“The summer of 1791 is so firmly fixed in my memory that I believe I can never forget it; every detail is as fresh and vivid as if it occurred only yesterday, and looking back, there are times when it seems as if my life never really began until that moment – the moment when I first met him.”
And so begins Jane Austen’s First Love…
Gentle Readers: As part of her Holiday Blog Tour, Syrie James joins us today to answer a few questions about her latest book Jane Austen’s First Love. Syrie has based her tale on the real-life Edward Taylor, mentioned by Austen in her letters – he may have been her never-forgotten First Love and hence perhaps a model for her very own Mr. Darcy. Today Syrie tells us a bit about her research into Edward Taylor and his world and a few thoughts on her favorite Austen books in her own collection. Please see below for the Grand Giveaway Contest information…
JAIV: As far as I can tell, there are three references to Edward Taylor in Jane Austen’s letters:
-Ltr. 6 of Sept 15-16, 1796, where she writes ““We went by Bifrons, & I contemplated with a melancholy pleasure, the abode of Him, on whom I once fondly doated.”
-Ltr. 14 of Dec 18-19, 1798, where she writes the news of Taylor’s possible inheritance; and
-Ltr. 25 of Nov 8-9, 1800, on news of his possible marriage to a cousin and where she makes mention of “those beautiful dark Eyes” [he marries someone else in 1802]
Can you tell us something of the “ah-ha” moment that prompted you to look into this “fondly doated” upon young man of the “dark Eyes” – and finding nothing much, decided to pursue an extensive research project to learn everything you could about him and his family?? When were you held captive by the idea that Jane Austen indeed could have fallen madly in Love with this young man??
SJ: Sure, Deb! The “ah-ha” moment occurred when I was re-reading the above-quoted letter that Jane wrote to her sister Cassandra in Sept. 1796. When I read that line, I sat up in my chair in stunned excitement. Who was Jane talking about? What was Bifrons? Who was the “Him” she referred to? The way she phrased it, whoever it was, it seemed very clear that Jane had once been crazy in love with “Him.”
I quickly learned that the “Him” was a young man named Edward Taylor, and the “abode” was Bifrons Park, the estate in Kent he would one day inherit. To my frustration, there was almost no other information about Edward Taylor in Austen biographies, even though there were those two other mentions of him in later letters that also hinted at how fond she was of him. I knew Jane met him as a teenager while visiting in Kent, but that was about it. So I delved into extensive research—and I’m excited to say that I uncovered his true story. What I learned was groundbreaking. He was an extraordinary young man, and it became very easy to see why Jane fell head over heels for him.
JAIV: I don’t want to ask many questions about the book so as not to give away too much of its plot [no spoilers here!], but I would like to ask, how difficult [or easy!] was it for you to enter into Jane Austen’s head and essentially become her at the age of fifteen? And to put on paper what would be this 15-year-old’s first-person narrative?
SJ: I had such fun writing about Jane Austen at age fifteen! I started with all the qualities she clearly possessed as a grown woman: fierce intelligence, a great (and sometimes snarky) sense of humor, boundless imagination, a love of fashion (governed by a tiny budget), and a driven need to succeed, all tempered by sensitivity and deep affection for those she loved. I then imagined her as a young woman based on what I knew of her life: she grew up in a home filled with noisy, active boys, was educated by them side-by-side, and was included in their sports and games. The juvenilia she wrote as a teenager is also lively and hilarious, an indication of her youthful personality. As with all my other Austen novels, I re-read her work over and over during the composition of this book, to keep her voice in my head.
JAIV: Your research interests me a great deal – I know you found previously unknown facts about what appeared to be a very shadowy figure in Jane Austen’s life, and were from there able to fashion a story of possible truth, a lovely weaving of fact and fiction – you have already written about this on several sites and blogs [including here at Jane Austen in Vermont: https://janeausteninvermont.wordpress.com/2014/08/18/guest-post-syrie-james-on-jane-austens-first-love-goodnestone-park-and-the-bridges-family/ ] … so I’d rather ask you a few questions about your own Austen library:
– What do you consider the best, the I-cannot-live-without, book by or about Jane Austen in your collection?
SJ: That’s hard—I have hundreds of Austen-related books. But I guess the one I turn to the most is Jane Austen’s Letters, edited by Deirdre Le Faye. It’s the world’s best window into Jane Austen’s mind, heart, and soul.
JAIV: What book(s) would you say you especially treasure? In the two categories of older / collectible, and more recent works?
I treasure The Taylor Papers (1913), the rare book I discovered when researching Edward Taylor. A collection of memoirs and letters written by Edward’s brother, Sir Herbert Taylor, it filled in a wealth of details about the Taylor family and the children’s extraordinary and well-traveled childhood, enabling me to understand who Edward Taylor was when Jane Austen met him—and why she adored him.
I also dearly treasure my illustrated set of Jane Austen’s classics (1892, Little Brown & Company). Unfortunately it only includes five of her novels—it’s missing my favorite, Pride and Prejudice.
