Saturday, September 26, 2015

Jane Austen's Emma, Governesses, and a New Book!

Jane Austen’s life was cut tragically short at the age of 41. If you’re a huge fan of her work, like me, then the six completed novels she finished, whilst perfectly demonstrating her genius, will never be enough. I’m always torn when it comes to deciding which is my favourite, and I love them all for different reasons. Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion vie for the top spot, but I also love Emma. This December will mark 200 years of its publication, and it was with this book in mind that I started to think about the present novel I’m working on.
Emma was written as Jane was beginning to be recognised as a talented writer, and whilst she was still not making much money from her writing she knew her work was being well received by critics and the public alike. Emma was her first heroine to be wealthy and privileged; perhaps living not far from her brother Edward’s house at Chawton and seeing first-hand the lives of his daughters, which were in great contrast to her own, gave her some of the inspiration for her writing.
Emma is portrayed as a match-maker and someone who thinks she understands human nature, including her own, and the joy of the book is discovering not only how far the truth is from her real understanding of the people around her, but also seeing her growth and the changes she makes as a character. Before she started writing Jane Austen wrote, ‘I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like …’ But, although there are traits of Emma’s personality that we may not like to start with, in the end we can forgive her mistakes, and it’s her faults that even help to make her likeable.
Chawton House where Jane's brother Edward lived
It's not possible in a short blog post to write everything that could be included about this wonderful book, but essentially Emma is a book about courtship and marriage, and we see how very different the prospects of the main female characters are dependent on their status in life. Emma is rich and she protests at the start of the novel that she doesn’t see the necessity of marriage, though she’s happy to meddle in other people’s relationships imagining that she’s helping to bring them along. She thinks she will be able to elevate the status of her young friend Harriet who is an illegitimate girl living in a nearby school. As the novel progresses we see her view of marriage gradually change. Austen uses charades very cleverly to show Emma’s misguided efforts to bring the wrong people together. When her friend Harriet declares an interest in a poor farmer, Emma can only persuade her to consider the vicar who has better prospects. Mr Elton presents a ‘courtship’ charade when Harriet is visiting which leads Emma to think he is serious in his regard for her friend. When Emma realises she’s been blind to the fact that Mr Elton is actually in love with her we understand that the charade was never meant for Harriet. The many misunderstandings concealed in charades and riddles keep us from guessing what is going to happen. It’s a book that hides its secrets with tremendous skill, and on first reading the revelations come one by one with wonderful surprises in store. A second reading cements all that was first discovered, and is just as revelatory as on the first. Every time I read it I discover something new. I don’t want to give anything away, but if you don’t know the book I promise you won’t be disappointed with all the twists and turns of the plot.
Olivia Williams as Jane Fairfax
Jane Fairfax is another character I want to mention. She is the only young woman that Emma envies, yet she is poor and is set to become a governess. Emma doesn’t like Jane Fairfax, but Jane Austen writes of her in glowing terms. Jane has all the traits and accomplishments that Emma feels she is lacking in herself. She is clever, beautiful, and is a talented singer and pianist. Jane Austen writes her character sympathetically, and I can’t help wondering if she ever worried that the fate of becoming a governess might befall her. As she comes to her own self-realisation, Emma thinks about the inequalities between women of independent means and those who are poor. The contrast between Mrs. Churchill’s importance in the world, and Jane Fairfax’s, struck her; one was every thing, the other nothing. 
Austen compares the lot of the governess to a form of slavery and we know she witnessed the life at first-hand. Her dear friend, Anne Sharp served as governess to Fanny Knight, Jane’s niece at Edward’s other house, Godmersham Park, Kent, from 1804-6. Jane sent a presentation copy of the three volume edition of Emma inscribed to her friend when they were published, and I can't help thinking that in some ways Emma is partly a tribute to the woman whom Jane revered. They remained good friends until Jane died.

At the end of Jane Austen’s life she wrote a poem called Winchester Races. Jane knew she was dying and though the poem is a reference to St. Swithin I’ve always been intrigued by these lines:

When once we are buried you think we are gone 
But behold me immortal!

I can’t help wishing that even though she achieved immortality in her writing, that she could have found a way to be cured so she could write all the books she wished. And that’s what set me thinking about Emma, governesses, and a new book which will be published in November, Jane Austen Lives Again. Although Emma started as the inspiration for this book, I soon found other nods to Jane's novels creeping in - you'll find Persuasion, Sense and Sensibility, and Pride and Prejudice all making their influence known.

© Jane Austen Lives Again
When Jane Austen’s doctor discovers the secret to immortal life in 1817 she thinks her wishes have come true. But when Jane wakes up from the dead, she hasn’t reckoned on her doctor being a descendant of the original Dr Lyford or that it’s taken over a 100 years to perfect the process. Finding herself in 1925, a penniless Miss Austen must adjust to the Jazz Age, get herself a job, and discover the only one suitable is in the most dreaded of all occupations. Becoming a governess to five girls of an eccentric bohemian family at the neglected and crumbling Manberley Castle is not exactly her dream job, and Jane soon finds she’s caught up in the dramas of every family member. The children are not quite what she’s expected, and her employer, Lady Milton is at her wit’s end.  But Jane loves nothing more than a challenge, and now living in a new body half her real age, but with all the wisdom gained from a lifetime in the past, she resolves on putting the family in order. If only she can stop herself from falling for the charms of the heir, Will Milton, and concentrate on keeping in good health, her common sense and resolve will win the day and change the lives of them all!

