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Inquiring readers: This is a long recap. Eight episodes of a mini-series deserve a thorough discussion of the finale.

Spoiler Alert: We’ve invested many hours in Davies’ Sanditon on PBS Masterpiece and where did it get us? Before we rush to the comment section to share our opinions, let’s analyze the final show. At the end of my, er, analysis, we’ll finish with a poll to measure our collective satisfaction quotient.

Announcement: According to PBS and ITV, there are no plans to film a second season of Sanditon.

Dancing on a cloud

The episode opens with our lovely Miss Charlotte walking on air through the one intersection of the Sanditon set that viewers have seen repeatedly. Thoughts of Sidney’s sweet talk and proposal interruptus swirl in her head.

She knocks on Mrs. Griffith’s door to visit Georgiana and espies Sidney nearby talking to Tom. He sees her as well. They exchange smoldering looks. Charlotte’s heart beats as fast as mine.

The scene segues to Georgiana’s bedroom. For the first time in many episodes, Miss Lambe is dressed in a lovely gown. Her complexion glows. She and Charlotte chatter like close girlfriends are wont to do, giggling and exchanging highly personal information.

Then Charlotte drops a bombshell – “Sidney is a wonderful man. He’s kind. He’s so dreamy. I couldn’t sleep last night just thinking of him.”

Quelle horreur!

Georgiana is beside herself. “You aren’t (gag) in love with him!? Please say you are not.”

“Well, uh, maybe, perhaps. Recall that he trotted out Otis to say goodbye to you. Wasn’t that nice?”

“You cannot trust a word he says!”

Sanditon intersectionEnd of discussion. The viewer is immediately transported to the same intersection of the Sanditon set that they have seen repeatedly. This time a stagecoach takes center stage to deliver passengers and the mail. James Stringer receives a letter stating that he has received an offer of an apprenticeship in London. It’s everything he’s ever dreamed of. Now all he has to do is tell his Da.

Something jolly

The camera pans to Sanditon House. My head spins from the many scene changes and from my low blood sugar. I reach for crackers with sharp New Zealand cheddar cheese and a fine red Australian wine and watch Lady D and Esther playing cards. Esther’s bored and pays scant attention to the game, which prompts Lady D to complain,

“You are playing like a nincompoop. What is the matter with you?”

Esther is honest. She couldn’t care less about cards.

“Don’t give yourself airs,” says Lady D, “You haven’t got my money yet! Go over and play the piano. Play me something jolly.”

Esther resists, saying she can’t play or sing.

At that moment, Lord Babbington is announced and he enters smiling and smug, and asks Esther to accompany him for a ride.

Esther: “No”

Lord Babb: “Yes”

Lady D: “Go!”

babbington and estherIn the next scene we see Esther and Lord Babb sitting side by side in a curricle (a dandy’s vehicle, much like today’s ultra sleek sports car for the uber rich). The horses gallop along a beautiful stretch of beach. Esther feigns boredom, but Lord Babb urges the horses on. She basically calls him a wuss and says:

“You are the world’s worst carriage driver.”

“Do you want to take over the reins?”

“Why not?” As she drives the horses even faster we gain insight into their future relationship. Esther is the alpha of the two—a bitch in a bonnet. (Thanks, Robert Rodi for the title, which I borrowed from your book.)

The horses increase their speed, their manes and tails flying in the wind. Esther laughs joyously and for the first time viewers watch her blossom into a fun-loving young woman whose worries disappear with a man who loves her more than she loves him.

First kiss

Tom Parker is happy. The WHOLE WORLD wants to come to Sanditon (a slight exaggeration) just in time for the Midsummer’s Ball.

Sidney visits Tom in the drawing room and catches Charlotte going out to adjust the final finishes to her ball gown. Sidney expresses interest in joining her in her perambulations. She says, coyly, “Sure why not?” And off they go—in the exact opposite direction of her destination. There is no urgency to her dressmaking, she says. Hah!

charlotte SidneyThe couple meanders along the Downs, lost in tender emotions and lust. Then they kiss.

Heartstrings tug. Violins violin. The music climaxes in volume. We viewers KNOW this maiden has won the final rose from her very eligible bachelor and that all is right in Austenland.

*Sigh.*

At the Midsummer’s ball

I give the third ball in this series a rating of 2. (#1 goes to the London ball, and #3 to the assembly ball at the beginning of the series.) The midsummer decorations are more than adequate and the beau monde & villagers look smashing—kudos to the costume and prop departments.

Our main protagonists and characters are assembled, beautifully dressed and ready to party, except for Georgiana, who confronts Sidney. “What are you up to with Charlotte?

Arthur interrupts to ask Miss Lambe to dance. Sidney quickly answers, “She’d be delighted.”

Off they go.

Then Sidney is way laid by Tom. James Stringer takes this moment to ask Charlotte for a dance. Across the ball room, Charlotte and Sidney exchange glances of frustration, but she can’t refuse Stringer, for she was not engaged to dance with another gentleman. Regency manners require her to accept this invitation or bow out from dancing for the rest of the evening. Unfortunately, a dance in formation can take up a considerable amount of time and Sidney will have to bide his time before he can talk to his sweet Charlotte.

As James and Charlotte dance, he tells her he’s found an excellent situation in London as an apprentice. She’s so delighted with the news—so pleased for him—so gushing—that he must be disappointed with that overenthusiastic reaction.

Lord Babb talks to Sidney as they eye the dancers. He leaves his friend as soon as he sees Lady D and Esther enter the ball room, fashionably late as great ladies were wont to do.

The dancing continues, with Lord Babb and Esther, Arthur and Georgiana, and the rest of the assembled guests having great fun.  After what seems to be an age, Charlotte’s dance with Stringer finally ends.

Balcony scene

We now have a Romeo and Juliet moment in reverse, with Sidney looking down at Charlotte on the ballroom floor. They finally meet and greet. In their scene together he says all the words that a hero would say at the VERY END of a romance, but we are only halfway into the story!

And so, Sidney says, “What a brute I was.”

Charlotte, who, once upon a time was a feisty opinionated woman, says, “I deserved it.”

He then confesses he’s the same man. She ripostes, “But much improved.” Really, Charlotte, really? I reach for more wine and learn to my surprise that one can gulp 3 ounces in one fell swoop.

Then comes the piece de resistance in romance dialogues—“If I’ve changed at all it is in no small part down to you. I’ve never waited to put myself in someone else’s power before.”

Violins violin. Hearts flutter.

I think: *WTDFJH?* (What the Dr. Fuchs just happened?) This denouement is occurring too soon!

I forgot about deux ex machina, a literary device used to derail the reader or viewer, and that is discouraged by professors who teach Writing Romance Novels 101.

Ashes to ashes

For some reason, the elder Stringer, instead of attending the ball, works late by candlelight on a stepladder to complete the Crescent all by his lonesome. James Stringer sought him out before the ball to tell him about his acceptance letter in the apprenticeship program

Dad is not pleased. “It’s for Charlotte and (eyeing his ball attire), you look like one of THEM! Well, off you go, then.”

James, such a sweet and likable character, stomps out, calling his father a miserable old man.

The night is dark and only candles light up the space when Old Stringer touches his chest, then his left arm. Uh, oh. My knowledge of medicine, learned in lifeguard training classes in college, kicks in. This is not looking good. Plus, why is the elder Stringer working for a gentleman when he hasn’t been paid in an age?

The next thing we know, someone yells, “Fire!” Poor Mr. Stringer is toast. Scant resources existed in the early 19th century to fight fires in buildings made largely of wood, and the structure is swiftly destroyed.  James Stringer is aghast at the loss of his father, and he recalls his angry last words with profound regret.

Tom, who was riding high a few hours ago with visions of profits dancing in his head, is utterly destroyed financially. He has no idea of how to save his dream for a seaside resort. Worse, how could he face his Mary?  His stupidity and naiveté are revealed when Sidney uncovers his true crime—not investing in insurance to save a few quid.

Lady D swoops down upon the hapless brothers and sister, saying she wants her investment back or else they’ll all be put in the poor house. The Parkers’ combined resources cannot cover the disastrous cost of  ‎£80,000, or £6,323,574.23 in today’s money. Is there no hope?

Yes! Deus ex machina.

Everything has changed. Sidney rides off in the sunset to London to find funds. In ancient Greek theatre, this DEM device came in the form of an angel or god of sorts lowered onto a stage who would save the protagonists. A chorus echoes in my head with the refrain, “Lady Campion, she’s the champion, richest widow in the land.”

Before Sidney leaves, he visits Charlotte and holds her hand: “When I return, we’ll finally have a chance to finish our conversation. I’ll be back in a week.”

Is that so, kemo sabe? We’ll see.

Old Stringer is buried. We learn his name was Isaac. James is beside himself with grief and regret.

In another scene, Tom grovels in front of Mary and she, milquetoast, er, loving wife, that she is, forgives him.

Charlotte writes a letter to her sister saying that it’s been weeks since Sidney left in an attempt to save Sanditon…and so the plot goes on.

The wedding is celebrated by … the wrong couple, or the right couple, or half the couples who are eligible to marry. Take your pick.

I must confess my happiness when Lord Babb and his Esther marry. It’s the same feeling I had when Lady Edith married her Bertie in Downton Abbey, making her a marchioness.

I love it when Story B makes it to the A list and emerges front and center. In this instance, the viewer is treated to the morning after the wedding night, when we see that Esther is not disappointed. In fact, she anticipates a happy future with her Lord, who unleashed emotions in her and feelings of pleasure that Sir Ed would never have liberated.

