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Posts Tagged ‘Diana Birchall’

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

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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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dear_mrs_eltonGentle readers: Good news! Mrs. Elton has returned, but with a twist. Diana Birchall and I hope that you’ll enjoy this interesting development in Mrs. Elton’s life. T’ill next time, and wishing you all the best of holidays … Vic (Toby) and Diana (Mrs. Elton)

15th August, 1818
Fairweather Plantation, Raleigh

To: Augusta Hawkins, Bristol

My dearest darling Augusta,

When we parted I pledged I would refrain from contacting you until I was WORTHY of your hand. Our ambitions have borne fruit, my Angel, and of such a magnitude that I can now hold my head high as I formally ask your father for your hand. Even as I write, my man of business has sailed ahead of me to arrange for a house and carriage in Bristol. I shall leave the choice of furnishing to you, my dearest, for your taste is as restrained and exquisite as The Prince Regent’s.

Lo, all these eight years I have worn your locket with its precious strand of your hair next to my heart, as you have kept my promise ring next to yours, I’ll warrant. The last sweet words you whispered in my ear before I set sail (forever etched on my brain – “Do not return until you can claim me openly”), your pledge of unwavering love, and your faith in my abilities have kept me strong even through the darkest and most trying times. There were agonizing moments when I despaired of ever seeing you again, for the New World is as you feared – a wild and dangerous place, where a man is just a hair’s breath away from meeting his MAKER. But fate has been kind and I have emerged triumphant! It is as you predicted, my dearest – my uncanny skills at the gaming table have made my fortune in the form of a fine and thriving tobacco plantation in the Carolinas.

Expect me on the next mail packet from the Americas, for I cannot wait another moment to see your fair face and hold you in my arms.

Your loving, faithful and obedient servant, “Toby”

Tobias Evander McKiddie

P.S. I did not for a moment believe the spiteful rumours that came my way of your marriage to a mere country vicar not a half year after my departure. “You slander my faithful Augusta!” were the last words one lying cur heard after I shot him dead. However, the curious rumour persists, and we must address its origin before it DEFILES your spotless reputation.

BeFunky_opie portrait of swift 1802

On receiving this letter at the post-office, yellowed, water-stained, and slightly torn, covered all over with American stamps, Mrs. Elton stood for a moment, silent. This was so odd a posture for her, that Mrs.Ford (for the post-office was in a corner of the store) asked if she was well.

“Oh! Perfectly, perfectly well, Mrs. Ford. I am only surprised. It is not every day that one receives a letter from America, you know.”

“I should say not, Mrs. Elton,” exclaimed Mrs. Ford. “That is why I fetched it down for you, when you came by. In the ordinary course of things I should have sent it with the post-boy on his donkey, and you would have had it by tea-time, but this seemed so very special.”

“Yes, yes,” said Mrs. Elton, absently.

“And your man did not come for the post this morning, as he usually does. I had thought there might be illness at the vicarage, or some such.”

“Oh, dear no, Mrs. Ford. I was not expecting any thing, and did not think to tell Charles to fetch the letters this morning, when he went to the fishmonger’s. We are having a select little dinner to-night, you know.”

“Yes, I heard – the Westons and the Coles,” said Mrs. Ford, very interested. “My! I am sure you have your head full of cares to-day. No one in Highbury gives a more elegant dinner than you, Mrs. Elton. You are quite famous for it.”

“Not at all. It is only that I learnt at Maple Grove how things should be done in proper style. I do not allow any pitiful doings at my table. Meat and drink should be plentiful and wholesome, but with something more elegant, more recherche, when there is company. That was why I wanted to be sure to get the very best piece of fish the town affords…”

“To be ordering fish, and to find a letter from America!” said Mrs. Ford, laughing winningly and holding up her hands, but sticking to the subject that she was afire with curiosity to hear about.

But Mrs. Elton had recollected herself, and slipped the letter into her reticule, slapping it shut with finality. “Yes,” she said, “and I must hurry home and take it to Mr. Elton, for it is sure to be for him. A letter of business about church affairs – perhaps about converting the Indians,” she finished, in an effort of imagination.

“Well! Only think! America! Indians! But the letter,” Mrs. Ford pursued wisely, “is addressed to you.”

“That must be some mistake,” Mrs. Elton said firmly, “for I know no one in America. But my husband has such an extensive correspondence, I am sure he will not be at a loss.”

“I’ve never seen him get a letter from America before,” said Mrs. Ford skeptically, “nor anyone in this village for that matter.”