Jane Odiwe 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Le Mystère de Willoughby or Willoughby's Return!

I am very excited to announce that Willoughby's Return is being published in French by Milady Romance on August 28th, and this morning some preview copies arrived from Sourcebooks. I love the new title and the cover - hope you do too!

Dans Raison & Sentiments de Jane Austen, Marianne Dashwood épouse le colonel Brandon et oublie complètement Willoughby.
Trois ans plus tard, alors que Marianne souhaite marier sa petite soeur Margaret pourtant éprise de liberté, elle revoit Willoughby. Les souvenirs et l'incertitude ne cessent alors de la hanter. En outre, Willoughby est plus charmant et plus amoureux d'elle que jamais. Le colonel Brandon devant s'absenter pour s'occuper de sa pupille, Willoughby en profite pour reconquérir le coeur de Marianne. Aura-t-elle la force de résister ou la tentation d'un amour passé est-elle plus forte ?

La plume pleine d'esprit d'Odiwe n'a rien à envier à celle de la célèbre Jane Austen. Booklist
Un pur délice. Historical Novels Review

Here's Chapter One in English of Willoughby's Return

Marianne Brandon was bursting with news to tell her sister and was so excited at the report that her husband had divulged at breakfast before leaving for Lyme that morning, that she did not consider there to be time enough to don her bonnet. With her chestnut curls escaping from her coiffure to dance in the wind and her scarlet cloak billowing like a great sail behind her, she almost ran down the lane to the parsonage. Knowing that Elinor would probably scold her for not bringing the chaise, she nevertheless had not wanted to be bothered with the inconvenience of having to wait for it. Muddying her boots and the hem of her gown, she took the shortcut across the fields to the lane that separated the two sisters. Yesterday’s storm had left the ground wet but there was the promise of a most delightful day, the autumnal sunshine kissing her cheeks with a blush. Marianne had not wanted to say goodbye to her husband but was resigned to his departure. There was nothing she could say or do to change the situation, she knew that from experience. Glad to be outside in the fresh air, she looked about with contented pleasure, waltzing through the familiar countryside that she was delighted to call her home. Delaford House in the county of Dorset was as dear to her as the former family seat at Norland had been. Marianne knew in her heart that she was a most fortunate young woman.
Elinor was delighted to see her as always, although she was a little surprised at her sister’s slightly dishevelled appearance. “Goodness me, Marianne. Is ought amiss? You look rather harried. Where is little James? Is he well? Anna will be most upset not to see her cousin this morning.”
“How is my darling Anna? I long to kiss her! And where is little Georgie? I must have a cuddle!” Marianne handed her cloak into the arms of a waiting maidservant before arranging herself with much elegance on the sofa in the comfortable sitting room. “I could not bring James with me, he was not yet dressed and in any case I just had to get out into the sunshine. Besides, he wants to look into every hedgerow and chase the falling leaves, and I couldn’t wait to tell you my news. However, before I left I promised he would see his cousin soon. I have had an idea. Anna and James enjoy one another’s company so much, as does our dear mama. What say you to a shopping trip in Exeter the day after tomorrow? It would be such fun. My nursemaid can take our babies in the carriage to Barton Cottage and after you and I have handed them over with our greetings we shall go out in the box barouche!”
Elinor looked at Marianne in disbelief. She wondered if she would ever grow up or if she would for once consider others before she set about on some scheme or other. Colonel William Brandon, Elinor thought, had done much to improve her sister’s character. She was more settled in her habits, more tranquil than she had ever been, and was not quite so prone to as many flights of fancy or as many fits of sensibility as she had been in the past. But three years of married life had done little to really change her. Marianne still had an impetuous nature, she still retained a desire for impulse and enterprises undertaken on the spur of the moment. The Colonel, Elinor felt, indulged Marianne’s whims far too frequently.
“Marianne, you know that would be impossible. I have far too much to do here at present and I do not think Mama will be as pleased as you think to have all her grandchildren at once. Besides, she may have other plans.”
“But Margaret is there, kicking her heels with nothing to do. I am sure she would only be delighted to see her niece and nephews. And I would love to tell Mama and Margaret my news.”
Elinor was firm. “I would love to go shopping on another day, but I really cannot go at the moment. Now, is that what you came to tell me in such a hurry?”
Marianne watched Elinor’s maid set down a tray of lemonade and ratafia biscuits. She could hardly wait for Susan’s starched white cap to disappear through the door before she made her announcement.
“Henry Lawrence is coming home—William’s nephew,” she added, taking in Elinor’s puzzled expression.
“Oh, yes,” Elinor exclaimed, her face breaking into a smile. “I remember hearing about him from Mrs Jennings. He has just completed his studies at Oxford, has he not?”
“Yes, and by all accounts he is not only very handsome but is also a very eligible young man, for he will inherit Whitwell. I have never met him, but I must admit, I am most curious to see him.”
“Whitwell is a very handsome estate; William’s sister made an excellent marriage.”
“She did indeed, though her health has never been good. That is why they stayed in Southern France and Italy for so long, I believe. Hannah tells me that the air and the climate are very well suited to invalids, and is always at pains to point out her abhorrence of the damp atmosphere to be found in the West Country. William worries about his sister so much, but all I can observe is that the Dorsetshire rain does not improve her disposition.” Marianne paused before looking directly into her sister’s eyes. “I have a mind to say that there seems little that would divert a constitution so intent on being ill. I have never seen her without some ailment and I admit it is fortunate that we are not such close neighbours. I have never heard her discuss any subject other than that of herself and then it is only to complain.”
“Perhaps she suffers more than you know, Marianne.”
“That we all suffer in her company is a certainty. You have not met with her above twice in your life and I believe you mistakenly felt that she was quite charming on both occasions. But then, you are not her intimate relation and I suspect you have been taken in.”
“I daresay the entire neighbourhood will be throwing their girls in Mr Lawrence’s path,” said Elinor, changing the course of the conversation. “I expect Miss Strowbridge will have her eye on him before long.”
“Miss Strowbridge, nonsense! He will be entirely suitable for Margaret, do you not think? You must admit there have been few young men to excite the romantic sensibilities of our dear sister to date. Charles Carey was never really suitable, and in any case he has gone to sea. I feel most excited at the prospect. William says Henry was partly educated in France and that he speaks French quite like a native. Not only is he a character of romance but he is also conversant in art, literature, and poetry, preferring our own beloved Cowper. He is quite perfect for Margaret, I should say.”
“Is it wise, dear sister, to be making matches in this way, before the two people in question have even set eyes on one another? Indeed, if his mother is the person you describe, I wonder that you are so keen for Margaret to make such an alliance.”
“Oh, there is no need for our sister to worry. Sir Edgar will adore Margaret; I know he will make certain there are no impediments to a match.”
“Do you not think that the Lawrences will already have a girl in mind, one who may possess a larger dowry than Margaret can claim?”
“I do not think that Margaret’s chances with a fitting suitor are any less than most girls. Despite the lack of money, she is a very handsome girl. She will steal Henry’s heart the moment he looks at her.”
“I imagine that there will not be many opportunities for them to meet however, especially if you are desirous of avoiding your relatives,” added Elinor with a laugh.
“I’ve already thought hard on that particular problem and for Margaret’s happiness I am prepared to make sacrifices. I have decided that we must have a round of social events. Firstly, we will throw a party to welcome him. Nay, a ball, nothing but a ball will do! I shall invite the Wiltons and the Courtneys.”
“And not invite the Strowbridges!”
“I suppose I shall have to invite them, though I know that young minx Selina will do nothing but flaunt herself before Mr Lawrence. Never mind, I shall take Margaret shopping, she shall have a new gown and our ardent suitor will not be able to resist her.”
