Hello and welcome to My Jane Austen Book Club, James. Let’s start talking Jane Austen. When was your first encounter with her work?
I first encountered her work as a college freshman. I was attracted to a Signet paperback compilation in my college bookstore that included Pride and Prejudice, along with Silas Marner, and I think Jane Eyre. I liked the idea of reading such classics, which I’d heard of, and as a lover of history and dates, I really liked Pride and Prejudice’s original publication date of 1813.
Has she influenced your decision to start writing anyhow?
Jane Austen has definitely influenced my writing. I began reading all her completed novels, and then loved reading the increasing number of sequels, prequels, alternative story lines, and contemporary settings of Pride and Prejudice. I began wondering if I could plot and write such a story of my own – and so I did. I have also written other novels that flow from Insight and Suitability, and short stories based on all the Austen novels, whether completed or not.
What do you think is the allure of her world to so many fans nowadays?
I think Jane Austen’s allure comes from her strong, forthright heroines. Her protagonists struggle, but they face their challenges, and so their inner convictions and determination win the day. This is wonderful for women of all ages – but those insights and strengths don’t have to be limited by gender. I do believe that her heroines can inspire male readers of all ages as well. That is, men can be motivated to forge their own future, according to their desires and interests, whether career, family, or individual; and they can work to bring about what makes them happy in life. It may not seem obvious or typical to say so, but I really believe that everyone can benefit from such insights as Jane Austen provides us in her works; and so she remains popular and sought out for good reason!
Is Pride and Prejudice your favourite among her novels? Why? Why not?
Pride and Prejudice is my favorite Austen novel, and my favorite novel of all time. I’m captivated by the story; its entire flow and development are perfect, and all its characters memorable. What a great story it is: Elizabeth and Darcy’s arduous (yet nuanced) journey to understanding and acceptance of each other, and, finally, love – two people that don’t even like each other at first, but change, a truly wonderful ending! What’s not to like and savor about that?
After Pride and Prejudice, I’d list Emma and Persuasion. But I love all her works, so it’s really hard to rank to the rest!
Anne De Bourgh, Lady Catherine’s daughter, is the heroine of your Insight and Suitability. She has always been pitied, ignored or dismissed as boring and sickly. How different is she in your novel?
Anne is different in my novel because I try to make her a full, real person, not just someone shadowy or insignificant, as other characters have considered her. I try to give the reader insights into her character. She finally receives some interest from two eligible suitors, and I wanted to show how she rises to the situation, and bring about what she wants in life. All this, while dealing with her mother Lady Catherine, a very strong person.
Why did you choose her as the protagonist of your book?
I chose Anne because I believe she has inner strength and personality, and has desires and hopes for her own future. I wanted to show that Anne is not someone to dismiss, despite her reserve and her strong mother! I feel for someone who is an underdog and considered inconsequential or forgettable; I want to make them appreciated and recognized for who they are, like Anne. I wanted to give Anne her time in the sun, and to a lesser extent Georgiana, Kitty, and Mary, as well.
What role do Darcy and Elizabeth have in your version of Anne’s story?
I love the characters of Elizabeth and Darcy! I definitely wanted them to be part of my story, just not the main characters, because so many recent novels make them so. In my novel, Anne and her mother are the main characters; Elizabeth and Darcy are major characters, and participate in the action, but they are not the primary ones. There is a small subplot line that involves Elizabeth and Darcy, but for the most part they are present to help and support Anne.
Who’s your favourite Austen hero/heroine? What do you particularly like in them?
Of course I love the witty, vivacious, and upright Elizabeth Bennet; but she’s not the only one! I like Emma Woodhouse for her forthrightness, determination to match people up, and her hopes of happiness for others as a result – even if she’s wrong. I like Anne Elliott for her faithfulness, insight, patience, and hope that fortune will give her a second chance, one she’d embrace. I wish Eleanor and Marianne Dashwood nothing but the best after all their travails. I rejoice in Fanny Price’s rise to prominence and acceptance in Mansfield Park. I’d also like to mention Lady Susan and her daughter Frederica in the epistolary Lady Susan, and the strong, practical Charlotte Heywood in Sanditon. Jane Austen has written all these great heroines, so it’s hard to rank one over the other, but Elizabeth must come first.
Do you like watching period drama movies or TV series, or adaptation of classics for the screen?
I really like watching period dramas and adaptations of classics. As long as the adaptation or drama is well done and faithful to the work, then I’m happy, whether it’s a movie or TV series. My favorite version of Pride and Prejudice is the 1995 series with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth as Elizabeth and Darcy. I do think Keira Knightly and Matthew Macfadyen did very well in the 2005 movie version. And let’s not forget the classic 1940 Hollywood version with Greer Garson, Laurence Olivier, and Edna May Oliver as Lady Catherine!
If you could travel back to the Regency Era what would you love to see/do and what, instead, would you miss the most?
I have to give a long answer to this question. First, I would like to:
· See Bath in its heyday;
· Attend the opera at Covent Garden;
· Tour the Lake District, like Elizabeth and the Gardiners did;
· Be presented at the Court of St. James as a fine, prominent American gentleman (!), though the War of 1812 might throw a wrench into this fantasy; and
· Visit the Brighton Pavilion, known for its exotic architecture. (Perhaps most of these are still possible in our current time, once we can travel again.)
What would I miss from our current time? Well, I would miss:
· Ice cream and my favorite junk foods like French fries, potato and corn chips, and chocolate chip cookies;
· Indoor plumbing and zippers (!);
· Easy transportation from place to place, either via car or public transit;
· Instant communications, like email and texts; and
· Movies and TV, especially in regard to those period dramas.
Finally, thank you very much Maria Grazia for welcoming me to your site, for this interview, and your interest in Insight and Suitability!
You’re most welcome!
Far too long, Anne de Bourgh has been pitied, ignored, and dismissed as boring and sickly. Her hopes begin to rise when two young gentlemen, both of whom would make a great catch, start paying attention to her.
With the help of Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy, Anne embarks on a journey to discover which beau is the best prospect as her potential husband. Will either one end up asking for her hand, and can she be certain of his character?
Anne must contend with differences in the gentlemen's personalities, poise, and intelligence, and even consider troubling rumors. Are the two men in competition over her? And will Lady Catherine be satisfied with either one as Anne's husband? Along the way, Anne realizes she is not the only one whose life could be changing.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
A lifelong devoté of Jane Austen and all her works, James Wollak works as a financial data analyst and lives in San Francisco, California, a third generation San Franciscan. He is an avid reader, numismatist, and music lover, enjoying all kinds of music such as classical and opera, Motown and soul, ABBA, Celtic, blues, bluegrass, and zydeco. He also loves silent and classic Hollywood films, and the “Poldark” and “Downton Abbey” series. He is a strong Anglophile, and Pride and Prejudice is his favorite novel of all time. For more information, visit his website at jameswollak.com.