, were kept at home under the watchful eye of both parents. The diarist, Fanny Burney, wrote, “Never in tale or fable were there six sister Princesses more lovely.” However, late marriages and spinsterhood plagued all six.
One of the issues that kept the daughters out of the marriage ring was their parents’ insistence that the girls marry men whose politics aligned with the King and Queen’s. Therefore, the princesses were rarely out in Society. Obviously, the girls could not be seen dancing with someone of the Whigs party. Only the daughters of loyal Tories were ever invited to Windsor. Queen Charlotte remained quite adamant in that matter. Continue reading →