About The Book
In the course of 1811, the Bennets of Longbourn meet two sets of estranged relatives: Mr Bennet’s unprepossessing heir, and his mother’s family. Elizabeth Bennet journeys into Kent to stay with the Palmers at Wingham Hall: her grand-aunt Iphigenia, her cousin Sir James Palmer, who had loved her grandmother ardently in his youth, and his son Galahad. Pleased with her new relations, Elizabeth is less content with the taciturn friend Galahad has invited to join him at Wingham. Fitzwilliam Darcy—rich and proud, disdainful of those beneath him—has escorted his sister Georgiana to Ramsgate, to recuperate from a dangerous illness in the care of her companion, Mrs Younge.
Complications arise with the arrival of Elizabeth’s sister Jane and, separately, Charles and Caroline Bingley, the authors of Jane’s unhappiness. Tensions and quarrels result in the Bingleys’ abrupt departure, swiftly followed by Darcy after a maladroit proposal that Elizabeth spurns with a pride that matches his own.
Unfortunately, Darcy leaves Kent just as his enemy, George Wickham appears, intent on securing Georgiana and her fortune. Who will stand between Georgiana and ruin? Who will win Jane Bennet’s hand? And can Darcy and Elizabeth ever be reconciled?”
Your latest book, Worthy, is a captivating variation of Jane Austen's world. What drew you to the Regency era and the characters from Pride and Prejudice in particular?
I’ve loved Austen since my early teens, when I was given a complete set of her novels for Christmas—I was a voracious reader from a very early age, and books as presents were always the best! I powered through the set in a week. I didn’t love them all equally – and still don’t. Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion definitely lead the pack for me. Even at that age, I thought P&P was the quintessential love story, with characters who felt alive, and intense, and generally, people I wished I knew.
Of course, some of it confused me, since everyday living then was obviously very different than modern day, but I was lucky that I had an outstanding teacher of English Literature, who was also an Austen fan, and he explained a lot of context for me. To give an example, when Darcy declares 50 miles is an easy distance to travel, my teacher showed me how that displays Darcy’s privilege and wealth, as such a journey would indeed be nothing for him; and how subtly it shows the economic gulf between him and Elizabeth. That sort of thing would be understood immediately by Austen’s contemporaries, even though it escaped a teen focused on making sure our dear couple have their happy ending and who wasn’t above flicking to the last page to make sure it happens! Still, as I grew older and more and more fascinated by social history, reading Austen with that better, stronger understanding, has deepened my appreciation for her wit and cleverness. You need to appreciate the similarities and differences between Darcy and Elizabeth to get every little nuance of their conversations, to understand their relationship. She wrote comedies of manners, and did so superlatively.
The Regency period generally fascinates people I think because it’s so romanticised and seen through the soft focus of girls in pretty dresses and smartly-dressed young officers dancing the night away before Waterloo. The Victorian period that followed saw the rise of the middle classes, with their stricter sense of morality and propriety, when everyone dressed and behaved in a far duller manner. The Regency, by contrast, seems to be far more free-spirited and brightly-hued, less mealy-mouthed, as larger-than-life as Prinny himself. The last thing you can say about it, is that it’s dull!
The plot of "Worthy" introduces intriguing new relatives for the Bennet family. Could you tell us more about the inspiration behind these characters and their dynamics with the familiar ones?
Throughout P&P we hear nothing about Mr Bennet’s relations, and we normally assume he doesn’t have any worth mentioning. The relations we do meet—the Phillipses and Gardiners—are Mrs Bennet’s siblings.
The advantage to writers is that this gives us completely blank page to fill in entirely as we wish. While I kept Mr B as an only child, I had free rein to imagine his mother’s people, to work out why the Bennet girls didn’t know very much about them, and to create situations where long-sundered family could be reunited. So I co-opted a now-extinct Kentish baronetcy, the Palmers of Wingham, as Mr Bennet’s generally unknown relations.
