Sunday, 21 November 2010

GUEST BLOGPOST - PHILLIPA ASHLEY ON JANE AUSTEN: WAS IT LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT?


First, I’d like to thank Maria for having me on both her Fly High blog and here on My Jane Austen Book Club.
I wish I could say I’ve always loved Jane Austen but the truth is my first introduction to her work was at school. I was 15 and we were doing Pride & Prejudice for ‘O’ level (which has given away my age.)
Although I’d always been a big reader, most of the literature what I’d read had been of the Enid Blyton and Alistair McLean variety. In fact, the only classic novel I can really recall reading prior to Pride & Prejudice was Tales of Mystery and Terror by Edgar Allan Poe.
Yet just two years later I’d devoured just about everything Jane Austen had ever written.
I have to thank two people for my ‘conversion’: my best friend (still my best friend and now a Waterstones manager) and my English teacher (sadly, now passed away.)
Don’t ask me why I didn’t love P&P on first reading: maybe simply because we were doing it for school. Luckily my best friend had adored the book and urged me to read it again.
I returned to Longbourne and Pemberley with an open mind and suddenly (yes, I have a lot of these epiphanies!) saw the wonder and joy that is P&P. 
I borrowed Persuasion from the school library and then read the rest of Jane’s novels, followed by her unfinished works and juvenilia. I started my ‘A’ level English Course in a fever of newly discovered passion for ‘literature.’ I got hold of the Brontes, Dracula, Shakespeare, Keats, and Tennyson...
I ended up studying English Language and Literature at Oxford University and my love of Jane Austen has never abated.
While P&P remains my favourite by a whisker, Persuasion is very close behind. One of my favourite scenes is the almost final one where Anne and Wentworth walk through the crowded streets of Bath, oblivious to the hullaballoo around them. I think that’s the closest Jane Austen ever got to lyricism.
I loved the way it was portrayed in the BBC Hinds/Root adaptation, with the circus and fire eaters dancing around Anne and Wentworth as the band music slowly fades and they finally have their moment of perfect happiness. 
I often wonder if my own writing has been influenced by Austen. On the face of it, no. I have a very contemporary style and I have to be careful not to read classics if I’m writing my own, or I inadvertently end up mimicking the style and having contemporary characters speaking like people from 200 years ago!
But interestingly when my current US release, Dating Mr December, was made into a Lifetime TV movie, 12 Men of Christmas, the writer (a Jane Austen fan too) must have seen a few P&P parallels in the structure and he ran with them. The film varies quite a lot from my book.  For instance, in my novel, there’s a ‘boardroom’ scene that would have been far too steamy for a family movie!
I was intrigued to see that in the film, the equivalent scene had echoes of the first proposal from P&P and that a Wickham type character had been introduced. There’s even a thread on imdb about the P&P influences in the film.

Funnily enough, I have written a teeny tiny piece of Austenalia for a book newsletter coming soon.

Can you remember your first introduction to Jane Austen and if it was love at first sight? 


1 comment:

phylly3 said...

My first introduction to Austen was "Emma" and it definitely wasn't love at first sight. I was probably 14 and couldn't get into the endless gossipy tea parties and the fact that the big excitement of the day was going for walk or even better an "outing"! It was a gift from a friend, (who hadn't read it either). I tried to read it again a couple of times, but always gave it up for something more exciting...like skipping to the "dirty" parts in Lady Chatterly's Lover. (How shallow am I, hmmm?)
Finally, in college we were to pick a classic author and read at least one of their works, so as Emma was definitely on the list, I gave it "the old college try"! :)
Of course, finally I was mature enough to understand that all that gossip was really a clever way of discovering more about the characters. I fell in love with the story at once! Eventually I read Persuasion, Sense & Sensiblity and Pride and Prejudice (which became my favourite). Years later, after seeing the BBC's P&P with Colin Firth, I came upon a website where I could read classic books online. I scoffed at first, because I thought that would be extremely uncomfortable. But I discovered that P&P with its short chapters was very enjoyable to read online. That got me onto reading Austen again, but I decided to find the rest of the collection at the local library. I still haven't read Sanditon or the juvenalia yet though.
Sorry I'm so long winded. Phillipa, I am the lucky winner of MG's draw for Dating Mr. December at her Fly High website. I can't wait to read it! :)