“I hope all your efforts will not be in vain, Marianne. I suppose you have reflected on the possibility of the lovers detesting one another on sight. And I do hope Henry’s good looks match up to the gossip which no doubt has exaggerated the fairness of every feature.”
“Elinor, it will not be so, I promise you. Margaret will be in love with a very handsome man before the end of the month!”
“How is William?” asked Elinor, keen to move on to another discussion.
“He’s well enough, though he left for Lyme this morning without even touching his breakfast. He has gone to see you-know-who, so I expect I shall not see him until the day after tomorrow.”
“How are Miss Williams and the child?”
“Eliza Williams is another who is always fancying herself unwell and now it seems she has taught her daughter to be sickly also,” answered Marianne, knowing she was being more than a little unkind. She replaced her glass on the table none too quietly. “A begging note and off Brandon runs to attend to his little family. I know I sound churlish, but sometimes, Elinor, it is too hard to bear.”
“Marianne, the Colonel has an obligation to his ward and her daughter. He has never forgiven himself for the death of her mother; you know he could not leave them in distress.”
“I am aware more than anyone that he has not forgotten Eliza’s mother. She is always there, a spectre from the past who will never go away. Well, we all know that she was his first great attachment and for all the fuss he makes of her descendants, I have lately concluded that she was probably his one true love.”
“Oh, Marianne, you are being a little fanciful now. Anyone can see how much you are adored by William.”
“Am I adored, Elinor? Am I really loved for myself alone or because I resemble his first love so much? I sometimes think if it were possible for her to return from the grave I would never see him again.”
“Come now, Marianne, you should not say such things. You are a little upset. Think of what you are saying.”
“I cannot help myself. Elinor, I love him so much and I cannot bear the thought of William spending all that time with a young woman who surely must resemble her mother to perfection.”
“Why do you not visit them together?” Elinor asked, refilling Marianne’s glass as she spoke. “I’m sure if you saw her and her situation you would realise how unfounded your worries must be.”
“I never want to visit them, you know that is impossible,” came her sister’s reply. “Oh, Elinor, however could I see them knowing what happened between Eliza Williams and…the truth is, I could not bear to see the child.” Marianne broke off, unable to carry on.
Elinor looked at her sister’s expression and knew it was useless to continue. An aura of anguish like a ghostly shroud seemed to settle upon her sister’s shoulders. Marianne’s dark eyes flashed, her distress plain to see.
Elinor was vastly relieved when the conversation was interrupted in the next second by the arrival of her children, accompanied by their nurse. Anna, who favoured her aunt so much in looks, chose to break free from her nurse’s restraining hand. She immediately tottered over to her aunt on unsteady legs with outstretched arms. Marianne’s temper was instantly soothed. She laughed, kissed the top of her dark head, and fetched her up onto her lap. There was only a month between Anna and Marianne’s boy, James, and they were as friendly as any two-year-olds could be. Marianne loved her niece and baby nephew very much, though she often thought that her sister curbed and controlled Anna’s behaviour far more than was necessary.
Elinor, on the other hand, who similarly doted on Marianne’s son, felt that her sister was far too liberal with him. If James were spoiled much more, she was sure Marianne would have her hands full. She had often tried to advise her sister with little success and had decided that in the interests of friendly relations between the sisters, it might be prudent to forgo airing her misgivings in future.
The sisters parted before the afternoon was over, promising to meet soon. Elinor tried to insist on her sister having her chaise to take her home but Marianne would not hear of it. She took the same path back but allowed herself to dawdle this time, drinking in the breathtaking views all around. The colours of the leaves on trees and hedgerows were turning to drifts of copper, bronze, and vermillion, a most beautiful sight. The fresh winds shook the leaves from the trees, which rained down on her head like gold coins at a country wedding. Marianne liked to take a walk most days, it helped her to think, to sort out her thoughts and troubles. She had few material problems; her devoted husband saw that she wanted for nothing. Mrs Brandon was very grateful to the Colonel who had taken such pains to court her and bring her to Delaford as his wife. Theirs had been an unusual romance, a second attachment on both sides. She had grown to love him with the slow sweetness of enduring affection, sharing his life with the son whom she could not imagine being without. Yet, she could not entirely shake off the feeling that in her husband’s eyes she would always be deemed second best and that the love he bore for her would never match that of the grand passion he had shared with his first love. On occasion Marianne’s feelings of agitation on these considerations distilled into a sense of dissatisfaction that no intervention nor entertainment would remove. These moods usually coincided with her husband’s travels, especially when he went off visiting his ward. In this frame of mind she would take herself off to walk about the estate, finding that the combination of the exercise and the splendour of her surroundings was usually enough to shake off any feeling of unease. Marianne was devoted to her duties as a wife and mother, which came as naturally to her as breathing the perfume of white Campion in the hedgerows, but on certain days, such as this one, when the heat of summer was giving way to the sweet mellow days of autumn, her restlessness was apt to return. She was reminded of the girl she had been before her marriage; a creature she now felt was a figment of distant memory.
“Marriage has altered me, I know that to be true,” she thought. “Indeed, I wonder why I never noticed before that change seems to be an inevitable truth shared by all the married women I know. Our husbands’ lives carry on in much the same way as they did before they tied the marital knot. William has another life apart from the one he shares with our child and me. How I envy his freedom, his interactions with the world, but most of all I resent those other distractions on which I dread to dwell. I hate him being gone from home to attend to these responsibilities, obligations that belong to a distant age and another woman. I never thought before our marriage that I would feel so jealous and envious of a girl I have never met. In my heart I feel truly sorry for all that happened to Eliza, yet despite what Elinor says nothing will dispel the loneliness or private fears when William is away. Being married has its delights and disappointments. Tied by love and duty, to serve our men and children, I now recognise too well how marriage transforms the female situation.”
She walked along in the sunshine, every scent and sound recalling earlier times, bringing forth the inevitable bitter sweetness of memories. Bending to pick a bunch of blue buttons, the last of the wildflowers from the meadow, she was instantly reminded of a posy once given to her in that first season of happiness, now dry and faded. Held together by a strip of frayed silk ribbon, staining the pages of a favourite poetry book, they belonged to the past.
“John Willoughby,” she said out loud.
Marianne allowed herself to repeat his name but instantly admonished herself for dwelling on the remembrance of former times. Willoughby had used her very ill. At the time she had believed that he was in love with her yet still he had chosen to marry another. He had been her first love and therein rested the problem. If she could not entirely forget Willoughby, who had injured her, how could Brandon ever be freed from the memory of his first love, the woman who had been taken from him by circumstances beyond his control?
“I want to blot Willoughby from my mind, even to hate him,” she said to herself, “yet I know that he will always be a part of my conscious mind that I can do nothing about. I do not want to think of him but I cannot help myself. I love my husband more than life itself, but am I not as guilty as I declare him to be if I allow thoughts from the past to haunt me?”
And she understood why he crept stealthily like a phantom into her thoughts once more. Willoughby was inextricably linked with the Brandons and her husband’s concerns in a way that could never be erased or forgotten by Marianne.
Besides all that, this business of Henry Lawrence coming home was occupying her daydreams more than she would admit. Henry and Margaret were two young people with like minds, she was sure. Perhaps first attachments could end in happiness, without the complications that second ones entailed. A girl with so similar a disposition to her own must be allowed to follow her heart, and Marianne was determined to help her.