A key element was using these relations, rather then Netherfield, to bring the Bingleys into play. I had masses of fun with Elizabeth’s cousin Palmer (he’s barely related, really. Something like a third cousin by marriage) taking a full role both as a dear friend to Darcy and Bingley, and being the bridge to bring both young men into Elizabeth’s life.
While I don’t think this affected the Darcy-Elizabeth dynamic at all—they follow the familiar path of misunderstanding each other, poor proposal, rethinking their attitudes and characters, to a happy ending, albeit not in the way Austen herself did it—it did make a difference for Jane Bennet and how she dealt with Bingley’s dithery nature and Caroline’s spite.
So our familiar characters do not differ in essentials, but in the circumstances they find themselves.
Elizabeth Bennet embarks on a journey to Kent in Worthy. How does this change of setting impact the story, and what role does it play in the development of the characters?
The story actually has very little point of contact with Austen’s plot, except in one particular: Georgiana Darcy’s and George Wickham’s attempted elopement from Ramsgate. So unlike my first book, Mistress of Netherfield, this one does not reframe the familiar events of P&P, but is a true variation with original characters and a divergent plot. It was a little nerve-wracking, to be honest. I obviously had to try and nail the characters as Jane wrote them but put them into new, and testing, circumstance, without distortion... enjoyable, but hard!
That said, I’ve tried to keep the characters true to themselves, and the development they undergo mirrors that of P&P. I want them to be recogniseably the people we love, with their love story playing out against a new backdrop.
In your novel, the Bingleys and Mr. Darcy face tension and conflict with the Bennet family, more or less as it happens in Pride and Prejudice. What challenges did you encounter while weaving these elements into your story in an original way?
The greatest challenge for me was keeping them true to character, without taking them over the top into caricature. Caroline Bingley, for example, is a lady many JAFF writers love to hate. I see her as someone who’s terribly insecure within the social structure of the time. She has wealth, education and privilege, but she doesn’t have birth. No one will ever forget she has her roots in trade. Her search for stability and improving her social position motivates everything she does. So while she enters this story in a different manner—as an unexpected guest of Elizabeth’s relations rather than as mistress of the manor her brother is renting—it was important that I kept her character and motivations the same as Austen showed them. Some of her actions, too, to dissuade Jane Bennet will be recognisable, even if carried out in a way that isn’t quite the same as Austen’s original.
Your book also introduces the character George Wickham as an antagonist. We love to hate Jane Austen’s bad boys, don’t we? What motivated your decision to include Wickham in the plot, and does he play a different role in the story's conflicts?
Austen’s bad boys were so intriguing, weren’t they? Wickham, John Willoughby, Frank Churchill, Henry Crawford... if not mad, definitely bad and dangerous to know!
Since the book isn’t set in Meryton, and departs from Austen’s plot, Wickham doesn’t join the militia or run away with Lydia. The two never meet. But I knew from the beginning that I wanted to include the attempted Ramsgate elopment (which of course is only spoken of in Darcy’s letter, never shown on the page of the original) as a key plot point. To be honest, a scene in my head between Lizzy and Wickham contending over a cowering Georgiana was the motivation for the whole book. It was always going to be there. So I had to set the book in Kent itself, and then come up with a reason for Lizzy being there. And so we circle back to the idea of previously unknown Bennet relatives re-establishing contact as a credible means of getting Lizzy into Kent.
Wickham does not have a lot of ‘screen time’, if you like, but what he does is (I hope!) exciting. This version of him is daring and dangerous, and rather violent...
Can you share some insights into your writing process? Do you have any specific rituals or methods that help you immerse yourself in the Regency world and how do you maintain Jane Austen's writing style?
I’m still a voracious reader, and must reread Austen every couple of years, so I’m quite familiar with her writings. Her use of words and style is just beautiful. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to emulate her in any true sense, but actually I find writing the cadences of the sentences relatively easy. It’s far more formal than modern day English, of course, and I still have to be careful to make is sound natural, rather than contrived, but generally it flows well for me.