“There is always a first time. Good day, Mrs. Ford.”

Mrs. Elton prided herself on a stately glide, as befitted the vicar’s wife, when on foot, as she was today owing to the pleasant autumn weather. She now regretted not taking the carriage, as she was exposed to the eyes of the village, and she knew the story of the letter was circulating like wildfire faster than she could reach home. Accordingly, she walked as quickly as she dared, and the last few yards she might be said to be guilty of scurrying.

Not even taking off her bonnet and gloves, she stood in the entry way, tore open her letter, and read.

She only looked up, to see her husband come in, having walked back from Donwell where he had been conferring with Mr. Knightley on parish business.
“Why, Augusta, it must be true then,” he exclaimed cheerfully, “that must be the famous letter from America you are reading! John Carpenter told me of it, as I crossed the last field over from Martin’s.”

He noticed her stricken expression. “What is it, then?” he asked, concerned. “Is it really from America? What can America have to do with us?”

Mutely she put the letter in his hands. He read. Their eyes met for a moment, and he struck the letter to the ground. “That puppy!” he exclaimed.

“It is that puppy you told me about long ago – is it not?”

“Yes, Philip,” she said faintly.

He began to pace. “What insolence! Arrant nonsense. You were not engaged before we met – I know. You told me the whole story, long ago.”

Augusta found her voice. “Certainly not. You remember how I told you of my difficulty in – in getting rid of the young man. He presumed too much then, and you see it is apparent he still does – now.”

“I should say so!” Mr. Elton picked up the letter, smoothed it out thoughtfully, though his own brow was furrowed. “Augusta, this is a sort of thing that could cause some damage, if it became known.”

“Oh, Philip!”

“Never you worry. Do you know,” he concluded, folding it up again, “it looks to me as if this gentlemen intends mischief – a breach-of-promise suit or something of that sort. This is not about sentiment. He is after money, I’ll be bound.”

“What – what shall we do?”

“I am not exactly certain, not being a lawyer myself, but I tell you what, dearest,” he looked at her resolutely, “we cannot do better than to take this to Mr. Knightley.”

“Mr. Knightley!”

“Why, yes. He is the magistrate, and absolutely safe as houses, you know. A secret is a secret with him. And Mr. John Knightley, his brother, is the very person to consult about a delicate matter, and the law.”

“But – oh, Philip, what if he tells Mrs. Knightley? Or Miss Bates! Only think! It will be all over town in an hour!”

“Don’t be silly, my dear. Men of business do not behave in such a way. Yes, I am decided. Do not worry, I say. I will walk back over to Donwell this very moment, and secure Knightley’s advice. It is the best thing going.”

“I suppose you know best,” she agreed. “Oh, Philip, you are not – angry?”

“Not with you,” he answered briefly, and strode out of the house.

About Diana Birchall

Diana and her cat, Pindar

Diana and her cat, Pindar

Diana Birchall grew up in New York City, and was educated at Hunter College Elementary School, the High School of Music and Art, and C.C.N.Y, where she studied history and English literature. She has worked in the film industry for many years and is the “book person” story analyst at Warner Bros. Studios, reading novels to see if they would make movies. A lifelong student of Jane Austen, whom she calls her writing teacher, Diana is the author of Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma, a charming and best-selling sequel to Jane Aust­en’s Pride and Prejudice. Originally published by Egerton House Press in England, it is now available in a new reprint edition from Sourcebooks. Diana’s comedy pastiche In Defense of Mrs. Elton,based on characters from Jane Austen’s Emma, was published by the Jane Austen Society in the U.S., the U.K. and Australia. It forms part of the “compleat” Mrs. Elton Trilogy, which is collected in the volume Mrs. Elton in America, published by Sourcebooks. 

Read more about Diana in this link.

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Inquiring readers: Susannah Fullerton and I met in Brooklyn at the annual JASNA meeting, where she was promoting two books and gave two workshop presentations.  Here, then, is our share of our ongoing conversation:

Susannah, it was such a pleasure meeting you at the AGM in Brooklyn. I felt as if we had known each other for years, so instant was our connection. As we talked, I came to realize that you lecture, travel, act as guide, write, and have two books coming out in a HALF year, AND you are a wife, mother, and president of JASA (Jane Austen Society of Australia). At the conference you had boundless energy. How and where do you find the time to do it all and look so fresh and enthusiastic? I am in awe.

