Friday 30 September 2011


This giveaway contest open internationally was linked to our Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Celebration. Have you read the interesting piece Lynn Shepherd wrote for us? "Tracing the roots of Sense and Sensibility. Samuel Richardson, Jane Austen and Elinor & Marianne"  .  If you commented and left your  e-mail address, pay great attention because you may be the lucky winner of a copy of "The Annotated Sense and Sensibility"

In The Annotated Sense and Sensibility, David M. Shapard has added annotations and images to augment Austen’s classic novel. It is a handsome paperback, but also a serious one to immerse oneself in — with over 700 pages of complete and unabridged text, all of Shapard's notes on the right-hand pages. Contributing to the book's heft, Shapard repeats definitions throughout the book, so the reader doesn't need to flip back and check an earlier definition. Annotations include black and white period illustrations, maps of England where the characters travel, word definitions, backgrounds in history, a chronology of events in the novel, a bibliography, and Shapard's interpretations of Austen's novel and her characters. 

Who will soon be the owner of a copy of such a precious book? 

Sophia Rose


Tuesday 27 September 2011


Today's guest here on My Jane Austen Book Club is Juliet Archer. She was already here on 15th September, on occasion of the release of her PERSUADE ME, a modern retelling of Persuasion, Jane Austen's last novel.
In this guestblog she answers one of the questions I sent her for my interview. She liked it so much, she asked me to write a separate post. What's Captain Wentworth X-factor? Enjoy her piece, answer the question yourself in your comment and  enter the giveaway of a copy of PERSUADE ME. Don't forget your e-mail address, please.

This was originally one of Maria’s questions. I liked it so much that I asked to write a separate guest blog on it!

When Anne first falls in love with Wentworth, he has all the right ingredients to succeed (apart from the wealth and position that her family value most), but these have yet to be put to the test. The man who shows up years later is outwardly a success, but emotionally a wreck. And, it seems, the woman who hurt him is the only one who can heal him. But he has to change to win her back, just as she has to leave her comfort zone and earn his trust.

I think his X-factor is his heroic struggle to overcome his previous pain and disappointment; but he only achieves this by discovering – and appreciating – Anne’s worth all over again.

So, what about my version – Dr Rick Wentworth? The outward trappings may have changed – he’s a scientist rather than a naval captain, and he’s been in Australia for ten years instead of in the Napoleonic Wars for eight – but in essence he’s the same damaged hero as Austen’s original. He’s still a self-made man, a sharp contrast to Sir Walter with his inherited wealth and privilege. His strong relationship with his sister Sophie Croft and her husband remains, as does his instinctive kindness to Anne at Uppercross, rescuing her from one of the unruly Musgrove boys and arranging a lift for her on the walk.

All you Austen addicts will notice some differences. For example, there’s more tension initially between Wentworth and Charles Musgrove, with Rick suspecting the worst about him and Anna, and no apparent reconciliation with Lady Russell. My story hints at a hard working-class upbringing for Wentworth, a common factor for many English self-made men. And being a celebrity today – even a minor one – involves much more than having one’s career documented in the Navy List!

But Rick still buys an umbrella in Bath, and offers it to Anna, and writes her a letter …

Juliet Archer


So, what do you think is Captain Wentworth X-factor? Leave your answer + your e-mail address and get a chance to win a copy of PERSUADE ME, Juliet Archer's modern version of Austen's Persuasion. This giveaway is open worldwide and ends on 4th October.  

Monday 26 September 2011


Sex, Drugs and Rock'n'roll are the main features of  Fitzwilliam Darcy Rock Star, a modern romance involving the characters of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice,  who re-live in a contemporary US show-biz environment thanks to Heather Lynn Rigaud and her creative talent. 
I hope you've read my friendly chat with her (HERE) and commented to get the chance to win her book .
Done it or not, it is unfortunately too late now,  because I'm here to announce the name of the lucky winner.

Congratulations to Asatooriana!

