Sally Smith O'Rourke is my guest today to present her new book, Yours Affectionately, Jane Austen. There's a giveaway for an e-book copy to giveaway in a contest open internationally (US readers can choose between e-book and paperback) Leave your comment + e-mail address to be entered. Deadline 2 November.
Now it's time to welcome Sally Smith O'Rourke at My Jane Austen Book Club!
Hello and welcome, Sally! How would you introduce your new book in about 50 words?
Was Mr. Darcy real? Is time travel really possible? Eliza Knight thinks so. But can Fitz Darcy, The Man Who Loved Jane Austen love ordinary Eliza Knight? Things begin to happen in Chawton, England that could change everything. Will the beloved author be the wedge that divides or the tie that binds Eliza Knight and Fitz Darcy?
Why did you decide to give your “The Man Who loved Jane Austen” a sequel?
It wasn’t so much a decision as a kind of accident. I planned on a companion piece, a journal ostensibly written by Jane Austen. It would be her impressions and perception of the five days the American Darcy was in Chawton in the spring of 1810 from The Man Who Loved Jane Austen. I began feeling terribly presumptuous writing as Jane Austen and then one day I wrote an entry ending with “I wonder what Mr. Darcy is doing right now.” I found myself writing just that¸ what the tall Virginian was doing at that moment and Yours Affectionately, Jane Austen grew from there.
How difficult was it to write Jane Austen as a character? Where did you draw your portrait of her from? Her work or her letters?
The answer to both of these questions is a complete immersion into everything I could find written by and about Jane Austen. I studied biographies, family memoirs, travel guides to the English countryside, books of etiquette of the era. I even read cookbooks and books on housekeeping. I wanted to capture her spirit and essence so read her letters many, many times. All the research in the world didn’t allow me to feel as though I could write as Jane but I definitely developed my own interpretation of who she was and how she lived and that’s what I wrote. All the research made it exceedingly enjoyable to write Jane and her story flowed naturally. It was not difficult at all but was a lot of fun.
Is Eliza, the heroine of your two novels, inspired to any Austen heroine?
Some of you may already know that The Man Who Loved Jane Austen was a collaboration with my late husband, Michael. It was a very personal project that he called the ultimate valentine because it came out of the love we had for each other. I lost him suddenly a year after we finished it. I set out to get it published because I didn’t want it to die with him. That said, I don’t want to sound egotistical, but Eliza is largely based on me, I was Mike’s inspiration and he was mine so Darcy is based on Mike. We wrote each other.
The name however, Eliza Knight is drawn from Jane’s work and life. Eliza is from Eliza Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. One of her brother’s, Edward was adopted by one of their mother’s wealthy, childless cousins so they would have an heir. Edward’s adopted name was Knight.
What do your modern American hero Fitz Darcy and the English Regency Fitzwilliam Darcy have in common ? In what do they differ, instead?
Since Yours Affectionately, Jane Austen delves into the complex nature of the modern Darcy I won’t go into details here. I will say that I went out of my way to use traits and attributes that Austen gave her Mr. Darcy to characterize my Mr. Darcy. Good and bad. Juxtaposed with the present day Darcy and his blossoming relationship with Eliza Knight is Jane’s summer following the publication of Pride and Prejudice and in Yours Affectionately, Jane Austen Jane tells us how the 21st century Darcy influenced her writing in Pride and Prejudice as well as her other novels
How difficult was to deal with time travelling between present day and the Regency while writing?
I’m a fan of time travel so writing it was fun. Once again immersion in books about the Regency era that included language and learning about day to day living and reading Georgette Hyer made it that much easier. Of course, reading Austen herself helped immensely.
What is the most difficult reality your contemporary characters face when they find themselves in 19th century in England?
In The Man Who Loved Jane Austen Darcy is the only character who goes back in time. In Yours Affectionately, Jane Austen one character comes forward from 1813 Chawton to present day. Darcy’s introduction to the 19th century was the primitive medical care he received and horrified him. They used leeches and bleeding on him, there was no aspirin for the raging head ache he had from the injury sustained in his entry through the time portal. However, the thing that disturbed him most was the extreme class and gender distinctions that caused even well-educated, liberal men like Edward Austen Knight to treat women like second class citizens and servants as third class citizens. Darcy’s strong sense of fairness and justice could not reconcile that with the treatment he received as a gentleman.
What would you love the best and what would you miss the most if you could live the same experience ?
