Hello Ulrike and welcome to our little Austen club online. First of all thanks for accepting my invitation to talk Jane Austen with me and here’s my first question: You & Jane. When was your first encounter with Austen and her work? What was it like?
Hi Maria Grazia! First and foremost, let me thank you for your warm welcome and for giving me the opportunity to introduce my first novel to your blog readers.
My first encounter with a book by our Jane was in a library. I was 16 or 17 and an avid reader of all sorts of books. At that time I lived in a small village and the village library was literally my second home. One day I borrowed “Pride and Prejudice” and simply couldn’t put it down until I’d read it through. And then I started anew...Since then I read all of Jane Austen’s novels but none is as dear to me as “Pride and Prejudice”. I regularly read it all over again and again, it never tires me.
How came you started writing an Austen-inspired book instead?
Not instead. Rather as well. I love to read not only the original by Jane Austen’s pen but I’m also a great fan of the so-called Fan Fiction. I started with reading them online, there are zillions of according websites as you and your readers must know. Then I discovered Amazon making it easy for me to order books from abroad and therefore “real” printed Fan Fiction – prequels and sequels and parallels. I must have bought up to 160 different titles until now, I lost count as I started to buy ebooks. It won’t be long and they’ll outweigh the paper books.
All the time it made me sad that there were so few “Pride and Prejudice” sequels to be had in Germany. Okay, you could always get your fingers at the newest English ones but as good as never you came by a German translation, not to speak of an originally German JA inspired book. As far as I know there was just one “true” German novel until now and that’s a historical continuation of “Pride and Prejudice” with its own sequel.
The idea for my book has been on my mind for many years. It was born at the times before and after the German Reunification. We East German people from the former German Democratic Republic (nicknamed “Ossis”, derived from German “Osten” for East) had our pride and our prejudices and so had the “Wessis” (you guess it, it stems from German “Westen” for West). There were so many parallels to “Pride and Prejudice”, it was just weird. Nonetheless, I hadn’t just the courage to pen the story down. I always loved to write short stories and had actually written a much shorter novel in English but I knew I couldn’t cope with the complexity of the matter in hand. So I delayed it until my subconscious cried out to me: You have to do something about it! Get a grip and learn to write properly!
Two years ago I seriously started training fiction writing – I haven’t finished yet - and finally felt that I was ready to reach my goal - to write my novel. Luckily, I have been able to complete it in time to celebrate 200 years “Pride and Prejudice” this year and the 25th anniversary of the Fall of the German Wall in 2014.
What are your favourite Austen novel/hero/heroine?
No question about that – “Pride and Prejudice”, Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy.
Yours is a present-day romance featuring two different Darcys interacting with the heroine. Can you tell us something about them? What do your two Darcys share with the cult hero from Pride and Prejudice?
My heroine is Lisa Engel (therefore: “Ein Engel für Mr. Darcy” = “An Angel for Mr. Darcy”). So you see, the title is a pun. Lisa's last name is Engel and she’s an angel to her two Mr. Darcys.
Mr. Darcy #1 isn’t human. He’s a tomcat, saved by Lisa from a sad existence as a feral cat. He’s a proud animal with regal behaviour, so at their meeting he immediately reminded Lisa of Mr. Darcy and became named after him.
Mr. Darcy #2 is Simon Hadley-Ash, a half English, half German heir of a baroncy. He’s one of many Western entrepreneurs coming to East Germany after the Fall of the Wall to help out establishing democracy and a modern economy or simply to try their luck in exciting times and fast-changing social and economical conditions. He’s proud and full of prejudices against the “Ossis”, only reluctantly helping his best friend Torsten from a rich Hamburg dynasty of successful businessmen to take over the hospital where Lisa works a librarian.
Does Lisa, the protagonist of your book, resemble any of the Austen heroines we love?
She’s my Lizzy Bennet, of course. She’s as self-sufficient and clever as Lizzy. She accommodates the same dislike of Hadley-Ash as Lizzy did of Mr. Darcy. She’s full of prejudices and harsh feelings against the Wessis. But the truth is that she has every right to be prejudiced because after a rather short time many Wessis also strongly resents the Ossis. Sadly, that continues until present days.
My wish is to show the feelings of both sides, Ossis as well as Wessis, and to open eyes. Both sides have their complaints and both do benefit from the German Reunification. Why not understand each other better, then?
Lisa is drawn to Jane Austen and her world and undertakes a journey in the South of England on her footsteps. What about you? What is the appeal of that distant, different world to you ?
I’ve loved England as long as I can remember. Don’t ask me why. Being East German, it hasn’t been easy to fall in love with a country, being more far away as the moon for me until twenty-four years ago. I think it was the music of the Beatles that kindled my fire although I wasn’t old enough to experience them as a group. Then I loved Dickens and Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple and absolutely the English language. My husband is of the opinion I must have been born in the wrong country, that I rather should be English.
You know? I too think that of myself, I mean, that I must have been born in the wrong country! But going back to you, Ulrike, if you could travel back in time and live in the Regency, what would be the things you’d be eager to experience and the ones who’d scare you the most?
