THE GUEST : ELSA SOLENDER
Past president of the Jane Austen Society of North America, Elsa Solender worked as a journalist, editor and college teacher before turning to fiction. Her writing has appeared in a wide variety of publications including The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun and Persuasions, the Journal of the Jane Austen Society of North America. She was a prize-winner in the first Chawton House Library Jane Austen Story Contest, the only American whose work was included in the anthology of top 20 stories (Dancing with Mr. Darcy). She was a finalist in a Glimmertrain short fiction contest in 2009. As representative of an international women's organization to the United Nations in Geneva, she wrote and delivered the first-ever joint statement of all accredited women's non-governmental organizations on the right of women and girls to participate in the development of their countries. She lives and works in New York City.
Read through Elsa Solender's brilliant guest post below and leave your comment + e-mail address to get a chance to win her new book: Jane Austen in Love: an entertainment (e-book format for kindle reader or kindle for PC, any Mac or tablet ). This giveaway is open internationally and ends on March 13th.
In Search of a Perfect Partner
By Elsa A. Solender
“Who is William Darby, really?” asked my friend Victoria. She had just read an early draft of the section of my novel— Jane Austen in Love: AnEntertainment— that I would later title “A Suitable Partner.”
My reply was that “William Darby danced effortlessly into my consciousness, then sprang fully formed from my laptop, like Athena from the head of Zeus.”
My friend uttered a sound somewhere between a snort and a sigh.
Also a writer, she believes that novelists base all their fictional characters on real people, whether consciously or not.
To a certain extent, I agree: I have always been skeptical of assurances from Jane Austen’s family that she never drew her characters from life.
Just think what the neighbors would say if they recognized similarities between their own eccentricities and those of, say, Mr. Elton, Mr. Collins, Miss Bates, Lady Catherine de B. or Aunt Norris?
Victoria suggested: “I think he looks rather like Steve Lawrence the director of Chawton House Library.”
“Possibly,” I said. My laptop and I have worked at CHL.
My William Darby also looks —in my own mind —something like one of my sons (I have two, both handsome, clever, prosperous and married to accomplished women with minds of their own. Reader Alert: That last statement was not a digression).
My plan in writing the novel had been to expand upon the story that had won me a prize in the Chawton House Library Short Story Competition about a single event in what the principal judge, novelist Sarah Waters, called “Jane Austen’s romantic career.” My objective as I wrote of William Darby was to create a male character worthy of Jane Austen’s love and esteem, a character that she –and my readers and I — might fall in love with.
I had to keep in mind, however, that I could not write a conventional romance in which my hero and heroine might be made to undergo some trials and tribulations before uniting and living happily ever after. Mine would be a biographical /historical novel, dramatizing the known events and individuals in Jane Austen’s life while using my fiction-writer’s privilege to fill in some of the most intriguing blanks of her life story plausibly, but without changing the inevitable outcome. My William Darby was intended as a fictional tribute of sorts to thank Jane Austen for many hours of joy that her work has given me. I also wanted to portray her as a woman ultimately content with choices that she made in her “romantic career.”
I agreed with my friend Victoria that I could not develop a credible partner for my fictional Jane Austen without drawing upon my knowledge of the men she admired during her lifetime, including her brothers. I would need to speculate, in particular, about the identity as well as the character and personality of the gentleman —probably a clergyman— who had reportedly captured her heart during a month’s holiday at the seaside. Jane’s sister Cassandra declared that particular young man so charming that he was worthy even of the young Jane Austen – but she carefully suppressed his identity when she consigned to the fire the better part of Jane’s correspondence and no doubt her own.
Was that mysterious man a model for one or more of Austen’s fictional heroes? I knew I needed to consider seriously the qualities she gave to the men she invented as I invented my own particular gentleman at Sidmouth.
“Well, I would have to rule out Edmund Bertram right away even though he was a clergyman: We simply should not suit.”
Similarly, Edward Ferrars never particularly inspired me, and while my William Darby might someday come to resemble Emma’s Mr. Knightley, he doesn’t in my novel.
I do admire Henry Tilney’s dancing and his candid admission that he is a reading man. His clever repartee is just what I like in a partner, dancing or not. He seems to have a lively and benevolent disposition.
I respect Capt. Frederick Wentworth for his enterprising spirit, his passion and his worldliness. As a self-made man, the breadth of his experience beyond the confines of his own country must surely have made him more tolerant of others from different classes and backgrounds than he would have been otherwise. [I wish I didn’t know as much as I do of what the commander of a ship felt compelled to do to impose seaworthiness and discipline on his crew. Pace, Patrick O’Brian.]
Finally, I admire so very much about Fitzwilliam Darcy, but nothing so much as his willingness to change himself in order to win his Elizabeth.
I told my friend Victoria, finally, that “My William Darby is all of those men, and none of them, at the same time. He may even possess something of myself in his nature, as must all my characters.”
“Then who is your Jane Austen, really?” she asked.
“Oh, that is another story entirely,” I said.
To find out, I invited her to read the complete novel —available as an e-Book for the Amazon Kindle, but downloadable to be read on any computer or tablet with the free Kindle app—and to let me know what she thought. I extend the same invitation to other readers.
In advance of reading the novel, I recommend looking up the meaning of that endlessly fascinating word that we all learned and played with as kids: antidisestablishmentarianism.
THE BOOK: JANE AUSTEN IN LOVE, AN ENTERTAINMENT
Fall in love with the gentleman at Sidmouth who won Jane Austen's heart, as Elsa Solender fills in the blanks of Jane Austen's romantic “career.” In this continuation of her prize winning short story, Austen enthusiasts will find the known facts of Austen’s life meticulously brought to life in a narrative that is rich in elegant Austenian turns of phrase and references. The rest of the story— as it might have happened— is told by the only possible narrator, one who knew Jane Austen intimately enough to dare to enter her consciousness and reveal missing and hidden details with a persuasive touch of the novelist’s own wit, style and insight. Sometimes poignantly, sometimes ironically, readers meet colorful characters as they educate, inspire and amuse the creator of six of the world’s most memorable novels. Finally, in her biographical “entertainment,” Solender gives Jane Austen the gift of a true love worthy of her genius.