My guest for a pre-Christmas session of "Talking Jane Austen with ..." is Barbara Tiller Cole, author of a perfect season Austen-reading like "Fitzwilliam Ebenezer Darcy".
Read through our interesting chat and leave your comments to get the chance to win a signed copy. The giveaway details are below in the post. Enjoy and good luck!
Welcome back to our online club, Barbara! Let's start with one of my favourite questions about Jane Austen. What would her wit’s favourite targets have been if she had written nowadays?
Jane loved to look at intriguing characters and enjoyed commenting on social structure and class distinctions. Today, the classes might not be as harshly divided as they once were, but variations in social standing still exist. These distinctions would still have fascinated her and attracted her impertinent nature.
I imagine she would have particularly enjoyed sharpening her wit on celebrities—and would have enjoyed pointing out the differences between an Oscar winning actor and a reality show star on Survivor or the Jersey Shore or Housewives. Can’t you imagine her observations on the silliness of ‘reality show stars’—laughing at their foibles and over exaggerated hijinks, as well as those who spend their lives watching them?
Perhaps she would have been a guest at Prince William’s royal wedding, and while, as in her day, she might not have commented directly about the royals out of respect, I imagine that the outrageous hats would have made their way into Caroline Bingley’s and Mrs. Elton’s wardrobes. She, J.K. Rowlings and Stephanie Meyers would perhaps have been the best of friends, and enjoyed discussing all the fan fiction variations of their works over tea. If she were writing today, I imagine she would have been on the set for the filming of her next epic—perhaps directed by Kathryn Bigelow (first woman to win an Oscar for Best Director), the Cohen Brothers, or Ron Howard; gathering fodder for her next novel, as she examined the wide variety of characters in the cast and crew.
I do imagine that she would have found herself on top of the best seller list, and would be enjoying her success in a more public way than in her own century. She would have a Facebook page, a Facebook author fan site, a web page of her own and a blog, and would regularly be tweeting to her adoring fans. I am SURE that she would have loved Colin Firth’s embodiment of her beloved Pride and Prejudice more than Matthew MacFadyen’s (and I, obviously, am stating my own preferences in this matter.)
When did you first read Jane Austen?
In my high school humanities class, and I fell in love with Austen’s work. My mother always encouraged me to improve my mind by extensive reading, and I was most often to be found with my head in a book. After reading the novels while in high school, my mother and I managed to find a few Jane Austen sequels even back then (and no, I am not going to tell you when back then was, as we ladies never give away our true age).
The next time I read her works was after I had major surgery in the year 2000. A friend loaned me her VCR tape version of the BBC/A&E Pride and Prejudice mini series. I DO know I can attribute my restored health, at least in part, to being able to watch Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy over and over. I read ALL of Jane Austen’s novels during my recovery, and then found Austen sequels and online communities. My obsession was born, and this recovery period did create the birth of my desire to write.
You know I’m a teacher to teenage students. Do you think she can still teach/be a model for nowadays youth?
Yes I do. I recently spent time with a young fifteen year old girl who is a friend of the family. She loves Jane Austen’s classics and is attempting to do some writing of her own. She recently went to New York City just to see the Pride and Prejudice musical that was a part of the New York Theatre Festival. She told me that she loved the historical aspect of Miss Austen’s novels. We discussed the influence that Jane Austen had on the recognition of women in the literary world, as well as learning how to craft a story through reading Austen’s works.
I admire you for your vocation, as well as anyone that works in the field of education. I do believe that Jane Austen is still a teacher as well as a role model. I am very grateful for my own learning experience, especially for those special teachers who provided me with a thorough education preparing me to be an accomplished lady in our century. To be truly accomplished today, has very little to do with netting purses and covering screens, or our manner of walking. I imagine if you asked the question to some of your students, they might believe it has more to do with the ability to text, tweet, blog and chat. However, I believe that those who are going to succeed in the future will know how to craft a letter with complete words and sentences. In this age of texting, ROTFLMAO might be all some know of complete sentences. A thorough knowledge of history, literature, science, math (without calculators), and foreign languages will be to their advantage; and, of course, to all this we must add improving their minds through extensive reading.
Jane Austen, in many ways, was before her time. In a day when proper ladies did not work in any capacity, she utilized her talents to provide for herself and her mother. She fearlessly followed her dream and vision, and did not give into fear. Her ability to use her wit and education to entertain others, while providing social commentary is an excellent example to any writer.
