The fates gave Jane Austen a bum rap.
Yes, she is remembered as one of the most important writers in all of literature, defined for generations what it means to be in love and have a successful relationship, and inspired countless writers and genres. That is all fine and very good, but that is now… for us.
For Miss Austen’s reality, she died young (only 41) in a cottage in a small village where she was living with her sister and mother and her books were published anonymously. Sadly, it is hard for us to even know her that well, with the destruction of many of his letters and writings by her sister. After that, we have to rely on a biography written by her nephew that seems more concerned with the family’s name as compared to the truth of this great person. She joins Shakespeare in our mystery-lost genius category, the ones we only have our hopes and dreams to point to for truth.
This harsh and very cruel choice of the fates is what inspired a good part of A JANE AUSTEN DAYDREAM, my new novel. And honestly, writing this book terrified me for many years. See, I knew from the start I wanted to give Jane an adventure and a love story much like her own characters experienced, but taking that idea to the next step was where it became tricky.
A JANE AUSTEN DAYDREAM is not historical fiction, and while I did research into her life for the writing (including a visit to stops in England), I wanted her own stories, her own characters to dictate the true course of the adventure. As I say in the title it is a daydream, and for the pure Janeites out there, they will see enough hints right from the first chapter that this is a very different work all together.
I’ve been known to call A JANE AUSTEN DAYDREAM a treasure hunt, since it is filled with fun references and quotes from her own stories, but I also made sure that in the end it is a book for all levels of readers, from the Janeites to the newcomers just now discovering her great work. For seven years, I worked on and off this book, covering two different sets of paperbacks of her novels with highlighters and sticky notes.
In the end, the hardest obstacle in the creation was… well… finding Jane. Again, I blame the fates.
Her letters were a wonderful starting point, but after that I had to turn to her own characters for inspiration. The more I thought about her and read her books again and again,luckily she became to emerge for me; much like seeing someone walking towards you on a foggy morning.
I began to see someone very passionate, headstrong, confident in her ability, and with a dangerous wit. Yes, she could get in trouble from time to time for it, especially in the early parts of the book. This is a Jane that shares traits with Emma (and her assurance that she knows how to handle all of the affairs of the heart), Elizabeth Bennet (smart and very funny), and Anne Elliot (reflective).
So did I succeed in discovering Jane and fixing a mistake of the fates?
I have to leave it to the readers to decide. For me, I am proud of A JANE AUSTEN DAYDREAM and the surprising twists and turns in it (including one brand new literary invention I won’t ruin here). It is something very new, and I like to imagine that maybe… just maybe… it would have made Miss Austen laugh.
Below is an exclusive excerpt from A JANE AUSTEN DAYDREAM by Scott D. Southard. It is Chapter II of Volume I.
A JANE AUSTEN DAYDREAM is published by Madison Street Publishing and can be found in print and eBook formats. As an ebook it is available for Amazon , Kobo , and Barnes and Noble’s Nook for only $3.99.
Chapter II from Volume I
A JANE AUSTEN DAYDREAM by Scott D. Southard
“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 at 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 has been presented to me, that the young women of the Austen family are no longer children.”
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, but unable 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 common practice in their family, thanks to their days watching their father teach).
The Reverend coughed, awkwardly. “Do not worry, Cassandra. I am not about to send you on a fool’s mission. No, there is to be a ball.”
“A ball?” Cassandra looked around the small rectory. “You cannot 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 stop herself from laughing.
Henry, with a bite of his chicken, began to speak quickly and almost too stridently. “I love dances. 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 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 (although 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 to keep 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.” Reverend 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 England 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.”
“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 was so startled by the noise that he dropped his glass to the ground, breaking it. 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.” Just as before, she rose and 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 scandalized 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 younger 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 brother 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, to 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 had 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 would happen to throw a hero in her way, and this party would certainly 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, imagining the plans that had been put in motion for them.
Scott D. Southard is the author of A JANE AUSTEN DAYDREAM, MAXIMILIAN STANDFORTH AND THE CASE OF THE DANGEROUS DARE, MY PROBLEM WITH DOORS, and MEGAN. Scott received his Master's degree in writing from the University of Southern California. More of his writing can be found at his writing blog, The Musings and Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard at sdsouthard.com. He is also the book reviewer for WKAR’s radio show Current State.