I write mostly in the afternoons. Mornings are spent pottering about the house and garden—I’m very lucky, and live in a Georgian house, a former vicarage, in Nottinghamshire, England. Much as we love the house, it’s a never ending task to keep it looking good. So my routine is :walk the dog, work on the house, and only when those tasks are done do I try and write. I don’t have any specific rituals, but I do have one tip that works well for me. When I get stuck or writer’s block descends and I can’t see how to carry on, I close down my computer, pick up a notebook (I have dozens of pretty ones), find a pencil and go to a different room entirely. I’ve been known to write dialogue using the piano as my desk, for example. The change of environment as well as writing method can kick start my groggy old brain into getting over whatever is blocking it.
As an author in the Austen variation genre, what do you find most rewarding about reimagining and expanding upon classic stories like Pride and Prejudice?
Oh, the privilege and joy of taking two beloved, iconic characters and writing about them is definitely the most rewarding thing about writing stories like Mistress of Netherfield, or Worthy. We know these characters well. We’ve watched every possible adaptation of the book and we’ve virtually ingested the text. We dream about the characters and weave fantasies around them: they’re our friends, our enemies, our lovers. I suspect we’ve all grown up wanting to be Elizabeth Bennet. As I say in my bio, writing Austenesque variations is the closest I shall ever come to achieving that!
So taking these characters into new situations is, really, the epitome of loving fannishness. Asking myself, for example, how would a disastrous, abusive first marriage change Elizabeth? Would her fire and spirit still be there? How has her experience honed her, and yet allow her to remain recognisably Elizabeth? How can I make her adventures and struggles speak to a modern audience, without making her anachronistic and un-Austen-like? It’s fascinating and fun. It’s a combination of the intellectual challenge of correctly conveying Austen’s sublime characters and the creative delight in coming up with new scenarios to explore with them.
Could you tell us about your favorite Jane Austen novels and characters, and how they may have influenced your own writing and character development in Worthy?
Well, Elizabeth for certain. Austen herself said she thought Elizabeth to be “as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print, and how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least I do not know”, and I can’t but agree with her. What I particularly love is Austen is so clear-eyed about Elizabeth’s faults, and so sly in poking fun, yet gives Elizabeth room to learn to know herself and grow. She’s a character many young women will recognise and identify with.
My other great love in the novels is Anne Elliot. Her reticence, good judgement and intelligence is in stark contrast to the other characters in Persuasion who belittle her—but they are the greatest crop of fools in any Austen book, I think! But like Elizabeth, Anne has flaws. She is passive and, frankly, a little bit doormat-y until she finally starts advocating for herself, beginning with defying her father over visiting her old schoolfriend, Mrs Smith. Anne, too, grows in strength, self-knowledge, and confidence.
That’s what I hope I’ve taken from Austen in my own writing: how to write flawed, essentially very human characters whose quirks and personalities will make the reader love them and want to *be* them, while the reader will also see them evolve and grow to overcome their faults. Austen wrote wonderful humans. I’m trying to emulate that.
Finally, what can readers expect from Julia Winter in the future? Are there any upcoming projects or new stories you'd like to share with our readers?
The plot of another variation is percolating in my mind at the moment. I’ve started gathering materials for it by drawing up family trees etc. It is likely to be set entirely at Pemberley, where a widowed Mrs Bennet and her daughters have found refuge with her husband’s favourite cousin, who married Mr Robert Darcy on the death of his first wife, Lady Anne Fiztwilliam. “Our” Mr Darcy returns to Pemberley to take up his role as master following his father’s death, and faces hostility and danger on his arrival, not to mention finding his step-mother’s companion is a certain pert Bennet girl...
But I also write in different genres with different pennames, and I have a YA science fiction novel that must be finished first!
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