Sometimes the courage to face your greatest fears comes only when you've run out of ways to escape.
Hello Katherine and welcome back to My Jane Austen Book Club. Your Lizzy & Jane is a revisitation of two Austen heroines in a present-day urban context. Can you tell us more about the Bennet sisters protagonists of your new novel?
Lizzy and Jane Hughes are a bit more antagonistic than the Bennet sisters. You always get the feeling in P&P that Lizzy and Jane Bennet have “each others backs” and always put the other first. These two have lost some of that, if they ever had it, and need to learn to see and love each other again. So the Lizzy & Jane reference is more how their mother saw them or the dream of what they can become rather than a reflection of who they are.
How much of their original personalities can we still recognize?
Ah… Probably not much at the beginning. Lizzy Hughes may have Lizzy Bennet’s “fine eyes” and sharp wit, but I’d hate to go up against Austen in those categories. At the end, you’ll see more. My sisters begin to understand each other and develop a more playful, loving relationship.
Why did you decide to have Lizzy be a talented chef?
Food is so relational. I think food first entered the story as a reflection of my family life – and Lizzy working as a chef became an extension of that. We cook every Sunday – almost every day of the week, really. The kitchen is where my family connects, cooks, eats and shares best. It started when we lived in Ireland. We and another family got together every Sunday and cooked multi-course meals that took the whole day, post church, to prepare and enjoy. When we moved back to the States, we continued that tradition ourselves.
So starting there, and knowing I wanted Lizzy to relate to people through food, I examined how writers used food in their stories. Did you know Austen only uses food in her novels to reveal character and relationships? When I absorbed that, I sought out every food reference and expanded on that theme. In fact, one character in Lizzy & Jane never gives a gift that he purchases. His “gifts” all come all come from his own garden, his own kitchen or are made by his hands. Babette’s Feast, another favorite book and movie of mine, portrays food in the same relational, transformative way. J Clearly I latched on to the symbolism and starting rolling…
You also chose to have her cope with a tragic, crucial health issue. She is reunited with Jane when her sister undergoes chemotherapy …
I did choose a tough issue. I chose breast cancer because it’s a reality in so many of our lives, whether we’ve walked that road ourselves or with family members and friends. It also allowed me explore a whole variety of emotions and fears that often only surface during times of great stress and strain.
What about a Darcy and a Bingley in your new story? Is there a Whickham too?
There are not direct parallel characters. If anything, you might sense a Mr. Knightley or a touch of Captain Wentworth in the leading men – meaning Nick and Peter – but I did not consciously draw any of the character traits from our beloved Pride & Prejudice. Even Paul, whom one could call the antagonist or counter-point romantic lead, is not a Wickham. He is simply a man who knows what he wants and pursues it in terms that he understands.
Is it true, then? Sometimes the courage to face your greatest fears comes only when you've run out of ways to escape. Is this your message in Lizzy & Jane?
To a degree, yes, that is true. It’s certainly much easier to find alternate routes rather than dig around in what hurts us most. But we’re probably not fully healed until we walk that tough, more narrow, road.
That said, it’s not my full message. I hope readers cry, laugh, sigh and, ultimately smile while reading Lizzy & Jane. And I certainly hope they can relate to different aspects of the characters’ lives. My message is that, yes, there is pain, fear and isolation in our lives; but there also powerful beauty, friendship, forgiveness, grace and love – and those are worth chasing.
What is it with Jane Austen? I mean, why is she such an inspiration to you?
I love this quote by G. K. Chesterton: “No woman later has captured the complete common sense of Jane Austen. She could keep her head, while all the after women went about looking for their brains.” Perhaps a touch harsh, but it does capture Austen’s genius and gives her proper respect. She pegged human nature perfectly and did so with swift, sure strokes.
What may an Austen purist think of your modernizations? What is the relation between Dear Mr Knightley/ Lizzy & Jane with the novels they are inspired to, that is Emma and Pride and Prejudice?
Tricky question. I hope a purist enjoys them. But I need to caution that reader as well… DMK and L&J don’t aspire to re-tell, emulate or re-create Emma or Pride and Prejudice. Dear Mr. Knightley, uses Mr. Knightley’s name becuase he was a worthy and honorable man; but Emma was well beyond’s the heroine’s reach as Sam states repeatedly. Lizzy and Jane draws more on Sense & Sensiblity and Persuasion, using the P&P names more as a counter-point to the sisters’ beginning reality. Rather than follow or pull from any one story, I use all Austen’s works as beloved touch-points in both novels and I hope a purist will delight in that.
What is it that you most appreciate in Jane Austen’s world, works, style?
Again – her brilliance. I wish I could see people so clearly, define them so succinctly and still leave room for their growth, humor and humanity. I don’t think I’ll ever stop enjoying or learning from her.
Are there other Austen-inspired novels we can expect soon?
My present manuscript plays a bit more with Victorian literature, primarily Jane Eyre. But that doesn’t mean I can or will stay away from Austen for long. So the best answer may be… Stay tuned.
Thanks for being my guest again, Katherine, and good luck!
About the author
Katherine Reay has enjoyed a life-long affair with the works of Jane Austen and her contemporaries. After earning degrees in history and marketing from Northwestern University, she worked in not-for-profit development before returning to school to pursue her MTS. Katherine lives with her husband and three children in Chicago, IL. Dear Mr. Knightley was her first novel and Lizzy & Jane, her second.
Facebook: katherinereaybooks and
on Instagram @Katherinereay
About the book
At the end of a long night, Elizabeth leans against the industrial oven and takes in her kingdom. Once vibrant and flawless, evenings in the kitchen now feel chaotic and exhausting. She's lost her culinary magic, and business is slowing down.
When worried investors enlist the talents of a tech-savvy celebrity chef to salvage the restaurant, Elizabeth feels the ground shift beneath her feet. Not only has she lost her touch; she's losing her dream.
And her means of escape.
When her mother died, Elizabeth fled home and the overwhelming sense of pain and loss. But fifteen years later, with no other escapes available, she now returns. Brimming with desperation and dread, Elizabeth finds herself in the unlikeliest of places, by her sister’s side in Seattle as Jane undergoes chemotherapy.
As her new life takes the form of care, cookery, and classic literature, Elizabeth is forced to reimagine her future and reevaluate her past. But can a New York City chef with a painful history settle down with the family she once abandoned . . . and make peace with the sister who once abandoned her?
"Deeply moving and intensely meaningful, Reay's latest gives readers an intimate look into the lives of sisters. Delicious descriptions of food and the closeness that it provides to others gives the novel even more depth." —RT Book Reviews, 4-1/2 Stars TOP PICK!