Edward Ferrars returned from his parish duties to the comfort of Delaford Parsonage where his wife Elinor was busy supervising the children at tea. The door of the nursery was open and he crept upon the pleasant domestic scene unobserved, to lean against the doorframe and smile at his good fortune. He had loved Elinor the moment he had set eyes on her and, having overcome all the difficulties that had threatened to forestall their happiness, had succeeded in claiming her as his wife. He observed the happy scene. His daughter Anna was chattering to her mother in a most endearing way, whilst George looked about him, cradled in his mother’s arms.
“I expect he will be just like me before he is much older,” Edward thought, “happy to sit back and observe his surroundings, letting the conversation flow with little attempt at joining in.”
Elinor was cutting up slices of cake with her free hand and appeared rather pensive, though to all intents and purposes, was engaged in attending to her little girl. He could always tell when she was immersed in her thoughts, her eyes darted from one place to another and her brows knitted together. Edward wondered what she could be worrying about.
“Papapapapa,” shouted Anna, who had suddenly spied her father and pointed at him with a chubby finger.
Elinor rose immediately to greet him, the ribbons fluttering on her cap in her haste to reach his side, a smile replacing her frown.
“Edward, you are just in time for tea. I will ask Susan to fetch some more tea things. Come, sit down and tell us all about your day. How are Mrs Thomas and all her family? I do hope she enjoyed your basket of vegetables and the bread and honey. I did not imagine on my marriage that I would be blessed with both a gardener and a bee charmer for a husband, but then I know I should never be surprised at your talents, my dear.”
“Mrs Thomas enjoyed her bread and honey very much, Elinor,” he replied, dropping a kiss on Anna’s curly head before picking her up in his arms. “She is feeling much better and now the weather has improved she expects to be very cheerful.”
“Well, that is good news.” Elinor paused. She wanted to tell Edward about Marianne’s visit, to admit her misgivings about her sibling’s present state of mind. She had not seen her sister’s spirits so unsettled for a while and she was concerned. She knew perfectly well what was behind it all and could only guess at what other fancies disturbed the balance of Marianne’s mind. Elinor decided she would say nothing of her fears for the present. “Marianne has been to visit us today and told us that Henry Lawrence of Whitwell is coming home at last.”
Edward hardly attended. He had Anna on his knee and she was demanding the clapping game she loved so much. “I am glad you had your sister for company,” came his reply.