Saturday 24 September 2011


Cornelis De Jong lives in Netherlands. He teaches English at A-levels, with a particular emphasis on literature. Although in recent years he and his students have been focusing largely on Jane Austen with regard to their courses on the English novel, his interest in literature extends much further. He completed his masters at the University of Nijmegen with a dissertation on post-modernist fiction. 
He wrote and published a continuation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, "My Brother and I"
He has kindly accepted to answer some questions and be my guest on My Jane Austen Book Club today.

First of all, welcome to my little Austen-dedicated corner of the Net. Cornelis, I cannot believe that a man could like Jane Austen to the extent that you do! I find it hard enough to convince my own male teenage students to read just one or two pages of her work. How did this come about?

During my studies we did a wide range of writers and their works. One of my lecturers, who took us from Old English (which he could read fluently, and brought to life most brilliantly) all the way to Post-Modern American prose, was always very distinct and elaborate about the worth or otherwise of each writer he dealt with – except for Jane Austen. All he said to us about her was, ‘Well, Jane Austen is a case apart,’ and left it at that. The manner in which he said that suggested that there was something special here. To be discovered by reading, and reading again, till we had discovered what it was that made this slip of a woman from the country so very special. As a reader it has never mattered to me whether the writer is a woman or a man. I very much agree with Joyce Carol Oates (whom I admire greatly as a writer) when she says, ‘I am not a women writer; I happen to be a woman who writes.’ In fact, if getting your students to read Jane Austen is difficult, you should try getting them to voluntarily read Samuel Richardson’s Pamela – impossible! – even I could not stomach it, in spite of its literary worth.

When did you first read Jane Austen?

I wish I had read Jane Austen as a teenager or even in my early twenties. I was thirty-five before I read Emma, and soon the rest followed. However, here is something you, and your readers, might not know: boys and young men are very keen on love stories; the popularity of romantic comedy films among youngsters is proof of that. During my puberty I devoured books that dealt with that mysterious thing called love, and being loved by a girl you could dream about. (Incidentally, most boys will not admit that they read love stories, but they do, believe me!) My word! Jane Austen would have been a most welcome addition to my corpus of readable reads when I was young. But it is never too late to read Jane Austen; she transcends all the adolescent penny-horribles that we might have read when we were young.

Just like me, you teach English literature to teenage students. What are your students’ reactions when it comes to classics like Jane Austen? How do you make students interested in her little Regency world so distant from them? (I’m bluntly asking for useful tips, if you don’t mind.)

Getting students interested in the Regency Period (including the Romantic Period and all that that entails) is easy. It was a turbulent time in history littered with dramatic events. A poem about the dreadful life of a chimney sweep as portrayed by Blake can, if explained and read properly, drive even the toughest teenage boy to tears. The French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, the madness of the Luddites, a philandering and debauched Regent, and so on are all ingredients of history that grips the imagination of any teenager, male or female. Put in the right context, Jane Austen will be read by all youngsters with interest – much more so, of course, by girls: at least, if you go by their effusive reactions to her characters, especially how they have been portrayed in films. But you need only read the essays boys write on this subject (such as on the plight of Regency women to find eligible men to marry or face a life of destitute) to see that they often think as deeply and, dare I say it, with as much feeling about Jane Austen’s works as girls do.

You published My Brother and I, a continuation of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Why write yet another sequel to Pride and Prejudice?

For fear of repeating myself, since you pose the same question as I did, a link ( to the preface to My Brother and I should suffice to get your readers to what I had to say on the matter. You will notice that I call it an ‘apology’ in the manner of Defoe or Cervantes, which serves as an explanation of why the book was written at all. But I would like to add one comment though – the word ‘yet’ might suggest that there are too many sequels to her work. I do not think there can be a limit to how often we write adaptations or continuations of existing stories. However, we could amend the above question to, ‘why write yet another bad sequel to Pride and Prejudice?’ or any other of Jane Austen’s works; for, in my view, there are far too many poorly written sequels about.