The protagonist of your new book is Mr Darcy. What is so special about him to make him a hero beyond time?
Mr. Darcy is the quintessential romantic male character of all time, in my estimation. In a 2009 survey, conducted by Entertainment Weekly to search for the most romantic character in literature of all time, both Mr. Darcy and Mark Darcy (who was the romantic lead in a modern version of Pride and Prejudice) were in the top 10. Many believe Mr. Darcy to be number one.
If Mrs. Bennet were doing this interview with you, I am sure that she would say the reason is that he is rich—a man of property with many fine carriages, a gorgeous estate and a house in town—as well as handsome. Honestly, I am sure that his bank account and his sex appeal are part of an almost universal attraction to him.
I think the overall reason that he is a hero beyond time is that he was willing to change. Mr. Darcy was a man that had everything he could ever want, except the love of a woman he wanted to be his wife. Guess what? He changed in order to secure her love. Think about all the changes that he made. He overcame his prejudices about social order and class distinctions among the ton. He allowed himself to be vulnerable and stop hiding behind his mask of indifference in order to be approachable and more acceptable to Elizabeth’s friends and family. He risked a great deal to find Wickham and Lydia and make them marry, including his tremendous financial assistance in this matter. He let go of his pride, by allowing others to take credit for his good deeds, wanting Elizabeth to love him for himself and not out of gratitutde.
How many women long to have a man who would be willing to change to be all that she wanted? Yes, it may be a fantasy, but it is a fantasy that has kept women (and yes, some men) obsessed for almost 200 years. For me, I would just love for my husband to remember to put the toilet seat down. Actually he is much better since a friend suggested that I leave it up for him. Ironically, it took him a month to notice. Now, at least most of the time, it is down. I like to imagine that Elizabeth would have tried that very impertinent trick.
Thinking of the perfect match among Austen characters. Which is the happiest couple among the ones Jane formed? The least happy couple?
Pride and Prejudice is definitely my favorite among Austen’s novels, hence I tend to think of characters of that particular novel first. Oh, I am sure that Emma and her Mr. Knightley were very happy together. I know that Elinor was ecstatically happy with Edward, and Anne and Captain Wentworth sailed away into the sunset. But I think that Mr. and Mrs. Darcy had the happiest life together. Why do you ask? They had more to overcome in order to find each other. As Mrs. Darcy’s philosophy was to think of the past only as the remembrance gives you pleasure, I am sure that pleasure and happiness was what they found together.
As to the least happy couple? My first thought was Caroline Bingley and whomever eventually married her. But I don’t know that that is really true. Some may think it was Charlotte Collins as she had to marry the ridiculous parson, but she was not romantic and seemed to be content to have her own home.
My answer may be a surprising one to some. I would chose Jane and Charles Bingley. They were both weak characters in my estimation. Charles never had the gumption to make decisions for himself. He was easily led. Jane was used to being the prettiest, the most genteel, the apple of her mother’s eye. I have always suspected that Mr. Darcy was right when he said that he never sensed any particular regard in her, as she did not have real feelings of her own. Maybe the Bingleys were content with each other, but I suspect that they never had a true depth to their relationship.
And now questions about your book! Pride and Prejudice meets A Christmas Carol in your 'Fitzwilliam Ebenezer Darcy'. Hence, Austen meets Dickens. Do you think they share much as writers or are they more dissimilar?
Charles Dickens wrote his novel, A Christmas Carol, in 1843—approximately 30 years after Pride and Prejudice was written. So, even though both books were written in 19th Century England, the time period was different and society was changing with the industrial age. Dickens’ main character was male, while Jane Austen’s was female; and the source of their angst was different. I believe Dickens to be a much darker writer, and focused on social/political issues versus character foibles and development.
As for the similarties, I think both authors created intricate characters. Fitzwilliam Darcy and Ebenezer Scrooge had complicated, burdened personalities, and both changed a great deal as a result of outside intervention. Their characters were challenged to take a hard look at themselves during the course of their respective novels. Both of the heros decided to transform due to the ‘intervention’ of others. Ultimately, both found happiness. So I do think that there were many similarities between the two authors, at least when we look at these two particular novels.
I really can’t see Mr Darcy as grumpy, old, mean Ebenezer Scrooge. How much did you change of our beloved Austen hero?