Searching for Captain Wentworth

Searching For Captain Wentworth

Searching for Captain Wentworth
Sophie Elliot has always dreamed of finding her very own Captain Wentworth and as if that wasn't enough, she has ambitions to be a published author. At the beginning of the book, we see our heroine is very far from having her dreams realised - she's just had her heart broken and her latest manuscript has been rejected. Feeling very fed up with the world, she takes herself off to Bath, at the invitation of an aunt, and finds herself living next door to the house Jane Austen lived in 200 years ago. The house is haunted it seems, and it's not long before strange things start happening - whispering visions of a young girl, and a diary belonging to her ancestor, Sophia, materialise before her eyes. When Sophie finds an ancient Naval Captain's glove dropped by her mysterious neighbour, Josh, she soon finds it has magical properties. She is sent back into the past where she meets Jane Austen and her brother Charles, a handsome lieutenant on the frigate, Endymion. Though completely shocked by all that is happening to her at first, Sophie soon enjoys the delights of balls and parties with her friends in Georgian Bath where she lives out the life of her ancestor and namesake. Whilst her friendships with the Austen family could not be better or more exciting, Sophie has to contend with her own ancestors who are a nightmare! Her father is a snob and her sisters are far from the affectionate siblings she always dreamed of having.
In the present, Sophie's friendship with Josh gets off to a shaky start. She cannot help being attracted to a man who loves Jane Austen's Persuasion as much as she does - though she's determined not to fall for any man again. Besides, it seems Josh is already taken … 
Torn between her life in the modern world and that of the past, Sophie's story travels two hundred years and back again as she tries to find her own Captain Wentworth. And as she comes to believe that her happiness may depend upon risking everything, she learns that she isn't the only one caught in a heartbreaking dilemma. Her friend, Jane Austen, has her own quest for happiness, her own secrets and heartache. 

I enjoyed writing this book so much - blending fact and fiction together, drawing on Jane Austen's life, novels and letters, in an attempt to create a believable world behind the inspiration for Jane Austen's beloved novel, Persuasion.

The garden of 4 Sydney Place
I liked the idea of combining a contemporary love story with one set in the past and I knew it had to be linked with my favourite book, Persuasion. About the same time a lifelong dream of mine came true when I moved into a flat in Bath. Like the heroine in my book I’d always been fascinated by Bath especially after reading Jane’s novels. The wonderful thing about her two Bath novels, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey, is that you can still visit the places that Jane writes about. It suddenly became very clear as I looked out of my bedroom window and realised I could see Jane’s Sydney Place garden that the book I was going to write would be an exercise in wish fulfilment. My heroine would go back in time and become friends with Jane, Cassandra and their handsome brother Charles, and when she wasn't travelling through time she would be trying to become a novelist herself.

Some of the experiences Sophie has in the book are based on dreams I’ve had or on real (or what I thought were real) events. I’m not usually someone who believes in ghosts but I’m pretty sure I’ve a friendly teasing one, who visits me occasionally when I’m in Bath. It opens doors in the night that I know I have firmly shut and it will occasionally pull my hair - so slightly that I wonder if it’s just got caught in a clasp of a necklace - before I realise I’m not wearing one! But, you’ve only got to walk around Bath for an hour or so especially on a winter’s day when it’s shrouded in mist and decorated with cobwebs sprinkled with sparkles of raindrops, to “feel” and “see” its Georgian inhabitants walking along the cobbled streets. There is such an atmosphere! Blink - and I think you could pass through a layer of time to the one of your choice.

Jane Odiwe 
At about the same time as I was moving to Bath, I was contacted by the owner of the Rice Portrait of Jane Austen. It wasn’t long before I met Anne Rice and I was invited to Paris to see the portrait which was undergoing restoration. Like a lot of people I had my own questions about the painting - I’ve always loved it and I had the pleasure of Mrs Rice telling me all about its history with many family anecdotes. New forensic evidence coupled with the painting’s incredible provenance and history can now be read about on the Rice Portrait website - all fascinating stuff!
The portrait and its history made me wonder about the time before much of Jane’s life is documented. We really don’t know much about what went on in the family when she was in her early teens. The painting is said to have been commissioned by her Great-Uncle Francis and then there are all sorts of references in her books which seem to provide clues about the portrait - notably in Mansfield Park. The dress given to Fanny by her uncle is white with a glossy spot, as is the dress in the portrait, and I know I’m not the first person to wonder if she was remembering this dress when she wrote her book. Professor Marilyn Butler spotted the reference to a locket in Sense and Sensibility - Elinor says ‘…they had not known each other a week, I believe, before you were certain that Marianne wore his picture round her neck; but it turned out to be only the miniature of our Great Uncle.’ Could it be that the locket Jane wears around her neck was one given to her by Great Uncle Francis around the time the portrait was painted?
I started to wonder whether there were reasons that the portrait is cloaked in so much mystery. Were there other stories hidden in time and secrets never to be told? After all, Jane had said in Emma, ‘...There are secrets in all families, you know.’ And because there is so little written about Jane’s time in Bath, it was the perfect chance for a novelist like myself to imagine some of the time that she spent there. 