And I treasure The Brontes: Life and Letters (1908) edited by Clement Shorter, a two-volume work containing all of Charlotte Brontë’s correspondence—it was invaluable when I was writing my novel The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë.
MORE RECENT PUBLICATIONS
Among my favorites (they’re still all older books!) are a whole shelf full of hardcover annotated versions of a great many classics, from Pride and Prejudice, Anne of Green Gables, and Dracula, to the 3-volume set The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes.
JAIV: What title would you most like to own, that either you have been unable to locate or find it is unattainable??
SJ: Pride and Prejudice, (1892, Little Brown & Company) to complete my illustrated set of Jane Austen’s classics.
JAIV: Ah yes! The elusive missing volume – I have a few of those myself!
All this research, invaluable for your fictional tale, should be made available to Austen scholars! – do you intend to write an article about Taylor and his family for one of the Jane Austen publications? [you must!]
SJ: Actually I did write just such an article. Entitled “Jane’s First Love?” the six-page article with lovely images was published in the July/August 2014 issue of Jane Austen’s Regency World Magazine.
JAIV: Yes, I read that article Syrie – I do hope everyone is able to read it as well.
Your novel tells of Austen before she met Tom Lefroy, the young man we most often hear as being her first and long-held Love [and further rendered into “truth” by the movie ‘Becoming Jane’…]; your book The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen tells the tale of her mysterious love met at the sea-side in later life. Can you tell us what’s up next??
SJ: I have a few other Austen-tales in mind! At the moment, though, I’m hard at work co-writing the sequel to Forbidden with my talented son, Ryan James.
JAIV: Excellent news!
Now, I just have to ask Syrie, as I know you love the movies: if your book was to become a movie, who would you cast in the major roles?
SJ: For Jane Austen, I think Saoirse Ronan, Hailee Steinfeld, or Kaya Scodelario could be a good choice. For Edward Taylor I’d be thrilled to have the role played by Jamie Blackley (from the film IF I STAY) or Douglas Booth, who played Romeo in ROMEO AND JULIET (2013.)
Hailee Steinfeld and Douglas Booth
JAIV: I can see that you have thought this through – and all very engaging choices – this book is a sure candidate for a book-to-movie venture, don’t you think?! – Anything else you might like to add Syrie??
SJ: Thank you so much for having me here today, Deb. I’m excited to share Jane Austen’s First Love with the world, just in time for the holidays! Readers, do you have any questions for me? Any specific thoughts about Jane Austen’s First Love, or my other books? I’d love to hear!
Thank you Syrie for joining us today! If you have any questions or comments for Syrie, please respond in the comment box below to enter into the Grand Giveaway Contest – all information is below:
Book Blurb: In the summer of 1791, fifteen-year-old Miss Jane Austen is determined to accomplish three things: to do something useful, write something worthy and fall madly in love. While visiting at Goodnestone Park in Kent for a month of festivities in honour of her brother’s engagement to Miss Elizabeth Bridges, Jane meets the boy-next-door — the wealthy, worldly and devilishly handsome Edward Taylor, heir to Bifrons Park, and hopefully her heart! Like many of Jane’s future heroes and heroines, she soon realises that there are obstacles — social, financial and otherwise — blocking her path to love and marriage, one of them personified by her beautiful and sweet tempered rival, Charlotte Payler.
Unsure of her own budding romance, but confident in her powers of observation, Jane distracts herself by attempting to maneuver the affections of three other young couples. But when her well-intentioned matchmaking efforts turn into blundering misalliance, Jane must choose between following her own happily-ever-after, or repairing those relationships which, based on erroneous first impressions, she has misaligned.
Syrie James, hailed as “the queen of nineteenth century re-imaginings” by Los Angeles Magazine, is the bestselling author of nine critically acclaimed novels that have been translated into 18 languages. Her books have been awarded the Audio Book Association Audie, designated as Editor’s Picks by Library Journal, named a Discover Great New Writer’s Selection by Barnes and Noble, a Great Group Read by the Women’s National Book Association, and Best Book of the Year by The Romance Reviews and Suspense Magazine. Syrie is a member of the WGA and lives in Los Angeles. Please visit her at syriejames.com, Facebook or say hello on Twitter @SyrieJames.
Grand Giveaway Contest: Win One of Five Fabulous Jane Austen-inspired Prize Packages
To celebrate the holidays and the release of Jane Austen’s First Love, Syrie is giving away five prize packages filled with an amazing selection of Jane Austen-inspired gifts and books!
To enter the giveaway contest, simply leave a comment here at Jane Austen in Vermont, or on any of the other blog stops on the Jane Austen’s First Love Holiday Blog Tour: http://www.syriejames.com/LatestNewsPageNEW.php
Increase your chances of winning by visiting multiple stops along the tour! Syrie’s unique guest posts will be featured on a variety of subjects, along with fun interviews, spotlights, excerpts, and reviews of the novel. Contest closes at 11:59pm PT, December 21, 2014. Five lucky winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments on the tour, and announced on Syrie’s website on December 22, 2014. The giveaway contest is open to everyone, including international residents. Good luck to all!
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