Susan Mason-Milks’ eclectic career includes teaching high school English, working as a communication consultant, conducting management and leadership classes, and as a career counselor, helping people decide what they want to do when they grow up. Although writing has been part of her work for years, Mr. Darcy’s Proposal is her first work of fiction. She is currently a member of Austen Authors, a group of authors who all write Austen-related fiction. In addition to writing, her other loves include singing in a women’s a cappella chorus, reading, and yoga. She currently lives in Seattle with her husband and their four very naughty cats.
Read our Austen-related chat and leave your comments to this post. There's an amazing giveaway contest you can enter simply adding your e-mail address. Read the details below, at the end of the post.
Welcome on My JA Book Club, Susan! I’m very happy you’ve joined our on line club and you accepted to talk Jane Austen with me.
This is my first question for you: when and how did you come to write a Pride and Prejudice “what if” story?
In my bio for Mr. Darcy’s Proposal, I confessed to not liking Pride and Prejudice the first time I read it in the eighth grade. I know it’s blasphemy, but it’s true. I’m still not sure why, but I’m very grateful, that like Elizabeth Bennet, I got a second chance. I fell in love with Jane Austen after watching the 1995 movie version of Pride and Prejudice. I immediately rushed out and read all her other books—and then read them again. I just couldn’t get enough of Jane! Some time after that, I discovered fan fiction, and after reading many, many of those stories, decided I wanted to write a story, too.
If I say ... Mr. Darcy, what is the first image that comes to your mind?
Physically, I think of Darcy as played by Colin Firth. In terms of who he is as a person, I feel as if by retelling his story, I’ve come to know him quite well. He is, above all, an honorable man. Pretty much the classic introvert, he often hides behind a protective façade because he’s terribly shy and uncomfortable around people he doesn’t know. At times he can be quite eloquent, but to him a conversation must be about a topic of mutual interest or have a specific purpose. Conversation for its own sake is a real challenge for him. Remember, Mrs. Reynolds who knows him well said, “Some people call him proud; but I never saw anything of it. To my fancy, it is only because he does not rattle away like other young men.”
The point of view in Mr. Darcy’s Proposal primarily alternates between Darcy and Elizabeth. In many scenes, the story unfolds first from Elizabeth’s perspective, and then shifts to Darcy’s point of view to look at his side of the same interaction. I think it’s a great way to emphasize how they continually misunderstand each other. There are so many times when they look at the same situation and see two completely different things. Inevitably, the misunderstandings continue until they begin to talk to each other rather than just make assumptions. There are moments in the story where you just want to scream, “Talk to each other!”
Several people have commented that when reading this story, they were really frustrated with both Darcy and Elizabeth because they didn’t communicate. My first thought was, “If you think you were frustrated, just imagine how they felt!”
This question made me think quite a bit about what the word “hero” means. In mythology, the hero traditionally must go on “the hero’s journey.” He (or she) leaves the comfort of his home and ventures out to face a challenge—maybe slay a dragon or two? After that, he returns home and uses the knowledge he gained to help others. In Darcy’s case, the journey is not out into the world—it’s into himself.
When Elizabeth turns down his proposal and tells him in no uncertain terms what she thinks of him, he’s forced to look at himself through someone else’s eyes. In some ways, he sees himself for the first time. It would be easy for him to continue his life as before, but he can’t ignore the awakening he experiences following her rejection. We know Darcy is basically a really good person. He’s loyal, always taking care of the people he loves, and he has a strong moral sense of right and wrong. Part of his challenge is to modify his outward behavior so people are able to see more of who he really is. Darcy has the opportunity to show how he’s changed when he meets Elizabeth again at Pemberley, and he takes it. Another important part of his journey is to learn empathy and compassion. I think this happens when he helps Lydia in order relieve the pain her elopement has caused Elizabeth.
What I really like about Darcy is that he makes the choice to act differently because he knows it’s the right thing to do. Going back to being his old self is not an option. At the time, he has no idea Elizabeth will ever give him a second chance. Some people would say he changes for her, but I like to think changes because of her, which is quite different.