Searching For Captain Wentworth is very much a love letter to Jane Austen, Bath and Lyme. Unlike many biographers I don’t think her time spent in Bath was all gloom and doom - otherwise I don’t imagine she would have set two of her novels in the city, though, of course, Bath also made an excellent stage for her players. Jane was clearly fascinated by the characters she met - I’m certain many were inspired by the people she knew in real life. Jane and her family came to live in Bath in 1801 and they stayed until 1806. My book is set in 1802 and the present day. Using the glove and several portals to aid time travel, combined with mixing fact and fiction together were important elements of the plot, and putting them together was such fun. We know that Jane’s brother, Charles Austen, visited his family on leave in March in 1802 after serving as a young lieutenant on the frigate Endymion and that he holidayed with them that year. I went one step further. Did he meet the girl next door whose family may have turned out to be Jane Austen’s inspiration for Persuasion? 

Lyme Regis
Sophie’s friendship with a young man who is curating an exhibition at the Holburne
Museum develops slowly, she’s very wary of becoming involved with anyone after her last disastrous relationship. And weaving alongside is Jane’s own story of lost chances. I drew on much for inspiration here - Jane’s novels, in particular Persuasion, her letters, the Rice portrait and her “seaside romance.” 
Sydney Gardens is opposite Jane Austen's house in Bath. It features in several pivotal
scenes in my book. The gardens have changed since Jane Austen's day - known as pleasure gardens then, they featured such delights as bowling greens, a Labyrinth or maze, a “small, delightful grove”, waterfalls, pavilions and Merlin's Swing, which stood at the heart of the Labyrinth - a revolving swing wheel from where the “lost” could be watched in the maze below. There were alcoves to enjoy tea, castle ruins, a millhouse and wheel, a hermit's cot and a Grotto with an underground passage leading to the centre of the Labyrinth. The New Bath Guide in 1801 describes some of the walks - “serpentine walks, which at every turn meet with sweet shady bowers furnished with handsome seats, some canopied by Nature, others by Art.” A Ride provided “a healthy and fashionable airing for Gentlemen and Ladies on horseback free from the inconvenience of dirt in winter and dust in summer and not incommoded by carriages of any kind.”
The wonderful description of a pleasure garden below was written by Tobias Smollett in his book, The Adventures of Humphry Clinker.
Sydney Gardens today
Imagine to yourself, my dear Letty, a spacious garden laid out in delightful walks, bounded with high hedges and trees, and paved with gravel; part exhibiting a wonderful assemblage of the most picturesque and striking objects, pavilions, lodges, goves, grottoes, lawns, temples and cascades; porticoes, colonnades, and rotundoes; adorned with pillars, statues, and paintings; the whole illuminated with an infinite number of lamps, disposed in different figures of sun, stars, and constellations: the place crowded with the gayest company, ranging through blissful shades, or supping in different lodges on cold collations, enlivened with mirth, freedom and good humour, and animated with an excellent band of music.
Pleasure gardens developed naturally from the custom of promenading, and in Bath the concept was taken a step further with Sydney Gardens when the traditional promenading area was combined with a scheme of houses so that the owners could look upon green spaces as if they owned the land. Thomas Baldwin, the architect to the Pulteney family who owned the estate drew up the first plans, but only one of his terraces was completed before financial problems hit in 1793. Great Pulteney Street was completed, as were the houses in Sydney Place where Jane Austen came to live in 1801. Bath stopped at this point, the countryside stretched beyond, and a ten minute walk took you into town, much as it does today. You can see why the Austens would have chosen this end of the city. They were country people at heart, and Jane wrote of walking in the gardens and visiting the Labyrinth every day.
A silver token was issued to each shareholder as a free pass into the pleasure garden - the coin featured an image of what we know as the Holburne Museum today. Back then the museum was a hotel and tavern at various different stages, and sitting (as it still does) at the end of Great Pulteney Street made a fabulous focal point at the end of this classically inspired vista. The museum has recently undergone extensive re-modelling, and the new exhibitions inside are wonderful. There is a lovely cafe at the back where you can enjoy some refreshment, inside and out, and you can get a sense of what it must have been like to attend 'public breakfasts' in Jane Austen's day.
Sydney Gardens opened in May 1795 with the Tavern building known as Sydney House nearest to the city, containing dining rooms and meeting rooms. There were two wings on both sides of dining cubicles, a movable orchestra, and a space for fireworks. There was a main, wide walk, and narrower pathways leading off into shrubberies and winding walks. The gala Jane Austen attended on 4th June 1799 was spoilt by rain, so she went to the repeat performance two weeks later. She enjoyed the fireworks and illuminations, but not the music, which she avoided by not arriving until nine o'clock!

 Constance Hill wrote about the interior of the house the Austen family lived in for a while at number 4, Sydney Place, a hundred years after Jane had left.

