Wednesday, 12 December 2012

SPOTLIGHT ON ... A JANE AUSTEN DAYDREAM BY SCOTT D. SOUTHARD

The Book

Jane Austen thought she knew everything about love, but was there something she wasn't telling us?

A self-confessed dreamer, gossip, and matchmaker, Jane emerges from a prophetic meeting with gypsies and sets out to discover her soul mate. As Jane writes through the twists and turns of her turbulent romances, Southard ponders the question faced by many devoted readers over the years - did she ever find love? What would the story of that love be like if Jane could write it?

Binding fact with fiction, courting brave new literary twists, and written in the style of Jane Austen herself, A Jane Austen Daydream is the tale of Jane's life as a novel. It contemplates the eventual fate of Jane's heart, and uses her own stories to fill the gaps that history left to the imagination.


The author

Scott D. Southard, the author of A Jane Austen Daydream, swears he is not obsessed with Jane Austen. He is, however, also the author of the award-winning novels, My Problem With Doors, Megan, and 3 Days in Rome. His eclectic writing has also found its way into radio, being the creator of the radio comedy series The Dante Experience. The production was honored with the Golden Headset Award for Best MultiCast Audio and the Silver Ogle Award for Best Fantasy Audio Production. Scott received his Master's in writing from the University of Southern California. Scott can be found on the internet via his writing blog "The Musings & Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard" where he writes on topics ranging from writing, art, books, TV, writing, parenting, life, movies, and writing. He even shares original fiction on the site (currently creating a novel in "real time" with one fresh chapter a week; it is entitled Permanent Spring Showers). His blog can be found at http://sdsouthard.com. Currently, Scott resides in Michigan with his very understanding wife, his patient two children, and a very opinionated dog named Bronte.


Read the first two chapters from A Jane Austen Daydream


Chapter I

Jane Austen was born to a large family in a little house in a little village. Her father was the reverend and the schoolmaster. He was a kind man, conservative, but warm. His wife was also a fine lady, but it can be said (and it has, although not always to her face), that she could be more calculating and vocal than her husband. While he had the attention of the town at his pulpit each Sunday, the rest of the days belonged to her. She was an attentive neighbor to all and there was little that went on in the town that she was not aware of. The ways of the town were like a chess match for her, a game to be observed and plotted over. If a young lady in the town (and its neighboring villages, for she did not discriminate) was to become engaged, Mrs. Austen would know of it, often before the mother of the young lady. Yes, it can be said that she was remarkably quick in the discovery of attachments, and had enjoyed the advantages of raising the blushes and vanity of many a young lady by the insinuation of her powers over such a young man. With most of her children respectably married, Mrs. Austen had nothing more to do but marry the rest of the world, projecting marriages among all the young people of her acquaintance. It was a game she loved to discuss with anyone who cared to listen, and she had an opinion on each of the possible moves that could be made by any of her pawns.
If there was one talent that matched - or possibly outshone - Mrs. Austen’s ability to spread stories through the community, it was her ability to procreate. The Austen family was large, with eight children in total. There were six young Austen men and two women, a number the Reverend found fitting, even though Mrs. Austen found it usually tiring. At the beginning of this tale, only three of Jane’s siblings were still in the rectory and therefore bear mentioning now.
It can never be said enough the importance of Cassandra, Jane’s older sister. Cassandra was Jane’s voice of reason, her best friend and confidante. Two years Jane’s elder, Cassandra presented an image Jane wished she could mirror. Yes, Jane idolized Cassandra in many ways. She respected Cassandra’s composure and envied her mind and wit, for it seemed to her that she knew how to properly act in any given situation. She was a model for Jane to work towards, albeit a model she knew in her heart she could never achieve.
Henry, one of Jane’s many older brothers, was probably the most questionable of Jane's siblings. His parents, when they discussed him at all, blamed London for corrupting their boy. Why would a boy, of such intelligence and religious upbringing, be drawn to gaming and reckless behavior?
They certainly could not blame themselves, so, for them, the blame lay in that vast unknown of London. Yes, it was London that taught him to enjoy gaming and the more friendly women of London society (the ones, Mrs. Austen pointed out, who laughed with their mouths open). Yes, London was to blame for his departure from the university, his subsequent return, and second departure. His father, whenever his thoughts turned to his wayward son would now use the term "scoundrel." It was the worse word he could dare allow himself to use about one of his own children. Of course, Henry's history and rascally behavior only endeared him more to Jane. If asked, Jane would admit (even with her father in the vicinity) that Henry was her favorite of all her brothers and, if she had been a boy, she might have been just like him for, to her, his life sounded fun and wonderfully free.
At the time of the start of our tale, Henry was living at home again. He had left university to reconsider, once again, his options for his future. For the time being, this meant smoking, visiting the pub, and sharing wit with Jane. When forced to explain her brother and his current direction in his life, Jane would merely say that “there is a great deal of wine drank in Oxford."
Finally, and not at all least(if someone was to present Charles as the least, they certainly would regret it later), was Charles. By the age of eight, he had already been marked as trouble by the local townsfolk. Now, at ten, he wore that badge proudly.
Charles had an obsession with the military and not only dreamed of becoming an officer, but already considered himself one, even without the assignment and proper papers. On any given day, he and the fellow members of his "regiment" could be found marching through the streets of the village, protecting everyone from an imminent attack of the French, or so they wished to believe.
Not a week would go by when Charles did not ask for his own gun, and not a week would go by that his father would wisely say no. Jane's relationship with her brother was one of space. She believed, when forced to think about him, that his antics were that of a young male mind in growth, and it was best for her safety to keep him at a distance until his much needed sensibility arrived. There was a time she used to play with him in his war games. His favorite to play with her then was called "Joan of Arc" and they played it for many years - until little Charles learned how to start a fire.
These are the most important characters in Jane Austen's world at the turn of the 19th century. And at this moment, at this precise time in the telling, they are each deep asleep awaiting the dawn and the beginning of this tale. This is the quiet moment. The moment when the world and all the players in it await for the sign to begin. This is the moment when life shakes off the deathlike aspect of sleep and again rises to walk through the story of a life.
Soon their lungs will be breathing in deep the air of a new England morning. Soon they will each start the chores and labors of their days that they have done so many time before. Soon they will eat, laugh, talk, and walk through their streets, halls, and valleys again, experiencing life as they once did.
And for all that to begin, it only takes a hint of the sun’s rays to signal the cock in the Austen barn to crow. 

