Thursday, 18 November 2010

TALKING JANE AUSTEN WITH ALEXA ADAMS + GIVEAWAY

This week's guest on "Talking Jane Austen with ..." is author Alexa Adams. Her lovely "what if" re-writing of P&P is "First Impressions. A Tale of Less Pride and Prejudice" which I read, loved (still love!) and reviewed here on My Jane Austen Book Club. You have the chance to win this delightful Austenesque read commenting Alexa's interview and leaving your e-mail address. The giveaway ends on November 24th and is open worldwide.




First of all the classic questions I ask every Janeite I meet: when did you first meet Jane Austen?
When I was twelve or thirteen, I’m not sure which, I found a copy of Northanger Abbey in an airport bookstore. I had recently read Evelina by Francis Burney (a book I chose because of the pretty dresses on the cover), and Jane Austen was mentioned in the introduction. After Northanger, I quickly read the rest of Austen’s novels, having a strong taste for historic romance at that age, but it wasn’t until I started rereading her books in my late teens that I really began to fathom the genius of the writer.
        

Did your perception of her work change over the years?
Completely.  On my second read through her novels, I picked up on the comic elements that had eluded me when I was younger, but at that time I was more interested in the highly dramatic works of Charlotte Bronte than in Austen’s realistic portrayals of human foibles. Then I reread Persuasion in a college course on Romantic literature and was completely overwhelmed by the book. The first chapter, in particular, still leaves me in total awe, it is so masterfully constructed. That experience compelled a third reread of  all the Austen novels, a ritual I have been regularly indulging in ever since.

What do you think are Austen’s “secret ingredients” for her success beyond time?         
Definitely her ability to accurately capture human idiosyncrasies. Her characters are amazingly real. We all know a John Thorpe, a Mr. Collins, a Mrs. Norris, and a Miss Bates, and Austen teaches us to not only to avoid their flaws, but also to be politely tolerant of such creatures through private laughter. Similarly, those of us smirking at such silly persons behind their backs, see our far more complex faults in her heroines and heroes, thereby inspiring us to do the hard work it takes to improve ourselves. Her creations are timeless because they are so truthful. Two hundred years might have passed since her novels were written, but humanity has changed very little.

What is your attitude to the many movie adaptations they’ve made over the years? Do you think they distorted what Austen actually meant in her novels?
It depends on the adaptation. I find something to enjoy in most of them, though many seem to overemphasise the romance while sacrificing the comic elements. I only have real complaints about those based on Mansfield Park. I do not care how talented the directors or adaptors may be, they are no Jane Austen, and I sincerely wish they would stop trying to “fix” Fanny Price by trying to turn her into something she clearly is not. I have a huge love of the older BBC adaptations, explicitly because they taken almost word for word directly from the novels (nobody ever did it better than Jane), but I believe that 1995 was the golden year of Austen adaptations. The versions of Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Persuasion that were released that year are truly incredible.





What do you think has been neglected so far, despite the huge interest in everything  Austen?         
While I cannot deny that Pride and Prejudice is a masterpiece, I believe that all of Austen’s novels are magnificent and that each deserves equal attention. As indicated in my answer to the previous question, I would love to see a modern, accurate adaptation of Mansfield Park, as I wish that Northanger Abbey was more frequently portrayed in film. After Persuasion, Northanger Abbey is probably my favorite Austen novel, and it would be very gratifying if it got more attention in general. It is, in my opinion, Austen funniest novel, but fans seem so much more intent on romance than humor. For better or for worse, in the world of Jane Austen fan fiction, Pride and Prejudice is the money maker, and until booksellers find a way to successfully market novels without the words “Darcy” or “Pemberley” in the title, we will see very few books based on her other works.  
        
I love your creativity flourishing from your knowledge of and love for Jane Austen’s work. I’m thinking about your ... ehm ... desease? What you call “please-don't-let-this-be-the-last-pageitis”. In short, what brought you to write the Janeicillin as a remedy for your insatiable Austen-addiction. Can you please tell our readers about this series going on your blog?             

