Thursday, 26 August 2010

TALKING JANE AUSTEN WITH ... JENNIFER BECTON

Jennifer was born in Washington, DC, and moved to the South as a child. She fell in love with books at an early age, and mysteries by Agatha Christie and other novels such as Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery, The Black Stallion by Walter Farley, and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen greatly influenced the course of her life.
Next September 1st Jennifer Becton will see her first novel, a Pride and Prejudice sequel, released. She is very excited, of course, and I'm happy to talk with her about her CHARLOTTE COLLINS and to introduce them to you! As always in this space you'll have the chance to win an autographed copy of the  book leaving your comment and e-mail address. The giveaway is open worldwide and I'm going to announce the name of the winner next Wednesday 1 September. 
Good luck to you all! Now it's time to welcome and thank Jennifer Becton.

 
As the title of your upcoming novel clearly states, you’ve chosen Charlotte Collins as your heroine. Can you tell us why?
At the end of Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth had Mr. Darcy, Jane had Mr. Bingley, and all the other characters seemed to get what they deserved, but poor Charlotte, whose marriage was a product of prevailing matrimonial theories of the time, ended up with the odious Mr. Collins. To quote Mr. Darcy, I found it “insupportable.”

Charlotte Collins revolves around the Jane Austen quotation that opens it: “I consider everybody as having a right to marry once in their lives for love, if they can.” Charlotte had married Mr. Collins to remove herself as a burden to her parents, but it was now her time to find the love that she did not believe existed.

My goal was twofold: to allow Charlotte to grow and change based on her circumstances at the end of Pride and Prejudice but also to bring her back to the philosophical point where she started and allow her the chance to make a different decision. I wanted her to achieve the independence that she desired in Pride and Prejudice, but I also wanted her to see the truth of love. In order to do that, she had to lose everything: her husband, her child, her friend, and the independence she had so greatly desired. Only then would Charlotte be able to open herself to new possibilities.

Are Elizabeth and Darcy characters in your novel too? Do you tell anything of their story from Charlotte’s point of you?
 As you can guess from the title, Charlotte is the focus of my novel. Of course, one can’t tell a continuing story of Pride and Prejudice without mentioning Elizabeth and Darcy. At the end of Austen’s novel, Elizabeth and Charlotte’s friendship has been strained by Charlotte’s decision to marry Mr. Collins, and they are no longer on the amicable terms they once were. While the Darcys are not central to Charlotte Collins, one of the subplots that weaves its way through my novel is the rekindling of their friendship as Charlotte comes to understand and experience Elizabeth’s understanding of romantic love.

I am also planning a serialized online companion piece chronicling Elizabeth and Charlotte’s correspondence throughout the action of my novel. This will offer a bit more of a view of Elizabeth and Darcy’s life after Pride and Prejudice and provide a more in-depth look at the rekindling of Elizabeth and Charlotte’s friendship.

Charlotte Lucas, Mrs Collins, has always been depicted as unattractive . What about your heroine?
 Charlotte remains as she ever was: plain in appearance. However, I have always believed, though Austen gives only the barest hint of it, that Charlotte’s personality more than made up for any physical lack. After all, as Elizabeth Bennet’s best friend, she would have to possess wit and intelligence in good measure, and I have tried to bring that out in Charlotte Collins.

Without revealing too much about the plot, is your Charlotte’s marriage to Mr Collins a mere marriage of convenience?
 I have always viewed Charlotte’s marriage to Mr. Collins as one solely of convenience. In Austen’s novel, I saw no evidence that Charlotte would fall in love with her husband. In fact, I imagined the match caused unhappiness all around, or it would have if Mr. Collins had the wits to understand his situation completely.

 Now...to Mr Collins! Is he still a caricaturesque country clergy-man or did you improve him , at least a bit?
 I am sorry to report that Mr. Collins meets his demise quite early in my novel. Although every reader of Jane Austen has their own interpretation of the characters and may very well disagree, I view Mr. Collins as irredeemable as a romantic lead. Austen gave us virtually no sense of him as anything but a silly man concerned with material goods and pandering to his proprietress.

As such, over the course of their marriage, I believe Charlotte, whom Austen always portrayed as practical and intelligent, would have grown away from Mr. Collins and not more like him as some movie adaptations seem to hint. I imagined that Charlotte would become sensitized by her husband’s repeated social gaffes and would, therefore, become more of a stickler for good manners and propriety.