Well done you, Lord Babb. I love rich, huggy-bear types who adore their headstrong women.

Good news, bad news: the hero returns to save the day but sacrifices his lovely damsel and his own happiness.

The Parkers’ financial future lies in Sidney’s quick return, and they gnash their teeth as they await news of his success. He hies back to Sanditon several weeks after his departure, causing ulcers and sleepless nights for kith and kin. It turns out, he has saved them all—except for he, himself and Charlotte.

Their meeting stinks, in my humble opinion. At least he’s gutsy enough to tell her in person of his actions.

Saint Sidney takes her hand in his.

“Charlotte, my dear Charlotte…I had hoped that upon my return I’d be able to make you a proposal of marriage, but it cannot be…the fact is I have been obliged to engage myself to Mrs. Eliza Campion.”

*Yeah, whatev,* I think. Charlotte is stunned, however.

“Please believe me there was no other way to resolve Tom’s situation”

Sidney’s words turn Charlotte into a boneless mass of compliance.

“I understand. I wish you every happiness,” she says like an automaton.

Adding salt to the wound of rejection

Lady DenhamAfter Lord Babb’s weddng to Esther, Lady D turns to Charlotte. “Well Miss Heywood? Are you still proclaiming your independence? Or is it that none of our young men have taken your fancy?” She turns to Sidney: “What do you say, Mr. Parker?”

Lady D is called away, before he can formulate an answer.

Charlotte and Sidney soldier on, exchanging polite conversation. “How are your wedding preparations?” she asks, her face immobile, as if injected by botox

“Elaborate.”

Lady Campion, all noxious graciousness, insinuates herself into the conversation.

“Perhaps we should plan a simple country wedding. Although I don’t think it would be our sort of thing.”

At this point I’ve eaten all my crackers and cheese, texted my Janeite friends with my observances, and poured another glass of an outstanding 94-point Fox in the Hen House wine. I take care not to throw that precious liquid at the screen whenever Lady C smirks.

Charlotte folds in on herself like a wet noodle

Charlotte visits James Stringer. Feeling the weight of guilt for his last angry words to his father, he now lives in his Da’s cottage.

“I gather Mr. Sidney Parker is engaged,” he says.

“Yes, I wish for his happiness.”

“She’s not half the woman you are…if he doesn’t see that he doesn’t deserve you.”

“Thank you, Mr. Stringer.” Charlotte obviously has no desire to flirt with James or embark on a relationship with him. More fool she.

We then see her saying goodbye to the Palmer family and leaving Sanditon in a lovely carriage pulled by four magnificent horses. Once again, the scenery of the Downs is sublime.

The camera pans to Sidney chasing after Charlotte on his powerful steed.

“Whoa, whoa,” says the coachman, prompting Charlotte to peer out the window.

The viewers instantly know why Sidney needs to see her when he says, “Tell me you don’t think badly of me.

Screen Shot 2020-02-23 at 1.49.20 PMCharlotte says without inflection, “I don’t think badly of you.”

He then says, “I don’t love her, you know… I’m just fulfilling my side of the bargain.”

This is the UNFAIREST cut of them all. “Sir,” I shout at the screen, “You are no gentleman!”

Charlotte meekly steps inside the carriage and Sidney watches until it disappears over the horizon

I splutter. THAT’S IT?! What did I just invest my time in?

Davies and his team have an obligation to viewers to end this mini-series without a cliff hanger. He was hoping for but was not assured a second season.  His attitude towards us is disrespectful.

My plea to the powers that be is to think of your audience and order up at least one more episode to tie up loose ends and provide Charlotte with the logical ending she deserves.

Now, gentle reader,  it’s your turn to vent, either in the comment section or in this poll.

Thank you for visiting this blog. It’s been a pleasure reading your thoughts, pro, con, or indifferent.

Viewer satisfaction poll of Sanditon

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Episode 7: At the regatta: Diana, Lady Campion, Charlotte, and Mrs. Parker

At the regatta: Diana, Lady Campion, Charlotte, and Mrs. Parker

As popular television fare goes, Davies’ Sanditon is quite entertaining. In the first 16 minutes of Episode Seven, so many dizzying plot developments are introduced, that they left this viewer’s head spinning. By the end of the episode, everything but the kitchen sink had been thrown into the mix to keep viewers hungering for more. (The last episode is a doozy, but we’ll get to it next week.)

 

Davies’ sledge -hammer approach felt so heavy handed at times, that (honestly) I ran to my bookshelf to retrieve Pride and Prejudice. Reading Austen’s delightful, familiar words gave me a sense of calm. I put down the book and continued to watch the episode.

 

As certain characters in Davies’ Sanditon reveal their distasteful ambitions, such as when Clara Brereton told Esther Denham about her sexual gymnastics with Sir Edward on the drawing room floor after burning Lady Denham’s will and divvying up her fortune (as that lady lay dying), I reached for my first glass of wine, but I am getting ahead of myself.

 

Let’s face it. Austen did not hesitate to create nasty characters. Think of Sense and Sensibility.  Fanny Dashwood, John’s wife, is a piece of work plotting to oust Mrs. Dashwood, John’s stepmother, and his stepsisters from Norland Park almost as soon as the elder Mr. Dashwood was buried. Her machinations were despicable, but under Austen’s skillful pen, Fanny’s method to drive them out was masterful, awesome, ruthless, and nuanced. John, her husband, is a manipulated fool and yet a willing conspirator in disregarding his father’s express desire for his stepsisters’ and stepmother’s future security.

 

We felt the Dashwood women’s pain and grief. We understood their pride and anger as they chose to leave an impossible situation as soon as possible. We felt for Marianne Dashwood when she fell for Willoughby, a flawed but smooth-talking and handsome character. Readers knew, along with Colonel Brandon, that he had gotten a virginal girl pregnant and then abandoned her to a life of shame.

 

Elinor Dashwood, a sensible character, at first had difficulty seeing through Lucy Steele, a conniving little witch. When Elinor finally figured her out, she was trapped into listening to information about Edward Ferrars that felt like knives stabbing her heart. More than once I wanted her to bitch slap that girl, but Elinor has more class than me.

 

Who can forget Fanny Dashwood’s mother? She was an outspoken battle-ax and manipulator of the worst sort, whose conversation provoked Marianne to defend her sister with a truthful artlessness that was bold and threw caution to the wind.

 

The difference between Austen’s villains and Davies’ is that Austen laid a careful groundwork for their motivations and behavior. The dark undertones of conflict between Willoughby and Colonel Brandon resonate with us. The secrets the two men withheld from Marianne, and the complexity of their love and longing for her add to the suspense of the plot—who will she choose? Which choice makes sense to the heart of a young girl? Which is the more mature, sensible choice? How do experience, suffering, and maturity add to a character’s growth and understanding?

 

In Davies’ Sanditon, secondary characters and villains tend to be one dimensional, almost cartoon-like. The main protagonists, Charlotte and Sidney, are given more complex motivations, which I appreciate, especially in this episode as they attempt to overcome their misunderstandings and grow closer. Their longing for each other is palpable, as Lady Susan and Young Stringer notice.

 

Now, let’s examine the salient plot lines in this second to the last episode.

 

Stupid is as stupid does

 

While Lucy Steele’s devised her trap for Elinor with evil genius, she kept her plans to herself until she approached Edward. Clara Brereton is just plain dumb. She lords it over Esther, who is unable to hide her emotions for her stepbrother. A gloating Clara reveals that she and Edward found the will, agreed to 50% of the cut, then burned it. Seeing Esther’s disbelief, she adds salt to the wound to reveal that she and Sir Ed sealed the deal with a quickie on the drawing room floor. Charlotte Spencer, the actress who plays Esther, stepped up her acting chops and gave a superb performance throughout this episode. We feel her pain, her horror, and then her understanding of the situation.

 

Most of all, we (I) cheered her hard slap to Clara’s face. Then, when Clara figures out that Esther is still a virgin, she says,”No wonder he was so keen to take his pleasure elsewhere.” We (I) wished that Esther had knocked her unconscious to the floor. (I’ve been watching too many Marvel movies.)

 

As for Clara, she’s no Jane Fairfax. Her situation as Lady D’s dependent companion is precarious. Falsely confident, she assumes the mantle of the victor prematurely. Jane Fairfax kept silent until all the dominoes fell safely in place before Frank Churchill revealed their romantic bond. Clara, who has just as much to lose, could not stop herself from gloating.

 

A vengeful phoenix arises from the ashes and swoops on her victims with talons outstretched

 

Esther, in her misery, pays a final visit to Lady Denham. Her confession to the comatose lady is revealing. She says:

 

You should know there’s not a single person alive who holds you in the least affection. Not Edward, Clara, not me…“You will die unloved, and Edward, my Edward—she holds Lady D’s hand—“Truth is, he’s betrayed us both. He betrayed us when he and Clara lay with each other on the drawing room floor. He betrayed us when he and Clara conspired to burn your will and share your fortune. I truly hope that you find happiness in heaven, because this earth has become a living hell.”

 

Hours or days later, Esther sits waiting in the hallway as Sir Ed awakens from a couch just outside of Lady D’s bedroom. He yawns and says,

I did not know it was going to be this drawn out [or] I would have been in bed.”

Esther replies sarcastically,

Perhaps you would have been more comfortable on the floor.”

