Blog Tour for “The Bride of Northanger” ~ Interview with Diana Birchall

The Bride of Northanger: A Jane Austen Variation,
by Diana Birchall

Interview with Deb Barnum at Jane Austen in Vermont, November 6, 2019

Dear Readers: Today, I welcome friend (and same-birthday Sagittarian!) Diana Birchall to discuss her new book The Bride of Northanger: A Jane Austen Variation. It is a charming read, a sequel to Austen’s Northanger Abbey (one of a select few), wherein we find Henry Tilney and his betrothed Catherine the evening before their nuptials – it is delightful to see them again, happy in their life at Woodston Parsonage, yet, as you will see, troubled by a number of very real Gothic goings-on – I won’t tell you anymore – just buy it and find out for yourself…!

[I use JAIV for my questions and “DIANA” for the answers, as DB are also my initials and could complicate matters!]

JAIV: Before we launch into a chat about your new book The Bride of Northanger, tell us something about yourself: How and when you discovered Jane Austen; other books you have written, etc.

DIANA: Hi Deb! Thanks for reading my book, and for coming up with such interesting questions. I will try my best to answer them all, “see if I don’t,” as Louisa May Alcott used to say. To start at the beginning, fifty years ago Jane Austen was not as universally popular as she is today; the only known movie was the 1940 Pride and Prejudice with Laurence Olivier and Garson (in dead wrong period costuming), and fan fiction had not yet been invented. Austen was not encountered in school, even for a reading girl in New York City. I had a literary aunt (blessings on you, Miriam Finkelstein!) who recommended Austen, Bronte and Colette, and I adored Charlotte Bronte at 10, Colette at 15 (seeing myself as Claudine in Paris), but did not fall into Austen until age 20. I think the staid title of Pride and Prejudice put me off, but what a delicious revelation it was when I finally opened the covers and fell in!

My first attempt in writing in the Austenesque (long before the term came into existence) was in 1984 when I won a contest in Persuasions, the journal of JASNA, with a jolly Miss Bates monologue. At that exact moment I discovered how much I loved writing pastiche, and I have never stopped doing it since. I churned out sketches and skits, stories and semi-scholarly sundries. My “day job” was as a story analyst, reading novels and screenplays for Warner Bros, and I was also accumulating a formidable pile of my own unpublished novel manuscripts. The first really viable one of these was Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma, which I wrote in 1992. Obviously I wasn’t the first person to write a Jane Austen sequel – as you know Jane Austen herself would playfully tell her family what happened to her characters, and nieces and others wrote various completions after her death. However, there were only a handful of these efforts over two centuries, and I believe the most recent had been Pemberley Shades by one Dorothy Bonavia-Hunt in 1949.  So to write a Pride and Prejudice sequel was definitely an idea whose time had come. I was thrilled to find a New York literary agent who was very excited about this “gem,” and predicated a bidding war. Unfortunately, two other authors came up with similar ideas simultaneously, and when I read an item in the London Times in my Los Angeles boho coffeehouse that Emma Tennant was rushing out a P & P sequel, Pemberley, to “beat all the competition” (meaning Julia Barrett’s Presumption, and my debut offering), I lay down on the floor in despair and howled.

It got worse. With Tennant and Barrett established authors coming out with their sequels, no publisher was willing to publish “a third P & P sequel.” You heard that right. Three was too many, when there are hundreds today!  My agent said “I don’t know what happened, but put it away and it will be published in a few years.” And it was. A small English press published Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma, and eventually, after the Austen boom was well underway, Sourcebooks picked it up for national U.S. publication (2008). Meanwhile I pressed on. My first actual book acceptance was a scholarly biography of my grandmother, the first Asian American novelist (and Hollywood screenwriter), Onoto Watanna, for the University of Illinois Press (2001). This was very well received, nominated for an MLA Independent Scholar Award, and I found myself lecturing at universities across the country and Canada including Yale, Columbia, NYU, Vancouver and Montreal. I was so elated that simultaneously I wrote the first Jane Austen internet series, for the Janeites list, “In Defense of Mrs. Elton.” This was published by JASNA as the conference gift of the 1999 Colorado Springs AGM, with glorious illustrations by Juliet McMaster, and Sourcebooks later published my “Mrs. Elton in America” as well.

