Friday 7 June 2024



Welcome to My Jane Austen Book Club! Today, we have the pleasure of hosting MJ Stratton, author of the captivating Sense and Sensibility variation, "What Ought to Have Been." In this intriguing tale, Stratton invites readers to explore a world where the Dashwood sisters take fate into their own hands, seeking justice and redemption amidst the challenges of love and society.

Join us as we delve into the mind behind this engaging adaptation, exploring Stratton's passion for Jane Austen's world and her creative process in crafting this compelling narrative. Feel free to share your thoughts and questions in the comment section below after the interview!

Welcome, MJ Stratton! Could you share with us what drew you to Jane Austen's works and inspired you to write a variation of Sense and Sensibility?

My wonderful aunt introduced me to Jane Austen when I was a teenager via the 1995 miniseries. That same summer, she also let me borrow the 1995 Sense and Sensibility adaptation. To say I was hooked may be an understatement.
Sense and Sensibility is my second favorite book by Jane Austen, but it always made me furious that ALL the bad guys got what they wanted. Sure, Marianne and Elinor ended up happy, but the villains still won? Inconceivable! So, in my own musings about a year and a half ago, I struck upon the thought, “What if Elinor had never promised Miss Lucy Steele to keep her secret engagement to herself?” I mulled over the idea and then asked my good friend Jayne Bamber about it. She was as intrigued as I was! It took me well over a year to conceptualize the ‘how Sense and Sensibility should have ended,’ but when I finally sat down to write it, it came together very well.

In "What Ought to Have Been," you take a bold approach in reshaping the fate of the characters, particularly Marianne Dashwood. What prompted you to explore this alternate path for the Dashwood sisters?

I have always hated how Sense and Sensibility ended. How could such undeserving people get their every wish? Sure, it’s true to real life; we don’t always get what we want, but I still hated it. That was the impetus for this novel.

Marianne is a passionate young woman. I wondered what would happen if she directed her considerable energies in another direction. Marianne comes to many realizations early in this book that drive her to channel her heartbreak in unexpected ways. I think a lot of people give her the short stick, just like they do Lydia Bennet. I would hate to be judged based on my 16-year-old self, and so I tried to give Marianne a little redemption here, while still staying true to her character.

Elinor is the sensible sister, always poised, calm, etc, to her own detriment. In this book, I gave her a means of reprieve from Miss Lucy Steele by way of her sister knowing that Edward was engaged. I tried to show the inner turmoil she must have felt while also allowing her to grow and change, too.

 Your portrayal of Marianne's determination to seek justice adds a fascinating layer to her character. What challenges did you encounter in balancing her newfound resolve with her essence as a romantic and sensitive young woman?

Trying to keep Marianne from becoming someone completely different wasn’t easy. I wanted her to grow up and mature, but keep her zest for life while learning valuable lessons. The same passion she felt for Willoughby drove her need for justice. They say the line between love and hate is thin and often blurred, and Marianne certainly treads that line in this book. Marianne is an open, genuine person. The subterfuge required for her to accomplish her schemes really drains her, and near the end of the book, she learns an important lesson about revenge and retribution. I won’t spoil it though!

The theme of retribution and the pursuit of what is just resonates strongly throughout your novel. How do you perceive this theme in relation to the societal norms and values depicted in Jane Austen's original work?

Life is never fair. It wasn’t fair then, and it isn’t fair now. It’s unfortunate. We see Jane Austen’s characters suffer for it frequently. Colonel Brandon’s first love, Eliza, who was treated so abominably… he never could seek justice for her, but he did his best to avenge the honor of her daughter by duelling Willoughby. I think the Dashwood ladies felt all the injustice of losing their home and their father, and Jane Austen did a good job of illustrating how unfairly their society treated such situations.
I realize that ladies like the Dashwoods seeking justice and retribution was likely not possible during Regency times. Marianne’s actions in my book could have plausibly happened, though, and I think that’s what made it so fun to write.

 Readers often have a special affinity for the villains in Austen's stories. In "What Ought to Have Been," you promise that they will receive their "just desserts." Without giving too much away, could you offer us a glimpse into your approach to handling these characters?