He shoots her a curious look. Then, wonder of wonders, the unfortunately named Dr. Fuchs runs towards them.

Her fever broke!…She may yet recover altogether!”

While Clara blanches, as if the ghost of Northanger Abbey has come to attack her, Sir Ed’s collar grows three sizes too small.

 

Somewhat later, he and Clara simper up to Lady D, who’s still abed. Sir Ed says unctuously,

Words cannot express our belief. Dr. Fuchs has our eternal gratitude.”

Lady D, holding a glass with a milky substance, says,

Why? If anyone deserves credit, it is the ass who restored my strength.”

Austen created the running joke of Lady D’s milch asses, from whom that wealthy widow planned to make much money. Davies and his team hardly used that funny material, an opportunity missed.

 

Clara adds timidly,

We have kept constant vigil.”

A steely-eyed Lady D then gives the two of them her what for.

Mmmm. Well, you can dry your eyes. Dying is highly disagreeable…although it has to be said there is nothing like imminent death to focus the mind. I have under-estimated the boundless depth of your venality.”

The two blather and bluster, but Lady D waves them off.

Enough, you feeble parasites…Get out, and needless to say, I shall be laying a new floor in my drawing room, since the old one has been indelibly stained!”

Gentle readers, who’d have thunk a wood floor would become such an important character in a mini-series? Oh, the drama! Sir Ed is disinherited. Clara is banished to London post haste. And Esther appears to be the sole remaining heir to the Denham fortune. At this point, I poured my second glass of wine, a Cabernet Sauvignon, and munched copious amounts of Utz Party Mix, which contains not one wholly natural ingredient as far as I can tell.

 

Turbo recap of the rest of the story

 

Tom Parker is beside himself when he gushes that all the beau monde in London have traveled to Sanditon. He greets Lady Susan with an obsequiousness that is cringe worthy. When he tells her that Sanditon has the finest situation on the south coast, she pooh-poohs the idea,

 

Oh, shush. Never mind all that. If I gave a fig about the sea, I’d have gone to Brighton.” (A delicious cut.)

It turns out that she’s come to continue her conversation with Charlotte, which, to my mind, was nothing more than artless chatter at a fancy ball from a simple girl from a simple farm near an undeveloped town. One can never divine the whims of the rich and famous, so we’ll have to take Lady Susan’s word at face value.

 

She and Charlotte chatter, and the lady’s keen observation tells her that she’s in love. Her discernment also tells her that Lady Eliza Campion, one of the richest women in the country and an old connection to Sidney Parker, stands in the way of Charlotte’s happiness. Lady S, a kind busybody, will see to that. She’ll find a chink in Lady Campion’s armour and put a stop to her designs on Sidney Parker. Anything for a friend she’s known for all of two hours.

 

Charlotte, upset at seeing Lady C, turns away from the assembled company and encounters Young Stringer in the woods. We learn this late in the series that his first name is James. James Stringer. Had Davies and his team meant for Stringer to be a likely love interest for Charlotte, we would have learned this important fact earlier. In the course of their conversation, James realizes that while he yearns for Charlotte, she yearns for someone else. Like the stoic man he is, he holds his feelings to himself and lets her go. C’mon, James! Fight for your woman!

 

We then see the three Parker brothers strolling towards the regatta. As they converse, we learn that Sidney has loved Eliza Campion for a decade and that his broken heart drove him to the West Indies. (Another bit of news that comes late in the series.) Sidney only says that it’s a strange feeling to want something that is impossible and to find that it’s suddenly in your grasp. For once Arthur sounds intelligent and says that while he admires Sidney’s spirit of forgiveness, if it were him, he would never trust that lady again.

 

As a quick aside, Miss Lambe, who has been strangely delegated as a secondary character in the background, shows signs of deep depression. Arthur Parker visits her and insists that she join them in the festivities. She goes unwillingly, but it is obvious that he has a crush on her.

 

The regatta is a letdown. There’s a sandcastle competition, a fisherman’s boat race, and a gentleman’s rowing race that James Stringer and his crew win. Tents provide food and drink, but I see nothing that would attract the beau monde to return a second time.

 

Before the rowing competition, Sidney and Charlotte make goo goo eyes at each other on the boat as he practices his strokes and shows her how to row along with him. (I do so love symbolism.) Eliza Campion watches them from the banks, jealous and suspicious. After the race she makes a pitch, telling him she never lost hope and that fate is giving them a second chance. 

 

Sir Ed fails in his quest to woo Esther back and share her fortune. The once confident man is drunk and disheveled as he encounters Clara with her packed bags at the docks. He tells her off harshly and brags that he’s still a gentleman and titled. “Yes,” she says, “but I had nothing to lose…You’re alone and unloved.”

 

After a revealing conversation with Sir Ed, who spoke in derogatory terms about Esther, Lord Babbington hurries to see her. He tells her that he can’t forget her and that he has her back, always.

I feel I could spend a thousand years in your company and still not have enough.”

 

Esther begins to cry.

You…know nothing.”

 

He replies,

I think you’ve been his prisoner for too long.”

The background music swells in my head as he continues talking to her in this romantic vein.

 

In the last scene, Sidney approaches Charlotte.

I thought you and Mrs. Campion would be heading back for London,” she says.

 

She’s already left. I decided against joining her. On reflection, I realized I would rather be here…I believe I’m my best self—my truest self when I’m with you.”

 

The music crescendos. My heart’s a flutter. Perhaps from the wine, but it might be that all this romantic stuff is making me feel all puddly inside.

 

Next week: the conclusion. Or is it? (Gentle readers, those of you who binge watched this series, please include no spoilers in the comments. Thank you!)

 

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BrideofNorthangerBirchallInquiring readers, I’ve met Diana Birchall on only a few occasions, but during those times we became fast friends. Her blog, “Bright and Sparkling” describes her conversational and writing styles to a tee. This interview is one prime example of a typical conversation one might have with Diana. Enjoy!

Diana, my dear, please explain to this uninformed dullish reader your genuine love for Henry Tilney. I am truly curious, for he leaves me *ahem* somewhat cold. His attraction towards the nubile, but very young and innocent Catherine mystifies me. Educate me, please!

Uninformed!  Dullish!  You!  Oh, how can you say so? In the words of John Thorpe in Northanger Abbey, “You have so much, so much of everything; and then you have such — upon my soul, I do not know anybody like you.” But I am come not to quote the oafish Thorpe, but to praise one of my favorite heroes, the charming, intelligent, original, ever delightful Henry Tilney. Yet, to tell the truth, for a long time I was puzzled by Mr. Tilney, in just the way you express. He was certainly witty, but in mind, education, conversation, and sophistication, he was miles above commonplace little Catherine, and as Jane Austen said, it was a match beyond her claims. Being seventeen she was nubile, but not a great beauty; remember we are told, “To look almost pretty is an acquisition of higher delight to a girl who has been looking plain the first fifteen years of her life than a beauty from her cradle can ever receive.”

So the relationship never set quite right with me, just as you say, and it was this aspect that I most wanted to understand, when I set out to write my book. In writing a paper for Sarah Emsley’s celebration of the 200th anniversary of Northanger Abbey, I focused on Henry’s father, General Tilney, and tried to understand the psychological dynamic of the peculiar Tilney family, and how this formed and influenced Henry. I called the piece “The Ogre of Northanger,” for it was easy to see that the General was a domestic bully who tyrannized over his children. He approved most of Captain Tilney, an insensitive cad who was following his own profession. Eleanor he turned into almost an abject slave, and Henry clearly disappointed him. Gentle, book loving, by profession a clergyman rather than a materialistic man of greed and action like the General himself, Henry probably was more like his own excellent mother, and not, in his father’s eye, likely to amount to much: he would never make money (which mattered most to the General), and so a rich match must be found for him. The General bullied Henry and Eleanor constantly, about every last domestic detail, dictating timetables and behavior, boasting and expecting to be flattered, making their lives a misery. He must have been the most exhausting father, and Henry suffered much, particularly by seeing Eleanor’s unhappiness and being powerless to help her. His father’s machinations and manipulations were precisely why he valued Catherine, finding her innocence and simplicity deeply refreshing after what he was used to at home.  He is charmed by her “fresh feelings,” and he tells Eleanor, “Open, candid, artless, guileless, with affections strong but simple, forming no pretensions, and knowing no disguise.” She replies, with a smile, “Such a sister-in-law, Henry, I should delight in.” Once I realized why Henry genuinely found Catherine the kind of woman who would be a solace and a support, the development of feelings between the couple began to fall into place, and it became quite a natural and convincing love story, worthy to stand beside Austen’s others. Catherine’s artless intense feeling for Henry is palpable from the start, but while he begins almost like teasing a younger sister, his feeling develops into real respect and affection. This is what I wanted to explore and continue in my book, alongside having some Gothic fun:  I wanted to show how the marriage would grow as Catherine matured and became better educated, a sensible woman, quite worthy to be Henry’s wife. And that’s what happens.

Alright, you’re convincing me regarding Mr. Tilney’s charms. You’ve alluded to Catherine and Henry’s physical attractions and connubial bliss in the story, but this 21stcentury voyeur wanted more! Yet I sense that you chose a restrained path because you honored Jane Austen’s voice? Tell me how you came to this decision.

