I hope you'll enjoy my interview with Jane Odiwe , author of Willoughby's Return and Lydia Bennet's Story. It's just another very interesting chat with an expert and lover of Jane Austen and her world. Leaving your comment and e-mail address, you'll have the chance to receive , directly from kind Jane Odiwe, an autographed copy of her latest Willoughby's Return. The giveaway in open worldwide! The winner will be announced next Wednesday, 29 September.
Welcome on My Jane Austen Book Club, Jane. I'm extremely glad you accepted to answer my questions . As you know, I’ve recently read and reviewed (here) your latest publication, “Willoughby’s Return” . So, let’s start from there, your title hero: John Willoughby. Jane Austen gives him about 50 pages to explains his reasons and regrets to Elinor. Did he convince you?
I think Willoughby is sincere when he explains his reasons and regrets to Elinor, but I have to admit that I am not wholly convinced even if I’ve written a book, which aims to defend him (mostly). I think he truly believes what he is saying, but if we actually look at his behaviour and actions, we may arrive at another conclusion. Firstly, is the fact that until he runs into Sir John Middleton, he has not made any attempt to contact Marianne or Elinor to explain his actions. If he truly loved her, wouldn’t he have made every attempt to justify his behaviour earlier? Every part of his speech to Elinor just exposes the weaknesses of his character. Willoughby is thoroughly honest about his feelings, but I’m not sure it helps his case. Firstly, he is drunk. The fact that he can’t face Elinor without resorting to drinking alcohol shows he is pretty spineless. Then, he admits when he first met Marianne, he was only interested in amusing himself. Marianne flattered his vanity. He was fully prepared to receive love without giving any in return. Money is his motivation for not allowing himself to fall in love. Even if we believe that he loved Marianne when it was too late, he adds that he lives in dread of her marrying. Not because he is concerned for Marianne, and whether she will be happy, but because his thoughts are selfish ones as he considers how hard it will be for him to know that she has married Colonel Brandon. Having said all that, as I said right at the beginning, I do think the main point here is that he truly believes what he is saying, that he regrets his behaviour.
I tend to justify Willoughby, if not forgive him (Greg Wise’s fault?) I know he made mistakes, lots of them. With Eliza...but he was young! With Marianne ... but he had little reasonable choice (Frank Churchill was infinitely luckier than him!) But I’m sure he will always love Marianne and he will learn from his mistakes. His marriage to selfish Sophia Grey is already punishment and the impossibility to have Marianne is hell. Would you ask for more? Don’t you think that’s enough for a charming libertine?
Yes! It’s all Greg Wise’s fault. And, who could fail to fall in love with Willoughby when he first appears in the book or on screen? Of course, money and its necessity is a recurring theme in Jane’s books, and in those days marrying for love was something of a luxury. I do love the fact that Jane Austen included Willoughby’s begging for forgiveness, and Elinor’s forgiveness of him shows compassion in a true human sense. I think Willoughby will suffer in his marriage, but I also think he is the kind of man who will make sure he gets a measure of amusement elsewhere. As you know, in my book, when the opportunity arises, he tries to win Marianne’s heart again.
Brandon and Marianne’s relationship goes through ups and downs. What do you think are the reasons of their complicated ménage?
Marianne Dashwood marries Colonel Brandon at the end of Sense and Sensibility. He is seventeen years older than she, and consequently, I think their views of the world would be quite different, even if they share much in common such as poetry and music. Differences in their ages and viewpoints could well lead to differences in the way each perceive a set of circumstances. I think Marianne loves the Colonel deeply, especially as she can never do anything by halves, but knowing her heart rules with great passion makes me think this is likely to run over into other matters. Brandon is still responsible for his ward, Eliza, and also for her child whose father, I’m sure you remember, is Mr Willoughby. Taking into account Marianne’s personality, I felt this would cause problems. Knowing that her husband’s ward is not only the daughter of the Colonel’s first love, but also the very image of her would be enough to make Marianne jealous. I don’t think she would be happy visiting Eliza, or seeing Willoughby’s child, so I think she would avoid meeting them both at all costs. When Brandon visits his ward often and is sometimes obliged to stay away, I think Marianne’s sensitive nature will get the better of her. She would hate it. In Willoughby’s Return, I was able to capitalise on this. Marianne is maturing, but although she is not as outspoken, she still feels passionately. I thought her jealousy might lead to destructive behaviour, although ultimately she sees sense before it’s too late. Each of them would see the situation differently. Brandon would be dutiful to his ward and her daughter feeling there is no choice but to make sure he devotes all due attention to them. Having lost his first love, I think he would be extremely sensitive to the needs of Eliza and her daughter, a fact which might be hard for Marianne to cope with. I don’t think it would occur to Brandon to think Marianne might be jealous – he tends to see Marianne through rose-tinted spectacles. Likewise, Marianne doesn’t consider Brandon’s difficult situation. She is a little selfish, and doesn’t want to consider the difficult life that Eliza must lead. Lots of tensions make for lots of ups and downs – a gift for a novelist!