Since then I’ve written hundreds of Austenesque stories, and branched out into playwriting, co-writing two plays for JASNA AGMs with Syrie

Diana Birchall and Syrie James (SyrieJames.com)

James (“The Austen Assizes,” for the Brooklyn AGM of 2012 and “A Dangerous Intimacy: Behind the Scenes in Mansfield Park” in Montreal in 2014) as well as two plays of my own, a “Mrs. Elton in Vancouver” one in 2007, and “You Are Passionate, Jane,” a dialogue in Heaven between Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte (Jane is the literary guardian who decides which writers will enter and she is not fond of Bronte). This was performed at Chawton House Library in 2016, with Syrie as Jane and myself as Bronte, as well as at the Huntington Beach JASNA AGM in 2017 and several other performances. It was almost put on by the Morgan Library in New York, but I was disappointed!

After my retirement from Warner Bros my husband became ill and my life took a detour into caretaking; miribile dictu, he recovered, and words can’t express how rejoiced I have been to resume novel writing, and this year bring The Bride of Northanger “home” to the JASNA conference on Northanger Abbey in Williamsburg!  It was the very place of all that I had most longed to be, signing my pretty book for so many friends old and new, and also was honored to speak on a panel on JASNA’s fabulous and friend-filled forty year history (“The Company of Clever, Well-Informed People,” with Conrad Harper, Juliet McMaster, and Mary Gaither Marshall).

JAIV: You are, of course, the true voice of Mrs. Elton – you have captured her to a T – so why her? Why not Miss Bates, or Mrs. Norris, Mrs. Bennet, or Mary Crawford?

DIANA:  Well, I did do Miss Bates, see above, and played Mrs. Norris in the Montreal play (wearing a Gone With the Wind/Carol Burnett outfit of green baize curtains. Mrs. Bennet had a cat-fight with Lady Catherine in Syrie’s and my “Austen Assizes.” However, Mrs. Elton was first among my gallery of Austen grotesques, for I confess to a peculiar fascination with Jane Austen’s villains (note what happens to General Tilney in The Bride of Northanger). I suppose this is because people are drawn to very different things in Austen – some love the romance, others the style, the period – and my greatest love is for her amazing humor. To this day, after thousands (literally) of re-readings, I still find new humor and beauty in seemingly quiet turns of phrase that I never noticed before.

As for why Mrs. Elton particularly, I think it’s that she was an outsider, a transplant. As a New Yorker who found herself a fish out of water moving to Los Angeles, something in me could relate. Austen had always been my classroom in learning how to behave, but I was initially baffled by the response of Emma and the other Highbury denizens to the horrors of Mrs. Elton. To me, her behavior wasn’t horrible; what do you do when you’re a new bride in an unknown place? Why not invite people to form a musical society? I think it’s understandable that you might try to impress, when feeling new and insecure. But clearly Jane Austen didn’t think so, and I realized I had a lot to learn and had better delve harder into Emma and examine Mrs. Elton more carefully!

JAIV: You have many stories and non-fiction writings on your own blog and on the Jane Austen Variations blog [https://austenvariations.com/]. For your non-fiction, what is your favorite topic to research in the Regency Period? And which do you find the most difficult to achieve authenticity in your own fictional writings? As an example, you obviously have read about the dissolution of the monasteries for The Bride of Northanger.