There’s a lovely quote in Emma when Miss Bates says, ‘It is such a happiness when good people get together – and they always do.” Vic, that’s how I felt when I met you in Brooklyn – an instant recognition that we had masses in common and would get on really well. I do have an incredibly busy life and it has been especially busy these last 2 years with 2 books to write. However, I do find it hard to say ‘no’ to lovely literary projects. I have been President of JASA for 17 years (I’m wondering if that should put me in the Guinness Book of Records?) and I have a fabulous committee, so running the society is a joy. Of course we are all very excited about next year’s big P & P anniversary. My literary tours are great fun. When you yourself get an incredible thrill from walking down the Gravel Walk in the footsteps of Anne Elliot and Capt. Wentworth, or seeing the topaz crosses at Chawton, or actually standing in the room where Jane Austen died (which I did on 2 of my literary tours) then it’s fantastic to be able to take other people on tours where they can share that same excitement. My tours are with ‘Australians Studying Abroad’, and I don’t only take tours to England but to France, Scotland and the USA as well. It’s all such fun that somehow I find the energy to do it all.

In reference to your interview on Jane Austen in Vermont, you mentioned that the time for a book about dance in Jane Austen’s time was right. I agree with you. What were some of the facts you uncovered that surprised you and that you were anxious to share with the world?

What really surprised me was that no-one had written a book on Jane Austen and dancing before now! I think what you find when you focus on one particular aspect of Jane Austen’s fiction is an increased awareness of how utterly brilliant she was. When I wrote Jane Austen and Crime I found that the tiniest bit of information about something like poaching was used by Austen in a way that had so many wider implications if you knew about the laws and perceptions of poaching at that time. In Mansfield Park Mr Rushworth boasts about his “zeal after poachers”, yet completely fails to stop Henry Crawford from ‘poaching’ his wife – the ‘poaching’ undercurrents in the novel are so brilliantly done. I found the same with dancing – when you learned exactly what behaviour was expected in a ballroom, you became so much more aware of the subtler nuances of dialogue and action. For example, it was not proper etiquette to compliment your partner on their dress or looks, because it was taken for granted that everyone would be nicely dressed at a ball. You shouldn’t praise someone for doing what it was assumed they would do anyway – ie, dress nicely. This gives extra point to Mrs Elton’s behaviour at the Crown Inn ball – of course, no-one compliments her on her dress because they are behaving properly, but Mrs Elton is desperate for such attention so she takes on the task herself: “How do you like my gown? How do you like my trimming? How has Wright done my hair?” etc. The more you delve into any aspect of Austen’s world, the more you find and you come away with an even greater awe of her incredible achievement!

Was there any information in A Dance With Jane Austen that you wished you had expanded upon but simply could not due to lack of space and time?

It could have been nice to have included more particular information about steps for individual dances, but unless you are a Regency dancer yourself, that information might be rather dull on the page – more fun to ‘do’ than to read about, I think.

Authors Diana Birchall (l) and Susannah Fullerton (r) at the Brooklyn AGM

When we were at the AGM, you were promoting your next book as well, Celebrating Pride and Prejudice: 200 Years of Jane Austen’s Masterpiece. Other authors must be as curious as I am: How did you find the time to write TWO books with such close deadlines? Did you lock yourself in a closet and have food passed to you through a grate?

Just last week I received the most wonderful parcel in the post – two copies of Happily Ever After: Celebrating Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and two copies of Celebrating Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: 200 Years of Jane Austen’s Masterpiece. These are the UK and American editions of my new book. They are both gorgeous and I was so thrilled I danced round the kitchen with the copies in my arms! The book is dedicated to my daughter “my dearest loveliest Elinor Elizabeth” and she is really thrilled about that. Yes, it was quite a task to finish 2 books so close together. I was just finishing A Dance with Jane Austen when Frances Lincoln suddenly took up my suggestion that a book about 200 years of P & P would be a good idea. I must admit I lay awake most of that night, wondering if I could manage to do it given the tight time frame. But how could I resist? Spending 6 months with Elizabeth and Darcy was pure bliss and no book has given me so much pleasure to write. There were days when I was so involved I forgot to think about cooking dinner. Part of the joy was learning as I went along – discovering new depths and brilliancies in the novel. Just as an example – when I was writing my chapter on Elizabeth Bennet, I stopped to think about how she is first introduced to the reader. Most of us know her so well that it feels she has always been a part of our lives, but what are Elizabeth’s first words in the novel?? I had to go and check because I couldn’t actually remember the very first words she gets to speak in the text. And they are words that contradict her mother! In that age of conduct-book heroines, females who were expected to be obedient to parents, meek, silent and submissive, Elizabeth arrives on the literary scene with a contradiction!! Instantly we know that this woman is going to be different – unlike any heroine before (and of course since as well).

