Friday, July 31, 2009

In Defence of writing Jane Austen Sequels

I came across a blog post the other day where the author had some feelings of discontent about the genre in which I write myself - that of Jane Austen sequels - she even had particular advice for myself, Diana Birchall and Helen Halstead. I'll post it below so you can read it for yourself. I have a lot of sympathy with the writer of the post who obviously doesn't like any tampering with Jane's novels and thinks it's all gone a little too far. At one time I would never have considered reading a sequel to Jane Austen's novels and I must admit I didn't read any until I wanted to write one of my own. I have read a couple and one or two 'spin-offs' if you'd like to call them that, but my own preference is for the originals like most people. I don't read them mostly because I don't want to be influenced by other's writing - there are a few I know I would really enjoy - likewise there are some I would avoid. But this is the point - no one has to read them if they do not wish to, but some people get a lot of enjoyment and entertainment from reading sequels. I have received lovely letters from people who have enjoyed my books, and I can't tell you the thrill I get when someone says they have loved my writing.
The writers I know (and I don't know many very well) who write sequels started their journeys because of their love of their favourite author Jane Austen. In my case it was a creative response to her work - my first book Effusions came out of my own need to discover a Jane I felt was not being recognised at the time. I wanted to find the young girl who had written First Impressions, danced and flirted at Balls, and who had sat down and made a conscious decision to be a writer. I re-discovered my love of writing - I've always written for pleasure, but having children and being a busy Mum put a stop to that for a while. Like many others, I wondered what happened to Elizabeth after she married and sighed at the fact that Jane only wrote six novels. I wanted to write a book - something I hoped would be light-hearted and humorous. The idea of having it published did not occur to me at first, nor the thought of making money for such a venture. I wrote Lydia Bennet's Story five years before I had it published. I've only just allowed myself to write a sequel with Elizabeth and Darcy as the main characters. I hate the expression 'jumping on the bandwagon' which is used so lightly in consideration of writers who have wanted to write sequels as if million dollar deals were our sole aim or even a reality. Believe me, they are not for most of us - if making money had been my sole aim I would have had a better chance continuing with my teaching career. I write sequels because I can't help myself - I love Jane Austen's writing. I couldn't hope to emulate her in a million years but that doesn't stop me wanting to try. I don't think I own her characters or think that I can write in her style, but I do want to learn from her writing - she is the best writing teacher, I think. I'm not sure how many more I'm going to write, if any. I have a hankering to write something entirely my own.
The fact is that Jane didn't write enough books to satisfy our needs. Whilst I would never assume that I can fill that void in any way, I've written my books for people who want to read more about the Jane Austen characters we all love.
Would Jane Austen be flattered that her work inspires so many? I hope so! Thank you Jane Austen for all the pleasure your books have given me. You truly are an inspiration!

Below follows the blog post with Diana Birchall's wickedly funny response!

Leave Auntie Jane Alone
2009 JULY 17
by Kathleen

Enough with “The Pemberly Chronicles.” Enough with “Darcyland.” Enough with “Mr. Darcy’s Daughters.” And PLEASE, ENOUGH with the [insert Austen Title] and Zombies/Sea Monsters/Vampires.

First, let me begin by saying that no contemporary author has enough experience with Georgian English and 18th century colloquialisms to write a novel in an authentic Austen voice. Look, I have a Jane Austen quote mug (which I bought in Bath, thank you very much) and a Jane Austen Guide to Romance (which is really just a clever way of marketing an anthology of character analysis essays, I swear), I’ve seen (regrettably) “the Jane Austen Book Club” and I own a cinematic adaptation of every novel, but that’s where I draw the line. I go to Austen for the happy endings, sure, but it is a truth universally acknowledged that I also go to Austen for the language and the satire.

Stop with the sequels. If Jane wanted a sequel to Pride and Prejudice, she could have easily riddled it off. I’m sure she was asked to write her own “Pemberly Chronicles.” Diana Birchell, Jane Odiwe, Helen Halstead — Elizabeth Bennet is not your character to play with.

Last but not least, if you’re going to turn an Austen into a Sci-Fi novel, please assign your monsters appropriately. Sea Monsters would be much better supporting characters in Persuasion. I mean, common.