DIANA:  Hm, well, I don’t research anything in the Regency or any period for its own sake, only as how it relates to whatever story I’m writing. For instance, in a recent serial story I wrote about the Darcys going to Venice and meeting Lord Byron. It became imperative to learn a good deal about the continental travels of those days, and Byron’s Italian life and circumstances. I must say, never was research more fun! (Venice is probably my favorite place on earth, after England). And you are correct, I certainly did read about the dissolution of the monasteries for The Bride of Northanger. Your contributing writer and friend Tony Grant was a great inspiration in this direction, and I absolutely loved his wonderful piece on Netley Abbey. Imagine growing up near there, as he did! (John Constable’s painting of Netley is used on my book’s cover, you’ll notice). For most of my working life I visited England on my annual vacations, amounting to “as many trips as would always be called forty.” Yet I never, to my great regret, have visited Netley Abbey. I know now how it must have inspired Jane Austen, and it is my firm intention to visit it next trip!

Netley Abbey by Moonlight c.1833 John Constable 1776-1837 Purchased 1969 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T01147

[JAIV: You can read Tony Grant’s blog post on Netley Abbey via Jane Austen’s World here:  http://general-southerner.blogspot.com/2018/01/netley-abbey-and-gothic.html – I had the privilege of visiting Netley with Tony a few years ago – it was a rainy overcast day, and I could well envision Jane Austen lurking about finding inspiration for her abbey at Northanger!]

DIANA: As for the other part of your question, achieving authenticity in my own fictional writings – as Jane Austen had Elizabeth Bennet say, “I must not decide on my own performance.” However, those thousands of re-readings have installed the novels pretty thoroughly in my head, and I slip into my Austenesque voice rather as Norma Jeane Baker switched on Marilyn in front of the cameras. Not, I hasten to add, with similar effect! I only mean that I make the transition with ease. Whether it really works or not, I have the fond illusion it does, which is necessary.

JAIV: Of the many sequels, continuations, variations, etc, Northanger Abbey has been sadly neglected; P&P takes the lead, but even Mansfield Park has its fair share of an afterlife. Why do you think this is? And, is this the main reason for choosing Northanger Abbey for your latest book?

DIANA:  Northanger Abbey does get rather overlooked, but to me it has such charm, as we follow Catherine on her adventures into the world of Bath, her beguiling romantic encounters with Henry Tilney, and the Gothic amusements and literary commentary Jane Austen lays out for the reader. It may be the Gothic aspects, the parody of “horrid novels” make it seem like a one-trick pony compared with her more mature works, but I do love it and think it contains many pleasures and much wisdom. But its afterlife or lack of it has nothing to do with why I chose it for my latest book. I fell in love with it (rather belatedly) at the time of the last NA-themed JASNA conference (Portland, 2010), and always meant to write a novel about it. I did make a beginning and an outline, but life intervened, and it was only when I realized that the next NA AGM was coming up, I decided I’d better get cracking!  So I did. Perhaps you are starting to get the idea of what role JASNA in general has played in my creative writing life!

JJ Feild as Henry Tilney, 2007

JAIV: Which leads us to: So why Henry Tilney? He has become a favorite of mine, but it took several readings to get past what first appears to boorish, condescending, and manipulative behavior (he is his father’s son after all!) – tell us YOUR history with Henry!

DIANA: Oh, I’ve always loved Henry, he’s pretty much my favorite Austen hero, yes, better even than Mr. Darcy. I love me a witty man, my husband Peter even identifies with him, and with Mr. Bennet too, a bit. I never saw Henry as boorish or manipulative, we’ll have to differ on that, and I think he got over his condescension as his respect for Catherine increased. I did question why such a clever man would fall for a girl who was a bit of a goose as Catherine was in NA, and so I set about to try to understand how this could happen. Jane Austen’s explanation, “his affection originated in nothing better than gratitude, or, in other words, that a persuasion of her partiality for him had been the only cause of giving her a serious thought,” is not that satisfying. So I explored the father-son dynamic between General Tilney and Henry, writing about it in an essay for Sarah Emsley’s Northanger Abbey blog celebration, “The Ogre of Northanger Abbey” (https://sarahemsley.com/2018/06/11/general-tilney-the-ogre-of-northanger-abbey/). This helped me come to the conclusion that after being bullied by his dictatorial father all his life, the simple and pellucid Catherine was a balm to Henry: she represented the very opposite of his father’s qualities. As he said, “Open, candid, artless, guileless, with affections strong but simple, forming no pretensions, and knowing no disguise,” to which his sister Eleanor answered with a smile, “Such a sister-in-law, Henry, I should delight in.”