We sat in the pretty drawing-room with its three tall windows overlooking the Gardens. The morning sun was streaming in at these windows and falling upon the quaint empire furniture which pleasantly suggests the Austen's sojourn there. The house is roomy and commodious. Beneath the drawing-room, which is on the first floor, are the dining-room and arched hall from which a passage leads to a garden at the back of the house. The large old-fashioned kitchen, with its shining copper pans and its dresser laden with fine old china, looked as if it had remained untouched since the Austens' day.

4 Sydney Place
I've been very lucky to see inside number 4, which is now let as holiday flats, and I have the pleasure of knowing that some of my books are in a special bookcase housed in the hallway for guests - I am so proud to say Searching for Captain Wentworth has its home in Jane's house.

Writing about my favourite places in Bath and Lyme has been so exciting and imagining the lives and loves of my characters in those places has made this book a joy to write. I would just caution you to be extra careful when passing through gateways and doorways in Bath - especially look out for a white cast iron gate in Sydney Gardens and the revolving doors of the Pump Rooms - you never know where you might find yourself in time. 
And, as a final word, please do be careful on those Granny’s Steps in Lyme!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

An Art Restorer's Assessment of the Rice Portrait of Jane Austen

The results of the work undertaken by Paris-based restorer, Eva Schwann, have now been published on The Rice Portrait Website and makes fascinating reading whether your interest is in the restoration of paintings or in the history of this particularly beautiful portrait. Eva was trained at the Courtauld Institute and France's Institut National du Patrimoine and spent much of 2010 and 11 bringing the painting back to life. I was lucky enough to visit Eva in her studio whilst work was being undertaken, and to see the portrait for myself. You can read about the lovely day I had here

 Eva was able to clean the significant OH symbol that the artist used in many of his works, which is especially pleasing to see - I think there can be no doubt that the portrait was painted by Ozias Humphry.

  There is also a new article on the website about the Austen family's connections with the Humphreys - they were also acquainted with Ozias's younger brother, William and his wife who lived at Seal. Mrs Humphries (sic) wrote to Jane's father to tell him of William Hampson Walter's death in 1798. He was George Austen's half-brother and lived at Seal also. Jane wrote a letter of condolence to her cousin, Philadelphia:

      Steventon Sunday April 8th
    My dear Cousin
        As Cassandra is at present from home, You must accept from my pen, our sincere Condolance on the melancholy Event which Mrs Humphries Letter announced to my Father this morning.——The loss of so kind & affectionate a Parent, must be a very severe affliction to all his Children, to yourself more especially, as your constant residence with him has given you so much the more constant & intimate Knowledge of his Virtues.——But the very circumstance which at present enhances your loss, must gradually reconcile you to it the better;——the Goodness which made him valuable on Earth, will make him Blessed in Heaven.——This consideration must bring comfort to yourself, to my Aunt, & to all his family & friends; & this comfort must be heightened by the consideration of the little Enjoyment he was able to receive from this World for some time past, & of the small degree of pain attending his last hours.——I will not press you to write before you would otherwise feel equal to it, but when you can do it without pain, I hope we shall receive from you as good an account of my Aunt & Yourself, as can be expected in these early days of Sorrow.——
        My Father & Mother join me in every kind wish, & I am my dear Cousin,
                                                     Yours affec:tely
                                                           Jane Austen
    Miss Walter

The Grey House, Seal, thought to be the home of the Walters

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Fan Phenomena Jane Austen - edited by Gabrielle Malcolm

I'm thrilled to tell you about this new book edited by Gabrielle Malcolm. I was interviewed for a small section in the book on my sequels and on writing Jane Austen inspired fiction so it's very exciting to see my words in print. I'm so looking forward to reading more-there are many contributions from writers and fans from the world of Jane Austen fan culture!  

Here's the blurb from Amazon - This Fan Phenomena volume will emphasize fan culture surrounding the novels AND the adaptations of Jane Austen. The afterlife of the books themselves has witnessed an explosion of interest in Austen's universe and the Jane Austen Centre in Bath offers an important resource for gauging relative popularity. The volume will focus on aspects of tourism, fandom, viewers, and readership. Articles will cover TV and film adaptations, feminism and Austen fandom, literary and TV spin-offs and sequels among others. Gabriella Macolm is Visiting Research fellow at the Department of English and Language Studies at Canterbury Christ Church University. Her work focuses on 19th Century Studies as well as Popular Culture. Click here to read more about Gabrielle's new book!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Shopping in London with Jane Austen!

The poet Shelley described London’s shops in a letter to Thomas Manning:

