Her PERSUADE ME, second book in the Darcy & Friends series, has just been released today, 15th September. Meet Juliet Archer, read our chat about Jane Austen and her work, leave your reply to our final question and win a copy of this brand new novel!
Hello Juliet and welcome back to my little corner of the blogosphere!
It’s wonderful to be back at My Jane Austen Book Club! Thank you for inviting me, Maria, and ‘Hi’ to everyone out there. To introduce myself, I write updated versions of Jane Austen novels. So far, I’ve had two published: The Importance of Being Emma and Persuade Me. I describe myself as a 19th-century mind in a 21st-century body – actually, some days it’s the other way round!
Jane Austen and modernity. What would her wit’s favourite targets have been if she had written nowadays?
In some ways, I don’t think there’d be much change. Her novels are brilliant studies of how people interact with each other, especially how they fall in and out of love. But the social context is very different, and that’s where the change would be. For example, I can imagine her being intrigued by internet dating and social media! I also think the modern workplace would have provided plenty of material.
What would she have appreciated the most in our world, instead?
Plumbing, medicine and travel.
You know I’m a teacher to teenage students. Do you think she can still teach/be a model for nowadays youth?
Absolutely! I wrote The Importance of Being Emma with my then teenage daughter in mind. Once you remove the social context, you’re left with all the things that still influence relationships between men and women: the social/economic divide, first impressions, keeping/betraying secrets, jealousy, the attraction (and abuse) of power and status, etc.
Let’s play a bit. If you had the possibility to get lost in one of Jane Austen’s novels (like Amanda, the protagonist of LOST IN AUSTEN), which one would you choose? Why?
This is a really tricky one! I think perhaps the most fascinating would be the introspective, at times stifling world of Mansfield Park. I’d get to know Edmund and Henry better, then decide which of them deserves Fanny more – and meddle shamelessly to bring that about.
You wrote “The Importance of Being Emma”, your first successful Austen modernization. Many critics agree Emma is Jane Austen’s most successful literary achievement. Do you agree with them? Which is your favourite among the major six?
Another tricky one! Yes, I agree. I think Emma is Austen’s most flawed and least sympathetic heroine (although it’s a close call with Fanny on the second point!). So the fact that she gets her comeuppance when she thinks Mr Knightley is going to marry Jane, then Harriet, makes the novel more satisfying. The plot also has elements of other genres – farce and detective story – which disguise what’s really happening. Maybe that’s why I chose to write my modernisation in the first person, alternating between hero and heroine. They present the reader with such conflicting accounts of reality!
My favourite among the six? Whichever one I’m modernising! In each one, Austen’s genius works in different ways. But if I could take only one to a desert island it would be Pride & Prejudice.
The huge spreading of spin-offs, sequels, mash-ups is due to a desire to preserve Jane’s messages, atmospheres, techniques and prolong the pleasure, or more to the ambition to correct and adapt. What in her work is considered too distant or different?
Apart from the whole social context, very little – because she wrote about things that never change, the interactions between men and women. However, I regularly take ‘liberties’ in three areas. First, few of her characters have both parents around, and even then they’re rarely role models! That’s still true today – but because of the increase in marriage break-ups and step-families, rather than early death. Second, most of her brothers and sisters live together; in the modern world, however, we have the means and expectation to live away from our families. To address both of these differences, I usually fabricate a parent or two – even if they’re largely off stage, like George Knightley in The Importance of Being Emma – and reduce the degree of ‘fraternisation’: for example, in Persuade Me, Anna lives apart from her father and sister, and Wentworth only stays for the odd weekend with his sister and her husband. Finally, there’s the sex. In Austen it’s lurking under the surface (you can tell I’m a fan of Andrew Davies’s adaptations!) but never expressed; in my books it finds some expression, although I hope it’s never out of keeping with the story.
Isn’t the romantic aspect of her novels over-emphasized in the film versions or TV series we’ve seen so far? (not that I mind romance, but those romantic scenes in the movies are so often not at all Austen-style!)
Well, although I’m a big Andrew Davies fan, I have to be in the right frame of mind to watch his and other people’s adaptations, whereas I can always pick up one of Austen’s books – her writing style is understated and unsentimental, leaving so much to the imagination! Of course, the film/TV versions are portraying Austen through modern eyes, and often with commercial reality in mind. What they can’t really convey is the actual context of the books; they gloss over – often literally – the hardships of life in early 19th-century England, and the limited options open to most of Austen’s heroines. How many of Austen’s contemporaries would have turned down Darcy’s first proposal – especially if he was anything like Colin Firth or Matthew Macfadyen?!
The protagonists of your modern re-telling of Persuasion are Anna Elliot and Rick Wentworth. Do you think Anne and Wentworth are Austen’s most successful match among the many she tells about?
Yes. They are the only couple who’ve fallen in love before the story starts. In Persuasion, Austen describes how they work through the pain of their past, and address the distractions of the present, to earn that love all over again. So their relationship, though broken, is on a more solid footing from the start – because in the intervening years they’ve never found anyone else who measured up.
However, as Darcy and Lizzy go through a huge journey of self-discovery during Pride & Prejudice, I have to say that I think their match is equally successful.
Thanks a lot, Juliet, for being my guest. Good luck in your writing career and fingers crossed for the launch of Persuade Me, just published today!
And now a question for everyone: based on Anne and Wentworth’s broken engagement first time round in Persuasion, what do you think Jane Austen is saying about young love? If you want to be entered into the draw for a worldwide giveaway of Persuade Me, please include your email address when you reply in your comment! Giveaway ends on Sept. 21st.