[See updated information at the end of the post]
I welcome today Stuart Bennett [no relation to our esteemed Mr. Bennet – the difference a “t” can make!], antiquarian bookseller and author of two novels starring Jane Austen. You can read my April 2012 interview with Stuart about his first novel The Perfect Visit here:
As you know I loved this book because of its time-travel intrigue wherein we meet Shakespeare and Jane Austen, as well as its literary and bibliographical adventure through the London and Bath of the 16th and 19th century. Stuart’s new novel, Lord Moira’s Echo, has just been published and has a new and historically fascinating take on Jane Austen’s “lost” years from the spring of 1801 through the fall of 1804. I highly recommend it – it offers a tale of those years when “Jane Austen went missing” as biographer David Nokes writes, that is certainly as plausible and interesting as any of the other various fictional efforts in this vein out there. I cannot say more because the post would be an entire “Spoiler Alert” that would ruin the pleasure of your own reading! Please see below for the book giveaway.
I have been asked if one should read The Perfect Visit first, and I say that while this second book does stand completely on its own, an understanding of Vanessa and her story of being catapulted into Jane Austen’s England would only enhance your enjoyment.
So in lieu of an all-out review, I have asked Stuart to tell us something about this new work:
Stuart: I discovered references to the Austen family in the unpublished Hastings family archive at the Huntington Library in California. From these, I felt I could introduce this historical character, Francis Rawdon Hastings, the second Earl of Moira, as one who might have met Jane Austen during those lost years. The novel tells its story from two perspectives, Lord Moira’s own, and a young Canadian musician, Vanessa Horwood, who was the protagonist of The Perfect Visit; Vanessa is from our time, caught in a time-travel snafu and stuck in early 19th-century England. The narrative of my new novel shifts back and forth from 1823 to 1801 and 1802, imagining what might have happened if the Earl, about whom Jane’s banker brother Henry spoke bitterly even after Jane’s death in 1817 and who features in Austen family correspondence well into the 1830s, had been more than a just a shadowy figure in the lives of the Austens.
Jane herself plays a major part in the 1801-1802 sections of Lord Moira’s Echo. Lord Moira, whom I first discovered in a glancing reference in Brian Southam’s Jane Austen and the Navy, really could have played the role I give him. The social history of Regency England is full of much stranger tales.
Thank you Stuart, and also a hearty thanks for offering a copy to commenters. For those in the Vermont JASNA region, Stuart spoke on this novel as a work-in-progress in September 2012, where we were all intrigued to hear of his take on Jane Austen’s mystery love. He just recently spoke at the JASNA-MA and JASNA-SC regions, and is scheduled with the JASNA-Maine group in September. For readers wanting the full historical tale behind the references to the Austen family in the Hastings archive, Bennett’s essay, “Lord Moira and the Austens,” will appear in the next issue of Persuasions – Vol. 35 (2013), due out this May.
You can find more information on both novels at the Longbourn Press: http://longbournpress.com/
Lord Moira’s Echo is available in large format paperback ($14.95) and as a Kindle download ($2.99) via the following link:
The Perfect Visit can be found here: pb ($13. 46); kindle ($2.99)
About the author: Stuart Bennett was an auctioneer at Christie’s in London before starting his own rare book business. He is the author of the Christie’s Collectors Guide How to Buy Photographs (1987), Trade Binding in the British Isles (2004) which the London Times Literary Supplement called “a bold and welcome step forward” in the history of bookbinding, and many publications on early photography, auctions and auctioneers, and rare books, and of course these two novels on Jane Austen. He currently lives and works near Boston, Massachusetts.
Please leave your questions or comments for Stuart in the comment section below to be eligible for a free inscribed copy of Lord Moira’s Echo by Monday April 21, 2014, 11:59 pm. Winner will be announced on Tuesday April 22nd. Open to US respondents only (sorry, but postal rates are now over-the-top!)
1. see this review, by http://www.finebooksmagazine.com/fine_books_blog/2014/04/stuart-bennett-on-austens-lost-years.phtmlon the Fine Books & Collections blog here:
2. I’m adding here two questions from the comments with Stuart’s very thoughtful answers, as they give a little more insight into the writing of this tale of Jane Austen in love, and I didn’t want them to get lost in the comments……:)
*What made you be inspired to write the book? [Patricia Finnegan]
Dear Patricia Finnegan,
Thank you for writing. The inspiration to write the Lord Moira novel came in the same odd way that it did for my first novel, The Perfect Visit. I imagined a character in a situation (it was one of the time-travelers for the first novel) and, once imagined, the character wouldn’t let go of me. Other characters appeared to join him and they all started doing things, and waking me in the middle of the night with their conversations (this is true, and I had to write the conversations down right away because by morning they were gone).
When I discovered Lord Moira in a glancing reference in Brian Southam’s Jane Austen and the Navy, he intrigued me, and when I discovered the Hastings archive at the Huntington Library and started reading his letters, and the repeated references to the Austen family, that did it. Lord Moira came alive, started reminiscing, and one thing led to another. As Deb Barnum says in her blog, if I give you more than that I’ll have to cry “spoiler alert.”
*Stuart, I do have a question if you do not mind. Since this is fiction based on facts, what percentage is fact and what percentage is fiction? The premise is intriguing. [Joy King]
Dear Joy King,
The “fact/fiction proportion” question is a great one, and not that easy to answer. Apart from my fictional Vanessa and her romantic interest, almost every character in the novel is real and could have been when and where I put them. This is especially important, of course, in the case of Lord Moira himself. But the Jane Austen narrative is deliberately put in the years when almost nothing is known of her movements, and although I have appropriated the surviving rumors about her for 1801-1802, I can’t say these, or my narrative is actually “historical.”
One of the best reviews I ever read of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin novels said that if one of Jane Austen’s nautical brothers had shared her literary gifts, he would have written like O’Brian. I make no such claim for my own writing, of course, but what I think the O’Brian reviewer meant – among other things – was that O’Brian’s books transported the reader to Nelson’s navy and, once there, the reader never felt the anachronistic lurches that turn up in so many would-be historical novels. Readers have complimented my books on their historical accuracy, and if you’ll allow me to include the details of my novel in the fact/fiction equation I think I can safely say the factual side is well in the ascendant.
Thanks for writing!