If I could travel in time, the best part would be stepping into history, particularly the small everyday history of regular people. I’ve always loved history, even started collecting antiques when I was 12. Never thought to write them down but I would make up stories about the people who owned and used the pieces. I love old houses and imagine what life was like for the family living in them when they were new.
Almost any time in the past would be difficult for me, being a creature of comfort (in spite of my fascination with the past),I would be hard pressed to deal with the lack of amenities and conveniences we enjoy in the modern world.
That's all for now. Thank you so much Sally, for being my guest and for granting our readers a free copy for the giveaway contest as well as an excerpt from Yours Affectionately, Jane Austen!
Read an excerpt from the book
Yours Affectionately, Jane Austen
Although the sun was fully up in the Virginia summer sky, it was not yet hot. Fitz found jumping exhilarating; the cool morning air caressing his face, and Lord Nelson, so strong and graceful, took all the jumps with no effort.
Heritage Week was over so things could get back to normal. He shrugged. Whatever normal is. He realized there was a very good chance that his normal was about to change radically. Eliza’s letter—the one she had found written to him from Jane—had ended his search for the truth of his Regency encounter. But Eliza did much more than give him the letter.
He had been merely surviving, not living, in the years since his mother’s death. He’d thrown himself into the business of Pemberley Farms to the exclusion of almost everything else. Eliza’s arrival had heralded an acute awareness of that fact. It was as though a light was suddenly shining so he could see the world around him. She made him want to live again. And she had given him the letter… Jane’s letter.Fitz reined Lord Nelson to a walk as they entered the cool shade of the woods on the edge of his property.
Jane. He had spent more than three years seeking proof of his meeting with her and of her feelings for him. Almost as if he’d been transported again back to Chawton in 1810, the image of Jane’s sweet face flooded his mind. He thought back to that morning and his inauspicious entrance into Jane Austen’s life.
The combination of his head injury and the laudanum prescribed by Mr. Hudson, the Austen family physician, caused Darcy to slip in and out of consciousness. He tried to sit up, the effort making him dizzy.Jane gently laid a hand on his chest. “Please, Mr. Darcy, Mr. Hudson wants you to remain still.”Through a cotton mouth, his head spinning, Darcy asked, “Mr. Hudson?”“The doctor,” Jane said. “You must rest now Mr. Darcy.” The American looked at her face. Her curiosity was palpable even in his drugged state. Unable to think clearly, never mind responding to questions he wasn’t sure he could answer, he closed his eyes completely and turned his head away.
Jane returned to her vanity table where she continued to write; a single candle and the flames in the fireplace her only light. Interrupted in her writing by a low murmur from Darcy, she took the candle and quietly approached the bed. He was tossing back and forth, his face flushed and contorted; he was speaking in quiet tones, a hodgepodge of words that meant nothing to her. He spoke what she could only suppose were the nonsensical ramblings of a sick brain; she attributed words like television and jet to his head injury and delirium. She placed her hand softly on his cheek and was distressed by the heat radiating from him. Using fresh linen soaked in water from the pitcher on her wash stand, Jane swabbed his face and neck, then laid it across his forehead. It seemed to calm him and she went back to her writing.
Each time he grew restless Jane stopped writing and went to the bed to refresh the linen with cool water. After three episodes in close succession she remained on the edge of the bed so she was at hand, and each time he started to toss and turn she would caress his face and neck with the cool, damp linen in hopes that it would, in time, reduce his fever.She stayed there until Darcy’s features turned placid and he was breathing more evenly. He finally seemed to be sleeping comfortably. She laid her small, soft hand on his cheek. The fever was broken. She dropped the cloth into the basin. Stiff from sitting in one position for so long without support, she stood up and stretched. She was not particularly tired but needed to get some rest.
Quietly she crossed the wooden floor and slipped the small pages of writing she was working on into the drawer of the vanity, then took a nightgown from the closet next to the fireplace. Glancing back at the bed she stepped behind the screen.He opened his eyes just enough to see her slender, full-breasted figure silhouetted on the muslin screen, back-lit by the remnants of the fire as the light fabric of her nightgown floated down to envelope her.
Jane stopped at the bed before making her way to Cassandra’s room for a few hours of sleep. As she stood over him he watched surreptitiously through the veil of his eyelashes. She leaned down and whispered, “Good night, Mr. Darcy,” almost brushing his lips with her own. In spite of his continuing laudanum haze, he could see that her eyes were filled with a tenderness that caused him to grab her hand as she straightened up; he didn’t want her to go.