You wrote this sequel from a completely different point of view. Can you tell us something more about this new perspective, and what it reveals of the inhabitants of Pemberley and their lifestyle?

Every writer has his or her own ‘voice’. I prefer to write from the first person so as to get ‘into’ the character I wish to portray – be it a man or a woman. All other characters are then seen through the eyes of the narrator. Moreover, I think it is more honest. The narrator can truthfully tell only what he has seen and report only what he has heard. In fact, Jane Austen does something similar: she never follows her male characters about when they are not in the company of women.
Having a first-person narrator enabled me to put a ‘witness’ on the estate, one who is a keen observer, and one who can give us an impression of life at Pemberley as seen from outside the circle of regular Jane Austen characters. This did mean that I could not ‘hear’ what was said in the Great House behind closed doors, but I hope I have ‘captured’ enough of their conversations to get an impression of who they are and what they think. But my main aim was to draw a picture of the interactions between the gentry and the people who serve them, as seen through the eyes of a ‘servant’ – and what that could lead to.

Do you think this glut of Austen adaptations, both written and for the screen, have altered, mislead or even distorted a proper interpretation of Jane Austen’s work?

Ironically, the flood of Austen films in particular has been a good thing. From being poorly interpreted, poorly cast and in some cases inappropriately set and costumed, films or series based on Jane Austen’s books have, over the years, increased in credibility. They are much more believable now than twenty years ago. The 2008 television version of Sense and Sensibility is an example of how very good such an adaptation can be. I am sure the maker of that series looked back at earlier attempts (such as the Lee film, which it surpasses) and learnt from their mistakes. As Andrew Davies points out, there is a lot happening behind the scenes in an Austen novel: seduction, adultery, and so on – which can be brought into a film in a manner to make the novel that much more interesting.

Sense and Sensibility - BBC 2008
On the other hand, what worries me is the vogue in ‘alternate’ versions of Jane Austen’s work that has sprung up recently. ‘Lost in Austen’ was amusing and thoroughly enjoyable to watch, but there is a fine line between being playful and being vulgar. Zombies and so-called modern re-interpretations are an insult to Jane Austen’s work, just as a Shakespeare play in jeans and t-shirt is absurd.
But ultimately, we the viewers and readers will decide. If many readers buy zombie versions of her books, it will popularize rubbish. Nothing new there, I’m afraid – which is a pity, for one of the endearing things about Jane Austen is that she allows us to escape from modern-day mediocrity when we read her books.

Lost in Austen - ITV 2008
What is there in Jane Austen’s books which can be useful to contemporary men and women in want of a relationship?

Anyone in want of a relationship should not read Jane Austen; anyone wanting to learn about human behaviour should want to read her novels, and do so with great care. What Jane Austen teaches us (more often as not) is how not to behave towards each other. All her novels are a compendium of mishaps brought about by indiscretion and careless behaviour. That most of these mishaps are resolved amicably in her novels may be an encouragement to us that we could do likewise in our own lives – but, I doubt it; social intercourse has changed too much. That Jane Austen cannot help us very much with modern relationships is perhaps a good thing – it makes her world that much more desirable, or like a fairy-tale.

Isn’t the romantic aspect of her novels over- emphasized in the film versions or TV series we’ve seen so far?

If by romantic you mean love scenes or the development of an intimate relationship, I would say no. If any film-maker is to achieve Jane Austen’s goal of ending in a marriage involving the protagonists, then film has to focus heavily on those aspects of the novel that give us a picture of the state of their relationship at each stage in the story. Besides, film can do what not even Jane Austen could. Elinor and Edward’s library scene in the BBC version of Sense and Sensibility is quite brilliant: this and subsequent scenes like it can hardly be described in prose.

What is the peculiarity which makes Jane Austen’s genius unique?