Chapter II

"Attention, please. Could I please have your attention?"
Rev. Austen reached down towards the table, picked up his salad fork, and rapped it against his glass for attention at that evening’s dinner. He continued to do so until each of the members of his family ended their conversations and turned to face him. Young Charles was the last to do so and seemed particularly upset by having his story interrupted. The Reverend hit the glass one more time for good measure and looked across at his now quiet family.
"It has come to my attention, or, to say it more bluntly, it is has been presented to me, that the young women of the Austen family are no longer children," he said.
Mrs. Austen sat up straighter and looked smugly at the rest at the table
"Is that a compliment, Cassandra," Jane asked across the table to her sister, "or is he about to ask us to slow down our aging? I cannot dare to speak for you, but Mother Nature rarely listens to me on such matters. "
"Jane, please," Mr. Austen said, "you have both reached a time in your life when you should no longer be thinking of the frivolous things you plan your days around, but consider the idea of - the sanctity of - marriage."
Cassandra and Jane glanced at each other for direction, and when they both were not able to find such help in each other’s eyes they turned their attention back to their father.
"Whom do you want us to marry?" Cassandra asked with hand extended in the air (a practice in their family, thanks to their days watching their father teach).
The Reverend coughed, awkwardly.
"Do not worry, Cassandra,” he said, “I am not about to set you on a fool’s mission. No, there is to be a ball."
"A ball?" Cassandra looked around the small rectory. "You can not mean here." Her face seemed to grow paler with each passing strain of the conversation.
"No, no," Mr. Austen said with a shake of his head, "your brother, Edward Knight, has graciously offered to host the ball at Godmersham Park. Mrs. Knight has promised to handle all the arrangements. You can be assured, I am sure, that it will be quite a celebration."
"For us?" Cassandra asked quickly. Her face was now horror stricken as she glanced over at Jane. Jane upon seeing the look on her sister’s pale face, had to fight herself from laughing. Laughing at that moment would have been cruel; nevertheless it was so hard to hold it back.
Henry, with a bite of his chicken, began to speak quickly and almost too stridently.
"I love dances,” he said, “there is never a better time for drinks, company, good conversation, jokes and for meeting young ladies. Edward also has all of the best in that regards. You are wise to do this father, very wise."
He added a carefree wink at the end, which the Reverend certainly did not appreciate. He took a sip of his water.
"Dances, wonderful," he said again.
"Henry," Mr. Austen said sternly, "you are not invited."
Henry put his goblet down on the table. "I protest- loudly in fact. I could be of great use to my sisters."
"How so, by distracting the other women there?"
"Well, yes, there is that, but I can also find out about the men they are dancing with."
"So you believe your experience has perfected your skills in spotting a rascal?"
Jane finally could not help herself this time and let out a loud laugh. Everyone turned to her. She blushed and covered up her mouth with her napkin to hide her smile.
Thank you, Jane," Henry said to his sister (it did not sound like he meant those words). He returned his attention to his father. "Yes, it could be said that I could use those skills. I can tell a man who is used to gaming, who is used to the company of women (Jane had to fight from laughing again), and who is only showing a passing interest in the affairs of the heart."
"I have never been so proud of you before, Henry," Rev. Austen sighed, "but I hope that, after my years of instructing my daughters, they can see such men for what they are without your assistance. Also, I believe there is scarcely a young lady in the United Kingdom who would not rather put up with the misfortune of being sought by a disagreeable man than have him driven away by the vulgarity of a relation."
Henry was undeterred. "Are you saying that I am really not invited?"
"That is exactly what I am saying, Henry," Mr. Austen said.
"Can I go?" Young Charles asked with hand extended.
The Reverend leaned forward across the table to his youngest son, curious. "And what would you do there?"