It wasn’t even a decision. It never once occurred to me to put in sex scenes, however I may enjoy the “pleasing passion.” Jane Austen makes us feel her characters’ passions, loves, broken hearts and longings better than any writer who does show the Darcys bouncing in bed.  Hers was a good enough example for me – the best; and since my aim is to write in a style as closely and truly Austenesque as humanly possible after thousands (yes thousands!) of rereadings and years of close study of details of style, to baldly display Henry and Catherine in a defloration scene or whatever, would seem truly jarring. Let other pens dwell on sin and sexuality; not mine.

Excellent reply! Your characterizations of John Thorpe (especially), General Tilney, Captain Frederick Tilney, and that vixen, Isabella Thorpe – are spot on. How much fun was it to flesh these folks out for readers? (BTW I loved the references to Harriette Wilson, which I caught right away.)

It is so much fun for me to play with the minor characters that sometimes when I do it, I find myself laughing out loud!  I’ve always been drawn particularly to Austen’s villains and grotesques – hence my spending so much time with Mrs. Elton – and it is just a delight for me to revisit these people and listen to them talk. For that’s what happens; we know these characters (John Thorpe indeed!) so well, we’re able to imagine what they’d say about anything. Jane Austen’s own indelible characterizations are so vivid that it’s easy to carry them further; in fact, it feels as if they talk to me and I just try to get it all down! This is part of her genius and one of the reasons why she lends herself so superbly to sequels.

I agree. So often the minor characters add piquancy and spice to the plot and a raucous laugh or two. And now we come to your plot for the novel, which I found, well, novel to say the least. The twists and turns kept me perpetually surprised. Tell me a little about your creative process. I think you must have meticulously plotted the plot from the start, or did you allow your characters to speak to you as you went along? Or both?

You’re exactly right on both counts. I did write an outline of roughly what would happen in each chapter. Then I put the novel down for years, but I always meant to pick it up again, and when I did, I only had to follow what I had told myself to do. And yes, as I’ve said, the characters did just speak to me as I went along. I simply put down what they’re saying to me (sometimes I act it out to see how it sounds, in a hellacious English accent). Then when I’ve got it all down, I go over it again to improve it, until it actually starts to look like something; and then a third time for a close polish.

Fascinating! Do you want to add anything else for our readers? Please feel free to give it a creative go!

Just that after a lifetime spent poring over Jane Austen’s works (not a bad study or amusement, by the way – for one thing, she is the finest writing teacher you ever heard of), this close examination of Northanger Abbey showed me that far from being negligible compared to her more mature novels, it has more in it than meets the eye, and is very delightful and well worth revisiting. My greatest wish is that my novel will make people go back to Northanger Abbey, and find reading the two in tandem to be time well and pleasantly spent!

Thank you, Diana, for your fascinating insights. Also, kudos to Laurel Ann Nattress of Austenprose, who herded a score of bloggers together for this blog tour. You helped to make this process quite easy for me! Thanks to you as well.

Visit Diana at her Austen Variations author page, follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads

Purchase links:

 

 

 

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BrideofNorthangerBirchall

Inquiring readers: Author Diana Birchall has written her latest addition to the Austenesque fiction canon. This post is a review of Catherine Tilney’s (née Morland’s) continuing adventures in Northanger Abbey. No matter how hard Henry Tilney’s young bride tries to retain her calm, she somehow becomes entangled in yet another Gothic adventure.

As the novel opens, Henry Tilney and Catherine happily anticipate their wedding, but before the ceremony, Henry must share important information with his intended – that for generations the Tilney family has suffered a dreadful family curse which results in the wife of the eldest son meeting with an untimely end. Catherine quickly dismisses the idea, since Henry is the second son.

The happy couple are married surrounded by family and friends, absent General Tilney, who is still angered that his son wed an ordinary chit with only £3,000 to her name. Nevertheless, the young couple settle into connubial bliss in Woodston Parsonage, the lovely cottage Catherine fell in love with the moment Henry showed it to her. Even better, it is situated 20 miles or so from Northanger Abbey. Life is good for the young Tilneys until the couple visit General Tilney. During her visit at NA, Catherine sees a lady in grey at night wandering the halls. She fights fear in favor of logic, but then receives an ominous missive:

Bride of Northanger, beware the Maledict, that falleth upon you. Depart the Abbey in fear and haste, and nevermore return.”

And, so, the plot thickens, with Ms. Birchall bending, twisting, and turning it upside down until we readers becomes dizzy from guessing where the tale will end. Along the way, we are treated to an assortment of some of Austen’s finest characters. Birchall connects their stories to Austen’s by adhering to their psychological states, and personal quirks and behaviors in the original novel.

While paying homage to Austen, Birchall writes in her own light and lovely style. She characterizes John Thorpe as deliciously sleezy and slimy. His sister, Isabella, is still a slutty, scheming vixen. General Tilney is mean and avaricious and unpleasant all around. Captain Tilney feels no shame for his boorish behavior or lack of empathy for anyone. Eleanor Tilney is saccharinely sweet and nondescript. I found her viscount husband, Charles, much more interesting. As a budding Gilbert White, he studies butterflies with the same zest as Captain Tilney collects whores. We even meet the Allens in Bath, along with Catherine’s sister, Sarah, who lives with them.

To this mix, Birchall adds a dash of curses, and tales of mad monks and maledictions, and the mysterious lady in grey. The Bride of Northanger reminded me in many ways of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë and Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. This Austen variation is a perfect gift for a budding young Janeite (or yourself). After purchasing it, I recommend curling up on a sofa near a crackling fire for a few hours of blissful reading.

About Diana Birchall:

Diana Birchall worked for many years as a story analyst for Warner Bros Studios, reading novels to see if they would make movies. Reading popular manuscripts went side by side with a lifetime of Jane Austen scholarship, and resulted in her writing Austenesque fiction both as homage and as close study of the secret of Jane Austen’s style. She is the author of The Bride of Northanger, published by White Soup Press, Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma and Mrs. Elton in America, both published by Sourcebooks, as well as In Defense of Mrs. Elton, published by JASNA, and hundreds of short stories.   Her plays have been performed in many cities, with “You Are Passionate, Jane,” a two person play about Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte being featured at Chawton House Library.

Find out more about Diana by following her on Facebook and Twitter @Dianabirchall

The Bride of Northanger Blog Tour Banner Fina

 

Jane Austen’s World is part of the #Janeite Blog Tour of The Bride of Northanger, a Jane Austen Variation by Diana Birchall.

Learn more about the tour and follow the participating blogs.

The doyenne of Austenesque fiction, Diana Birchall, tours the blogosphere October 28 through November 15, 2019, to share her latest release, The Bride of Northanger. Thirty popular bloggers specializing in historical and Austenesque fiction are featuring guest blogs, interviews, excerpts, and book reviews of this acclaimed continuation of Jane Austen’s Gothic parody, Northanger Abbey.

The Bride of Northanger: A Jane Austen Variation, by Diana Birchall
White Soup Press (2019)
Trade paperback & eBook (230) pages
ISBN: ISBN: 978-0981654300

PURCHASE LINKS:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Thank you, Laurel Ann, for including me in this tour.

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Gentle Readers, You may have noticed my previous rant about Mitzi Szereto’s blog post on Huffington Post. I had struck an attitude of silence and indifference to her sexy parody of Pride and Prejudice (Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts) until I read her fighting words. Then I realized, why not debate each other and find out what we really think? Mitzi has graciously agreed to a discussion about her book and sequels in general.

Vic: Hi Mitzi, it took a while to find my pitchfork and untwist my knickers. Now that the elderberry wine has calmed down my poor nerves and heart palpitations, I can ask you this question: What on earth were you thinking writing that Huffington Post ramble? Only a few vocal Jane fans objected to your book, as most of us were too busy swooning over Colin’s wet shirt to notice the brouhaha until you pointed it out.

Mitzi: Glad the elderberry wine helped. I’ve never tried it; please send a bottle over! I should say that Colin’s little swim left an indelible impression on me as well and accounted for Pride and Prejudice becoming a major favorite of mine. As for my piece in the Huffington Post, I found that all the pitchforks being aimed at me were getting to be a bit silly, particularly when the overwhelming majority of their wielders had not even read my book, let alone anything I’ve written! I have no issue if someone simply does not like the book; everyone has their own taste in reading material. But I figured that since everyone seemed to have so much to say about Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts (and me as its author), I too, had a right to speak and point out the absurdity of these arguments. Many of the comments were being directed at me in a quite personal way, not to mention insulting. Not very polite for people who claim to be defending the honor of our beloved Jane Austen! The LA Times and the Guardian were the first instigators of this whole thing. I actually didn’t think anyone’s hackles would be raised by the publication of my book, especially when it was meant to be a historical parody in the same spirit of the highly popular Zombies versions. I still don’t see what the big deal is, unless it actually is the sexual element in the book that’s upsetting people the most, because the tons of romance and chicklit versions don’t appear to be inspiring upset. If literary purists have an issue with re-imaginings of classic works or writers taking inspiration from them or borrowing from them, they should do a bit of literary investigation into the very long history of this practice and aim their pitchforks at others as well. After all, fair is fair!

Vic: Actually, the Zombies were not well received in some quarters either, but Quirk Books won me over by their cheerful willingness to forego pride and forge into new marketing territories, like toy stores, hardware stores (I kid you not), and gag stores . As an established author you must know from the outset that you can’t please everyone and that you would raise a few hackles with your rapier pen. I am thinking of statements like: “I wonder if these hecklers from the peanut gallery have even read the original Pride and Prejudice…” At this point, my teeth gnashed involuntarily for I sensed an INSULT. (Although I must admit to having met many a rabid Darcy fan who has only seen the movie.)