It has been said before in many academic studies but is worth repeating here. Jane Austen was the first writer who actually succeeded in letting her characters ‘speak’ for themselves. My favourite example is Mrs Bennet. Jane Austen does not have to go to great lengths to describe her character to us, she lets the woman talk. From Mrs Benett’s own words we get a vivid picture of her personality: who she is and what to expect from her. The astonishing thing about this is that this is precisely what we do in real life: we listen to people talk and form our opinions on them based on that. The trick was, of course, how do you do that in writing? – Jane Austen showed us how.

How would you advertise your book in less than 50 words?

I would not advertise it at all – my aim is to enjoy writing; what happens after the novel is written is of little consequence to me. I crave neither praise nor sales; however, it would pain me to think that it is not being read. Speaking as an academic and distancing myself from my own work, in less than fifty words I would say: My Brother and I breaks the mould of ‘regular’ sequels, and is a credit to the quality of Jane Austen’s writing. This is the only affirmation, and compliment, I need from my readers.” 

My Brother and I is available as paperback  at Barnes and Noble , at Amazon and CreateSpace. It is also available for Kindle at and .

Wednesday 21 September 2011


Tracing the roots of Sense & Sensibility

Samuel Richardson, Jane Austen, and Elinor & Marianne

By Lynn Shepherd

What do we know about the origins of Sense & Sensibility? We know that it was probably Jane Austen’s first attempt at a full-length novel, written when she may have been as young as 20. We know that she originally called it Elinor & Marianne. And we know that it began life in the form of a novel-in-letters. And it’s that which gives us the biggest clue about where she may have found her inspiration.

Jane Austen’s favourite author was Samuel Richardson, known now as the ‘father of the English novel’, and a literary giant of the 18th century. Austen’s nephew, James-Edward Austen-Leigh, tells us that his aunt knew Richardson’s works in minute detail, and her knowledge “was such as no one is likely again to acquire . . . Every circumstance narrated in Sir Charles Grandison, all that was said or done in the cedar parlour, was familiar to her; and the wedding days of [characters like] Lady L. and Lady G. were as well remembered as if they had been living friends.”

Very few people read Richardson these days, which is a shame, and even fewer read Sir Charles Grandison, which is the last, longest, and least interesting of his three novels. Clarissa, by contrast, is widely accepted to be masterpiece of European literature, and contains one of its most extraordinary and charismatic and anti-heroes – Robert Lovelace, the aristocratic rake who abducts and eventually rapes the heroine, Clarissa Harlowe. But what all Richardson’s novels have in common is the fact that they are written as a series of letters, and it’s obvious that this must have influenced Austen’s initial decision to write Elinor & Marianne in exactly that form.

The novel-in-letters

The story of Clarissa, for example, takes place through two parallel sets of letters – Clarissa’s with her friend Anna Howe, and Lovelace’s with his associate Belford. This technique has a number of important advantages for a novelist – it allows each character to speak in their own voice, and it allows the writer to explore their inner motivations with great subtlety. In the hands of a master like Richardson this approach established a whole new way of presenting character in prose fiction. We know Austen was influenced by this, because her brother Henry tells us so, saying that she greatly admired “Richardson’s power of creating, and preserving, the consistency of his characters.”  It’s easy to see how the novel that eventually became Sense & Sensibility would have been enriched by the example Richardson provided of profound psychological analysis and insight.

On the other hand, the letter form also imposes some quite severe logistical limitations on the way a story can be told. The most obvious example is that the characters have to be apart for large sections of the narrative. This works brilliantly well in Clarissa, where the heroine is first confined to her parents’ house, and later kept in effective imprisonment by Lovelace, and forced to smuggle out her letters to Anna. However, there are no such constraints on the characters in Austen’s story, and you can see how the plot of Sense & Sensibility as we now have it might have made the letter form rather unwieldy. She might, for example, have had to manufacture reasons to keep her sisters apart, because neither would have been likely to write the sort of intimate, revealing letters the story requires to anyone apart from each other.

