My guest this week for our weekly Austen chat is Kathryn L. Nelson, author of Pemberley Manor. Join me and welcome Kathryn on My Jane Austen Book Club. Leave your comments and e-mail address to get a chance to win an autographed copy of her sequel to Pride and Prejudice. The giveaway is open internationally and ends on Wednesday 18th May when the winner is announced.
MG. Jane Austen and the modern world. Why is such an odd match so successful? I’m thinking of fan fiction, modernizations, Austen–dedicated sites and blogs, Austen–Twitter Projects, nowadays film versions….
K: I hope you don’t imagine I have any idea what’s going on. It took me more than a year to even say out loud that I had written a sequel to Pride and Prejudice. I was quite sure that it simply wasn’t done, but then I stumbled across Diana Birchall and Jane Odiwe and a few others and eventually became part of an avalanche. My guess is that Jane’s spirit has been out trying to stir up this phenomenon for a very long time, and she finally tickled enough minds to start the ball rolling. I firmly believe that if she had lived longer she would have tried out a few stories herself about life after the wedding. At any rate, I imagine that she’s enjoying the attention.
MG: This is a harsh one, I think. I’m asking you to advocate for all Austen Authors. Fan fiction has become the order of the day in Austenland. Can’t all this flooding fiction risk dumbing-down the book market? What novelty can be added to such popular characters and plots?
K: You would find a fair number of Jane Austen fans that take no pleasure in anything Austenesque not written by either Jane herself or a literary scholar. I have to admit that it took me a little while to warm to the vampires and zombies—not to mention the platypus!—but really, it’s all fun. Austen’s stories were, and still are, fun. Rather than dumbing anything down, I think that a flood of creativity has been unleashed. She was the earthquake; we’re the tsunami.
MG: For what you know of her personality, what would Jane Austen most appreciate in our world and what couldn’t she bear?
K: If Austen were plucked from her time zone and dropped into ours, I imagine she would be a horrified by the pace of life and the barrage of media images and words coming out of the sky day and night. But if she was allowed a few years to acclimatize, I suspect that the political rhetoric of today, satirized by people like Craig Ferguson or Jon Stewart, would have amused her. Before Queen Victoria put a clamp on frivolity, Jane lived in a pretty rowdy Regency period where scandals and bad behavior were well known, even in a quiet country town. She would have made a great writer for the Colbert Report with her wit and sarcasm.
And for a woman who resisted being known as the author of her own books, I can only imagine that Facebook and Twitter would have seemed quite vulgar. Blogging? I think she would have loved it.
|Read excerpts from the book|
MG: And what about you, instead? What is it that you like best in her work and world?
K: I began writing what eventually became Pemberley Manor as an exercise in language. After reading her without much enthusiasm in school, I rediscovered her in 1995 after watching the BBC/A&E version of Pride and Prejudice. A friend and I wore out a set of VHS tapes, watching and re-watching parts. Then I started rereading her books, and finally, recently, her Juvenilia.
I found Austen’s style so addictive and the imitation of it such fun that I stayed up until the middle of the night for months trying to capture it. Every time I write an entry in the Austen Authors blog, I go back to one or more of her books and look for something new to think about. They never fail me.
MG: I’ve just finished reading your blog post at Austen Authors about money as the driving force in Jane Austen’s work. Is money the real driving force in her plots? (see http://www.austenauthors.com/2011/04/in-search-of-living.htm)
K: Well, if you leave romance aside, the possession of—or lack of—fortune is an obsession in almost every Austen character’s life. Sometimes it isn’t their choice. Anne Elliot, for instance, is not herself overly interested in money, but her family and her mentor, Lady Russell, value it excessively and she hasn’t the strength to ignore them. Emma’s “little friend” Harriet has very simple tastes, but succumbs to Emma’s relentless drive to make her into a woman of “discernment,” devaluing the farmer who loves her.
Elizabeth Bennet falls into a kind of careless middle ground: she believes herself above that sort of thing, and yet blushes with pleasure at the thought of being the mistress of Pemberley. Unlike her sensible friend, Charlotte, though, she doesn’t raise a finger to help herself find security. Emma, Darcy, Charles Bingley are free to think very little about money, as they didn’t have to earn it and take it as a natural condition.
Then we have the true money rogues, John and Fanny Dashwood, Willoughby, and the Bingley sisters, for example. They can never have enough and have no scruples at all about how they acquire it.
Joy Lee Davis, in Jane Austen and the Almighty Pound, points out the evolution in Austen’s writing toward the final novel, Persuasion, where the undeserving rich are undone, and the lowly poor are lifted up in example.
MG: And how did it come that you decided to write a sequel to Pride and Prejudice, Pemberley Manor? Could you tell us something about it?
K: Those late night writing binges finally resulted in a very thick pile of papers that had a story stretching from the Darcy’s wedding day through the first year of their marriage. Having sufficiently scratched the itch, I started to think of the pile as a book. I dug into the literature on publishing, sent out a few queries and copies of the manuscript, filed away the rejections and went back to paying full attention to my real job, our family’s electrical contracting business. A few years later, a friend gave me a sequel named Presumption by Julia Barrett. I started digging and was astonished to find that there were other sequels out there, and so I dusted off the manuscript, edited it, and found a publisher, just as the floodgates were opening to Austen fan fiction.
MG: As to Austen heroes/heroines, have you got a favourite one? Why?
K: Well, I couldn’t resist writing a dark past for Darcy to explain his arrogance and very prickly manners—that was the compulsion that turned Pemberley Manor from a writing exercise into a novel. I confess I didn’t like Lydia Bennet very well until Jane Odiwe turned my head with Lydia Bennet’s Story. The great fun of all of the fan fiction is that it’s interactive. We are allowed to take characters and interpret them, grow them up, invent their early lives, and blend them with zombies and other curious life forms. I don’t believe there’s another author, living or dead, who has invented so many complex and compelling characters— they simply cry out for attention.
I’d love to see Catherine Moreland grow up, or Harriet Smith start raising lovely, lively children in her farmhouse. And if I were to choose another character to write about, I believe it would have to be Colonel Fitzwilliam. Jack Caldwell has interviewed him on Austen Authors on April 28th. We know so very little about him that it would be a treat to dig into the possibilities. He’s much more willing than Darcy to engage in a little gossip and the odd witty repartee.
MG: Are you working /planning to work on any new Austenesque project?
K: I left Elizabeth and Darcy holding the red leather journal of Darcy’s father at the end of Pemberley Manor. As I haven’t read it yet, I don’t know whether it contains enough juicy intrigue to warrant another novel. It’s been put on the shelf while I write a novel about three generations of a Minnesota family whose lives are strained by the secrets and lies of the past. Hmmm, sounds like a familiar plot—I think I might have used the same devise once before….
MG: Sounds intriguing! Let us know what you are up to, Kathryn. Meanwhile, thank you so much for taking the time of being my guest and answering my questions.
K: It’s been my great pleasure to answer, Maria, and to spend some enjoyable hours reading posts on My Jane Austen Book Club. I’m hooked!
MG: I'm flattered, Kathryn. Thank you!
And now to you, dear readers, and to your comments. Don't forget your e-mail address to enter the international giveaway. Good Luck!