Tuesday, 22 March 2022


Hello, Maria Grazia and lovely readers!

While I was innocently chatting away with people on Goodreads about Jane Austen related topics, a stray comment about Emma turned into a conversation, which turned into an idea…which eventually turned itself into my newest novel, My Dearest Miss Fairfax!

 Now I'm ready and more than willing to answer your questions!

Jeanette Watts

Since this is My Jane Austen Book Club, tell me about your relationship with Jane Austen?

Isn’t she just one sassy woman? I would love to sit down to a cup of tea with her. Or a glass of wine. I have some lovely port I just brought back from North Carolina that I’ll bet she’d love!

 The first time I ever heard of Jane Austen, I was in my early teens. There was a one-frame comic that was in something my father was reading. It was a drawing of a woman in a lacy cap with curls (no doubt that’s why it caught my eye and I read it), and the word bubble above her head said something like, “No, really, you should read Emma. It’s my best work.” And the caption was something like, “Jane Austen’s bad pickup lines.”

 I didn’t understand it at all. I pointed the cartoon out to my dad, and asked him to explain it to me. He said, “Well, Jane Austen is a writer. Emma is supposed to be the most boring book she wrote.”

Even at 13 or 14, I felt in my heart this wasn’t right. I didn’t appreciate this cartoon disparaging this cartoon of a lady writer in a pretty lace cap and curls.

 It was quite a few years later that I saw the 1995 Pride and Prejudice, and read all the books, and then started writing books inspired by Miss Austen. And my childhood self was right. The guy who wrote that cartoon wasn’t just a jerk. He was dead wrong!

 What is the relationship between Jane Austen’s Emma, and My Dearest Miss Fairfax?

As close a relationship as I could possibly make it!

 I spent a great deal of quality time with a used copy of Emma I bought at the used bookstore, and a highlighter and a pencil. To piece together Jane and Frank’s secret engagement, I highlighted every clue, every line in the book that refers to them. There are several conversations in my book that are taken verbatim from the original text. I might shed a completely different light upon the meaning of the words, but the words are straight from the source.

 Only after I had pieced together every last bit I could find did I start to fill in the gaps with my own research, and my own imagination.

 What was the hardest part of filling in those gaps?

 This probably sounds silly, but the most stressful thing to me was filling in the names.  Miss Campbell, the young woman whom Jane Fairfax is raised with? Colonel Campbell’s daughter? What’s her first name? I hated having to make up a first name for her, when I finally concluded Miss Austen doesn’t tell us. There are so many Janes and Elizabeths, and Georges in Jane Austen’s books. Fine English names for kings and queens. So I took a look at George III’s offspring, to look for another royal name that maybe wasn’t used quite so much. So, Sophia Campbell Dixon is named for the fifth daughter of George III and Queen Charlotte.


If you could time travel back to the Regency Era, what would you be very excited about? What would you miss the most?

 I would be very excited to see the dancing! I am a dance historian, and I teach most dances from the renaissance to the 1960s. The cotillion that Miss Austen refers to in a letter to her niece was a popular dance in the late 1700s and early 1800s which later got replaced with the quadrille – it’s a dance that I only have a limited understanding of, and I would be eagerly taking notes! Or finding a way to explain what I’m doing, holding up my phone to get video.

I suppose what I’d miss the most in the past would be pizza! Does pizza ever leave Italy until after World War II? 

What is your favourite line or passage from your own book?

It might be the actual proposal scene. It’s terribly romantic, if I do say so myself.

 What was your hardest scene to write? 

 The proposal scene. I was completely on my own for this. Jane Austen gives us no hints as to what was said, or where, or how. What did Frank Churchill say to convince Jane to agree to this scandalous secret that society very much frowned upon? The Jane in “Emma” is such a fine, upstanding, perfect, good-two-shoes sort of person. And yet she is involved in this thing that society soundly disapproves of? This was terrifying.  Oddly, when it came it to write the scene, my fingers just started typing, and like magic, there it was. It felt natural, logical, comfortable, like dancing with a good dance partner. My subconscious had apparently long since figured it out, while my conscious brain was worrying about what I was going to do about the proposal.

How would you recommend My Dearest Miss Fairfax in a tweet? (max 280 characters)

How much would you gamble for true love? Jane Fairfax dreaded her future as a governess. But genteel solitude seemed her fate. Then handsome, charming, rich Frank Churchill asked to marry her – IF his rich aunt agreed. He just had to persuade her first. What could possibly go wrong?

  About the book

While Miss Emma Woodhouse is occupied with matchmaking among the residents of Highbury, Miss Jane Fairfax has much more serious problems.

 A secret engagement is one of the most unforgivable of sins in Surry, England in 1814. But Jane couldn't resist Frank Churchill's charms, and agreed to wait for him while he persuaded the rich aunt who controls his life to allow their marriage.

 Days stretched into weeks, weeks into months. The lovers are able to visit through the coincidence of Jane's grandmother living in the same town as Frank's father. But the necessary permission proves to be elusive. Meanwhile, their secret becomes harder and harder to conceal.

 Can their love survive the social pressures that threaten to tear them apart?

Read an Excerpt

 Jane stopped listening while her aunt and Mr Woodhouse diagnosed what was wrong with her, and then, even worse, her aunt started producing the caps and workbags Jane had made them since her arrival in Highbury. She was suddenly desperately homesick for London. The smoky skies and crowded streets would be worth it for the music, the dancing, and most of all, the conversation with people she enjoying conversing with. Almost no one in Colonel Campbell’s circle ever talked of one’s health. When they did, it was with a jovial dismissal of ills as an inconvenience, the price one paid for having been in the army. And one never brought bits of needlework to show off to the neighbors.