What aspect in Mr. Darcy’s personality do you especially highlight in your own version of Pride and Prejudice?
I like to think Darcy has a sense of humor that’s almost equal to Elizabeth’s. It’s always been there, but she helps bring it out. He always appears perfectly in control, but actually he’s a man of very deep feelings. It’s not that he feels too little, but that he almost feels too much. I like to think being around Elizabeth helps him to relax and loosen up a bit. As this happens, his sense of humor comes out even more.
My second favorite Austen novel is Persuasion. I’ve read several retellings from Captain Wentworth’s point of view and one or two modern adaptations that were well done, but I think there’s still a lot more to explore with those characters.
Do you think the wide-spread interest in Austen fan fiction is due to a desire to preserve Jane’s messages, atmospheres, techniques and prolong the pleasure, or more the result of some writer’s ambition to correct and adapt what in her work is considered too distant or different?
I think it’s the former. It seems to me modern authors who write sequels, variations, etc., are trying to recapture the magic they feel when reading Austen’s work. Since there’s only a limited amount of Jane – just six completed novels – once you’ve read those, there’s simply no more and that’s very hard to accept. It seems we just can’t get enough of her characters. Jane is truly unique, and can’t be replaced. The way I see it, writing using Austen’s characters is a form of tribute to her. I enjoy writing these stories because I get to spend more time with the characters I’ve come to love.
Do you think that all these adaptations, both novels and screen adaptations, could alter, mislead or even distort the interpretation of Austen’s work?
I think some fans have only seen the movies but never read Austen’s books. While some of the movie adaptations are wonderful, nothing is as good as the real thing. I’m afraid over time some people will forget the movies are not the original source and miss out on the rich experience of reading Austen’s words. A few times, I’ve run across people who are shocked to find certain events portrayed in the movies never occurred in the books. I admit I’ve even had to double-check myself to make sure a scene or quote is in the book, not just the movie script!
Someone who hasn’t read the original books might think Austen was just a romance writer, but she’s so much more. Over and over she touches on social and personal issues that both comment on the times she lived in, and transfer to our own lives.
Why do we still read JA’s novels in your opinion? What can we learn from them?
I think we read Austen because even though customs and manners have changed, basic human nature has not. Who doesn’t know people who are like Wickham or Mr. Collins, or some members of Elizabeth’s family?
Was Jane Austen more a romantic girl or a matter-of-fact woman?
Let’s look specifically at marriage. Even though most of her stories end with a wedding, Austen’s work is filled with evidence of the effects of unfortunate choices in marriage. Mr. Bennet may have married Mrs. Bennet because he loved her at one time, but he no longer respects her. She’s something of an embarrassment to him, and he basically ignores her. Early in Pride and Prejudice when Charlotte and Elizabeth are discussing marriage, Charlotte says that just because you think you know the person beforehand, it doesn’t ensure a happy ending. “Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance” according to Charlotte. Basically, Elizabeth laughs and says to her friend, “You know it is not sound, and that you would never act in this way yourself,” but we all know, that in fact, Charlotte does marry simply for the security of a comfortable home. It’s a sad commentary that Charlotte believes it’s her only choice. On the other hand, Darcy and Elizabeth decide they will be the happiest couple in the world, and we’d like to believe it just might be true.
How would you advertise your book, Mr. Darcy’s Proposal, in less than 50 words?
Here’s what I think Elizabeth Bennet would say to sum up Mr. Darcy’s Proposal, “I had always hoped to find a man I could respect and love and have the privilege of marrying him. I just never imagined the marriage would come before the love.”
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Leave your comments or questions for Susan, add your e-mail address and specify if you want to be entered for the paperback or the ebook edition (read details above carefully). This giveaway contest ends on February 10, when the winner is announced.
Visit Susan Mason-Milks at her Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/masonmilks or stop by her personal blog www.austen-whatif-stories.com or the Austen Authors web site at www.austenauthors.net.