Mitzi: I don’t expect to please everyone, nor do I wish to! As for insults, I don’t see that it’s an insult to point out that things were not all pristine and squeaky clean in the original novel, and those who claim to have read it might be wise to do so again. Let’s get real: Jane Austen was giving us some very strong hints of the kind of impolitic behavior that was taking place between some of her characters (particularly Lydia Bennet and Mr. Wickham). Of course you’re going to get people saying we don’t need the lurid details, but you must remember that Jane Austen lived in a time when women authors were not taken seriously and were generally relegated to the category of “hack.” If she wanted to be taken seriously and keep her respectability as an author (which she clearly did), she had to be very cautious regarding how far she could go and just how much she could say. Had she been a man writing, things would have been different. But she wasn’t. So when my critics start getting all hot and bothered by my comment, they should wake up to the fact that Jane was a female writer who did not enjoy the kind of literary freedom female writers enjoy today.

Vic: OK, I see your point, but methinks I smelled a publicity stunt in that article. If so, kudos to you, for the controversy forced us to think about why we cling to our preferences AND notice your book.

Mitzi: On the contrary. As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t start the brouhaha; the Los Angeles Times did, followed by the Guardian. Hey, I’m more than happy to get publicity and maybe sell a few books to help put some food on the table. But in all honesty, I wrote a book that was intended to be a fun and entertaining historical parody/sex farce. So yeah, I do think some people definitely need to get a sense of humor! If they’re that upset, then go after the various mash-up authors and the Jane Austen romance authors as well. And let’s add to this all the Jane Austen chicklit authors. Go on, have a field day and get those bonfires burning! It worked for Salman Rushdie (though I’m not sure the fatwa on him has been lifted yet).

Vic: I finally wound up reading the Jane Austen/Zombie mash ups and they were FUN. I realize that your book is written along the line of parody and harmless entertainment, but think about the readers’ perspective. While you wrote only one Austen sequel and regard this as a noble literary tradition, we are inundated with them. Literally.

Mitzi: Oh, I agree with you. It has gone a bit haywire of late. I guess when something hits big, you’re bound to get a whole lot more of it. That’s why I wanted my book to be very much its own kind of thing, rather than just another straightforward romance or fan-fiction-ish version. This is the first time I took a classic novel and remade it, though technically I did a similar kind of thing with my book In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed: Erotic Fairy Tales. In my research I discovered that these tales went back a very long way, some even into antiquity. Perhaps Jane Austen’s works have become the new fairy tales, and will continue to be adapted and remade and re-imagined well into the future.

Mitzi Szereto in London

Vic: I cannot tell you the number of email requests I receive from authors and publishers who want me to review yet another Austen sequel, prequel, or parody. They range the gamut from truly well written pieces to stuff not fit for the shredder. Right now my mind is in a whirl. Precisely what time do Darcy’s fangs come out? Why did he disapprove of Lizzie for bearing him five daughters and one mewly son? When Wickham soiled his diapers, who changed them? Is Mary Bennet really more beautiful than Jane, who has turned into a brood sow? At this point I am in danger of forgetting what is what, and so my reaction to your book was one of indifference. I am done reviewing most of the sequels, except for a very few.

In addition, many authors are not fan fiction fans. Diana Gabaldon, author of the incredible Outlander books, dislikes fan fiction and has publicly said so, and yet you make a good point: Many authors, playwrights, and film makers have had their works reinterpreted or have reinterpreted the works of others.

Mitzi: Absolutely. Because so many of the Jane Austen authors have made the original work all but unrecognizable, the story and its characters can get lost, as you say. That’s why I used Austen’s story as the framework; it’s essentially the same story in my book, but I’ve taken it on a major tangent. My version is not fan fiction at all, nor is it a sequel. Those are again more erroneous assumptions being bandied about by people who’ve not read my book. I wonder if these same people would accuse Dean Koontz of writing fan fiction with his Frankenstein series or want to burn him at the stake for taking a literary classic and remaking it into something else, just as I have done with Pride and Prejudice. I can mention a slew of other authors who’ve done likewise, but we’d be here all day!

Vic: Good point. Now, let’s cut to the chase. Is there anything you would like to say about your book to my readers?

Mitzi: Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts is intended to be pure entertainment and fun. I wanted to write a book that read exactly as if Jane Austen wrote every single word of it. Whether you love or hate my book, I know that I’ve been successful in achieving the Jane Austen illusion and remaining true to the essence of her characters. My book is raunchy, rude, outrageous and outlandish. It’s also extremely funny. If that sort of thing appeals to you, by all means go out and buy my book. If it doesn’t, then by all means choose something more to your liking. Thanks very much for inviting me to chat with you, Vic!

Vic: My pleasure. I wish you much success with your book, Mitzi, and thank you for visiting my humble blog.
Find Mitzi’s books and information at these links:

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Inquiring readers: Not often does news of great import come our way, such as this item unearthed from the depths of Andrew Capes’s crashed computer. His having retrieved it is nothing short of miraculous, for now he can share the rest of Charlotte Collins’ story with the world. If you found this news item as intriguing as I did, please let him know what you think of it in the comment section below! Article copyright (c) Andrew Capes.


Extract from the Hertfordshire Gazette, June 1876

Obituary Notice

Mrs Charlotte Collins of Longbourn Hall


We have been saddened recently to receive

notification of the death at the end of May, at

the advanced age of 92 years, of Mrs Charlotte

Collins, née Lucas, widow of the late Reverend

William Collins, of Longbourn Hall, near

Meryton. Mrs Collins is survived by her only

son, Thomas Collins, his wife Mary (née

Bennet), and her grandson, the Rt Hon. Sir

Timothy Collins PC, all of whom continue to

reside at Longbourn Hall.

 

Mrs Collins’s funeral at Meryton was attended

by a distinguished gathering of friends and

relations, many of whom had travelled great

distances to be present. Several members of the

extended Lucas family were there, although

Mrs Collins had outlived all her immediate

relations, and there were also representatives

and descendants of the former Bennet family,

with whom the Collinses had maintained

intimate connections for a great many years.

Among the latter were Mrs Elizabeth Darcy,

widow of the late Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy of

Pemberley in Derbyshire, and her niece, Mrs

Jane Lucas, daughter of the late Mr & Mrs

Charles Bingley of Freshfield Park in Yorkshire,

who is also the late Mrs Collins’s sister-in-law.

The occasion was graced with the presence of

Lydia, Lady Wickham, widow of Lieutenant

Colonel Sir George Wickham, Bart., late hero

of the French, American, and Affghan

campaigns. The Dowager Lady Wickham has

recently returned from India to pass her

remaining years with her son, Sir Arthur

Wickham de Bourgh, at his family home,

Rosings Park in Kent.

 

Charlotte Collins was born in March 1784, the

eldest of five children of Sir William and Lady

Lucas, latterly of Lucas Lodge near Meryton in

Hertfordshire. There she met and married the

Reverend William Collins, a cousin of the

Bennet sisters, in January 1812. The couple lived

at Hunsford in Kent where their son, Thomas

Collins, was born in 1813. In 1823, upon the

death of Mr Frederick Bennet, the Reverend

Mr Collins inherited Longbourn-house, an

estate of which Mrs Collins was destined to

remain mistress for over half a century.

Upon their removal to Longbourn, Mr and Mrs

Collins were pleased to allow Mr Bennet’s

widow and daughter Mary to continue to live in

the house, and to treat it as their home. Mary

had been entrusted under the terms of Mr

Bennet’s will with the care of his extensive library,

and she immediately set about this task

with the greatest diligence, continuing to

pursue improvements to the collection, chiefly

through a series of judicious acquisitions,

almost without interruption from that time

until the present day. Upon that occasion also,

Mr Collins desired that the name of the house

be changed from Longbourn-house to

Longbourn Hall, to reflect the elevated status

with which he expressed the hope that it

would, in the course of time, become

associated.

 

Regrettably, however, within less than a year of

the Collins family’s installation at Longbourn,

the Reverend Mr Collins sustained a minor

injury whilst engaged in clearing undergrowth

from a small wilderness beside a lawn in his

garden, the resulting wound from which most

unfortunately became infected. The rapid

progress of this infection caused him to

succumb soon afterwards, his resulting death

thus sadly depriving him of anything more than

the briefest period of enjoyment of his newly

acquired estate.

 

Mrs Bennet also died later that same year, and

Mrs Collins thereafter began to observe in

young Thomas the development of a strongly

studious character, carefully fostered by Miss

Mary Bennet’s solicitude towards him in her

combined role of cousin, mentor and librarian.

There gradually grew between these two

younger members of the household a firm

attachment, which eventually developed

beyond their previous cousinly affection, this

being confirmed by their marriage in 1833 and

the subsequent birth of a son, Timothy, in the

following year.

 

For above forty years since then, membership

of the Longbourn household underwent no

material alteration, until the recent death of

the elder Mrs Collins. This period has

nonetheless been punctuated by several notable

events associated with the family, perhaps the

most remarkable of which was the famous

Catherine (“Kitty”) Carter trial of 1862. Kitty

Carter was Mrs Mary Collins’s sister, and, in

defiance of social conventions, the elder Mrs

Collins allowed her to stay as a guest at

Longbourn Hall throughout the whole of that

protracted and scandalous affair.