The other crucial point here is that in Richardson’s and Austen’s day young unmarried people were not permitted to correspond with one another (though Marianne does, of course, break this taboo, leading Elinor to assume that she and Willoughby must be engaged). Again, in Clarissa, Richardson turns what seems like a drawback into an advantage as we read parallel letters in which the same events are presented from the two protagonists’ different perspectives. However, the story of Sense & Sensibility does not lend itself so naturally to this format, not least because there is no obvious confidant for Edward to write to, and he does not have the sort of open disposition that might have led him to write freely of the dilemma he finds himself in – engaged to one woman, but in love with another. This may be one of the reasons Austen eventually abandoned the letter form and recast the novel in the third-person narrative we have today.

Plot, character, and scene

Richardson’s work was also a great mine of inspiration for specific aspects of Austen’s evolving novel. We can see echoes, for example, of Clarissa’s death-bed scene in Marianne’s illness, and of Elinor’s last interview with Willoughby in a similar scene where Anna confronts Lovelace. Likewise Austen explores some of the themes already examined in Richardson’s novels – for example, Richardson’s contention that one his aims in writing Clarissa was to show young woman the fallacy of the notion that ‘a reformed Rake makes the best Husband’, or as Elinor puts it, that ‘worst and most irremediable of all evils - a connection for life with an unprincipled man’. You can also see Austen taking aspects of the characters in Richardson’s books, and re-working them for her own novel: Marianne, for example, has the vivacity and energy of Anna Howe, while Colonel Brandon recalls Mr Hickman, the solid, well-principled but rather dull man Anna eventually marries.

So there you are – if you’ve never read any Richardson I do recommend him, and if you’d like a quick and very enjoyable taster of his work before you embark on a mammoth novel like Clarissa, I recommend the BBC dramatization starring Sean Bean. It’s very faithful to the novel, and extremely well done. And if you’d like to read more detail about the many parallels between Sense & Sensibility and Richardson’s novels, there’s a very good book on this whole subject by Jocelyn Harris called Jane Austen’s Art of Memory.

Lynn Shepherd is the author of the award-winning Murder at Mansfield Park. Her next novel – another literary murder inspired by Charles Dickens’ Bleak House – will be published in the UK in February under the title Tom-All-Alone’s, and in the US next summer as The Solitary House.


Leave your comments and e-mail address to enter the giveaway of  a new copy of The Annotated Sense and Sensibility. This contest is open worldwide and ends on 30th September . 

Good Luck!

Check all the posts in the Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Celebration


Juliet Archer was my guest last week for a lively "Talking Jane Austen with ..." session (HERE) . Many thanks to her for being with us and for granting you a copy of her latest publication, Persuade Me, a modern re-telling of Austen's last novel. 
Here's the name of the lucky winner in the draw I've just carried out with the help of  : 


Congratulations to her! For all the others there will be soon a new chance to win this delightful Austenesque novel, since Juliet Archer will be my guest again with a piece about Wentworth's X - factor. Stay tuned!

Monday 19 September 2011


Welcome on My Jane Austen Book Club, Heather, and congratulations on publishing your new novel. I read and reviewed it  (HERE) , so I know what we are talking about. Fitzwilliam Darcy, Rock Star is actually well-written, though I must confess I was … surprised by my fast pace while reading. It was intriguing, sexy and romantic at the same time.

Now, first question! How did it come that you started writing a “ sex-drugs-and-rock’n’roll” austenesque novel?

Well, I was reading other Austen fan fiction and was encouraged by my friends to try writing a story. So I started with a few short stories, and then worked up to a novel.

When planning FDRS I was thinking about what kind of lifestyle could Darcy have that would be true to him and still give him the status and prestige appropriate to the story. So I thought about an artist or a musician. Of course, he'd have to be a successful, well known artist or musician. None of this slaving away in obscurity for him! So a very talented, world famous artisan it was.