There are many villains in Sense and Sensibility, in my opinion. First, Fanny and John Dashwood. John is very much led around by his wife, and so it is she who is the true villain between the two of them. Fanny has secrets, though, and secrets have a way of getting out…

Everyone knows Mr. Willoughby is a villain! He preys on young ladies and then leaves them to face the world’s derision alone. After his actions are discovered, his aunt disinherits him, leaving him in a tight spot. What if he doesn’t get to marry Miss Grey?

And what of Lucy Steele? She is, by far, one of the MOST HATED villains in Jane Austen’s works. I think only Mrs. Norris surpasses her. Lucy got everything she wanted in Sense and Sensibility, a husband, wealth, notice, etc. It rankled me! She is SO awful to Elinor, exulting in her superiority time and again. I knew that whatever happened, Lucy could NOT finish this story on top. Nope, not at all. Marianne’s orchestration of her downfall is cunning and is also one of the few situations where she feels guilty for her machinations.

 Your writing captures the essence of Austen's style while introducing fresh perspectives and plot twists. How do you balance staying faithful to Austen's world with infusing your own creativity and voice into the narrative?

I’m not sure. My writing process is very consuming. When I write, I do so in large amounts, with minimum 5000 words a day. That quantity allows me to submerse myself into the story, and I often find it writes itself. That can present some complications, because I usually begin with an end in mind, only to have the characters take control.

When I write, I try to picture Austen’s words in my head, how they sound, how they feel on my tongue. That means I tend to get a little prosy. My style has adapted and changed since I began writing full time in 2022, and I think it will continue to do so as I keep writing.

Lastly, what do you hope readers will take away from What Ought to Have Been? And do you have any future projects in mind within the realm of Austen variations or other literary adaptations?

I really hope that readers will understand that revenge and retribution often have unforeseen outcomes. Marianne certainly learns something of that.

As for future projects, I have another book releasing in August! It’s called Thwarted and is another Pride and Prejudice Variation. It was meant to be part of Crossroads, but I pulled it to make it a full-length novel. I do NOT regret it, because it turned out even better than it was before! This book starts out in Darcy’s POV. He discovers that the Town gossip has painted him as cursed, because every lady he has ever granted his notice has had something befall her. Who is behind the rumors, and who is trying to ruin Fitzwilliam Darcy?

I have another book in the conception stage, and will likely be starting that in July, once it is too hot to be outside in the afternoon. My plot bunny list is so long, I’ll likely be busy for a while!

 Thank you, MJ Stratton, for sharing your insights with us today! We're eager to hear more about your writing journey and the fascinating world you've created in What Ought to Have Been.  


Retribution belongs to God, and I am ill-equipped to carry it out in His place.

~ Elinor Dashwood 

            Before leaving Norland forever, Miss Elinor Dashwood forms an attachment to Mr. Edward Ferrars. Her tender regard stays constant when the four Dashwood ladies remove to Devonshire to let Barton Cottage. Elinor’s fervent hopes for the future are dashed when she becomes an unwilling confidant to Miss Lucy Steele, who she learns has been betrothed to Edward for four years.

            Unfortunately for Miss Steele, she never secures Elinor’s promise to keep silent on the matter. When Marianne encounters Elinor amidst her misery, the sisters share confidences and Marianne is left comparing Edward’s honorable behavior with that of Mr. John Willoughby. Her musings lead to some startling revelations, and a spark is lit within her.

            Determined to right the wrongs perpetrated upon her and her beloved relations, Marianne takes matters into her own hands. Elinor may be ill-equipped to carry out God’s retribution, but Marianne is not. Armed with determination and resolve, Marianne Dashwood sets out to accomplish her aims by any means necessary, but will she reach the end of her journey without losing herself in the process?

            What Ought to Have Been is a Sense and Sensibility variation that ensures all the villains of the story receive their just desserts.


MJ Stratton is a long-time lover of Jane Austen and her works, having been introduced to Pride and Prejudice by a much-beloved aunt at the age of sixteen. The subsequent discovery of Austenesque fiction sealed her fate. After beta reading and editing for others for nearly a decade, MJ started publishing her own work in 2022. MJ balances being a wife and mother with writing, gardening, sewing, and many other favorite pastimes. She lives with her husband and four children in the small, rural town where she grew up.


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