JAIV: Can you give a short summary of the plot without giving too much away?

DIANA:  Can try. The story opens the night before Henry and Catherine’s wedding, a year after the ending of Northanger Abbey. During the year of their engagement, they have corresponded, and under Henry’s tutelage Catherine, in growing from 17 to 18, has read some very wise books and has grown more nearly his equal, in fact she bids fair to mature into a remarkably sensible woman. Horrid stories are a thing of the past – until Henry reluctantly announces that there is a curse on the family of Northanger Abbey. If in the original novel Catherine found that a real life villain might do more damage than any Gothic imaginings, here she learns that Gothic horrors are not entirely things of the imagination after all!

JAIV: You DO capture Austen’s difficult language – is that from years of reading and writing about her and does it come easily, flowing from your pen? Or did you have much editing to get it just right?

DIANA: Thank you! Yes, certainly, decades of rereading and imitating Austen’s style and dialogue do give one a facility (as Mrs. Morland says about Catherine being a heedless housekeeper, there’s “Nothing like practice”). The characters start to talk to me and I write it down as they do – but that said, I then do several editing drafts. First draft is usually getting it all down, second draft I reread and see what it needs to make it work, final draft is polish, polish, polish.

HM Brock, NA, 1898

JAIV: Your epigraph is from Hamlet:

I could a tale unfold, whose lightest word
Would harrow up they soul.”

This is a perfect introduction to your tale – it sounds like Henry teasing Catherine on the way to the Abbey which prompts her fantastical imaginings – but this is funny in NA, and foreshadows what happens when Catherine is finally settled at the Abbey. Your choice of this Shakespeare quote lends a serious, sinister, heavy hand take to your story, and indeed, we are immediately told of a long-in-effect Curse on the Tilney family (no more spoilers!) – so why this quote?

DIANA: Where the Gothic was imaginary, and parodied, in Northanger Abbey, it turned out to be much more alarmingly real in my novel!  Catherine enters a dark world, a family with a dark history, for sure. Her maturing good sense makes her evolve into a true heroine, and her love and happy marriage with Henry gets them both through the worst of times. However, in spite of my loving Austen’s humor more than nearly any other quality of hers, and obediently trying to imitate it as often and as best I can, The Bride of Northanger is by no means entirely light and funny. Henry and Eleanor did have a truly Gothic childhood, thanks to that ogre father of theirs, and worse things happen because of this than merely Catherine being sent home alone. I have tried to investigate the nature of what really is a family curse, and how it might be dissipated. Heritage is what is handed down for generations – but sometimes an evil cycle needs to be broken.

JAIV: The problem with a Mystery tale is that we don’t want to present too many spoilers in an interview – yet many questions could be asked (your reading public wants to know!) why you deal with certain characters as you do – some get their just desserts we could say (without saying who!) Are you concerned with reactions to this? – it IS a bit shocking! Did you toy with other options for your ending, or was this clear from the get-go as how the story had to end?

DIANA:  Oh, I know who and what you mean! It is a bit shocking, but by then I was well immersed in Gothic literature in which things like that are rife!  And then my son Paul (he is the librarian on Catalina island, and another very funny Henry Tilneyesque man) had his influence, and it is a mischievous one…

Mysteries of Udolpho, by Ann Radcliffe

JAIV: You include all the many tropes of the Gothic genre – you give us a REAL Gothic tale!: Fainting and Trembling Heroines, Poisonings and Mysterious Deaths, Scary Creatures in the night, Family Curses, Ghosts and Hauntings, Hidden Subterraneous Passages, Locked Doors, Secret Messages, Long-Locked Chests, Shimmering Candles, Spies and Political Ravings, and the like – but like Ann Radcliffe, all is eventually explained (well almost…). What other Gothic novels and authors have you read to prepare you for this? Have you read any of the Horrid Northanger Novels made famous by Isabella Thorpe?? Do you have a favorite?