And then I was simply inspired by some music. Like most people, I find that music helps me deal with trying situations, so I figured, why not Darcy? In Austen's work Darcy has to deal with some very tragic and difficult situations. As a young man his parents die, and he has the massive responsibility of an enormous estate with many employees depending on him, and more challengingly, he has to care for his younger sister.  That's what Austen wrote, that's canon.


Rock Guitarist by Yuriy Shevchuk

So I figured that Darcy might deal with these complicated feelings through music, especially if I gave him a musical family. From there, it was a short leap to Fitzwilliam Darcy Rock Star- he would be extremely talented, because anything Darcy does he does well. He would be aloof and proud, because of his talent and his wealth. And he would be very protective of his friends and family, because he believes he's smarter and better then them.

Into his life would come Elizabeth Bennet, who doesn't like to be told she's not good enough.  And the story starts there.

Was it difficult to find a publisher?

Not at all. When FDRS was first posted on a JAFF board, the readers made their own albums of the music, complete with fancy covers, and bought T-shirts for the (fictional) concert tour. When I presented my solid story with the fact that it had endeared such a following, I got an offer within a week.

 Were you inspired by any real rock band - boy band or girl band - to write your characters?

Puddle of Mudd
Sheryl Crow
Slurry sounds like Puddle of Mudd, more than anything else. There are a few other bands/songs but mostly it's Puddle of Mudd. Jane sounds like Michele Branch and Elizabeth sounds like Sheryl Crow. One of those "Once it's pointed out, it's obvious" things is that both of Lizzy's videos shoots are based directly on Sheryl Crow's SteveMcQueen and Soak Up the Sun.

Can you tell us what your characters share with Jane Austen heroes and heroines and in what they differ, instead?

Darcy share's his pride, aloofness and need to protect his friends. He's different because he's somewhat trapped in his golden cage. Elizabeth is still funny, charming and still is embarrassed by her family/lifestyle. She's worried about her career, which in the regency would be being a wife, but now is being a musician. Jane is still Jane-good and sweet and only sees the best in others. Charles is mostly Charles, although I gave him a bit of a spine. Charlotte is still the very, very pragmatic "You should show more affection than you feel" soul that she was in Austen. But she's modern and has modern social mores, and she's not going to settle for Collins and his chickens.

Caroline is a very different character, in that she's still in love with Darcy, but she's not a mean, nasty, suck-up. And hence is more competition for Darcy. (But not really. Don't worry.) And Richard. Poor, poor, poor Richard. He's a new man all together.  Really, only his name and his relation to Darcy stayed the same. Well, and that he's nice and charming.

Of  all the characters in Pride and Prejudice, which was the most difficult to adapt? The easiest one?

There are some that were so difficult I didn't even try, like Mary and Lydia. And I think Jane's pretty tough. It's hard to make someone that naïve and sweet work without making her look really stupid. She was hard. (And she was always speaking with an English accent in my head.) I think the easiest one was Lady Catherine, who becomes the gorgon who runs the Rosings Park record company. She makes an excellent tyrant CEO.

How would you define your novel? Fan fiction? Modernization ? Re-telling? What makes it different from the deluge of Pride and Prejudice- inspired books?

I don't feel the need to label it beyond Jane Austen Inspired Fiction. As for what makes it different, I think the Rock Star aspect pretty well covers it.

 Try to present it to our readers in max 50 words

It's a sexy modern version of Pride and Prejudice in which Darcy is a world famous guitarist and leader of the Rock Band Slurry. Elizabeth is the guitarist for the up & coming girl group, Long Borne Suffering. LBS is hired as the warm-up act on Slurry's tour and immediately the sparks begin flying.

Who do you think is your ideal target reader? 

Adult readers who enjoy contemporary romances. I hope that Austen fans will appreciate the references to Pride & Prejudice, but its not necessary to be familiar with the story to enjoy my book.

Sexy romance, steamy scenes, the glamour of the showbiz and truly contemporary Darcy, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Jane, Charles Bingley and Richard Fitzwilliam. Do you think true Janeites can enjoy reading your novel? Or do you fear their criticism most of all?