What should readers expect from Celebrating Pride and Prejudice that will make your book stand out from other publications about this novel?

I have tried in my book to give an all-round picture of why this novel has lasted 200 years and goes from strength to strength. I tell of its beginnings; Jane Austen’s struggles to get it out into the world; initial reactions to the book and then reactions as the 19thC continued and went into the 20thC; I have a chapter about the first sentence and why it has become so justly famous; I look at the use of letters in the text; I discuss the translations and how badly the novel fared for a long time in other languages and I look at the challenges faced by translators (would Mr and Mrs Bennet say ‘vous’ or ‘tu’ to each other? They have shared a bed and had 5 children, but still call each other Mr and Mrs – a translator has to make that sort of decision); I look at the extraordinary range of film versions (Dutch, Mormon, Spanish, Italian, Israeli etc); I look at the illustrations it has had foisted upon it over the years – some lovely and some truly terrible (and I include some fabulous pictures as examples) and the different sorts of covers it has been enclosed in; I look at P & P tourism which is now a big industry; I explore the amazing range of merchandise from baby’s nappies to skateboards, cosmetics to clothes pegs, china to jewellery etc. Some of the chapters I most enjoyed writing were about the characters of the novel – I have separate chapters on Darcy and Elizabeth, but then also include chapters on ‘her Relations’ and ‘his Relations’, and one on the ‘Other Characters’. I found that grouping them into ‘his’ and ‘her’ relatives made me think about them in a new way and helped make it clear why hero and heroine had become the sort of people they are.

Anything else you wish to add?

There is a T-shirt which has printed on it “What do you mean Mr Darcy isn’t real??” I think I need to buy that T-shirt! Elizabeth and Darcy, Mr and Mrs Bennet, Mr Collins and Lady Catherine, and all the characters of Pride and Prejudice are as real to me as the people I see every day. There is so much to celebrate about this utterly wonderful book by Jane Austen. My way of celebrating was to write a book about why it is so brilliant, and of course I very much hope that many readers will want to buy and read my book to discover just why, 200 years ago, the world became a far better place!

As always, Susannah, it is a pleasure chatting with you. I wish you nothing but the best and hope to see you during your spring tour in the U.S.! – Vic

NOTICE: CONTEST CLOSED. Congratulations Monica! Dear readers: Susannah is graciously giving away a free copy of A Dance With Jane Austen. Please leave your comment stating which Jane Austen character you would most like to dance with and why! The contest is open to all and closes at midnight November 27th, US Eastern Standard Time.

Susannah’s Books:

Preorder Celebrating Pride and Prejudice at this link.

Order A Dance With Jane Austen at this link

Order Susannah’s first book, Jane Austen and Crime, at this link

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Dear Mrs. Elton

Inquiring Readers: Yes, you read the title correctly. Author Diana Birchall has resurrected her excellent advice column on behalf of Mrs. Elton. A number of years ago Laurel Ann Nattress, blogger of Austenprose and editor of Jane Austen Made Me Do It, co-posted on my other blog, Jane Austen Today. We both sent letters to Mrs. Elton/Diana, who replied with cheeky aplomb. (Read the archived columns here). The column entitled “Mrs. Elton Sez” once ran weekly. The renamed column will be featured monthly.

Agony Aunts, or advice columnists, were not unknown in the 18th and 19th centuries and have enjoyed a long tradition. One imagines that Mrs. Elton would have no difficulty dispensing her advice in print. And now, without further ado …

Dear Mrs. Elton,

I am writing to inform you that I have identified you as the Agony Aunt in The Highbury Monthly Gazette. The means by which I came to this conclusion I shall keep to myself. Suffice it to say that your audaciousness knows no bounds. To brazenly appoint oneself as the judge of others and the arbiter of taste and deportment in an insignificant village when all one has done is marry a mere parson is the height of vanity. As his wife it is your DUTY to be a MODEL of humility and Christian love. I command you to take lessons from Mrs. Collins, also a parson’s wife, whose modesty and sense of duty have set her up as a PARAGON of propriety.

I am most seriously displeased with your presumption and shall not end this missive with my good wishes.