DIANA:  A very well put summation, Deb!  Of course, the Horrid novels were exactly what I read for my research. You can’t do a Gothic plot without some familiarity. It’s not my favorite genre, nor really natural to me, but to my surprise I quite enjoyed some of them. Real page-turners, and I actually believe that my own writing benefited from a dose of page-turning, “what will happen next?  My favorite was Ann Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho, which just like Henry Tilney, I read “with my hair standing on end the whole time.”

I was also inspired by my good friend Janet Todd’s novel A Man of Genius. It’s an historical novel set in the 18th century, which no one knows better than she, and she uses Ann Radcliffe references brilliantly. My book is dedicated to Janet, friend and companion of many adventures, both real and literary.

JAIV: What do you think Jane Austen would say about your “meddling” with her story? [I do love that Catherine finally gets a proper sheaf of papers from a long-locked chest – so much better than a laundry list!]

DIANA: Well, as Jane Austen did continue talking about her characters to her family after publication, and indulged in a variety of writing discussions with her niece Anna, both playful and helpful, I don’t know that she’d have minded “meddling” 200 years after the fact, but hope she might have been pleased by the degree of admiration! (And thanks, it was fun imagining what those papers might be! Each generation might have told a different story.)

JAIV: One could make a reading list from all the authors you mention Catherine reading under the tutelage of Henry: Homer, Cowper, Crabbe, Scott, Wordsworth, Milton, Johnson, Maria Edgeworth, Darwin, Locke, etc! You have made her a wise woman and certainly an equal to Henry – has it bothered you that many readers take from NA that Henry will continue in their married life to tease and belittle Catherine for her innocence and lack of education?

DIANA: I don’t think I realized that some readers see it that way. Since he’s going to live with her for a long lifetime, is quite a bit older and more educated than she is, and is a man of good will, would it not be likelier that he would try to educate her than spend a lifetime belittling her? That’s the regrettable way Mr. Bennet dealt with his wife, but even at 17 Catherine is a far more sensible woman than Mrs. Bennet, with a great deal more potential!

JAIV:  What would you most like your readers to take away from your Northanger story?

DIANA: Just to enjoy it, I hope; and perhaps reread Northanger Abbey, and think about Jane Austen!

JAIV: Why do you think that Jane Austen continues to be the “Darling” of academia as well as popular culture?

DIANA: Well, she is a genius, but at the same time a wholly accessible genius. You can read her and analyze her forever, but also enjoy her forever. She appeals to high minded analytical critics who find endless qualities in her to debate and speculate on, but she can also be thoroughly relished for a thumping good love story. She’s got it all. When I had read her works a few times over I looked around to see who could be the next fabulous author at whose feet I could worship and from whose mind and style I could learn for the rest of my life. There wasn’t one.

JAIV: Do you have a favorite Austen movie? Which do you think got it most right? Most wrong?

DIANA: No, I would by no means suspend any pleasure of others (as Mr. Darcy said) but I don’t watch the movies.  Saw a few, but they kind of disturbed my own readings of Austen, so I just left it there.

JAIV: What is your writing process? Your best advice to aspiring writers?

DIANA: My writing process is so narrow and specialized (as I said in the AGM talk, “not six inches on ivory but two inches on foolscap”), I would not advise aspiring writers of anything. Could I say, “Spend the rest of your life reading Jane Austen and write pastiche about her?” Not really. Perhaps I might say, “Find something you really feel passionately about and write about it.” That might do.

JAIV: What are the five most important books in your Austen library?

DIANA: The Letters, that’s what I refer to most. Haven’t really consulted any others in years.

