Tuesday 20 February 2024



A Unique Crossover

Caroline Malcom-Boulton is the author of The Three Witches of Milton,  a unique crossover novella which unites and explores elements from three of my absolute best favourite classic novels:  Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.

 Playing with quotes from these three inspirational novels and their iconic screenplays, Caroline Malcom-Boulton blends the English classics together, infusing them with an original plot, all so that we might explore the intriguing relationship of similarities between their characters and themes.

I invited  lovely Caroline to join me at My Jane Austen Book Club to talk Jane Austen and also to tell us more about her new release. 


Hello Caroline and thank you for being my guest at My Jane Austen Book Club today! My first question for you is, when was your first encounter with Austen and her work and what was it like?

    Hello, Maria Grazia, and thank you for having me. Oh, yikes, that takes me back, let me see if I can remember… Well, to begin with, I was very lucky to be brought up in a family that admired the classics and both read and watched them faithfully, so Austen’s world was very much part of my world from day one.

How much Austen is there in your novella, The Three Witches of Milton?

 There is a fair bit. While the story is mainly about North and South and the love between Thornton and Margaret, it is also about Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre. The book incorporates quotes from all three novels as well as other works by Austen. I have shown these quotes in italics to help distinguish them from my own words, and, hopefully, for anyone reading it who has not read the original novels, becoming acquainted with these exceptional passages of prose will encourage them to finally pick up a copy. Anyway, I like to think that there is a touch of Austen throughout, as there are a few comical lines and observations, many of which made me smile and think of her wit and wisdom.

Your novella unites and explores elements from three of my absolute best favourite classic novels:  Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Could you tell us something about it. I’m so curious!

 I have long since been dabbling (one of John’s least favourite words), with the idea of writing a classical novel crossover. There are a few reasons for wanting to do a crossover like this. The first is that I simply thought it would be fun. I felt it would be amusing to mix up the characters, storylines and dialogue to see what came out of it, something I hope readers find too. However, there was perhaps a more profound reason. While the original novels and their writers are distinct, I do feel they have strong similarities. For instance, all the women are praiseworthy for being clever, courageous and caring. At the same time, while the men may differ in terms of socio-economic backgrounds and life experiences, they too are similar underneath it all. I think Darcy, Rochester and Thornton are all sensitive men who often give the wrong impression. They can come off as prideful, temperamental and harsh, but they are good people at heart, men who hold themselves to a high standard, are made vulnerable by life, and above all else, long to be loved and understood by a good woman.

Alan Rickman as Colonel Brandon (1995)

The hero of your book is John Thornton, the brooding passionate protagonist of Gaskell’s North and South.  Who is your favourite Austen hero, instead? 

 That is easy. While I admire most of Austen’s leading men, some more than others, my number one hero must be Colonel Brandon. I think Colonel Brandon is an exceptional man. Like Marianne, we perhaps do not appreciate him to begin with, as he is not dashing and daring in the way that we are led to believe giddy, girlish love should be. He is a little dull. He is a little old. He is a little weather-beaten in every sense of the word. And yet, despite that, he is a man of considerable empathy, intelligence, selflessness and integrity. Again, like Marianne, we grow to respect him, and in time, fall in love with him. He may not sweep us off our feet, but we see him for what he is, and that is dependable and devoted, two qualities which make for steadfast love. 

Richard Armitage as John Thornton (2004)

Does he share any personality traits with Mr Thornton?   

 I think Brandon and Thornton share many personality traits, and I believe they could have been firm friends if they had ever met. They are both private. They are both men of staunch honour. They both do what they can to support the friends and family of their beloved in times of need. And perhaps, most of all, they are not showy men. They do not make a display of their affections, they do not draw attention to their goodness, but instead, offer up their unconditional friendship and faithfulness, then simply step back and take no credit, they ask no thanks. In short, they are men who love quietly, yet sincerely.

 Which is your favourite Austen novel?  Do you like re-reading it?

 I am afraid I have a rather unconventional and unpopular answer here, and instead of saying Pride and Prejudice, I will say Emma.

Emma is an undervalued novel, in my opinion, and I can see why. She is not the most endearing of Austen’s heroines. Emma is spoilt. She is a young woman who thinks very highly of herself, and as Knightley points out, she treats those around her like dolls that she can pick up and put down to play with at her whim. Oh, my! I am not doing dear Emma any favours here, am I?

But the thing is, I actually find Emma thoroughly refreshing. For one, books such as those by Austen provide us with valuable insight into the life and love of women of certain classes at the time, and while these accounts are scarce in the literature, there is an even greater shortage of stories about women like Emma. We need to read about women who were financially secure, who did not need to be governed by the thought of finding a husband, and who were at the pinnacle of their little social sphere. And, most crucially, I think Emma is a very real person. Emma’s faults are many, and most of them can be jotted down to a life of pander and privilege, a combination that readers quite rightly struggle to sympathise with, but she is just a young woman discovering who she is, and, in the end, she grows into be a caring and accepting person.

Which Austen heroine can you relate to the most? Why?