Margaret Dashwood is a vivacious, young woman in your novel starting three years after the end of Sense and Sensibility.Passionate, romantic, impulsive and sensitive. How did it come you decided to make her so similar to Marianne?
Jane Austen wrote in Sense and Sensibility: Margaret, the other sister, was a good-humoured, well-disposed girl; but as she had already imbibed a good deal of Marianne's romance, without having much of her sense; she did not, at thirteen, bid fair to equal her sisters at a more advanced period of life.
I imagined that of the two sisters she would grow up to become even more like Marianne, and I wanted to write an alternative Marianne story, showing that first love might work out.
Is your Henry Lawrence the portrait of what Willoughby might have been, instead?
Not really, because although on the surface it seems he shares some similar traits, in the end he is thoroughly vindicated. The reasons for his behaviour are completely justified. Besides all that, he is even better looking than Willoughby, and I think he is a much nicer person!
“The market of marriage” Jane Austen showed directly or indirectly to dislike has been anyway relevant to her novels and their success. What about marriages in your sequel?
Yes, I think it was important to include this theme in my novel, and I think I allude to it in all my books. It was such an important factor for anyone in Jane Austen’s class. I think Jane felt compelled to write about it because it affected her and her sister Cassandra. They did not have large dowries, so could not be expected to marry well. In my novel, Henry Lawrence’s friend, Mademoiselle de Fontenay is a victim of the marriage market, but I don’t want to say much more for fear of giving too much away.
|Jane Austen at her desk by Jane Odiwe|
After I wrote and illustrated ‘Effusions of Fancy’ I wanted to see if I could attempt to write a whole novel. I wanted to write a comic book, which is why I chose Lydia Bennet. For all her outrageous behaviour, I thought she would be funny too.
You also paint and draw cute Austen illustrations. Did drawing come first as a means to express yourself?
I’ve always done both for as long as I can remember. I’ve still got illustrated stories I wrote from when I was about seven years old. I always wanted to be a children’s author and illustrator like Beatrix Potter, but it hasn’t worked out that way. I much prefer writing novels now.
|Marianne and Elinor by Jane Odiwe|
|Darcy & Lizzy by Jane Odiwe|
I think it’s pure and simple escapism from our twenty-first century world with all its stresses and everyday problems. Of course, the fact that we imagine that the past was simpler is very far from the truth, but I think we have fallen in love with the perception of a life where everyone lived in beautiful Georgian houses, where good manners were highly important, and where extremely handsome men walked around all day in breeches and wet shirts with ladies in gorgeous frocks and bonnets. I’m only joking, but I think those elements certainly add to Austen’s appeal. I would also say that her novels are timeless, and populated with wonderful characters. They are books that can be read time and again; enduring classics that never fail to please.
If you could swap life with one of the Austen heroines, whose life would you choose?
I would choose Anne Elliot’s life if it can start after she marries Captain Wentworth. I think seeing the world with him would be a lot of fun, and also she’d manage to get away from her awful Elliot family.
Great! Anne Elliot is my favourite Austen heroine, too.But let's say something about the future now. Your next sequel will be released in February 2011, Mr Darcy’s Secret. What is there still to discover about Mr Darcy? Why do you think he has become such an iconic character?
When I started writing this book, it occurred to me that Elizabeth really didn’t know very much about Mr Darcy. Apart from knowing that he is wealthy, has Bingley for his friend, and that he lives in London for some of the time, as well as Pemberley, I realised that we know little of his back-story. I created one, and wondered how it might impact upon them all.
I think he’s become an iconic character partly because he is so enigmatic. We don’t know much about him at first apart from the fact that he’s got pots of money and a big house. He’s aloof, and rude, but slowly we warm to him when we see how Darcy and Elizabeth engage with one another seeing who can outwit the other. He’s the ultimate hero when we discover just what he’s done for Lydia, as a way of showing his love and concern for Elizabeth. He comes to recognise his faults and changes as a result. That’s got to be his greatest charm – he’s a character we don’t want to like, yet end up falling in love with him along with Lizzy Bennet.
How would you present you latest work, Mr Darcy’s Secret, in max. 50 words?
After capturing the heart of the most eligible bachelor in England, Elizabeth Darcy believes her happiness is complete, - until the day she unearths a stash of anonymous, passionate love letters that may be Darcy’s, and she realises just how little she knows about the quiet, stoic man she married.
Thank you so much Jane for taking the time to answer my questions. It’s been a great pleasure to read your novel and to talk Jane Austen with you! And good luck to you all for the giveaway!