It really is an illness, or at least an obsession, but one I am happy to suffer from. While there are countless Austen continuations available, I was specifically interested in developing the just the last chapters of her books, in which she inevitably summarizes the concluding events of the stories, rushing our heroes and heroines to the alter. As she says at the beginning of the last chapter of Persuasion, “Who can be in doubt of what followed?” Well, after reading hundreds of Austen continuations, it occurred to me that the are endless interpretations of what, precisely, did indeed follow. The idea behind Janeicillin was to follow the events she describes and elaborate upon them, developing the engagements of the main characters. I started with Pride and Prejudice (having already worked with these characters before, it was easy for me to capture their voices), and am just now wrapping up Persuasion, which proved far more difficult as the events described, particularly Mrs. Clay and Mr. Elliot’s affair, are far less happy than those concluding Pride and Prejudice. I’m trying to decide which novel to pick up next. I’m thinking it is likely to be either Northanger Abbey, which will give me the pleasure of developing Miss Tilney’s romance, or Emma, which will inevitably provide much comic fodder. I’m a bit shy about picking up Sense and Sensibility or Mansfield Park, the former because of the complications involved with having two heroines, and the latter because I have serious issues with Edmund Bertram and am not sure I can represent him without my anger at the man getting in the way.
        
I’d love to ask you what didn’t you like in every of Jane’s major novel? I mean is there anything you didn’t like in each of them?      
 Fascinating question! Let’s see - I wish General Tilney suffered some kind of consequence for his avariciousness in Northanger Abbey. Similarly, it would be nice if Lucy Steele wasn’t so rewarded for her odious behavior in Sense and Sensibility. As I wrote a novel in which I intentionally removed all the angst from Pride and Prejudice, I imagine you can guess that the suffering endured by both Elizabeth and Darcy torments me. I just want them to both be happy and alleviate all that pain they so needlessly endure. Mansfield Park is easy. As stated above, I really do not like Edmund Bertram and wish he was more deserving of Fanny’s devotion. Emma and Persuasion are pretty perfect, and I am not sure I would alter a word. However, it would be nice if readers liked Miss Woodhouse a bit more, and, if I could magically transport myself into the pages of Persuasion, I would be mighty tempted to give Captain Wentworth a good slap across his face for his behavior when he first meets Anne again. Silly man! Acting like a spoiled little boy.




 If I’m not wrong, you love Fanny Price , the protagonist of Mansfield Park. She is instead one of the least favourite heroines among Janeites. How would you defend her in a trial in which she is accused of being too passive, too prudish, too good to be true? What would you say in favour of poor Fanny?

Poor Fanny! She’s not my favorite of Austen’s heroines, but I feel for her deeply and think she is terribly misunderstood. I ask that readers try to imagine themselves in her predicament - a naturally shy girl, uprooted from the home and family she knows, thrust amongst strangers who are, for the most part, intent on reminding her of her inadequacies and subservient position - how else can she be expected to behave? Furthermore, under such circumstances of dependency, I think she demonstrates remarkable bravery in her refusal of Henry Crawford, especially when urged by Sir Thomas. We all applaud Elizabeth Bennet for refusing Mr. Collins when an acceptance of him would ensure her family’s future and well-being. No matter how much more charming readers may find Henry Crawford, it is the same predicament that Fanny find herself in, and yet she is censured for not making the mercenary decision. As far as being too good to be true, I suggest that her infatuation with Edmund undermines that argument. Her blind loyalty to the one person who showed her sympathy in her youth displays a horrific lack of self-confidence (which, again, is understandable considering her circumstances), especially as he is so self-absorbed as to be blind to her devotion, all while tormenting her with his own fascination with Mary Crawford, who, though indisputably charming, is incredibly morally corrupt. I find both him, and Fanny’s love for him, terribly frustrating.

I know you also love mash-ups. Imagine you are Emma and you can’t resist the idea to match people you know. What would be the perfect match you’d made from different novels?         
I assume we mean mash-ups sans monsters, right? That’s a really hard question. I think I would have to leave the main character’s alone, focusing on the secondary ones. I don’t like to spoil my own novel, but in it I engaged in some creative rematching of the Pride and Prejudice cast, which I found very satisfying. If I crossed novels, perhaps Isabella Thorpe and George Wickham deserve each other? I’d like to see Miss Bates in a relationship, but I’m not sure who could deserve (ahem, tolerate) her. Maybe Lady Middleton could suffer an untimely illness, and Miss Bates could step into her place? I think Mrs. Ferrars and General Tilney would be well-suited to each other, as would be Mr. Elliot and Maria Bertram.
        