2009 JULY 29
Diana Birchall
Birchall: Hey, Odiwe, check dis out! Here’s a lady who says she reads Jane Austen for the Satire and Language!

Odiwe: You kidding me, right? What the hell she wanna do dat for? She want to ruin some good Sex and Shopping novels?

Halstead: (Gently) I think she is objecting to our rape of Lizzy Bennet.

Odiwe: (Confused) No way! I did Lydia. Never laid a finger on Lizzy in my life! Though I do paint her a lot.

Birchall: And I wrote “Mrs. Elton in America.” Surely the divine Mrs. E. is fair game.

Halstead: You’d think. And our books don’t have a zombie in sight!

Birchall: Too true, damn it. Hey, did you know that zombie guy got a million bucks advance, and his book is Number Three on the New York Times Best Seller List? Jeez, I wish I’d thought of dat gimmick. I still have to work for a living.

Odiwe: I think this chick is confusing us with Amanda Grange, who’s done a Vampyre sequel.

Halstead: What’s wrong wid vampyres! Fine tradition of ‘em, going back to Signore Polidori.

Birchall: This lady don’t know from tradition. Well, I’m sorry. When I wrote Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma back in 1994 I didn’t know what I was starting.

Odiwe: Really, Diana. You didn’t write the first Pride and Prejudice sequel. What about Pemberley Shades back in the 1940s?

Birchall: Oh, I know. The title of first sequel goes to Jane Austen’s own niece, Catherine Hubback, in the 1850s. She’s the one to blame for the wholesale hijacking and rape to which this elegant young lady objects. And the family *did* blame her. Mostly because she thought of it before they did, I suspect.

Halstead: Gee, Diana, you sound awful eddicated.

Birchall: Don’t worry, I ain’t. I only went to CCNY back in the ’70s. I ain’t Accomplished or none of that stuff. You know how in the present day young ladies are so accomplished. They even got Masters Degrees now.

Odiwe: Bet you can catch a high class husband wid one of those.

Birchall: Of course, I *have* studied Georgian English for thirty years. And I *can* spell Chronicles.

Halstead: Yeah, tell that to the Marines, you superior cow. You know, I think this lady ought to be defending Emma, not Lizzy.

Birchall: Why? Because she seems to have a tendency to think a little too well of herself? Meow.

Halstead: You said it, not me. Say, speaking of Emma, did you see this guy just wrote a gay sequel? He’s taken Jane Fairfax and made her James Fairfax. Pretty slick, huh?

Odiwe: (enviously) Think he’ll make a million?

Birchall: Nah. The real money’s in vampires. I work for a film studio, ya know, and you hear it from the horse’s mouth (an elegant phrase, akin to “Keep your breath to cool your porridge”). Those things sell!

Halstead: Well, what’s keeping us, then? “Only a sequel” – only a novel which pays homage to the finest authors, in the best chosen language.

Birchall: You illiterate cow yerself, what you talking about? You wouldn’t know fine language if it hit you in the mouf.

Halstead: Hey, Birchall, it’s you what made Mr. Darcy middle aged and bald!

Odiwe: Can that noise, willya? I’m trying to read Jane Austen here.

(Apologies to my sister sequelists, who had nothing to do with this bit of sickness and wickedness)

2009 JULY 29
Diana Birchall
You are a good sport, Kathleen! And I actually agree with you more than not. My own anti-zombie rave is here, though you do have to scroll through a mess of cats to get to it:


2009 JULY 29
How could I not be a good sport when so humorously reprimanded by the subject of my post herself! I’m flattered (sort of?)… I was trying to compose an equally funny response, but i’ll bite my tongue… for now

while I may be less inclined to pick up “Darcy’s Dilemma,” I’ve already put in an order for “Onoto Watanna”

thanks for reading!

2009 JULY 30
Jane Odiwe
I’m really pleased to see you have a good sense of humour – I dared Diana to post it! I’ll be honest, I never read any sequels and secretly despised the idea until I did my own. I’m not sure I still approve really, but I am compelled to write them – for my own pleasure – if others like or not like to read them that’s all well and good. I will put my hands up at this point and say although up until now I have only written about Lydia Bennet and Marianne Dashwood, I’m afraid to say I have just written a book about – wait for it – Elizabeth Bennet/Darcy, and of course, Mr Darcy, though I promise there are no vampires, zombies or anything else of that ilk in its content. And Diana is quite right, I do paint a lot of pictures of Elizabeth too for my sins.
Anyway, you are a good sport Kathleen. Diana is so funny and has such a wicked sense of humour, I’m sure you’ll agree!

