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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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