Among Austen heroes instead, apart from Darcy, who is the one you most appreciate and why?
It’s a toss up between Henry Tilney and Captain Wentworth. I know I said I’d like to slap the latter, but as I often feel similarly about my husband, such emotions don’t signify. I love Mr. Tilney’s sardonic sense of humor. One could never be bored in his company. His ability to value Catherine for her purity is also very appealing. Clearly, at first she just amuses him, but it is her honestly and determination to make amends for her mistakes that makes him fall in love. I wish more men valued such qualities. As for the Captain, any man who can both feel and express his emotions with such passion is thoroughly irresistible. He’s not perfect, but his flaws only add to his appeal (not unlike Darcy - sorry, but he will impose himself on my mind, no matter how hard I try to keep him in check).

 Now, to your First Impressions. A Tale of Less Pride and Prejudice. I read it and love it, (my review ) you know. Could you briefly tell what brought you to write your “what-if” version of P&P?         
Well, when I discovered “What if?” rewrites of Pride and Prejudice, through the novels of Abigail Reynolds and Kara Louise, I was instantly hooked on the notion. I had not intended to write one myself, but was doing yoga one day, desperately trying to clear my mind of distractions (an endeavor I never succeed in fully doing) when the notion popped into my head: what if Darcy and Elziabeth danced at the Meryton assembly? I wrote the first chapter that day, and the rest of the novel in less than two months. It was both an indulgence in my own desires, wanting to spare Darcy and Elizabeth from so much angst, and a response to many of the other Pride and Prejudice based novels I had read, which tend to be both more sexual than I like, and also often include massive doses of additional trauma. I just want them to live happily ever after, with the privacy both would so obviously treasure in tact.

Are you working on a new project?
I am working on a continuation of First Impressions, beginning in the second year of the Darcy’s marriage and focusing on the romances of Georgiana and Kitty. Kitty, who has been much improved by both a year in school and the positive influences of her new relations, is invited by the Darcy’s to be Georgiana’s companion during her first season in London. The plot was loosely inspired by Shakespeare’s The Two Gentleman of Verona, so those familiar with the play will know that  there is some confusion involved in the romantic pairings. I also revisit the other matches made in First Impressions, so readers can learn how all of our couples are progressing. It is a very different endeavor than the first book, working as I am with an entirely new plot and characters who are now following rather different paths than those Austen intended, but I hope it will amuse readers. The best comments I received on First Impressions were from readers who said how the book just made them feel good, and I’d like to inspire a similar sense of happiness and contentment in the second volume.

Great Alexa! That's all. Many thanks for being my kind guest today and best wishes for everything in your life!



Dear readers, Alexa's giveaway contest starts NOW!  Just leave your comment and ... good luck!



24 comments:

Rebecca said...

This sounds fun! I love that there are so many Austen variations and sequels and stuff, but something they are rather ... steamy ... and that just doesn't necessarily fit with my mental image, haha. Love the way you break down all the characters and novels, btw ... I couldn't stand 'Persuasion' when I read it (for the first time) over the summer, but I do like the way you talk about it as your favorite :o)

quarterback.girl[at]gmail[dot]com
awordsworth.blogspot.com

Svea ~Muse in the Fog said...

Those were some great questions! Read every bit :)

Thanks for this giveaway! muse_in_the_fog@hotmail.com

Alexa Adams said...

Hi Rebecca. While I certainly do not consider myself prudish, I do feel pretty strongly about preserving Austen's character's privacy (not that it keeps me from reading the sexy continuations and variations - I am an addict, after all). I'm sorry you didn't enjoy Persuasion. Maybe someday you'll give it another chance? Loving every word Austen ever wrote as I do, it is kind of hard for me to understand. Thanks for entering the giveaway!

Hi Svea! Glad you enjoyed the interview. I had a great time responding to Maria's fabulous questions. Good luck with the giveaway!

Jj said...

I enjoyed this interview very much. I've read First Impressions and really enjoyed it - it was a great read and I encourage anyone who likes P&P to read it - you'll be rewarded.

Keep up the Janeicillin Alexa - I love it!

suzan said...

I'd love to win her book. It's one I don't have. I do so appreciate Alexa's views on things. I totally agree with her about Persuasion, Northanger Abbey and Fanny Price. Your questions were great as usual in the interview. I loved the mashup romance question. I don't care for the monster mashup thing but the answers to this question about pairing other characters were great. I loved it. I've read alexa's blog several times and enjoy it as well. My favorite austen is Persuasion and tho' there are sequels etc. out there it truly is becoming more popular. That's a good and bad thing. We don't want too many people messing it up. Northanger seems to have very few sequels etc. The first movie I watched I didn't like. Then I watched another and read the book. The book as usual wins. And now I do like it tremendously. Keep up the good work both of you. schafsue at gmail.com

Alexa Adams said...

