Thursday, 1 September 2011

TALKING JANE AUSTEN WITH … Lady A~, Authoress of Merits and Mercenaries, the First Novel of The Bath Novels of Lady A~ (TBNLA) 7-Book Collection. Interview and giveaway.

'A lady' is, in fact, 'Lady A~'. Both are nom de plumes that were conversely and cleverly employed by Jane Austen to disguise her identity. This modern-day 'Lady A~/A Lady' not only pays homage to her literary muse in the wry anonymity of her pen name, but does so also in the purist 'Austenesque' style and genre of her work. Over a period of fifteen years she has convincingly created a unique companion collection, to JA's perfect six, of seven original novels entitled (collectively) The Bath Novels of Lady A~.  'A Lady/Lady A~' has been a scholar of Jane Austen's works for over three decades and, since publishing Merits and Mercenaries, the first of the Bath Novel 'Classic Companions', has established a dedicated, and steadily growing, 'Janeite' fan base across the globe, spanning America to The Netherlands.

        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? No. Mansfield Park is without question Jane’s finest novel. Though it is considered as the most prolix of the six, and its heroine, Fanny Price, has been described as a ‘prig Pharisee’, it is by far the most definitive opus of Austen’s oeuvre. The counter play of true villainy (the Norris hex, the Crawford duo, the Bertram hypocrisy, the Establishment ‘tyranny’, &c.) versus lowly, creep-mouse Fanny Price is the most intriguing and complex human story spun out through Austen’s subtle but all-felling pen. Fanny is a supremely intricate heroine and, although (like her creator) she is not easy to ‘catch in the act of greatness’, it is the very lack of the ‘light, bright & sparkling’ that establishes her most significant presence on Austen’s Stage. Through her, the masterful plot exposes all that is meritorious and mercenary in its host of world-worthy characters and superlative set pieces. Fanny makes everything ‘black’ or ‘white’, cutting through ‘appearance’ straight to ‘reality’ and without any of the ‘fan’-fare. She is the heroine that I think Austen really identified with—a character mediating between a world of ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’, while relying solely on the ‘better guide’ within herself against every opposing challenge. The brilliance of such satire is unparalleled. M.P. was the novel that first brought me to Austen (at age 15—I had an epiphany!) and remains my all-time JA favourite. It was also the chief inspiration for my first novel (and its title), ‘Merits and Mercenaries’.

         Do  you think that all these adaptations, both written and for the  screen, could alter, mislead  or even distort the interpretation of Austen’s work? At the risk of sounding ‘priggish’, and much like Fanny perhaps, I do think the quintessence of what is really ‘Austen’ has been lost from every adaptation of her work—although the ’95 BBC P&P adaptation may be the one ‘delicious’ exception. What we are reading and watching is ‘Austenesque’, not Austen. The subtlety of what Austen created is too ‘fine’ an art to be reproduced. That said, the overlying ‘icing’ on all of her six luscious cakes has been very ably exploited and we have all fallen very neatly into her clever, underlying  trap. The ‘ vehicles’ of ‘romance’ that drive the serious sub-text throughout her work are the very things that take us to the fundamental  moral meaning in the end, and no matter how well (or badly) her books are adapted.

       Jane Austen and modernity. What would her wit’s  favourite targets have been if she had written nowadays? I am convinced Austen had strong, independent political and philosophical sentiments that directly challenged those of her peers, family, &c.; after all she read the polemical likes of Bage and seemed (in her work) supportive of Wollstonecraft’s feminist views. Perhaps this is the reason why her relatives tried to paint a posthumous ‘portrait’ of her (albeit a mere silhouette) to the world of the exact opposite. If she lived today she probably would have been a celebrated, though anonymous, activist/satirist-extraordinaire who would have relished slicing into bankers, bigots and politicians alike.

        What would she have appreciated the most in our world, instead? The advancements of civil liberty and science. I hazard a guess she would have been quite thrilled over the notion of ‘emancipation’ and particularly fascinated, I think, with our cosmological discoveries. Her mention of ‘star-gazing’ in M.P. was not done on a whim. I conjecture that she often looked ‘up’ and questioned the origins of the boundless Universe, while contemplating her own existence in a very stifling, patriarchal realm.

      The Austen community online is crowded and widespread. What do you think of this odd match a Regency writer and the worldwide Net? ‘Odd’ aptly describes it. Austen was such a private person, even choosing anonymity in her authorship as ‘A Lady’, which the beau monde (suavely) changed to ‘Lady A—’. I am sure she would have been ‘grossly’ alarmed by the nature of what she unwittingly nurtured and would have clung obdurately to pen and paper, while keeping to her ‘Cottage’, if she could witness it. Although I am as much a part of the ‘alarm’, I often bewail  the interactive ‘bustle’ we have all created ‘around’ her, as we all clamour to climb on Jane’s ‘phaeton and four’.
      What is the peculiarity which makes Jane Austen’s genius unique? The wielding of simple words that swiftly transform into ‘swords’. She can strip the hide off a sycophantic parson or a pompous aristocrat without flinching—as they ‘bleed out’ before her—and in the most genteel fashion. Austen did not suffer fools gladly and I think she was something of a misanthropist. Her subtle delivery of this ‘disdain’ is, arguably, the very ‘brilliance’ of her genius.