2009 JULY 30
Diana Birchall
Kathleen – You judge aright. Onoto Watanna is truly an interesting woman and phenomenon, culturally and biographically. Much more substance than a sequel. I have done with writing sequels, and I do apologize for my spleen, which comes from frustration at the publishing market. (”Take care, Lizzy, that speech savours strongly of disappointment!”) You’re a class act and I invite you to make all the fun of me you choose!

Best regards,

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Young Love - Willoughby and Marianne

In a romantic frame of mind today - here's a description of young love at its most besotted! The photo is from the film Sense and Sensibility with Kate Winslet (a perfect Marianne) and Greg Wise (Emma Thompson, you are such a lucky girl!) as Willoughby.

When he was present, she had no eyes for any one else. Everything he did was right. Everything he said was clever. If their evenings at the park were concluded with cards, he cheated himself and all the rest of the party to get her a good hand. If dancing formed the amusement of the night, they were partners for half the time; and when obliged to separate for a couple of dances, were careful to stand together and scarcely spoke a word to anybody else. Such conduct made them of course most exceedingly laughed at; but ridicule could not shame, and seemed hardly to provoke them.

Mrs. Dashwood entered into all their feelings with a warmth which left no inclination for checking this excessive display of them. To her it was but the natural consequence of a strong affection in a young and ardent mind.

This was the season of happiness to Marianne. Her heart was devoted to Willoughby, and the fond attachment to Norland which she brought with her from Sussex, was more likely to be softened than she had thought it possible before, by the charms which his society bestowed on her present home.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Jane Austen, the most wonderful writer that ever lived!

(16 December 1775 – 18 July 1817)
Thinking of Jane Austen especially today on the anniversary of her death. She could not have imagined how much her books would be treasured and loved by so many people over the next two hundred years!

Here is the letter Jane's sister Cassandra wrote to her niece Fanny on the event of Jane's death. It is one of the most beautiful and moving letters I've ever read and illustrates just how close the sisters were and what they meant to one another.

I am taking a short break from today - be back soon with more posts!

Winchester: Sunday.


Doubly dear to me now for her dear sake whom we have lost. She did love you most sincerely, and never shall I forget the proofs of love you gave her during her illness in writing those kind, amusing letters at a time when I know your feelings would have dictated so different a style. Take the only reward I can give you in the assurance that your benevolent purpose was answered; you did contribute to her enjoyment.

Even your last letter afforded pleasure. I merely cut the seal and gave it to her; she opened it and read it herself, afterwards she gave it to me to read, and then talked to me a little and not uncheerfully of its contents, but there was then a languor about her which prevented her taking the same interest in anything she had been used to do.

Since Tuesday evening, when her complaint returned, there was a visible change, she slept more and much more comfortably; indeed, during the last eight-and-forty hours she was more asleep than awake. Her looks altered and she fell away, but I perceived no material diminution of strength, and, though I was then hopeless of a recovery, I had no suspicion how rapidly my loss was approaching.

I have lost a treasure, such a sister, such a friend as never can have been surpassed. She was the sun of my life, the gilder of every pleasure, the soother of every sorrow; I had not a thought concealed from her, and it is as if I had lost a part of myself. I loved her only too well - not better than she deserved, but I am conscious that my affection for her made me sometimes unjust to and negligent of others; and I can acknowledge, more than as a general principle, the justice of the Hand which has struck this blow.

You know me too well to be at all afraid that I should suffer materially from my feelings; I am perfectly conscious of the extent of my irreparable loss, but I am not at all overpowered and very little indisposed, nothing but what a short time, with rest and change of air, will remove. I thank God that I was enabled to attend her to the last, and amongst my many causes of self-reproach I have not to add any wilful neglect of her comfort.