Lady Catherine de Bourgh

Rosings

My dear Lady Catherine,

Picture to yourself my extreme surprise at receiving your late missive!  I do not at all know how to account for that honour, but although the Eltons have not a family name distinguished among the nobility, you may be better acquainted with the name of Suckling.  Yes, my sister, Mrs. Suckling, Miss Selina Hawkins as was, has married into one of the very greatest families in the land; – that is, her husband’s father settled at Maple Grove at no very distant time in the past, but for income, Mr. Suckling has one of the largest in all the country round Birmingham, and drives a barouche-landau.  So I think you must know whom you are addressing, when you give me the favour of a letter, and a letter actually written in your ladyship’s own hand.

The subject of your letter, however, takes me by surprise quite as much as the letter itself.  Agony aunt!  What a very modern term for a very odious thing, to be sure.  I should like to know why you take me for such a creature?  No lady would write for a newspaper, far less a little country organ like the Gazette, and I trust you realize by this time, that it is a lady with whom you have to do.  The Hawkins family, you know – well, there, I need not display my antecedents. That would be vulgar.  Display of all kind is what I have a horror of.  You may take up the Peerage yourself; and see that the Hawkins family are a very ancient Kent line, whose name originated in the word HAVOC.  There has always been a famous solicitor in every generation, but do not run away with the idea that we are tradesmen, for that, my Lady Catherine, I assure you we are not.  One of my cousins was raised to a Barony for his excellence in jurisprudence, and my most illustrious ancestor of all was a Pirate.  Admiral Sir John Hawkins.  He invented the slave trade almost singlehandedly, and was of that enterprising, pushing nature shared by all my – But stay – I did not mean to mention that.  You will kindly overlook it.

And who is this Mrs. Collins of whom you speak?  If I mistake not, she is a country girl whose father really was in trade, until his having a term as mayor of his little village of Meryton, gave him his knighthood – a very recent creation, too.  This is not the sort of person to hold up as example, and I beg to know what Your Ladyship means by it.  My husband Mr. Elton is a far superior sort of clergyman than Mr. Collins, who is, as all the world knows, a half-educated, toadying sort of fellow, and certainly not a Vicar.

Let us return, however, to the subject of Agony Aunt.  I take this term to mean a sort of Dispenser of Advice.  Well, I must inform you, I have never Dispensed Advice; I should be ashamed to do so unasked (although any advice I might give, would be better than any body’s).  From your mentioning the profession, however, I can divine your real intention.  You protest, but I see through you.  I see through to your real meaning, Lady Catherine!  One with my Understanding, and my Resources, will always see through other ladies, no matter how high born; and I now give you to understand that I know that you would love nothing more than to be an Agony Aunt yourself!  You write to me, therefore, seeking advice as to how to begin.  You have, as I can very easily discern, a vast ability to give advice of the best sort, as I do myself, which is why I can recognize this very quality in others.  You would like to make a more formal, more public use of your undoubted talents, and I believe you have come to exactly the right quarter, for who can better tell you how to proceed, than I?  Did I not find a situation as governess, one of the first situations in the country, for my favorite, Jane Fairfax?  As it happened, she did not take it up, for her marriage prevented her; but had she gone to Mrs. Smallridge, only think how happy she would have been!  So make no mistake, I can and will find a situation for you, too.

Would you care to write – anonymously, of course, merely under the by-line of “A Lady,” for the Highbury Monthly Gazette?  I await your reply by return of post.

Yours respectfully,

Augusta Elton

The Vicarage, Highbury

Diana and her cat, Pindar

About Diana Birchall

Diana Birchall grew up in New York City, and was educated at Hunter College Elementary School, the High School of Music and Art, and C.C.N.Y, where she studied history and English literature. She has worked in the film industry for many years and is the “book person” story analyst at Warner Bros. Studios, reading novels to see if they would make movies. A lifelong student of Jane Austen, whom she calls her writing teacher, Diana is the author of Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma, a charming and best-selling sequel to Jane Aust­en’s Pride and Prejudice. Originally published by Egerton House Press in England, it is now available in a new reprint edition from Sourcebooks. Diana’s comedy pastiche In Defense of Mrs. Elton,based on characters from Jane Austen’s Emma, was published by the Jane Austen Society in the U.S., the U.K. and Australia. It forms part of the “compleat” Mrs. Elton Trilogy, which is collected in the volume Mrs. Elton in America, published by Sourcebooks. Read more about Diana in this link.