 Ooh, that is a hard one.  I think I am a mix of Marianne and Elinor Dashwood, strange, I know, given how unlike each other they are. Sense and Sensibility has always been my second favourite novel, and that is partly because I have been able to identify with both sisters. When I was younger, I was a lot like the early Marianne. I saw the world in black and white, I was passionate, and I felt injustice deeply. I could also be quick to form opinions, judgmental of others, and not afraid to speak my mind, always assuming I knew best. A typical teenager. But like Marianne, as I grew up, I began to see that the world was much greyer, and far from being an ugly shade, it was comforting, a reassuring reminder that clarity often comes from a place of obscurity. Now I find that I am much more level-headed, like Elinor, and I often think before I speak, being more careful to listen and take stock of my emotions before I act. However, as I think Austen shows us, a person like that does not feel any less, but they are simply more sensible about their sensibilities.  

Caroline Bingley is one of your witches. Why did you choose her from the whole  Austen universe?

 There are a few reasons why I wanted to include Caroline. For a start, there has always been a bit of a joke in the family about her, as she and I share the same name, so I really wanted to give her a cameo in my work. Another reason is that Caroline is synonymous as a female antagonist in the Austen universe. She is seen as the ultimate (insert bad word of your choice here) when it comes to women. Lastly, she has some cracking lines! Austen must have had a lot of fun writing Caroline Bingley, as countless one-sentence remarks are so cutting, that I am surprised the author did not do herself injury with her pen. And it is because of this that she was chosen. The whole plot of this novella is to have these three women ridicule Margaret Hale, the woman they know John Thornton loves, so who better to call upon than the very woman who knows best how to disparage her love rival with a little pointed dialogue?

 I love watching every Austen adaptation I can find. I have fun comparing and contrasting the different versions we have. What’s your relationship with screen adaptations of books? Are you very demanding and often disappointed?  

 Austen is very personal and very precious to all who love her. I have never come across another author whom people get so possessive over, talking about her and her work as if they know her intimately and can read her mind. They tell us what she would like and not like with such certainty, that one would think them the undisputed authority on all things Austen. However, the truth is that books are fluid texts, and so, they are open to interpretation, and as such, each adaptation will not only bring something new to the table and shed new light on her works but they will, inevitably, never succeed in pleasing everybody.

As a creative person, I applaud anyone with the intelligence, initiative and imagination to pull them off. In the end, if I do not like an adaptation, I do not mark it down as bad or not Austen-like, but rather, I simply accept that it was not for me, leave it be, but close by asking in what ways it did do well because there is always something to commend if one looks past our own pride and prejudice.

 What’s your best favourite screen adaptation of a classic? Why?

Romola Garai as Emma Woodhouse (2009)

I have so many that I like, but I must say that I am a big fan of the 2009 Emma, with the 2008 Sense and Sensibility being a close second. I am a firm believer that classic novels are best told in a series, and not as a film. Do not get me wrong, I understand the merit of making them into films. They can be shown in the cinema, giving them bigger hype and allowing them to reach a wider audience, filmmakers can make more money, and, of course, down the line, they are much more convenient for fans to watch. However, to give the full magnitude of the stories justice, then they need the time a series can offer to unfold fully, so that is maybe why I like these two adaptations so much.

What would you miss the most if you ended up travelling back to Jane Austen’s era? What would you be excited to try, instead?

Well, I think as a woman, I am obligated to say that I would miss the level of equality we know today. For all our romancing about Jane Austen’s period, I imagine our dear heroes, as wonderful as they may be on paper, would have had the odd sexist thought in real life. Other than that, I would miss sanitation and hygiene, such as not having a shower every day. Also, can you imagine having something as simple as a headache, and yet, not having any medication? That would be horrible. No wonder people took to bed at the slightest ache and pain. And lastly, while this is perhaps not the most suitable thing to write for a post about reading and writing, I would miss films and television a great deal. Sometimes a good old chill session with some popcorn and Netflix is just what one needs.

 How would you recommend The Three Witches of Milton to our book-loving Janeite friends?

 I have always had a keen interest in scribbling classical crossovers, and God willing, this will merely be the first of many. In this instance, it occurred to me that several of our beloved (and not so loved), characters from these novels bear considerable similarities. For instance, Darcy and Thornton, Elizabeth and Margaret, while they may have many superficial differences when we break it down, our heroes and heroines are profoundly similar people with similar values. As such, I felt it would be intriguing to play with their separate stories and dialogues and see how I could compare and contrast them in such a way that identified with those parallels, and in this story, I hope I have achieved that. Furthermore, the texts of all three novels are so well known, that while they remain timeless and classic, they can also become blunted in their power, simply because they become white noise, something we hear so often that their meaning is perhaps not muted, but muffled. Therefore, I wanted to give them fresh meaning by chopping and changing them to fit the environment of new situations and scenes, showing us that these enduring lines can exist within the confines of their novels and remain meaningful in new contexts.

 As Austen herself says: “It is only a novel... or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language.”


John Thornton just wants to settle down by the fire after a long week at Marlborough Mills. However, when he enters his drawing room, the master is horrified to find that far from being alone, he is beset by the company of three guileful antagonists, each one intent on trapping him with her feminine charms, claiming this eligible bachelor for her husband. Forced to ward off North and South’s Ann Latimer, Pride and Prejudice’s Caroline Bingley and Jane Eyre’s Blanche Ingram, John must use his wit and wiles to evade the flirtatious enchantments of these three figurative witches of Milton. But just as he thinks he has eluded their womanly spells, they begin to sharpen their claws and vilify a certain young lady whom John cherishes in his broken heart, and that, our literary hero will not stand for.



Hello, I'm Caroline Malcolm-Boulton, also known as The Scribbler CMB. Born in 1993, I proudly hail from Scotland, where I reside with my husband and our cherished daughter.


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