 

The details of the case are so well known, even

today, that it would be superfluous to recount

them here; suffice it to say that the verdict

eventually obtained vindicated the faith that

both Mrs Collinses had placed in their relation,

who duly acknowledged her debt to them in an

autobiographical memoir, published later that

year, through which her name became known –

some might say, notorious – around the world.

 

Some nine years previously, a considerable

change had taken place at Longbourn, with the

purchase by the Great Northern Railway of

part of the estate’s farming land, for the

construction of the line through Meryton to

Ware. The substantial sum thereby realised

enabled the elder Mrs Collins to throw out a

new self-contained wing from the earlier house,

with the intention of entertaining friends and

family without interfering with the orderly

conduct of the rest of the household. The

generous nature of her year round hospitality

benefited in its turn from the improvements in

the means of travel provided by the new

railway, such that her visitors were now able to

reach Meryton from places as far afield as

Derbyshire and Yorkshire in a matter of hours,

rather than the days that had previously been

occupied in the completion of such journeys.

Mrs Collins retained few links with the Church

of England after the death of her husband,

although she did maintain friendships with

several of his former parishioners in and around

Hunsford for some time after her removal from

that part of the country. She was amused in her

later years to learn that the Rosings Estate, of

which the Hunsford rectory – where she spent

the first ten years of her married life – formed a

small part, had passed into the hands of the

nephew of her daughter-in-law, when it was

inherited by Sir Arthur Wickham de Bourgh,

Bart, upon the death of his first wife, Anne.

The concern that the elder Mrs Collins felt for

the education and welfare of her grandson, Mr

Timothy Collins, showed her to be

exceptionally solicitous on his behalf, and it

could be said with some certainty that his

successful parliamentary career, up to and

including his position in Mr Gladstone’s recent

administration, in the course of which he was

honoured with a knighthood, was the direct

result of the attention which she paid to his

upbringing. She also instilled in him the

passionate advocacy of many international

causes, foremost among which was that of

Italian unity, finding especial friendship and

fellow-feeling with the great Italian leader

Giuseppe Garibaldi, who was invited to

Longbourn Hall briefly on the occasion of his

visit to London in 1864.

 

Mrs Collins had always taken a great interest

not only in her own family, but also in those

both of her lifelong friend Mrs Elizabeth

Darcy, and of Mrs Darcy’s sister, the late Mrs

Jane Bingley. It was with great pleasure that she

saw her own younger brother, John Lucas,

marry Mr and Mrs Bingley’s daughter, also Jane,

in 1832, thereby sharing her own extended

family of nephews, nieces and cousins with

those of the former Bennet sisters.

 

Mrs Collins was widely renowned and loved for

the care she took to include all her extensive

family and friends in her regular invitations to

Longbourn, and for her careful remembrances

of birthdays and anniversaries of even the

youngest members of the family, extending to

the third and fourth generations, always with

thoughtful and appropriate gifts.

 

Mrs Collins travelled extensively, both in the

United Kingdom and abroad, often, especially

in her latter years, accompanied by her lifelong

friend Mrs Elizabeth Darcy. They completed

their last foreign journey together, to Italy, only

five years ago, at the height of the war in

France, which contributed not a little to the

excitements and discomforts of that journey.

Mrs Collins retained her health and her

faculties, save for gradually failing eyesight, to

the end of her long life, and many will recall the

occasion of her 90th birthday celebrations

which brought people from all over Britain, and

some from further afield, at which she herself

expressed a wish for it to be considered as, in

some measure, a way of bidding farewell to all

her many friends and relations.

 

The request expressed by Mrs Collins, that her

remains be removed from Meryton and

interred alongside those of her husband in the

churchyard at Hunsford, was complied with

shortly after her funeral, and a small family

gathering attended the interment ceremony as

a final farewell gesture to a well-loved and

notable figure who will be much missed, not

only here in Hertfordshire, but also much

further afield.

 

The Widow's Mite, 1876. Image @Morbid Anatomy

—————————————————————————————————
NOTES ON THE OBITUARY OF MRS CHARLOTTE COLLINS
AS SHOWN IN THE HERTFORDSHIRE GAZETTE, JUNE 1876
—————————————————————————————————

This Obituary Notice was discovered in the archives of the (fictional, of course) Hertfordshire Gazette, a long defunct weekly newspaper which circulated (as its title implies) mainly in Herfordshire, during the latter half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth.

The piece was deliberately written without reference to any of the many continuations of P&P, even those attributed to Jane herself. I felt that a retrospective view from 63 years on would imply a much greater leap of the imagination than a mere ‘continuation’ of the novel would require.

Most of it needs no explanation for those familiar with the novel, though there are some things which might raise a question or two. Some of these are:

What was the ‘Kitty’ Carter trial?
The details are not recorded – but there WAS a notorious murder trial in 1862 – a nurse called Catherine Wilson was tried and found guilty of multiple murders for money; she was the last woman to be publicly hanged in London – some 25,000 people attended her execution. The ‘Kitty’ Carter trial was clearly much more ‘classy’ than that, involving scandal in very high places, and a very different outcome; it probably would not have involved murder. Carter, of course, was one of Wickham’s fellow officers.

Two of the marriages are with much older women. Is this not improbable?
Uncommon, but by no means improbable. It was certainly possible for an older woman to marry a younger man. I think the Mary/Thomas marriage entirely natural; and although the Arthur Wickham/Anne de Bourgh one might be a little more unlikely, Arthur would have inherited his father’s title (which was granted only a short time before his death in action in the First Affghan Campaign of 1837-39) when he was in his mid-20s and Anne was newly independent on the death of Lady Catherine.

What was Sir Timothy Collins’s post in the Gladstone cabinet of 1871-74?
He was Chairman of the Local Government Board, a new post created by Gladstone in 1871. He must have been promoted when he was quite young. In historical fact, the post of President of the Board went to Sir James Stansfeld, but I think Sir Timothy probably edged ahead of him at the time of the vote of no confidence in Stansfeld as Civil Lord of the Admiralty in 1864. Stansfeld, incidentally, was also a great supporter of Garibaldi.

Great Northern Railway – Meryton to Ware
No such line was actually built – the railway at Ware was built in 1843 by the Great Eastern Railway. However, the Great Northern did build a line from Welwyn to Hertford in 1858 which connected with the Ware line. The Great Northern main line would have made access from Yorkshire and Derbyshire to Meryton via Hitchin or Hatfield very much easier than it had previously been from about 1851 onwards.

Respectfully submitted by Andrew Capes. Your comments are most welcome.

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Mr. Darcy’s Secret is Jane Odiwe’s third Jane Austen sequel for Sourcebooks. The story picks up after the Darcys’ marriage and Elizabeth’s introduction as Lady of the Manor. Lizzy is a quick study, for it is not easy for someone to pick up on all the intricacies of managing such a great house as Pemberley, but through her natural grace she quickly gains the respect of the staff and villagers and settles into her new home – where she uncovers a secret, one that places her relationship with Darcy in emotional jeopardy.

The delightful author Jane Odiwe has done it again – created a novel using Jane Austen’s characters that leaves you turning the pages to find out how the story will end. Jane Odiwe lives in Bath and London, and travels extensively all over England. This is obvious, as she is able to single out details as only someone who is intimately acquainted with the regions can. She has also researched Jane Austen and the Regency era for many years, so that the facts ring true and are sometimes surprising, as with the ability for people during that era to marry without posting the banns in one church in Derbyshire, a legacy from the days of King Charles 1.

In so many ways, Ms. Odiwe gets the characters right, which makes reading her books so enjoyable. Take Lady Catherine de Bourgh, for instance:

Lady Catherine de Bourgh looked Mrs Darcy up and donw with such an expression of horror and contempt it was all Lizzy could do to keep her nerve. “Does your husband know that you are running around the countryside dressed as a gypsy riding in a donkey cart, Miss Bennet?” she asked in scolding tones. “What on earth can you mean by disgracing Mr Darcy in such a fashion? Have you no idea of decorum, are you insensible to the honours bestowed on you by him, that fool of a nephew of mine who has singled you out above all other women to bear his name?”

Wickham remains his dastardly self; Lydia is still immature and silly. We learn more about Darcy’s sister, Georgiana, and how she is influenced by Lizzy, with whom she falls in love, and about her backstory with her governess, a most nasty creature named Mrs Younge. Miss Caroline Bingley provides comic relief in a funny story line, as does the ever reliably silly Mrs Bennet. In short, devotees of Jane Austen sequels will not be disappointed with Jane Odiwe’s latest venture in Austen territory. Reading Mr Darcy’s Secret prompted me to ask the author a few questions, and she graciously answered them.

1. Why did you wait until your third book to write about Darcy and Elizabeth?

For me, it was just a natural progression. Initially, I hadn’t wanted to write their story because I really wanted to do something different from the books that were being published. But, after writing Lydia Bennet’s Story, and Willoughby’s Return, I wanted to set myself a real challenge. I felt absolutely compelled to write Darcy and Elizabeth’s story, and also wanted to give Georgiana a happy ending. I’m a great believer in letting things happen organically, and perhaps I wasn’t really ready to write their story until now. I wanted to do justice to the characters, and have the kind of twisting plot with humour, surprises and shocks along the way that Jane Austen liked to write herself, which I hope I’ve achieved.

2. Does living in England give you a different perspective on how Jane Austen’s environment influenced her work?  If so, how does this knowledge affect your own writing about her characters?