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Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma, which SourceBooks is now republishing for international distribution, takes place in an age of change, just as Queen Victoria is coming to the throne in 1837. Mr. and Mrs. Darcy, they of Pride and Prejudice fame, are now middle-aged. He is balding, she is an anxious mother, but they are still a charming, witty and fortunate couple, who know their happiness – until they make the mistake of inviting the two daughters of Mrs. Darcy’s profligate sister Lydia to visit at Pemberley…and trouble begins. The Darcys’ sons are far too interested in the young ladies; the younger, Cloe, is a faultlessly modest creature, but the elder, Bettina, is another pair of gloves entirely, and her flamboyant career includes a shocking turn on the London stage…Diana Birchall, Author

As I finished reading this satisfying and entertaining novel by Diana Birchall, I knew that all was right with Jane Austen’s world again. Mr. and Mrs. Darcy are still deeply in love; their children will find some measure of happiness; and the rest of Jane Austen’s characters are living out their lives much as we suspect they would.

Elizabeth was too wise to take either her husband’s love or his wealth for granted, and she never forgot to exult in all her manifold sources of happiness. It is impossible for human nature to be altogether without worry or pain, however, and Elizabeth’s anxieties were all reserved for her children.

At the start of the novel, Elizabeth Darcy, a matron in her forties and mother to Fitzwilliam, Henry, and Jane, receives a letter from her sister, Lydia Wickham. In reaction to the hardships Lydia describes, the Darcies invite the two oldest Wickham girls, Bettina and Cloe, for a protracted visit to Pemberley. This action sets the plot in motion. Before the generous-hearted Darcies realize what has happened, their eldest son Fitzwilliam, whose preference for horses far outweighs his common sense, has run off to London with the brazen Bettina. Shades of Wickham’s and Lydia’s ill considered elopement! Everyone is appalled when they do not marry, except for Lydia who doesn’t see why a 10-minute ceremony “should signify.”

Meanwhile, Henry, the second and more sensible son, has fallen for sweet and proper Cloe. He proposes to her, but deeply mortified by her sister’s actions, the penniless Cloe seeks a position as a governess.

As these events unfold, we meet Pride and Prejudice’s familiar cast of characters. Mr. Collins is as intolerable as ever. Due to the unfortunate circumstance of Mr. Bennet’s long and healthy life – and his desire not to shuffle off his mortal coil too soon – both the Collinses have become fractious from waiting. Charlotte has grown increasingly irritated with Mr. Collins in their tiny cottage crammed with furniture and their half dozen children.

Lady Catherine de Bourgh is still overbearing, and the early death of her only daughter Anne has not diminished her dislike of Elizabeth. Lydia seems not to have grown wiser at all, despite having raised a family in poverty and her disappointment with Mr. Wickham, a dissipated wastrel. Mary is a widow who has taken care of the aging Mr. Bennet since Mrs. Bennet’s death. Kitty as Mrs. Clarke, a minister’s wife, has turned into a sour childless woman. Having taken second place to Lydia in her younger years, she now feels inferior to Elizabeth and Jane, who married well. The book’s subplots echo many of Jane’s other novels, and one feels a comfortable familiarity with these characters as the novel progresses.

Ms. Birchall does not disappoint her readers. The plot is fast paced, and the story believable. “My primary interest in writing Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma, which I did years before the booming proliferation of romantic sequels,” she says, “was in employing something as similar to Jane Austen’s original language as might be possible for an American writing two hundred years later. In other words: not possible at all! However, I have steeped myself in her prose, reading the novels not tens, not hundreds, but thousands of times over a thirty year period, and among many other things, Jane Austen proved to be the best writing teacher any author could have.”

My only (minor) quibble with the book is that it is not long enough. I would love to have read more scenes with Mr. Darcy and his wife in them. Diana is also known for her humor, and her wit was in too short supply. Had the book been longer, I believe we might have been treated to more sparkling and scintillating dialog. I have one final quibble: Diana describes our fabulous fifty-something Mr. Darcy as balding. I beg to differ, Ms. Birchall. Please take a look at this photo of a lovely man at 48, in which not a single follicle seems to be challenged. Could Mr. Darcy not have had a similar set of hair?

More about Diana Birchall:

Her Jane Austen-related novels, Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma and Mrs. Elton in America, were both published by Egerton Press, a small English company, in 2004, and her pastiche/satire In Defense of Mrs. Elton was published by the Jane Austen Society in the US, UK and Australia in 2000. Her “day job” is as the literary story analyst at Warner Bros Studios in California, reading novels to see if they would make movies. She is also a ballet dancer and has taken classes most of her life.

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