Hi Jj! Thanks for the support! Glad you enjoy the Janeicillin. I'll keep pluggingaway!

Hi suzan! So glad you enjoy the blog, the interview, and that we see eye to eye on so many Austen related issues! It's always good to chat with other Austen purists. Best of luck in the giveaway!

Elegant Female said...

Wonderful interview! The book sounds like a great read!

Felicia

felicialso@gmail.com

LadyDoc said...

This book sounds delightful! I would love to win!

maribea said...

My 'first impressions' are so good that it would be delightful to win this book.
Write me at maribea@tiscali.it

OreAnnie said...

What a wonderful interview! Great insight into an author I enjoy... both Alexa AND Jane Austen! :~) Looking forward to the sequel of First Impressions.

Alexa Adams said...

Elegant Female - I hope you find it do! Good luck!

LadyDoc - It was delightful to write! Does Maria have you email address? You need to include it to be eligible for the giveaway - just want to make sure you are entered.

maribea - Very cute! I hope your second impressions are as good as your first!

OreAnnie - So glad you enjoyed it! It was lots of fun. Keep checking my blog for info on the sequel (which remains nameless - maybe I'll open up the floor to suggestions).

LisaS said...

The book sounds just lovely -- I love it when there isn't a bunch of drama added on to the already drama filled P&P. I think the worst for me is when a P&P inspired story isn't even a reimagining per se but instead a 'what if D didn't propose to E at the end of P&P?' Then I have it constantly in mind that all the horrible angst they went through in the original is still in play plus all the additional stuff this reimagining is adding on. Oh boy! Do those make me saaaad! Crossing my fingers!

Lisa
slapshinyhappy at yahoo dot com

Marcie said...

This book sounds fantastic. I love the idea of Janeacillin. I know I can't get enough of her novels. Please enter me in this contest. marcie.turner@yahoo.com

Alexa Adams said...

Hi LisaS - I feel very much the same! I'm so emotionally invested in Darcy and Elizabeth already that it's nearly torturous when have to overcome even more than Austen envisioned. Best of luck to you!

Hi Marcie - I am just now editing the last installment of Persuasion Janeicillin, which will go up tonight. I'd love to hear your thoughts on it! Good luck in the giveaway!

Margay said...

What a great interview - makes me want to read Alexa's books even more! I love Austen and I love reading other authors' tributes to her great works.

Margay

Midnight Cowgirl said...

Wonderful interview!

akaleistar (at) gmail (dot) com

terie said...

It was really great getting to know you and your thoughts on Austen. I am a big Austen fan and enjoy hearing others' viewpoints. I can relate to a number of the views/observations you stated. I look forward to reading your book.
Terie
lighthousem516@sbcglobal.net

Alexa Adams said...

Thanks Margay! Does Maria have your email address? You need to include it to be entered in the giveaway.

Midnight Cowgirl - Glad you enjoyed it! Good luck!

Terie - Thank you so much! I certainly hope that First Impressions lives up to your expectations. Best of luck in the giveaway!

Sharli said...

Sounds like a great read! I love that now there are so many books about Austen novels. Makes reading them all the more fun :)

Great interview and thanks for the giveaway!
entrelibros_blog at hotmail.com

Alexa Adams said...

Thanks Sharli! I too am impressed by the endless number of permeatations on Austen's novels available. Jane never gets dull! Good luck with the giveaway!

cristina_gemellaro said...

I could read Jane Austen all day!
Sometimes it makes me feel I was born in the wrong decade. :)
Thanks for the opportunity to enter to win the book!

cristina_gemellaro@yahoo.com

P.S. I am a new FAN!

Alexa Adams said...

Hi cristina_gemellaro - I feel exactly the same way (though when I stop to think about it, I'm pretty thrilled to have running water and modern medicine - if only I could keep those luxuries and indulge in the more elegant aspects of 19th century life, like the clothes and the culture). Best of luck to you!

traveler said...

I was fascinated with this lovely interview and would enjoy reading this book greatly. best wishes. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

Susie R. Russell said...

Quite an interesting conversation for me personally. Thanks a lot for posting it, I really love this blog!