She felt herself to be dying about half-an-hour before she became tranquil and apparently unconscious. During that half-hour was her struggle, poor soul! She said she could not tell us what she suffered, though she complained of little fixed pain. When I asked her if there was anything she wanted, her answer was she wanted nothing but death, and some of her words were: "God grant me patience, pray for me, oh, pray for me!" Her voice was affected, but as long as she spoke she was intelligible.

I hope I do not break your heart, my dearest Fanny, by these particulars; I mean to afford you gratification whilst I am relieving my own feelings. I could not write so to anybody else; indeed you are the only person I have written to at all, excepting your grandmamma - it was to her, not your Uncle Charles, I wrote on Friday.

Immediately after dinner on Thursday I went into the town to do an errand which your dear aunt was anxious about. I returned about a quarter before six and found her recovering from faintness and oppression; she got so well as to be able to give me a minute account of her seizure, and when the clock struck six she was talking quietly to me.

I cannot say how soon afterwards she was seized again with the same faintness, which was followed by the sufferings she could not describe; but Mr. Lyford had been sent for, had applied something to give her ease, and she was in a state of quiet insensibility by seven o'clock at the latest. From that time till half-past four, when she ceased to breathe, she scarcely moved a limb, so that we have every reason to think, with gratitude to the Almighty, that her sufferings were over. A slight motion of the head with every breath remained till almost the last. I sat close to her with a pillow in my lap to assist in supporting her head, which was almost off the bed, for six hours; fatigue made me then resign my place to Mrs. J. A. for two hours and a-half, when I took it again, and in about an hour more she breathed her last.

I was able to close her eyes myself, and it was a great gratification to me to render her those last services. There was nothing convulsed which gave the idea of pain in her look; on the contrary, but for the continual motion of the head she gave one the idea of a beautiful statue, and even now, in her coffin, there is such a sweet, serene air over her countenance as is quite pleasant to contemplate.

This day, my dearest Fanny, you have had the melancholy intelligence, and I know you suffer severely, but I likewise know that you will apply to the fountain-head for consolation, and that our merciful God is never deaf to such prayers as you will offer.

The last sad ceremony is to take place on Thursday morning; her dear remains are to be deposited in the cathedral. It is a satisfaction to me to think that they are to lie in a building she admired so much; her precious soul, I presume to hope, reposes in a far superior mansion. May mine one day be re-united to it!

Your dear papa, your Uncle Henry, and Frank and Edwd. Austen, instead of his father, will attend. I hope they will none of them suffer lastingly from their pious exertions. The ceremony must be over before ten o'clock, as the cathedral service begins at that hour, so that we shall be at home early in the day, for there will be nothing to keep us here afterwards.

Your Uncle James came to us yesterday, and is gone home to-day. Uncle H. goes to Chawton to-morrow morning; he has given every necessary direction here, and I think his company there will do good. He returns to us again on Tuesday evening.

I did not think to have written a long letter when I began, but I have found the employment draw me on, and I hope I shall have been giving you more pleasure than pain. Remember me kindly to Mrs. J. Bridges (I am so glad she is with you now), and give my best love to Lizzie and all the others.

I am, my dearest Fanny,
Most affectionately yours,

I have said nothing about those at Chawton, because I am sure you hear from your papa.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Falling in love with Mr Willoughby!

Here are two Mr Willoughbys for your delight! Greg Wise and Dominic Cooper star in recent productions - I wonder which was your favourite?
After Marianne's accident when Willoughby scoops her up into his arms and carries her home the whole family are eager to learn about the handsome man who has behaved so gallantly. I love the way Jane Austen only gives us tantalising glimpses at Willoughby's character through Sir John Middleton's eyes. Willoughby is a good huntsman and rider and as far as Sir John is concerned there is no higher recommendation than a young man who enjoys sport and can dance all night. Of course hearing that Willoughby dances with elegance and spirit makes him all the more interesting to Marianne!

Sir John called on them as soon as the next interval of fair weather that morning allowed him to get out of doors; and Marianne's accident being related to him, he was eagerly asked whether he knew any gentleman of the name of Willoughby at Allenham.

"Willoughby!" cried Sir John; "what, is he in the country? That is good news, however; I will ride over to-morrow, and ask him to dinner on Thursday."