Fitzwilliam Ebenezer in my story does not have the character of Ebenezer Scrooge. He is NOT a miser. He is not determined to ONLY work and make money, and he does not abuse those who work for him. Darcy is miserable and isolated from family by his own choice. He has failed to attain his first love, and has given up on any hope of happiness. I won’t give everything away, but during the course of the book Darcy sees himself and others in a new way during the visitation of ghosts. He believes he has no choice other than change, just as Scrooge did in A Christmas Carol. He is transformed through the visions that he is shown.
The story takes place the Christmas after he assisted in the Wickham wedding. So, he is not an old man. He is still the same handsome, rich man he was in the canon story, but has lost all hope and has fallen into miserable self-pity and inconsolable drunkenness. It is in this state of wretchedness that our ghosts visit him at Pemberley.
So grumpy and devoid of hope—yes. Old and mean—no.
How did the idea of this medley come to your mind?
I love holiday movies, and in 2008 I watched at least ten different versions of A Christmas Carol over a long weekend. I called it the ‘Christmas Carol Festival’ at the time. From George C. Scott to Susan Lucci, and Kelsey Grammer to Jim Carrey, I enjoyed the portrayals. It was during the Bill Murray version—called Scrooged—that I thought of doing this story. It was the Ghost of Christmas Past that solidified my vision for the story. I hope that, as in Scrooged, my story has the right touch of lightness and humor to complement the transformation of Darcy’s character as —like Elizabeth Bennet—I dearly love to laugh.
What about the language you decided to use? Is it more wit and irony in Austen style or more melodramatic and/or comic in Dickens’s style?
I will let the reader decide for themselves on what they believe to be the most signficiant elements I utilized during the story—but I attempted to develop a mixture of both. I hope the story has the wit and irony of Austen, but there are some melodramatic scenes of deep sadness within the story, as well as some comedic elements. After all, Darcy needs a reason to WANT to change. At the beginning of this tale, he has given up all hope. It takes a bit of both styles to provide Darcy with enough motivation to want to make a transformation.
How would you recommend your book to our readers in about 50 words?
If you desire to read a Holiday story about transformation of character and spirit, in which its title character is allowed to see himself and to change. If you wish for an opportunity to give and receive forgiveness and begin again—while laughing—Fitzwilliam Ebenezer Darcy is for you.
Those that comment on this post will be given the opportunity to win a copy of the book, signed by the author. National and International alike can enter. The giveaway contest ends on December 29 when the winner is announced.
Pride and Prejudice meets A Christmas Carol: A Jane Austen/Charles Dickens crossover story, Fitzwilliam Ebenezer Darcy takes the best of both classics and spins them into a delightful Holiday treat! F.E. Darcy has fallen into pitiful self-loathing and sorrowful angst-ridden despair; all of this due to his belief that he has lost forever the chance to marry the only woman he has ever loved—Elizabeth Bennet. Seeing her son in such a state, the Ghost of Anne Darcy reaches out to him; informing him that three ghosts would visit him and give him hope. Will these Spirits provide him with the courage to try again to win the esteem of his one true soul mate? Barbara Tiller Cole, an Atlanta native and the writer of the popular book White Lies and Other Half Truths, presents this family friendly classic—a delightful combination of the best of her two favorite authors, Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. Barbara credits her parents with fostering a love for both of these authors. Each Christmas, Barbara’s father would sit and read Dicken’s classic A Christmas Carol to the family. Her mother consistently challenged her to improve her mind by extensive reading, Jane Austen style. This book is dedicated to the memory of Cliff and Jeanne and the season they loved the best.
AUTHOR BIO NOTE
Barbara Tiller Cole, an Atlanta native and the writer of the popular book 'White Lies and Other Half Truths' (an adult farce inspired by Pride and Prejudice) has just released 'Fitzwilliam Ebenezer Darcy'--a delightful combination of the best of her two favorite authors, Jane Austen and Charles Dickens.
Barbara credits her parents with fostering a love for both of these authors. Each Christmas, Barbara's father would sit and read Dickens's classic, 'A Christmas Carol', to the family. Her mother consistently challenged her to improve her mind by extensive reading, Jane Austen style. Her next novel, 'Elizabeth Bennet, Darcyholic', is coming soon.
You'll find Barbara Tiller Cole on line at her blog - An Austen Adventure or Facebook Author Fan Page