Tuesday, August 25, 2015

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!


2 comments:

MaryAnn Nagy said...

Ms. Austen will have her hands full with five daughters to be a governess to which only two will be similar to Jane and Mary in P & P. This leads me to be a novel full of surprises especially with the one that would be similar to Lizzie.
It will be an interesting read. Thank you for the preview of your new novel.

Jane Odiwe said...

Thank you, Mary Ann-I hope you enjoy it!