I think it's unfair to generalize a group as diverse as the Janeites in to one body. I think some of them will enjoy it and some will find it's not their cup of tea. I haven't written anything that would cause me to fear someone's reaction.

When was your first encounter with Jane Austen? Reading which of her novels?

My first encounter was Bridget Jones's Diary, which was a loose adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. From that, I was inspired to read Pride and Prejudice, and from there, the rest of Austen's works.

Renée Zelweger and Colin Firth in Bridget Jones's Diary

Did you decide to write such a contemporary version of her Pride and Prejudice because you felt it kind of … out –of –date?

Actually, I feel the exact opposite. It's because Austen's characters are so strong and vivid that it's easy to picture them in a modern setting. There was some updating to do on details of the plot, like Jane being too sick to travel 3 miles to her home, but the main themes of the plot are certainly timeless.

What is it that still attracts so many readers to Jane Austen’s novels in your opinion?

Jane Austen is still so popular because her characters are rich and very complete, and so seem contemporary to us, and because the major points of her plots are timeless. Also because its excellent, truly excellent writing. Austen is a genus when it comes to painting her characters and their emotions in just enough words to make the image perfectly clear. She also knew how to respect the reader's intelligence. Her pacing is excellent and the dramatic rise of the story to its climax is textbook.

What is your favourite one? And what about your favourite Austen hero/heroine?

My favorite novel has to be Pride and Prejudice, simply because of the skill and talent of her writing. And I think my favorite character is Darcy. He wins me over every time.

Matthew MacFadyen as Mr Darcy 

 Are you working on a new project? Could you tell us something about that?
I am working on another modern adaptation of Pride and Prejudice called Longborne and Pemberley go to War. I'm also working on an original paranormal romance and I'd like to do an updating of Northanger Abbey.

Thanks a lot, Heather. That’s all for now. Good luck and success to you and your Darcy  Rock Star!

Thank you for having me here today Maria, I'm looking forward to meeting your readers.


Readers from the US or Canada will have the chance to win a free copy of Heather Lynn Rigaud's "Fitzwilliam Darcy Rock Star". Leave your comments/questions for Heather and don't forget to add your e-mail address. This giveaway ends on September 26th. Good luck!

Thursday 15 September 2011


Her PERSUADE ME, second book in the Darcy & Friends series, has just been released today, 15th September. Meet Juliet Archer, read our chat about Jane Austen and her work, leave your reply to our final question and win a copy of this brand new novel!

Hello Juliet and welcome back to my little corner of the blogosphere! 

It’s wonderful to be back at My Jane Austen Book Club! Thank you for inviting me, Maria, and ‘Hi’ to everyone out there. To introduce myself, I write updated versions of Jane Austen novels. So far, I’ve had two published: The Importance of Being Emma and Persuade Me. I describe myself as a 19th-century mind in a 21st-century body – actually, some days it’s the other way round!

Jane Austen and modernity. What would her wit’s favourite targets have been if she had written nowadays?

In some ways, I don’t think there’d be much change. Her novels are brilliant studies of how people interact with each other, especially how they fall in and out of love. But the social context is very different, and that’s where the change would be. For example, I can imagine her being intrigued by internet dating and social media! I also think the modern workplace would have provided plenty of material.

What would she have appreciated the most in our world, instead?

Plumbing, medicine and travel.

You know I’m a teacher to teenage students. Do you think she can still teach/be a model for nowadays youth?

Absolutely! I wrote The Importance of Being Emma with my then teenage daughter in mind. Once you remove the social context, you’re left with all the things that still influence relationships between men and women: the social/economic divide, first impressions, keeping/betraying secrets, jealousy, the attraction (and abuse) of power and status, etc.

Let’s play a bit. If you had the possibility to get lost in one of Jane Austen’s novels (like Amanda, the protagonist of LOST IN AUSTEN), which one would you choose? Why?