‘Oh, the lamps of a night! her rich goldsmiths, print-shops, toy-shops, mercers, hardware men, pastry-cooks, St Paul’s churchyard, the Strand, Exeter Change, Charing Cross, with a man upon a black horse! These are thy gods, O London!’
Most shopkeepers lived with their families above or behind their premises. They were usually specialists in the goods they sold, and very often the craftsman who made them – whether a shoemaker, tailor, hatter, fan-maker, umbrella-maker or jeweller – often there was no distinction between retailer and wholesaler. There were no regular shopping hours – the shopkeeper opened his shop before breakfast and closed it before he retired for the night.
Sophie von la Roche, a German novelist, wrote about Oxford Street to her daughters in 1785:
We strolled up and down lovely Oxford Street this evening, for some goods look more attractive by artificial light. Just imagine, dear children, a street taking half an hour to cover from end to end, with double rows of brightly shining lamps, in the middle of which stands an equally long row of beautifully lacquered coaches, …
Regent Street
 First one passes a watchmaker’s, then a silk or fan store, now a silversmith’s, a china or glass shop. The spirit booths are particularly tempting, for the English are in any case fond of strong drink. Here crystal flasks of every shape and form are exhibited: each one has a light behind it which makes all the different coloured spirits sparkle. … Just as alluring are the confectioners and fruiterers, where, behind the handsome glass windows, pyramids of pineapples, figs, grapes, oranges and all manner of fruits are on show … Most of all, we admired a stall with Argand and other lamps … forming a really dazzling spectacle …
A few weeks later she wrote again: I found another shop here like the one in Paris, containing every possible make of woman’s shoe; there was a woman buying shoes for herself and her small daughter: the latter was searching amongst the doll’s shoes in one case for some to fit the doll she had with her. But the linen shops are the loveliest; every kind of whitewear, from swaddling clothes to shrouds, and any species of linen can be had. Night-caps for ladies and children, trimmed with muslin and various kinds of Brussels lace, more exquisitely stitched than I ever saw before … People, I noticed, like to have their children with them and take them out into the air, and they wrap them up well, though their feet are always bare and sockless … I was glad to strike some of the streets in which the butchers are housed, and interested to find the meat so fine and shops so deliciously clean; all the goods were spread on snow-white cloths, and cloths of similar whiteness were stretched out behind the large hunks of meat hanging up; no blood anywhere, no dirt, the shop walls and doors were all spruce, balance and weights brightly polished.
Whether they are silks, chintzes or muslins, they hang down in folds behind the fine high windows so that the effect of this or that material, as it would be in the ordinary folds of a woman’s dress can be studied. Amongst the muslins all colours are on view, and so one can judge how the frock would look in company with its fellows. Now large shoe and slipper shops for anything from adults down to dolls can be seen – now fashion articles of silver or brass … absolutely everything one can think of is neatly, attractively displayed, and in such abundance of choice as almost to make one greedy …
Writing from her brother Henry's house in Sloane Street, on May 2 1813, Jane wrote: Your letter came just in time to save my going to Remnant's, and fit me for Christian's, where I bought Fanny's dimity. I went the day before (Friday) to Layton's, as I proposed, and got my mother's gown - seven yards at 6s. 6d. I then walked into No. 10, which is all dirt and confusion, but in a very promising way...I gave 2s. 6d. for the dimity. I do not boast of any bargains, but think both the sarsenet and dimity good of their sort. I have bought your locket, but was obliged to give 18s. for it, which must be rather more than you intended. It is neat and plain, set in gold.
In September she was staying in Henrietta Street where her brother Henry had recently moved. Instead of saving my superfluous wealth for you to spend, I am going to treat myself with spending it myself. I hope, at least, that I shall find some poplin at Layton and Shear's that will tempt me to buy it. If I do, it shall be sent to Chawton, as half will be for you; for I depend upon your being so kind as to accept it, being the main point. It will be a great pleasure to me. Don't say a word. I only wish you could choose too. I shall send twenty yards.
In Sense and Sensibility the Dashwood sisters go shopping in Bond Street, though Marianne is distracted, her thoughts are full of Mr Willoughby who she is hoping to see.
   After an hour or two spent in what her mother called comfortable chat, or in other words, in every variety of inquiry concerning all their acquaintance on Mrs. Jennings's side, and in laughter without cause on Mrs. Palmer's, it was proposed by the latter that they should all accompany her to some shops where she had business that morning, to which Mrs. Jennings and Elinor readily consented, as having likewise some purchases to make themselves; and Marianne, though declining it at first, was induced to go likewise. 
   Wherever they went, she was evidently always on the watch. In Bond Street especially, where much of their business lay, her eyes were in constant inquiry; and in whatever shop the party were engaged, her mind was equally abstracted from everything actually before them, from all that interested and occupied the others. Restless and dissatisfied every where, her sister could never obtain her opinion of any article of purchase, however it might equally concern them both; she received no pleasure from anything; was only impatient to be at home again, and could with difficulty govern her vexation at the tediousness of Mrs. Palmer, whose eye was caught by everything pretty, expensive, or new; who was wild to buy all, could determine on none, and dawdled away her time in rapture and indecision.

Sackville Street
 Later on they visit Gray's in Sackville Street:
   On ascending the stairs, the Miss Dashwoods found so many people before them in the room, that there was not a person at liberty to attend to their orders; and they were obliged to wait. All that could be done was, to sit down at the end of the counter which seemed to promise the quickest succession; one gentleman only was standing there, and it is probable that Elinor was not without hopes of exciting his politeness to a quicker dispatch. But the correctness of his eye, and the delicacy of his taste, proved to be beyond his politeness. He was giving orders for a toothpick-case for himself, and till its size, shape, and ornaments were determined, - all of which, after examining and debating for a quarter of an hour over every toothpick-case in the shop, were finally arranged by his own inventive fancy, - he had no leisure to bestow any other attention on the two ladies, than what was comprised in three or four very broad stares; a kind of notice which served to imprint on Elinor the remembrance of a person and face of strong, natural, sterling insignificance, though adorned in the first style of fashion.

I love reading about descriptions of shopping experiences like those above, especially now the High Streets of Britain seem to be losing their shopping streets bit by bit. It’s wonderful to be able to shop on the internet, but shops here are finding it hard to compete.

However,  Fortnum and Mason, Hatchard’s Bookshop, and Floris the perfumers, amongst others, are still going strong – perhaps because they’ve embraced online shopping too. Jane would have known these shops and I hope they’ll still be here in London for another 200 years or so!