      Among the Mr Collinses we’ve had on screen, who is your favourite one, the funniest one?
David Bamber was my very first exposure to Mr. Collins as a character. Even before I read the novel, David Bamber was my Mr. Collins, and he will likely remain my favorite. He seemed to capture the character’s simpering and fawning awkwardness perfectly. He was at once repulsive and pitiable, a difficult balance to achieve.

Did you re-write the scene in which Charlotte confesses to Lizzie her intention to marry Mr Collins?
If you did, what does poor Charlotte feel being treated like that by her best friend?
 Charlotte Collins begins five years after Charlotte’s marriage to Mr. Collins, so while I summarized the pertinent action from Pride and Prejudice, I did not rewrite any scenes. I just couldn’t presume to rewrite Jane Austen that way! I did, however, go into some detail about Charlotte’s regrets regarding the disintigration of her relationship with her friend.

 As a young Janeite, I’ve always thought,  if I had been Charlotte,  I would have never married Mr Collins. No sympathy, I almost despised her. Growing older, it seems to me, I can understand her reasons and pity her? What’s your attitude to Charlotte’s choice?
 Charlotte was very much a product of her time. In her historical and financial context, marriage was less about love and more about securing one’s future and that of one’s family as well. Her parents expected her to make a wise financial match, and she did not want to disappoint them. She wanted to be a good, dutiful daughter who did not burden her family. Even if I cannot fathom marrying for anything but love, I can certainly understand the desire to please one’s family and the need for security. Therefore, I never blamed Charlotte for her decision to marry Mr. Collins, but I did feel quite sorry that she felt she had no other choice

What do you think of the typical Austen happy ending? Has your novel got one?
  
This is my favorite question!

 I am an unrepentant fan of happy endings, and frankly, I have always been flummoxed by the modern literary establishment’s preference for tragedy over comedy. I know that depressing conclusions are supposed to reflect the human condition—life is difficult and then we die. But I have a different theory. I believe that tragedy is the easy way out. It is ever so much easier to write a tragedy than a comedy.

Why do I think so? People are naturally pessimistic; it takes work to remain optimistic. Just look at bookstore shelves, and you’ll find thousands of books about how to be happy and none about how to be a pessimist. Most people have no trouble finding the negative, but it takes great effort to transcend the trials and tribulations of the world. It is the human condition to find the negative, but it is the divine condition to transcend it. According to Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, comedies were more highly valued in the ancient literary world because they were reflections “of a revelation more complete. The happy ending of the fairy tale, the myth, and the divine comedy of the soul, is to be read, not as a contradiction, but as a transcendence of the universal tragedy of man.... Tragedy is the shattering of the forms and of our attachments to the forms; comedy, the wild and careless, inexhaustible joy of life invincible.” I think the ancients had it right.

That is not so say that Charlotte Collins does not include its share of tragedy or that the plot is wrapped up too neatly. At the beginning of the novel, Charlotte has lost everything: her husband, her child, her best friend, her security, and her independence. She is a lonely, unhappy woman, but she has the chance to redeem herself. As do all the characters in my novel. But not all of them make the right decisions by its conclusion.
   
Are you planning to write another Jane Austen spin-off or sequel? What is it about?
Jennifer and her Darcy
 I have one more Jane Austen-inspired novel in mind, but it will only make its way to the page if there is sufficient interest in sequels about her minor characters. If all goes well, I intend to write the continuing story of none other than one of Pride and Prejudice’s villainesses: Caroline Bingley. She is another character with whom I felt—dare I say it?—a bit of a connection.

Along with my Austen-inspired works, I have also written a literary novel (with a happy ending, of course) and am in the process of writing a series of mystery novels. In addition, I am collaborating with Laura Daley (www.daleytlc.com) on a nonfiction book about overcoming horseback riding fear. I hope to publish each book in due course.

If you had 3 wishes to change the destinies of 3 Austen characters, what would you ask and for whom?
 If I could rewrite the fates of three characters, I would give Charlotte Collins the opportunity to experience true love. That, of course, has to be my first choice. Second, I would follow Caroline Bingley after Mr. Darcy threw her over for Elizabeth Bennet. I’ve always wondered if she learned anything at all and changed as a result. And third, I must admit that I’d like to make Frank Churchill suffer just a bit. He behaved terribly throughout Emma and experienced no repurcussions. Jane Fairfax should have at least whacked him on the head with a pot for being such a cad.