I’d love to go to an Assembly Room ball. I’d be curious about how people lived, not just the ton and the cits but also the common people and the poor. I’d dearly love to watch the ladies and gents at the Roman Baths in Bath, I think that must have been a rare sight. And I’d love to visit Steventon Rectory! And Chawton Cottage and Chawton House as it then had been. And maybe to meet Jane. No, not to meet. I can’t imagine me to introduce myself to her. But to see her once and be it just to know how she really looked like.
What is the greatest lesson we can learn reading Jane Austen?
To make the best of the chances life has to offer. To keep an open mind and see the people as who they really are. To make sport of our neighbours and laugh at them in our turn ;o)
Do you know many Janeites in your real life ? Are there many in Germany for what you know?
I know some German Janeites, indeed. They aren’t as well-organized as the English or American ones but I think Jane Austen is widely known and appreciated. On the other hand, many of her German fans certainly would never have heard of Jane Austen if it wasn’t for the film adaptations of her novels. And to speak the truth there’s a majority of Germans that doesn’t know of our Jane. But do *you* know Lessing or Novalis?
I’m sure, there’s much potential in the German readership that I hope to reach with my book, introducing them to Jane Austen. To make that easier I had the lucky idea to start each chapter with a translated quotation from “Pride and Prejudice”, matching said chapter’s plot.
Your book is now available in German, "Ein Engel für Mr. Darcy". Is there going to be an English translation? What about other languages?
My publisher says yes, there’ll be an English version, hopefully in not so long a time. First we will see how the book does in Germany. We know there’s a much bigger audience for it in the English speaking world, so it’s really a must to have it translated. I’d love to do it myself but although my English isn’t bad it’s far from perfect and to grab the feel of a novel in a language not your mother tongue isn’t easy. We’ll try to find a translator soon.
This is my last requirement from you. How would you present your book in about 50 words?
"Pride and Prejudice" goes GDR.
Lisa loses her job, and has to survive the German Reunification. She embarks on a journey to England tracing Jane Austen's footsteps. In Bath she’s kidnapped and saved by Simon, a man she hates and vice versa.
Before the happy ending there’s an indignant aunt to fight, a disappeared tomcat to find, and a furious baron to soothe. And they’ve got to get over their pride and prejudices.
Well, Ulrike, that’s all for now. Thanks a lot for being my guest today but I’ll wait for you back at My Jane Austen Book Club once the book is translated in English. Meanwhile, best wishes and good luck for its publication in Germany.
Thank *you”, Maria Grazia, for having me! It’s been my pleasure writing about my “baby”. I hope you don't have to wait long to be able to buy “Ein Engel für Mr. Darcy” yourselves. All my best wishes to you all at the Jane Austen Book Club! Thanks a lot for being interested in my book.
Ulrike Böhm from Germany
Short Author Bio
I'm a librarian myself and I’ve worked in the children’s library of my hometown for ten years before swapping to the medical specialised library of the local hospital. After the library’s closing I’ve worked as a PA for the head of the internal department for another ten years. I’m still living with my family and two cats in the South of Thuringia, the same area in the very heart of Germany, where my novel is located.
Jane Austens Stolz und Vorurteil goes DDR - 9. November 1989. Mit dem Fall der Mauer verändert sich von einem Tag auf den anderen das wohlgeordnete Leben von Lisa Engel, Bibliothekarin und Jane- Austen-Fan, die mit ihrem Kater Mr. Darcy in einer Kleinstadt in Südthüringen wohnt. Doch die neu gewonnene Freiheit birgt nicht nur Chancen, sondern bringt auch Unternehmer aus dem Westen ins Land, die sich den Ostdeutschen haushoch überlegen fühlen. Einer davon ist der Halb-Engländer Simon Hadley-Ash, der dafür mitverantwortlich ist, dass Lisa ihren Job verliert. Zwischen beiden könnte der Abstand nicht größer sein, doch auf einer Fahrt durch Südengland treffen sie unverhofft aufeinander. Drei Tage reisen sie gemeinsam auf Jane Austens Spuren. Können sie erkennen, dass nur ihr Stolz ihrem Glück im Weg steht, und ihre Vorurteile überwinden?
Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” goes GDR. - November, 9th, 1989. The Fall of the Wall brings great changes to the orderly life of Lisa Engel, librarian and fan of Jane Austen, who lives with her tomcat Mr Darcy in a little town in the South of Thuringia. But the new freedom brings not only new chances for the East Germans but suddenly there are businessmen from West Germany all about town like the half-English Simon Hadley-Ash who think themselves high and mighty and above the natives. He is at least partly responsible for sacking Lisa so they could not be more antagonistic. But on a journey through the South of England tracing Jane Austen’s footsteps they meet unexpectedly and travel together for three days. Are they able to realise that it is just their respective pride and prejudices that make it so hard to find mutual happiness? And can they conquer them for good?
Links to book and author’s site/blog/twitter/facebook