"You know him then," said Mrs. Dashwood. "Know him! to be sure I do. Why, he is down here every year."

"And what sort of a young man is he?" "As good a kind of fellow as ever lived, I assure you. A very decent shot, and there is not a bolder rider in England."

"And is that all you can say for him?" cried Marianne, indignantly. "But what are his manners on more intimate acquaintance? What his pursuits, his talents and genius?"

Sir John was rather puzzled.

"Upon my soul," said he, "I do not know much about him as to all that. But he is a pleasant, good humoured fellow, and has got the nicest little black bitch of a pointer I ever saw. Was she out with him to-day?"

But Marianne could no more satisfy him as to the colour of Mr. Willoughby's pointer than he could describe to her the shades of his mind.

"But who is he?" said Elinor. "Where does he come from? Has he a house at Allenham?"

On this point Sir John could give more certain intelligence; and he told them that Mr. Willoughby had no property of his own in the country; that he resided there only while he was visiting the old lady at Allenham Court, to whom he was related, and whose possessions he was to inherit; adding, "Yes, yes, he is very well worth catching, I can tell you, Miss Dashwood; he has a pretty little estate of his own in Somersetshire besides; and if I were you, I would not give him up to my younger sister in spite of all this tumbling down hills. Miss Marianne must not expect to have all the men to herself. Brandon will be jealous, if she does not take care."

"I do not believe," said Mrs. Dashwood, with a good humoured smile, "that Mr. Willoughby will be incommoded by the attempts of either of my daughters towards what you call catching him. It is not an employment to which they have been brought up. Men are very safe with us, let them be ever so rich. I am glad to find, however, from what you say, that he is a respectable young man, and one whose acquaintance will not be ineligible."

"He is as good a sort of fellow, I believe, as ever lived," repeated Sir John. "I remember last Christmas, at a little hop at the Park, he danced from eight o'clock till four, without once sitting down."

"Did he indeed?" cried Marianne, with sparkling eyes, "and with elegance, with spirit?"

"Yes; and he was up again at eight to ride to covert."

"That is what I like; that is what a young man ought to be. Whatever be his pursuits, his eagerness in them should know no moderation, and leave him no sense of fatigue."

"Aye, aye, I see how it will be," said Sir John, "I see how it will be. You will be setting your cap at him now, and never think of poor Brandon."

"That is an expression, Sir John," said Marianne warmly, "which I particularly dislike. I abhor every common-place phrase by which wit is intended; and 'setting one's cap at a man,' or 'making a conquest,' are the most odious of all. Their tendency is gross and illiberal; and if their construction could ever be deemed clever, time has long ago destroyed all its ingenuity."

Sir John did not much understand this reproof; but he laughed as heartily as if he did, and then replied, -

"Aye, you will make conquests enough, I dare say, one way or other. Poor Brandon! he is quite smitten already, and he is very well worth setting your cap at, I can tell you, in spite of all this tumbling about and spraining of ankles."

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Sense and Sensibility-Is going for a walk always a good idea?

Here are a couple of photos taken on the Flete estate of the house that was used in Emma Thompson's Sense and Sensibility and the surrounding area. This part of the country in South Devon close to the Erme estuary is very beautiful and there are some wonderful walks. The following extract from Sense and Sensibility involves a walk, leading us to a turning point in the book for Marianne - one, which will change her life forever!
The Dashwoods were now settled at Barton with tolerable comfort to themselves. The house and the garden, with all the objects surrounding them, were now become familiar; and the ordinary pursuits which had given to Norland half its charms, were engaged in again with far greater enjoyments than Norland had been able to afford since the loss of their father. Sir John Middleton, who called on them every day for the first fortnight, and who was not in the habit of seeing much occupation at home, could not conceal his amazement on finding them always employed.
Their visitors, except those from Barton Park, were not many; for, in spite of Sir John's urgent entreaties that they would mix more in the neighbourhood, and repeated assurances of his carriage being always at their service, the independence of Mrs. Dashwood's spirit overcame the wish of society for her children; and she was resolute in declining to visit any family beyond the distance of a walk. There were but few who could be so classed; and it was not all of them that were attainable. About a mile and a half from the cottage, along the narrow winding valley of Allenham, which issued from that of Barton, as formerly described, the girls had, in one of their earliest walks, discovered an ancient respectable-looking mansion, which, by reminding them a little of Norland, interested their imagination, and made them wish to be better acquainted with it. But they learnt, on inquiry, that its possessor, an elderly lady of very good character, was unfortunately too infirm to mix with the world, and never stirred from home.