Perhaps it does, but if so, I think it is an unconscious perspective. This country is the place of my birth; I am English, and the feelings of connection to its people, landscape and history are very strong. It’s a part of who I am. I was a teacher, and consider myself very lucky and fortunate to have had the joy of teaching pupils from every walk of life, which means I have witnessed the behaviour and customs of a vast cross-section of society from the very poor to the very rich. I’m just an ordinary person, but I have been able to witness first-hand what it’s like to attend high society balls (a long time ago now) and enjoy 20th/21st century equivalents of the kind of experiences that Jane Austen would have done. Rather like Jane too, feeling apart from that world, not really belonging, made the observation of it all the more fun. I’ve seen a world of privilege, I’ve seen the extreme opposite, and everything in between. I think all of life’s experiences and the knowledge gained help to inform your writing, but whether this means that I am successful in writing about Jane’s characters, I will leave my readers to decide.

3. For you, which comes first? The plot or the characters? How long does it take for you to outline your book before you start writing, or do you just dive in and plot as you go along?

Now that is a tricky one, but I think it’s been different for every book. I generally think about what I’m going to write for a long time, several months usually,  before I commit any thoughts to paper, though occasionally I might jot down a few initial ideas or key words. I think the idea for Mr Darcy’s Secret was really started by thinking about what we knew about Mr Darcy, or rather, what Elizabeth did not know. It occurred to me that she really didn’t know him very well at all. Jane Austen gives us no clues about his past, and so that set me thinking.
I used to meticulously write out the plot from start to finish before I commenced writing, but I’ve discovered that for me it doesn’t really work because the characters always do their best to take me away from what I’ve originally planned. So now I have a general idea of where I want to story to go, and have an idea of the ending, but the journey is always an adventure! The characters always want to tell their own story, and I let them.

4. What research  for your book surprised you the most? Did you leave out any material that you found fascinating but couldn’t use? If so, please give an example and tell us why you decided not to use this bit of information.

The research that surprised me most was the fact there was a Gretna Green of Derbyshire. In the village of Peak Forest its church is dedicated to ‘Charles, King & Martyr’ (King Charles 1) and until an Act of Parliament was passed in 1804 its minister was able to perform marriages without having the banns read.

I really enjoyed all the research into Derbyshire which I’ve visited many times from school trips as a child to spending holidays with my sister.
There is a lovely tradition of ‘well-dressing’ which I would have liked to include, but I couldn’t fit it into the timeline or plot – unlike Jane, I decided we’d spend more time in the Lake District.

I remember as a child being disappointed not to see any of the villages we passed in Derbyshire decorated with flowers. The pagan custom started many years ago with blessing the water supply, and there is a history of making clay plaques pressed with flower petals to ornament the wells, which they still carry on today. I would have liked to have included a lot more of the folklore in the book. The area is well known for its stone circles, petrified rocks, witches and ghosts! Maybe next time…

5. Have you plotted your next novel?

I have written another novel, but I’m still tinkering with it…not quite there yet. It’s not a sequel, and it’s a bit off the wall, but I’ve really enjoyed writing it. It’s inspired by Bath, Jane Austen and Persuasion, my great passions after my family.

Oooh, you have me intrigued already! As always, Jane, it is a pleasure talking with you. I wish you much success with this book and the next, and thank you for stopping by .

Read my reviews of Jane Odiwe’s other books and interviews with the author in the following links:

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Scheduled for this week are:

  • A review of Mr. Darcy’s Secret and interview with author Jane Odiwe on February 7th
  • A post by Tony Grant about the highwayman, Jerry Abershawe
  • And an interview with Darcy and Fitzwilliam author Karen V. Wasylowski on February 10th.

Stay tuned for more!

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Three years after Miss Marianne Dashwood marries Colonel Brandon, Willoughby returns. She is thrown into a tizzy of painful memories and exquisite feelings of uncertainty, for she is hurt and jealous over the Colonel’s attentions towards Eliza, his ward. Willoughby is as charming, as roguish, and as much in love with Marianne as ever. And the timing couldn’t be worse—with Colonel Brandon away and Willoughby determined to win her back ….

Willoughby's returnJane, I have thoroughly enjoyed ‘Willoughby’s Return’. Your writing style is lovely and has matured since your first book. Was it easier to write a second novel?

Jane: Thank you Vic for inviting me onto your blog, and for your lovely comments; I am so thrilled that you enjoyed my novel. I did find it easier in some ways, yet I feel I still have so much to learn. Writing the first one teaches you so much, and I was able to draw on those experiences. Feeling confident to experiment a bit more was very helpful, I wasn’t so afraid to write the book as I wanted to – I’m always conscious that people are constantly comparing what I write to Jane Austen. It isn’t possible to emulate Jane, of course, but I try to retain the tone and flavour of her books, bearing in mind that I am writing for a modern audience.

How were you inspired to write this book? How did you come up with the plot? It was a stroke of genius to make Margaret Dashwood the heroine of your story and yet retain Marianne. They shared center stage much in the way that Elinor and Marianne did in Sense and Sensibility. Was this done on purpose?

Jane: Like a lot of people who have read Sense and Sensibility, I never felt completely convinced at the end of the book that Marianne would have fallen in love so easily with Colonel Brandon as we are told in the two paragraphs that Jane devotes to their courtship and marriage. I wanted to believe that they were right for one another, and this is what started me thinking about how he might have won her over, and about their relationship in general. Marianne is a passionate romantic, a little self-centred, and a firebrand. I imagined that although she might love the Colonel as much as she had Willoughby, it would have been quite a different courtship, and a complicated relationship, especially as they have both loved and lost in the past. The fact that Brandon is guardian to the daughter of his first love who is also tied to Willoughby as the father of her child, I felt would cause big problems. Marianne thinks only of others in terms of herself, I think she would be very jealous of Brandon’s relationship with his ward and her child. Starting with these ideas as a background, I wondered what might happen if Willoughby returned, and how he could be worked into the plot so that Marianne could not avoid him.

Jane Odiwe and Dracca2

Jane Odiwe, left front, at the Reform Club, London. Dominique Raccah, publisher with Sourcebooks, sits in back looking down, with her husband beside her.

I wanted to introduce an older Margaret, who we are told has a character very similar to her sister. The relationship between the sisters is an important part of the book – would Marianne be able to chaperone Margaret as Elinor might or would she indulge her sister, encouraging her to fall head over heels with the first love that comes along? Would Margaret make the same mistakes as her sister?

Finally, I’ve always wondered about Brandon’s sister that we hear Mrs Jennings mention in S&S. Why was she in France? I decided to bring her and her family back to Whitwell, and this gave me an opportunity to introduce one of the young men central to the story. I love all the twists and turns in the plots of Jane Austen’s books, and I spent a long time thinking about how I could achieve a few of my own. I had a lot of fun with the plot, which changed several times before I got to the end!

Mr. Wickham and Willoughby are central to the plots of your two novels. Do you have a penchant for bad boys? Or do you think they are more complex characters than Edmund Bertram or a Henry Tilney, let’s say?

Jane: I don’t have a penchant for bad boys as such, but I understand how such characters have a certain appeal for most women – I think most of us have probably come across a Willoughby at some stage when we were growing up – I am convinced Jane knew of one or two! Bad boys are central to Austen’s plots also, and what fascinates me is that these characters are always introduced as handsome, dashing young men on first acquaintance. But, I think what’s important about Jane’s writing is that even when it is found that they are far from the good characters they are initially painted, they are not caricatures, never wholly bad. Willoughby, for instance, does realise his mistakes by the end of the book even if he doesn’t suffer forever. The development of a character like Willoughby was something I wanted to bear in mind with my book. I love the fact that Marianne is his ‘secret standard of perfection in woman’ – wouldn’t it be wonderful if all Willoughbys spent the rest of their lives in such secret regret?

Jane Odiwe efford3

Photograph taken in the area of Efford House on the Flete Estate where Sense and Sensibility (1995) was filmed.

I also enjoyed the historic touches that you managed to weave into your plot. It is evident that you know the countryside well and that you are familiar with Regency customs. Tell me a little about your research. I know you have visited many of the places you describe.

Jane: Research is a favourite part of writing these books – I probably spend far too much time on it, and always end up with more than I need, but England at this time is so interesting. My book starts off in Devon and Dorset, counties I’ve known and enjoyed since I was a little girl. My father used to take cine films of us when we were little – I have film of me in Lyme when I am about seven, and I have very fond memories of holidays taken in the area. I had to include Lyme in the book for these associations and for those that Jane wrote about in Persuasion.

I also spent a lot of time wandering around London finding all the places where the characters spend the season, and deciding where Marianne and her Colonel might have their house. As you know, Vic, there is still so much to see of Georgian London!

Oh, yes! I envy your living so close to the places that I research and your proximity to London. You write, paint, oversee at least three blogs and a twitter account, and have a family. How do you find time for it all? I am curious how you still manage to paint, for I always found that to be the most time consuming of my talents and the easiest to drop when my schedule is hectic.

Jane: The truth is that I find it difficult to find time for it all, but I am an early riser, and get a lot done when everyone is still asleep. We always come together for meals in my family, that’s most important and, we spend time together in the evenings – sometimes we paint together. There are several artists in the family; I love it if we are all working round the table. My own painting has taken a back seat at present, but that’s more to do with the fact that writing has taken me over for the moment.

Jane Odiweefford1

Holbeton is the nearest village to the Flete Estate in South Devon, an area rich in natural beauty.