"I am uncertain," Charles said matter-of-factly, "but everyone else wanted to attend, so I thought there might be something of interest there besides boring dancing and music."
"Well, you will be sure to be disappointed, Charles." The Reverend stood up straight again and looked at the horror-stricken Cassandra and the giggling and blushing Jane. "This will be a proper dance, a perfect occasion, not only to introduce Cassandra and Jane to the better members of our British society, but also to hopefully lead them down the road to a fruitful and enriching marriage."
A great quiet followed his prophetic sentence. As his daughters tried to recapture their breath, and their brother Henry attempted to hold back his laughter, the silence was suddenly interrupted by a shrill squeal of triumph!
It was their mother.
Little Charles dropped his glass to the ground (breaking it), he was so startled by the noise. His mother did not notice the incident and began to speak triumphantly and excitedly.
"Oh, my girls! My darling and beautiful girls! I cannot hold my tongue a moment longer. I must kiss you both." She quickly rose to her feet, walked past Jane, and gave her eldest daughter Cassandra two kisses. "I am so excited for both of you. I could not have wished for anything grander for the two of you. A ball at Godmersham Park! It is such a beautiful and expensive estate. Well, you deserve it. Of course, you both deserve it."
She gave Cassandra one more kiss on the forehead, walked past Jane and back to her seat.
"Well,” she said, taking a breath, “Edward is your brother, of course, and he was once an Austen before he was adopted to become a Knight - a fact he should always remember - and it is right and proper that he give you such attention. If he does not, God will certainly judge him for it later."
She sank into her seat. There was a second of silence. It was an awkward moment as everyone waited to see if she would erupt like Mount Vesuvius again.
The answer was, of course, that she would.
"Oh my girls! I am so happy. I must kiss you both again," like before, she rose, bestowed two kisses on Cassandra (whose face was growing paler by the minute). "You will both make wonderful wives. A man would be lucky, lucky to have you. Yes, lucky, I say. I say that even in regards to you, Jane."
Jane looked quickly scandalous at the aside. She was about to say something, surely biting, but her mother interrupted.
"Oh, but Cassandra, you would be a wonderful mother and Jane…" she looked at her youngest daughter, who still looked hurt by the last comment, "and Jane,you will become a wonderful knitter. I still enjoy that quilt you made me last Christmas. It is very comforting on a cold evening."
Jane looked towards her bother Henry who let out a laugh.
"Cassandra, I am so happy for you,” Mrs. Austen continued, "soon to be married, and with children! You will make me a proud grandmother, I am sure. I will move in, of course, to help you raise them. Teach you how to have a firm hand and the like. I have so much advice I could give you. Each day we could talk and…"
Their mother most certainly would have said more, and was planning to do so, but it was at this moment that Cassandra fainted.

*

Two hours later, after putting Cassandra to bed with a cold wet towel pressed to her forehead, Jane finally returned to the seclusion of her own bedroom. Even though Jane would not have dared to say it aloud, this felt like a right step, a good step. For Jane, having reached her early twenties without seeing even one amiable youth who could call forth her sensibility, without having inspired one real passion, and without having excited even one admiration, she was ready for something more. She had always believed something must and will happen to throw a hero in her way, and this party certainly would do that.
Yes, Jane thought as she shut the door to the bedroom behind her, this is the step one takes to find love. One simply cannot wait forever.
And with the shutting of Jane’s door, the excitement of the day was finished. The hallways were clear of the family and servants and the house fell into a quiet, but I will not dare say sleep. For in two rooms, two of the Austens, would be up most of the evening, quietly imagining the plans that had been put in motion for them.



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It will be released as a paperback later this month.


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