Without opening his eyes or letting go of her hand he said, “Please don’t leave me.”Unsure whether this was further evidence of the delirium or whether he was actually requesting her presence, she pulled her hand away. He did not move to take it again but said, “Please, stay.”Cognizant of Mr. Hudson’s admonition of keeping the injured American calm and concerned her leaving might agitate him, Jane sat once again on the edge of the bed. Darcy smiled in the flickering flame of the dying fire. He said nothing more but gently took her hand. He did not relinquish it again until she rose to move to a chair by the side of the bed where she finally slept.
The movement woke him. His mind finally clear of drugs, he scanned the room in the dim, pre-dawn light. There were no electrical outlets or switches, no lamps, television or telephone, and the only clock appeared to be pendulum driven. Everyone he’d seen wore costumes similar to the ones people wore to the Rose Ball. Those things and the medical treatment he had received led him to the inexplicable conclusion that somehow he’d fallen into another time—a time when Jane Austen was alive.And there she sat, serene in what had to be an uncomfortable position for sleep; his nurse, his savior and much prettier than she was depicted in the only portrait of her to survive to the twenty-first century. She was not the brazen hussy of Darcy family lore but a sweet and loving woman who took care of him without concern for her own safety or expecting anything in return. His mother would have said she was a true Christian.
As he watched her in the pale light of the dying embers his head started to throb as though a nail was being driven through it. He closed his eyes and blessed sleep overtook him. Jane was an incredibly strong, intelligent, willful and virtuous woman who followed the propriety of the day… mostly. During the last three years he’d often wondered what might have happened between them if he’d been forced to stay in early nineteenth-century England. Of course with the way her brothers felt about him, he probably wouldn’t have seen her again.
If the circumstances had been different would he have married her? He could have been happy with her, he supposed, but over the years he’d come to realize that the love he felt for her was based on who she was, the awe in which he held her, caring for him when she certainly didn’t have to, loving him. Then again, did she love him? She had never said it and the letter Eliza had found and given him showed obvious affection but she urged him to find his true love. Apparently she didn’t think she was it. Had they ever loved each other or had it just been a fling across the ages?
He laughed. What difference did any of it make? Jane Austen had been dead for almost two hundred years. Still, the undisputed icon of witty English romance had kissed him whether she loved him or not. He still had to pinch himself to believe it had ever happened.He had no such questions about Eliza. Everything felt right when he was with her. This was no fling. He had no idea where they were headed, but for the first time in years he was looking forward to the rest of his life. As long as Eliza was with him he didn’t care where they were headed.
Fitz and Lord Nelson crossed the bridge at a leisurely gait; the ground fog was burning off in the warm morning sun. Had it really been only two days since he and the great stallion were galloping across the bridge before the fog had lifted and run Eliza off the road and into a muddy drainage ditch? He hadn’t even realized she was there until it had happened. When he did, he brought Nelson to a stop and, without questioning who she was or why she was walking along a road on his property, he had lifted her onto Lord Nelson’s back and then swung up behind her. She was slightly light headed from the sudden fall, and once on the horse she had leaned against his chest and he’d had to control a strong desire to kiss the top of her head. He still didn’t understand how a complete stranger could make him feel that way, but he didn’t really care. From the first moment, being with her felt right and wonderful and that was all that mattered.
She had touched something in him that no one else ever had, including Jane, even before he knew her. At the Austen exhibit at the New York Public Library he had found himself staring at her. He laughed remembering that he had thought of her as a raven-haired beauty. Then two days ago she had come out of the fog and into his life.He had told her his story about jumping through a rift in time and meeting Jane Austen. It had been very difficult at first, but once he started it tumbled out and had been a relief that he wasn’t carrying it around anymore. It was as though a weight had been lifted and this slight, feisty New Yorker had done the lifting. She had listened to him with an intensity that had made her a part of the story. She had been kind and compassionate—he had seen real grief when she asked him about leaving Jane—and she had given him the letter that answered his questions about whether he’d actually met Jane Austen and how Jane felt about him.
Jane would always hold a special place in his heart, but Eliza held his heart. Maybe it was too early to take it all for love, but it certainly felt the way he'd always thought love is supposed to feel.
Horse and rider stepped out from the cool canopy of the woods and into the warm summer sun. Spurring his favorite horse to a full gallop Fitz guided him over every fence and stream on their way back to the barn.