Mr Knightley’s arrival contributed something of a relief. Instead of discussing what was wrong with her, there were discussions of why Mr Knightley was only just arriving.

“My deepest apologies, but my manager had some pressing issues for me to resolve. I trust you are enjoying each other’s company without me?”

Jane could swear his eyes had lingered upon her as the group exchanged their greetings. Her thoughts retreated back to London as Mr Knightley was required to elaborate upon the farming troubles that had delayed him.

She had to pay attention, again, when music was called for. As the guest, Jane was called on to go first, if she thought her health would stand the rigors of performance. Jane would have to be on her deathbed before she would pass up the chance to play on such a beautiful instrument. As she touched the keys with the first strains of Mozart’s Sonata Number 18 in D Major, she acknow-ledged that, even were she dying, she would still be playing. Some things were more important than the inconvenience of one’s health.

Musically ignorant as the company might be, the praise and applause and insistence that she play another piece was still pleasant. It was not the same as the appreciation she’d received in Weymouth, from people with much more discerning ears, but it was modestly gratifying.

After she finished, Miss Woodhouse took her place on the piano bench. Jane smiled politely while she played one of Pleyel’s German Dances. She had the entire length of the piece to think of something complimentary to say. It made Jane’s homesickness for London all the more acute. There were so many accomplished musicians in London! An evening’s soiree with intimate friends was a chance for real musical excellence, a chance to learn from one’s peers, a chance to discuss fingering techniques and the excitement over Beethoven’s first new sonata in five years.

When the music had finished, Jane and Miss Woodhouse accepted the small glasses of Madeira from Mr Knightley’s stock that he was pouring for everyone. Once they made sure their elders were comfortably situated, they settled themselves in a corner.

“Well, what did you truly think of my playing?” Miss Woodhouse asked.

“Pleyel is one of my favorites: it is hard to listen to you without thinking of wildflowers and blue skies,” Jane responded. “Have you ever been to his shop in London?”

“No, I have never been to London,” Miss Woodhouse responded.

Jane was surprised. “What? Never?”

“I cannot imagine why I should want to go to London, everything I could ever want or need is right here in Highbury,” Miss Woodhouse answered. “I certainly don’t need to go there to buy music, or to hear someone else play a pianoforte. But enough about music! Do tell me, Miss Fairfax, I am dying to hear more about Miss Campbell’s wedding! What can you tell me of Mr Dixon, who has carried off your bosom friend to Ireland? I hear he is a very congenial man! What can you tell me of his character?”

Jane’s mind clamped down as hard as her jaw. She hated gossip. She hated small minds that were capable of nothing but gossip. She hated Miss Woodhouse, who clearly possessed such a small mind, she was capable of thinking of little more than gossip. She tried, she really tried, to think better of Miss Woodhouse. But it was impossible. She was unbearably stupid. A different kind of stupid than her Aunt Bates, but every bit as unbearable.

When she thought of Mr Dixon, she could not separate him from his sketchbook, from the look he gave her surrogate sister when he had sketched her with the sunlight streaming through the window onto her profile. “He has an excellent character.”

“Did you enjoy his company? Is he good at conversation?” Miss Woodhouse persisted.

“Miss Campbell thought his company and conversation good enough to consent to become Mrs Dixon,” Jane answered, beginning to wonder at Miss Woodhouse’s questions.

“So, you think it is a suitable match?” Miss Woodhouse asked next.

Jane wanted to stand up from her seat, face Miss Woodhouse, and shout in her face, “What are you driving at?” She wondered if some day, she would have the power to do what she wanted. Well, that day was not today. “Very suitable,” she answered mildly. “He is an excellent and amiable gentleman, and Miss Campbell – now Mrs Dixon – is an excellent and amiable lady. I cannot imagine a more suitable match.”

“You were all of you together at Weymouth, after the wedding? I understand that Mr Frank Churchill had been at Weymouth at the same time as you. Are you aware that he is the son of Mr Weston, one of our neighbors here in Highbury?”

“Yes, so I was informed,” Jane answered. Her stomach churned a little.

“Did you see much of Mr Churchill while you were in Weymouth?” Miss Woodhouse asked.

“We were a little acquainted,” Jane answered.

“So you did meet him?” Miss Woodhouse seemed to have no end to the questions.

“Indeed, I did meet him on multiple occasions at Weymouth,” Jane admitted.

“Was he handsome?” Miss Woodhouse asked next.

“He is reckoned to be a very fine young man,” Jane answered.

“Is he agreeable?”

“I do believe he was generally thought so.”

“Did he appear a sensible young man; a young man of information?”

Jane’s mind dissolved into memories. Mr Churchill’s face when she met him, horrified over the lack of manners at the music shop. Mr Churchill as they discussed mathematics during the ill-fated boat ride to see the White Horse. Mr Churchill when he visited her after the dreadful accident on the boat. Mr Churchill when he proposed. “At a watering place, or in a common London acquaintance, it is difficult to decide on such points. Manners are all that can be safely judged of, under a much longer knowledge than I have had of Mr Churchill. I do believe everybody found his manners pleasing.”

Until they were called upon to give opinions on MrWoodhouse’s new slippers, the conversation between Jane and Miss Woodhouse never improved.

 About the author

Jeanette Watts has written three Jane Austen-inspired novels, two other works of historical fiction, stage melodramas, television commercials, and humorous essays for Kindle Vella.

When she is not writing, she is either dancing, sewing, or walking around in costume at a Renaissance festival talking in a funny accent and offering to find new ladies’ maids for everyone she finds in fashionably-ripped jeans.

 Contact Links



Instagram: jeanetteamlwatts

Twitter: @JAMLW_writer




Vesper said...

Enjoyed this story

Jeanette said...

Thank you so much for having me on your blog today! This was so much fun!

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