       Why should we still read her novels according to you? What can we learn from them? (a question my students often ask me, why do we have to read the classics?) A complete no-brainer. Austen exposes the universal and fundamental failings and triumphs of the human condition, and without the lecture. She delivers the didactic message—but without ever ‘preaching’ it—and with consummate comedy. Her characters are exactly like people we all know, as are their trials and tribulations—that is what makes them interminably interesting. Her books are and will always be ‘companions’; friends that span time, class, creed and culture to take anyone and everyone to the same destination—humanity. This is why we must continue to read the classics, but most especially Austen.

       Was Jane Austen more a romantic girl or a matter-of- fact woman? A measure of both, I think. Undoubtedly there were dreams of love, consummation and emotional fulfilment, but I dare say, she looked at the rigours of marriage and what ‘a match’ meant, less ideally, for a woman. I can assure you she sized up the countless sufferings and casualties of childbirth against the rewards of love and congratulated herself, rather heartily, that she had avoided the (then) inevitable pitfalls of Regency ‘romance’.
      How would you advertise your book in less than 50 words?

      Witty modern classic with pure Austen sensibility—and (to quote a reviewer) ‘with a dash of [Wilkie] Collins’!

      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?

      Fanny Price, because like Jane, she goes her own wilful little way. I am extremely wilful!

        Let’s go on playing. Thinking of the perfect match among Austen characters. Which is the happiest couple among the ones Jane formed? The least happy couple?

      Happiest/ Anne & Wentworth. Least Happy/ ‘Hap-less!’ Mrs Norris and Maria Bertram!
      As a teacher of English literature to teenagers I always like asking about teaching Jane Austen or introducing her to a young contemporary audience. Any tips?

     6 provocative novels comprising ‘Sex, Lies, Intrigue and Money’?

     Which Austen Novel would you like to write a sequel for ? Why? None. Simply because the essence of what I love about Austen would be lost in my translation. Just suppose Austen had gone the way of prequels and sequels in her admiration of Edgeworth and Burney, writers whom she admired and read with gusto? We would now, for instance, be reading hybrids of Evelina, rather than lapping up the singularly brilliant Emma. Austen was clever enough to take that which made both Burney and Edgeworth celebrated and turn it into her own, independent celebrity. With such fine example and with enough of Jane’s literary DNA to set the scene, in my case, there was more reason to write seven Austenesque originals, rather than attempt six Austen sequels. After all, for my part, I think there is a much greater challenge in creating new literary families ‘relative’ to their Austen ‘cousins’ rather than recycling the latter; in a manner of speaking, it more candidly takes up the torch that Jane passed on in good faith.


Lady A. has graciously granted one lucky commenter a signed copy of "Merits and Mercenaries".
You should please leave  your comment here, and add your e-mail address as well , in order to enter the giveaway. The contest is open worldwide and ends on September 7th when the name of the winner is announced.
Good luck every one!

Any good question for Lady A.?


Margaret said...

Lady A's books sound wonderful! I'm adding them to my list! I'll keep my fingers crossed! Thank you for the giveaway!


phastings said...

Great interview. I agree with Lady A concerning Jane Austen's happiest and "hap-less" characters. Merits and Mercenaries sounds wonderful. Thanks for a chance

Anonymous said...

will add to my TBR list. Thanks for the giveaway.


buddyt said...

From the interview it seems the author is prepared to take on a very difficult task in her writing.

I would be interested in seeing if she has accomplished what she set out to do.

Thanks you for the giveaway.

Carol T

buddytho {at} gmail DOT com

Georgie Lee said...

Adding the book to my TBR list. Great interview with some wonderful insight into Jane Austen and her work.

Gayle Mills said...

Good post. Much to mull over.

marilyn said...

Can't wait to read Lady A's novels. Great post with thoughtful responses to the questions.

Farida Mestek said...

So happy to discover another Mansfield Park and Fanny Price fan! I totally agree with you on the merits and complexity of both. It's my favourite Jane Austen book and, perhaps, the book that best of all gives me the feel of really being there, if you know what I mean. I understand, identify and sympathise with Fanny more than with any other heroine. Funnily enough it was also that very fact - I saw Fanny as my exact twin - that put me off liking Mansfield Park when I was younger. It took me a while to really understand and appreciate the book, but I LOVE it now!

I would love to have the chance to read you book!

maribea said...

My lady, I would be delighted to read your book should I be so lucky to win this contest.
My very best wishes to you, Lady A.

Debbie Brown said...

I would love to win the signed copy of this book! Please add me in.

kescah ~at~ gmail ~dot~ com

Anonymous said...

This was a wonderful interview! Lady A, you certainly hit the nail on the head regarding Miss Austen. Please add me into your giveaway!

Lúthien84 said...

I have not heard of Lady A's works so thank you to both Maria and Lady A for highlighting it. Great interview btw.


Claudia said...

You mentioned Wilkie Collins and Jane Austen in the same sentence... I couldn't be more curious to read your book (I've just finished re-reading "The Law And The Lady"). What a great advertising! Thanks for the chance :)