This is a really tricky one! I think perhaps the most fascinating would be the introspective, at times stifling world of Mansfield Park. I’d get to know Edmund and Henry better, then decide which of them deserves Fanny more – and meddle shamelessly to bring that about.

You wrote “The Importance of Being Emma”, your first successful Austen modernization. Many critics agree Emma is Jane Austen’s most successful literary achievement. Do you agree with them? Which is your favourite among the major six?

Another tricky one! Yes, I agree. I think Emma is Austen’s most flawed and least sympathetic heroine (although it’s a close call with Fanny on the second point!). So the fact that she gets her comeuppance when she thinks Mr Knightley is going to marry Jane, then Harriet, makes the novel more satisfying. The plot also has elements of other genres – farce and detective story – which disguise what’s really happening. Maybe that’s why I chose to write my modernisation in the first person, alternating between hero and heroine. They present the reader with such conflicting accounts of reality!
My favourite among the six? Whichever one I’m modernising! In each one, Austen’s genius works in different ways. But if I could take only one to a desert island it would be Pride & Prejudice.

The huge spreading  of spin-offs, sequels, mash-ups is due to a desire to preserve Jane’s messages, atmospheres, techniques and prolong the pleasure, or more to the ambition to correct and adapt. What in her work is considered too distant or different?

Apart from the whole social context, very little – because she wrote about things that never change, the interactions between men and women. However, I regularly take ‘liberties’ in three areas. First, few of her characters have both parents around, and even then they’re rarely role models! That’s still true today – but because of the increase in marriage break-ups and step-families, rather than early death. Second, most of her brothers and sisters live together; in the modern world, however, we have the means and expectation to live away from our families. To address both of these differences, I usually fabricate a parent or two – even if they’re largely off stage, like George Knightley in The Importance of Being Emma – and reduce the degree of ‘fraternisation’: for example, in Persuade Me, Anna lives apart from her father and sister, and Wentworth only stays for the odd weekend with his sister and her husband. Finally, there’s the sex. In Austen it’s lurking under the surface (you can tell I’m a fan of Andrew Davies’s adaptations!) but never expressed; in my books it finds some expression, although I hope it’s never out of keeping with the story.

Isn’t the romantic aspect of her novels over-emphasized in the film versions or TV series we’ve seen so far? (not that I mind romance, but those romantic scenes in the movies are so often  not at all Austen-style!)

Well, although I’m a big Andrew Davies fan, I have to be in the right frame of mind to watch his and other people’s adaptations, whereas I can always pick up one of Austen’s books – her writing style is understated and unsentimental, leaving so much to the imagination! Of course, the film/TV versions are portraying Austen through modern eyes, and often with commercial reality in mind. What they can’t really convey is the actual context of the books; they gloss over – often literally – the hardships of life in early 19th-century England, and the limited options open to most of Austen’s heroines. How many of Austen’s contemporaries would have turned down Darcy’s first proposal – especially if he was anything like Colin Firth or Matthew Macfadyen?!   

The protagonists of your modern re-telling of Persuasion are Anna Elliot and Rick Wentworth. Do you think Anne and Wentworth are Austen’s most successful match among the many she tells about?

Yes. They are the only couple who’ve fallen in love before the story starts. In Persuasion, Austen describes how they work through the pain of their past, and address the distractions of the present, to earn that love all over again. So their relationship, though broken, is on a more solid footing from the start – because in the intervening years they’ve never found anyone else who measured up.
However, as Darcy and Lizzy go through a huge journey of self-discovery during Pride & Prejudice, I have to say that I think their match is equally successful.

Thanks a lot, Juliet, for being my guest. Good luck in your writing career and fingers crossed for the launch of Persuade Me, just published today!


And now a question for everyone: based on Anne and Wentworth’s broken engagement first time round in Persuasion, what do you think Jane Austen is saying about young love? If you want to be entered into the draw for a worldwide giveaway of Persuade Me, please include your email address when you reply in your comment! Giveaway ends  on Sept. 21st.