The whole country about them abounded in beautiful walks. The high downs, which invited them from almost every window of the cottage to seek the exquisite enjoyment of air on their summits, were an happy alternative when the dirt of the valleys beneath shut up their superior beauties; and towards on of these hills did Marianne and Margaret one memorable morning direct their steps, attracted by the partial sunshine of a showery sky, and unable longer to bear the confinement which the settled rain of the two preceding days had occasioned. The weather was not tempting enough to draw the two others from their pencil and their book, in spite of Marianne's declaration that the day would be lastingly fair, and that every threatening cloud would be drawn off from their hills; and the two girls set off together.

They gaily ascended the downs, rejoicing in their own penetration at every glimpse of blue sky: and when they caught in their faces the animating gales of an high south-westerly wind, they pitied the fears which had prevented their mother and Elinor from sharing such delightful sensations.

"Is there a felicity in the world," said Marianne, "superior to this? Margaret, we will walk here at least two hours."

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Two Colonel Brandons to set hearts aflutter!

Two Colonel Brandons for your delight! The top photo shows David Morrissey playing the part in the recent BBC adaptation - the bottom photo is Alan Rickman starring in the Emma Thompson/Ang Lee version. With these lovely examples of Colonels how did it take Marianne so long to realise where her heart lay?
In Sense and Sensibility Marianne first meets Colonel Brandon at Barton Park - home to the Middletons on whose estate the Dashwoods have kindly been given a cottage. Mrs Jennings, Lady Middleton's mother takes no time in asserting that the Colonel has fallen in love with Marianne and sets about teasing them both mercilessly. Marianne is less than impressed!

"...Colonel Brandon is certainly younger than Mrs. Jennings, but he is old enough to be my father; and if he were ever animated enough to be in love, must have long outlived every sensation of the kind. It is too ridiculous! When is a man to be safe from such wit, if age and infirmity will not protect him?"

"Infirmity!" said Elinor, "do you call Colonel Brandon infirm? I can easily suppose that his age may appear much greater to you than to my mother; but you can hardly deceive yourself as to his having the use of his limbs?"

"Did not you hear him complain of the rheumatism? and is not that the commonest infirmity of declining life?"

"My dearest child," said her mother laughing, "at this rate, you must be in continual terror of my decay; and it must seem to you a miracle that my life has been extended to the advanced age of forty."

"Mama, you are not doing me justice. I know very well that Colonel Brandon is not old enough to make his friends yet apprehensive of losing him in the course of nature. He may live twenty years longer. But thirty-five has nothing to do with matrimony."

"Perhaps," said Elinor, "thirty-five and seventeen had better not have anything to do with matrimony together. But if there should by any chance happen to be a woman who is single at seven-and-twenty, I should not think Colonel Brandon's being thirty-five any objection to his marrying her ."

"A woman of seven-and-twenty," said Marianne, after pausing a moment, "can never hope to feel or inspire affection again; and if her home be uncomfortable, or her fortune small, I can suppose that she might bring herself to submit to the offices of a nurse, for the sake of the provision and security of a wife. In his marrying such a woman, therefore, there would be nothing unsuitable. It would be a compact of convenience, and the world would be satisfied. In my eyes it would be no marriage at all, but that would be nothing. To me it would seem only a commercial exchange, in which each wished to be benefited at the expense of the other."

"It would be impossible, I know," replied Elinor, "to convince you that a woman of seven-and-twenty could feel for a man of thirty-five anything near enough to love to make him a desirable companion to her. But I must object to your dooming Colonel Brandon and his wife to the constant confinement of a sick chamber, merely because he chanced to complain yesterday (a very cold damp day) of a slight rheumatic feel in one of his shoulders."

"But he talked of flannel waistcoats," said Marianne; "and with me a flannel waistcoat is invariably connected with the aches, cramps, rheumatisms, and every species of ailment that can afflict the old and the feeble."