  You and your love for Jane Austen, when did it start? How?
 Like many people of my generation, my affinity for Austen began with the BBC/A&E adaptation of Pride and Prejudice in 1995. I watched it in my college dorm room between bouts of study, and afterward, I immediately bought and read as much Austen as I could. I had finally found my literary idol: a woman whose work had endured for almost 200 years and didn’t end tragically.

Which is your favourite among her 6 major novels?
My two favorites are Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion. I adore the characters of Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth was surrounded by such amusing companions, and I felt as if I knew them by the end of the novel. But I am drawn more to the plot of Persuasion. I love plots in which characters have the opportunity to redeem themselves and make the right choice, as Anne Elliot did at the end of the novel.


Since I’m a period drama addict and I really like Austen adaptations, I ‘d love to know if you like watching them, if you’ve got (a) favourite one/s.
I love Austen adaptations, and my favorite is the 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice, but I must admit to having liked Clueless, a version of Emma, which was the first modern adaptation I’d ever seen
.
Alicia Silverstone in Clueless - my review here
 Now, Jennifer, that’s all for now. I'll wait for you on the 1st of September when you will present Charlotte Collins yourself to my readers on Fly High and we will reveal the name of the winner of a signed copy of your book! Till then,  thanks and good luck!

15 comments:

Audra said...

Marvelous interview -- I can't wait to read Charlotte Collins. I'd always liked Charlotte and felt bad for her -- I'm glad someone is setting the record straight!

Audra said...

Oh, I'd love to be entered in the giveaway -- thank you!

thesibylqueen at gmail.com

Lori Hedgpeth said...

This sounds like a fantastic read! I'm a sucker for Austen sequels and adaptations so I'd love to be entered.

Like Jennifer, my Austen obsession began with the 1995 A&E P&P and Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. Sigh.

Thanks for the opportunity and the terrific interview!

mrshedgy@yahoo.com

Debbie Styne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Debbie Styne said...

I always thought that Charlotte got a rotten deal by marrying Collins. Glad to know that she gets a second chance at love in your book. Congrats and best wishes,
Debbie
deeb@optonline.net.

loves2read said...

I might have to read this now. I have never found Charlotte very interesting, but this book might change my mind. I also wanted to let you know I gave you an award @ http://2readornot2read-loves2read.blogspot.com
Congrats,
Marcie

Luthien84 said...

I can't wait to read Charlotte's story. Thanks Maria and Jennifer for a wonderful interview. I'm always looking forward to reading new authors and their works.

Like Jennifer, I also love Pride & Prejudice and Persuasion. I'm glad that Charlotte can have a second change at love after marrying that odious Mr. Collins.

Congrats and all the best Jennifer. I will be cheering you to write about the fate of Miss Bingley.

evangelineace2020(at)yahoo(dot)com

buddyt said...

It is a very interesting idea to take a minor character and expand on her life and character and I can't really remember seeing it done before.

I would love to win the book and what I would do is re-read Pride and Prejudice (my last time was a long time ago!) and then read this one to see how everything flows along.

Thank you.

Carol T

buddytho {at} gmail DOT com

tyme_4_t said...

Ooops just realized I posted under Fly High and not JABC - see my comments there about this great interview...

tyme_4_t@hotmail.com

Padme A'Tea (Lyn) said...

This was a lovely interview. Thank you for letting us know about the book and the contest.

whiterose0729@gmail.com

All Love
Padme A'Tea (Lyn Gilbert)

iz4blue said...

Lovely articulate interview, I look forward to Charlotte's story and must agree she deserved better. I liked her equally for being Elizabeth's friend.

Whomels@gmail.com

k_sunshine1977 said...

i can't wait to give this a read! thank you for the wonderful contest!

k_sunshine1977 at yahoo dot com

junewilliams7 said...

I love her views on Charlotte! I don't remember the JA quote, “I consider everybody as having a right to marry once in their lives for love, if they can,” but I agree with it wholeheartedly. Your reviews are going to be the death of me -- now I have another enticing book I need to buy and read. :=)

Lua said...

This was an amazing interview- thank you ladies! :)
I have to admit, having read the Pride & Prejudice a hundred times, I never wondered what happened to Charlotte Collins- until now! I can't wait to read your book and find out…
luafowles@gmail.com

Claudia said...

Thank you for this lovely giveaway, I'd love to read this book.

Claudia

claudiagaggioli@virgilio.it