Any other thoughts about your book that you would like to share with our readers?

Jane: One of the themes in the book concerns that of love, lost and found. Both the Colonel and Marianne have been in love before, and their relationship is a second attachment. I wonder what your readers think of second attachments – and have they ever encountered or suffered at the hands of a Mr Willoughby?

Thank you so much for this interview and for the photos you supplied. I can’t recommend ‘Willoughby’s Return’ highly enough to people who love to read Jane Austen sequels.

Jane: Thank you for inviting me to talk to you about my book and for a fantastic interview with such thought provoking questions!

Want to talk to Jane or Dominique? Join Twitter!

Find other interviews and reviews of Willoughby’s Return at these sites:

Sourcebooks is holding a blog tour for author Jane Odiwe on other blogs. The schedule is as follows:

Follow Jane Odiwe’s adventure as an author on her blog, Jane Austen Sequels. By the way, today is Jane Odiwe’s birthday: Happy Birthday, Jane!

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On her website, Diana Birchall discusses how she began writing Mrs. Elton in America, originally entitled In Defense of Mrs. Elton.

In Defense of Mrs. Elton had an interesting evolution. It began as an internet serial told on the Janeites online literary list. The group was discussing this obnoxious character from Jane Austen’s Emma, and I undertook to defend her. My defense took the form of a serial story, told in eleven parts over the period of about a month, and the response from the geographically far-flung, but intellectually close-knit Janeites community was startling…All three “Mrs. Elton” stories are collected in the volume, Mrs. Elton in America.

Vic: Diana, I am so pleased to learn that SourceBooks has published your book, Mrs. Elton in America, a comedic novel, in which, as the publisher says, Mrs. Elton crosses the Atlantic Ocean with her caro sposo and children and enjoys high comedic adventures in Boston and New York society. She also visits a Southern slave state, and dwells among the Comanche Indians. Goodness, but Mrs. Elton gets around!

Diana: Thank you! Well, if even a quarter of those things happened, Mrs. Elton would surely be the talk of Highbury, wouldn’t she? It’s not a place where there’s a tremendous amount of action going on. Yet Mrs. Elton is an energetic character. I felt she could use a greater scope for her activity, and it might even be beneficial for her, and improve her faults. (I know more travel would definitely improve mine…)

Vic: I’ve already written about your delight with the book’s cover , which is very lovely AND lively, but I’m sure the readers of this blog are curious to learn more.

Diana: About the cover painting: I was browsing through an online gallery of the luminous, exquisite portraits by 18th century French woman artist Vigee LeBrun – a real pleasure – want to see the site? Here it is: http://www.batguano.com/vigee.html – and one face popped out at me. Remember when Jane Austen was in a gallery and “found” the portrait of Mrs. Bingley? In my less exalted case, I saw a face that said “Mrs. Elton” to me. Sort of a vulgar expression, and an over-gaudy costume. It turned out to be the Duchesse de Berry, but never mind! An earlier version of the book used a cowgirl picture, but that was never right. Now it’s right! (That is, if you think the Duchesse de Berry is Mrs. Elton. Oh well, if I’m deluded, don’t let me wake.)

Vic: Let’s face it, Mrs. Elton, though a memorable character, is not one of Jane Austen’s most beloved creations. Why concentrate on her? Why not write more about Jane Fairfax or Mary Crawford, for example?

Diana: In the first place, Mrs. Elton is funny! A character people love to hate, with a decided and distinct personality. I could never see writing about Jane Fairfax, she’s so…limp and repressed, I’ve never warmed to her. Mary Crawford, yes; a splendid wily witty Lady Susan-esque heroine. However, I identified with Mrs. Elton long ago, and there’s no help for it. She seems to have become my fate. (As Anne Elliot says in Persuasion, “It is not a very enviable one; you need not covet it.”) You know, the first time I read Emma, I couldn’t even see what was so awful about Mrs. Elton, why everyone in Highbury thought she was so dreadful. I grew up in New York and brash pushy behavior was what one saw every day, so Mrs. Elton only seemed normal! Gradually, of course, on successive re-readings, I learned to understand her social crimes, but I also found that her behavior was, in many ways, no more reprehensible than Emma’s own. The difference lies in Jane Austen’s editorial point of view, how she presents the two characters. At every opportunity she signals to us that Mrs. Elton is inappropriate, vulgar, striving for effect in her manipulations, while Emma is only young and mistaken in hers. When I wrote the first Mrs. Elton story, “In Defense of Mrs. Elton,” I came to see her side of things – that it was possible to sympathize with her, as a stranger, an outsider, so roundly and rapidly rejected by Emma, the Queen of Highbury society where she was going to live for the rest of her life.

Vic: Tell me about the impetus to write the book. Why did you decide to take the Elton family to America?

Diana: The impetus was that I’ve always been interested in transatlantic stories. Stories where an American character goes to England (as in some of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s books, for example – The Shuttle, or A Fair Barbarian), or where an English character goes to America. My main inspiration was Frances Trollope’s famous memoir, Domestic Manners of the Americans, which is jaw-droppingly brilliant journalism. Frances Trollope, Anthony Trollope’s mother, an excellent, spirited narrator and vigorous personality, went to America in the 1820s (just when Mrs. Elton would have) and wrote a vividly observed, yet extremely condescending and sarcastic description of the coarse Americans. Her viewpoint of the Americans influenced visiting authors’ attitudes ever since – I believe until this day. And I thought, what if Mrs. Elton traveled to America the way Mrs. Trollope did – what would she think of it, what would the Americans think of her, what sort of adventures would she have, how would she be changed? It just seemed like a funny idea.

Vic: You had researched Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma extensively and worked hard on finding Jane Austen’s voice in your writing. Was the process easier with Mrs. Elton?

Diana: I’d read Jane Austen thousands of times, poring over each sentence and its beauty and balance and structure, by the time I wrote Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma. I wanted it to be a beautiful book. I was less concerned with beauty when I started writing (or, let’s face it, “being”) Mrs. Elton. She is comedic and crass and not exquisite. Besides, by then I had developed some facility in writing in pseudo-early 19th century style. I found I could rather alarmingly snap myself into being her, and write *as* her. We are, regrettably, so very alike, after all…

Vic: Tell us a little about your writing process. Up at the crack of dawn, or writing late into the evening? Disciplined, or waiting for inspiration?

Diana: Waiting for inspiration, and when I get an inspiration, then I am driven and determined and disciplined, and just barrel away at a thing until it’s done, using every spare moment of free time. But I don’t get inspirations very often (grin).

Vic: I find your day job of reading scripts for a major movie studio fascinating. Care to share some of the details with the public?

Diana Birchall in Vancouver

Diana Birchall in Vancouver

Diana: It’s always been the ideal job for me and I know I was very lucky to have found what Dorothy L. Sayers calls my “proper job,” early in life. I’ve worked in the movie business since the 1970s, when I moved out to California after graduating from college. I had a B.A. in English, a small child to support, and was doing temp jobs. Then an aunt suggested I look up my grandmother’s old literary agent. My grandmother, Onoto Watanna, was the first Asian American novelist (she was half Chinese; I’m half Jewish; too difficult to explain), and she’d had a career as a Hollywood screenwriter in the 1920s. Her agent, a perky little man with a bow tie, was still alive, though elderly, and he gave me some scripts to read. That’s how I started, and I became what’s called a story analyst – a studio reader. I’ve been at Warner Bros since 1991, where I’m the “book person,” reading novels. Although I’m on staff I work from home, and that, of course, is ideal for a writer. Also, the work is excellent in itself, because I’m forced to work on deadline, be disciplined and professional, and turn out serviceable analytical prose every day. Very good training. As for the job itself, it’s something I have always loved doing – after thirty years I’ve never staled or got tired of it! I’m still excited each time I’m sent a new manuscript (they come via email now, which is fabulous; years ago I had to drive out to Burbank to pick up work). I love to read more than anything else in the world anyway, and even if a book isn’t one I might have chosen to read myself, I love to analyze and dissect them. And most of the books are popular novels of fairly high quality; I actually do enjoy most of them. When I don’t, I get through them quickly but professionally: you do develop the ability to read extremely fast after doing this for three decades. So It’s been a good career for me. Would I recommend it to people starting out? Not really. You see, the business is changing, with all the new technologies, and no one’s really sure which way things are going. I’m not sure it’s possible to make a career as a studio reader anymore; the system is dying out. There’ll be some new way of “covering” material, but it’s not clear yet what that will be.

Vic: Anything else you’d care to share with our readers?

Diana: Just that Jane Austen has been my teacher, my solace, my amuser, my inspiration, and my study. As Cassandra called her, “the sun of my life, the gilder of every pleasure.”

Vic: Thank you, Diana. As always your thoughts are so illuminating. You must be pleased with some of the reviews, like Ellen Moody’s, who called your book “a polished performance,” or Maggie Lane’s, who said, “It’s a delight to meet with old friends in new situations. America, where everything is bigger and better, is just the setting for the obnoxious but hugely entertaining Augusta Elton.”

Diana: Indeed, some most esteemed people have said lovely things, and I have been very pleased! Only one reviewer missed the point, that it was supposed to be, you know, funny – but then, what is fun for some, is not fun for every one. One half of the world, as Emma said, does not understand the pleasures of the other.

Vic: I can only add, good luck with the novel Diana. Two books published in one year! You must be proud.

  • Click here for the archives to Mrs. Elton’s current project, her weekly advice column on Jane Austen Today.

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