Friday, July 21, 2017

Jane Austen Week: Day 5 - Katherine Reay & the Austen Legacy

I'm sad to see Jane Austen Week come to a close - I've had such a great time!

To help bring things to a close, I've invited Katherine Reay to come and share about Jane Austen's impact on her own writing. It's a gorgeous essay, so I suggest getting a cup of tea settling in to enjoy the read.

This is a wonderful week to enjoy Jane Austen! In pondering her influence on my life – thinking, reading and writing – I cast back to my middle school years.

I first encountered Austen in eighth grade. Her “romance” initially attracted me. Darcy and Elizabeth (Pride and Prejudice), with their misunderstandings, stops and starts; Wentworth (Persuasion) living in half agony, half hope; Knightley (Emma) loving Emma enough to let her go… Her stories felt like fairytales. While Austen’s wit focused on the hypocrisies, limitations and realities within her time, I viewed her novels with rosy idealism. For a thirteen-year-old, Darcy was my Prince Charming and Miss Bingley, an Ugly Stepsister.

Thirty years later, that is not the aspect of Austen’s brilliance that holds my attention. My own contemporary-based writing (Dear Mr. Knightley, Lizzy & Jane, and The Austen Escape) allude to her works again and again, not because of the romance, but because of her continued relevance, her deep well of understanding regarding human nature. Austen knows us and that acumen has forged a common language we share.

She continues to show me, in deftly drawn words and unparalleled acuity, that human nature is static. We will always get things wrong; we will always carry prejudice, look out for our own interests, demonstrate beautiful loyalty, stand firm, and rise above with the truest sacrificial instincts. She shows me what I know to be true – sibling love is powerful and a gift; sibling rivalry undeniable; families are for life; and real love exists. 

And within her books, I met people I cross paths with on a daily basis: Wickhams, Caroline Bingleys, Lydias and Marys. And a few people I cherish as well – Lizzys, Janes, and Georgianas. Charlottes are also in my life and writing too– good friends with whom I may not agree all the time, but I get them and they understand me equally well. We rub shoulders with these people– we are these people. Austen communicated the unfaltering truth of human nature in a transient environment. The drawing rooms have changed – the hearts have not.

And her brilliance not only lies in her recognition of human nature, but her skill in revealing it. Austen didn’t dazzle us with adventures, mysteries, or intrigue. Her characters stayed in their villages and moved through kitchens, ballrooms and life. She met them where we meet ourselves. And that is an unending process. We are continually redefining ourselves and discovering new things within us in those small moments of life. We encounter that time, again and again, as Lucy Alling from The Bronte Plot, defines: “That time when you don’t know where you’ll be, but you can’t stay as you are.”

We saw it in Pride and Prejudice when Lizzy declared “Till this moment I never knew myself.” Or in Persuasion when Wentworth seizes pen and paper and pours out his heart… “I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope.” We see it in each of her stories as we see it in each of our lives – our preconceptions and prejudges get swiped away in the bright, sometimes harsh, light of reality.

While I touched upon this in Dear Mr. Knightley and in Lizzy & Jane, employing allusions to Austen’s work as a way to reveal motivation and character in a manner we understand, I dug more deeply into her popularity, power and our appropriation of her stories in The Austen Escape. It was great fun to examine her meteoric rise to popularity in our modern culture over the past couple decades, and the explosion of research around her books, word choice, and continued literary influence.

Perhaps, in the end, G.K. Chesterton got it right when he wrote, "No woman later has captured the complete common sense of Jane Austen. She could keep her head, while all the after women went about looking for their brains." While I contend he judged the rest of us a bit harshly, he too expressed an enduring truth.

No one writes like Miss Austen.

I love this essay! Thanks so much, Katherine, for sharing. Readers - Katherine is giving away a copy each of Dear Mr. Knightly and Lizzy & Jane. Use the form below to enter!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Jane Austen Week: Day 4 - Reflections on Sense & Sensibility

As  Jane Austen Week wraps, I felt like there was a hole here on the blog for Day 4 and I wanted to shore it up.

As part of the official festivities, we watched Sense & Sensibility together - even if you didn't get to participate, you may enjoy reading over the threads! It was a lot of fun, and I'll do something similar again another time.

Watching the movie over again reminded me of my experience reading Sense & Sensibility in preparation for the writing of Jane of Austin. You see, when I was first tapped to write Jane, all I had was a title. From there, I had free reign to go anywhere I liked.

I hadn't read Sense & Sensibility yet - I'd read Pride & Prejudice, Emma, and Persuasion. But I knew I wanted to write a more rebellious, headstrong character than I'd been writing for the last several years. Of Austen's likable rebels, Marianne was the strongest choice - unlike other rebels (*cough* Lydia *cough*), Marianne gets an entire redemption arc. She learns, she grows, and she's offered a chance at happiness.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Jane Austen Week: Day 3 - Q&A with Teri Wilson

Welcome to Day 3 of Jane Austen Week! To recap briefly, on Day 1 I shared the recipe for chamomile and lavender scones, as well as the link to the All Things Jane Giveaway. On Day 2, I got  chat Jane Austen and time travel with author Kathleen A. Flynn.

Today, I'm thrilled to be hosting Teri Wilson, author of Unleashing Mr. Darcy!

Teri came onto my radar via an elderly neighbor from our Vancouver, Washington neighborhood. I'd been gardening and doing yard work with my mom in the front yard and had Shiloh and puppy Sylvie tethered near the front door. The neighborhood's bank of mailboxes was just to the left of our house, and I met most of my neighbors over there. That day a sweet, elderly lady from two doors down introduced herself and, after a fashion, remarked on Shiloh and Sylvie.

"They look just like the dogs from that movie, that Hallmark movie," she said. "The Mr. Darcy movie."

As you can imagine, my ears perked up. Cavaliers? Mr. Darcy?

I did some creative Googling later and discovered that Unleashing Mr. Darcy was indeed a Hallmark Original Movie - which would be re-airing in a couple weeks - and was based on a book by Teri Wilson.

Who has two cavaliers.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Jane Austen Week: Day 2 - Q&A with Kathleen A. Flynn

Welcome to Jane Austen Week, Day 2!

One of the many pleasures of being a writer is getting to meet other writers. I haven't had the pleasure of getting to meet author Kathleen A. Flynn in person, but I was a third of the way through her debut novel, The Jane Austen Project, when I was in the planning stages of Jane Austen Week.

With its mix of Jane Austen, time travel, and philosophical speculation, it landed squarely in my reading sweet spot. In a nutshell, time travelers Rachel Katzman and Liam Finucane are sent to 1815 to recover Jane Austen's letters to her sister Cassandra, as well as a previously undiscovered completed manuscript. But their objective becomes messy as they become involved with Jane's social circle and begin to notice small changes in the historical timeline. And after a while, Rachel  a doctor  begins to wrestle with the mysterious illness that ultimately takes Jane's life.

Intrigued? So was I! After all, Jane Austen Week is all about the 200th Anniversary of Jane's passing; a celebration of her life's work. And because the plot of The Jane Austen Project centers very much on Jane's life, the looming reality of her death, and what might have happened if history had unfolded differently, I'm thrilled Kathleen could participate!