JAIV: I hate to point out mistakes that I find in reading – how one covers all the bases in their research I don’t know, but I have to comment on two:

– I know you are a committed Cat Person, so I understand that you may have not been paying full attention to Henry’s Dogs: you write: “Oh! How the little terrier puppies are grown!” (p 16) when Catherine arrives at Woodson after her marriage: but in NA when Catherine visits Henry’s parsonage for the first time, she finds the “friends of his solitude, a large Newfoundland puppy and two or three terriers.” I forgive you this slip because of the Cat Thing…but if there is to be a  sequel or the like, I’d like to see a Newfoundland in the plot somewhere!

Camilla, by Frances Burney, 5 vols. (abebooks)

– You write that Henry is reading Frances Burney’s Camilla to Catherine and her sister Sarah, and he comments that John Thorpe “would [not] have patience for three volumes entire.” (p 152). While most books during Austen’s time were published in 3-volumes, Camilla, like Burney’s Cecilia, were published in five volumes. I hate to quibble, but alas! the eyes of a bookseller had that jump off the page – please forgive me! (and someone else is bound to point it out…you will now be prepared for an answer!)

DIANA:  Well, I don’t know that my Dog Mistake is all that bad – after all, there are terriers in NA, and (putting on a dark Gothic tone) who knows what became of the Newfoundland puppy? As for Camilla being in five volumes instead of three, I have perfect faith that no reader but yourself will know this fact, but as you say, if anyone does, I will be prepared! (Grin)

JAIV: The cover of The Bride of Northanger is wonderful, perfect (it looks like Felicity Jones of 2008 Northanger fame!) – this is I believe a real portrait but it is not credited anywhere. Can you tell us about it?

Corisande de Gramont, Countess of Tankerville – pastel on paper (wikipedia)

DIANA: Now, Deb, that IS a mistake. A real, true error, and I am heartily sorry for it. I should definitely have put an explanation of the cover painting in the book’s acknowledgements. I have written about it in several blogs, but a reader admiring the cover (and many people have been very taken with that painting already!) may not have seen those explanations. In short, the portrait is by Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun [see Diana’s post on the artist here at English Historical Fiction Authors]. I was searching among her paintings for “my” Catherine, and I knew her the minute I saw her. The young lady subject was exactly Catherine’s age, eighteen when the portrait was made in 1800, though she was no naïve English girl. She was a French aristocrat, Corisande de Gramont (1783 – 1865). Corisande was a granddaughter of the Duchesse de Polignac, the favorite of Marie Antoinette, and she married Charles Augustus Bennet (you can’t make this stuff up!), 5th Earl of Tankerville, and settled in England.  I added the painting of Netley Abbey by John Constable to the cover [see above], and it was designed and put together so beautifully by Rebecca Young, my book designer.

JAIV: Did you learn anything new at the JASNA AGM on Northanger Abbey just held in Williamsburg?

DIANA: Oh, yes! Professor Roger E. Moore of Vanderbilt University gave the most astonishing, mind-opening, revelatory plenary talk. “Northanger Before the Tilneys: Austen’s Abbey and the Religious Past” was so good that I promptly bought his book [Jane Austen and the Reformation]. Of course the subject was very in keeping with my novel, with monks and curses, depredations and “real solemn history.” Yet I noted that people who had no previous special interest in the subject were just as enthralled with Professor Moore’s talk as I was! It was one of the highlights of the conference for me – in addition to the excitement of being on that JASNA panel, the glorious fun of the author book signing, and my trip to Jamestown and the James River plantations. It really was a spectacular conference!

[I completely agree Diana – Professor Moore’s talk was riveting!]

JAIV: What’s up next??

DIANA: Doing a sequel to Little Women. It’s called Jo on the March.

JAIV: Sounds terrific (we should ALL be re-reading Little Women – a new movie is coming out on December 25!) – Anything else you want to share with your / my readers?

DIANA: Don’t you think, as Mr. Bennet told Mary, that I have delighted you long enough?

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Thank you Diana! Very much appreciate your insights on your latest book – it is a terrific read, I have to say – I read it TWICE in order to come up with questions – lots to see there the second time around!

DIANA: Thank YOU, Deb!

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About the Author:

Diana Birchall worked for many years at Warner Bros studios as a story analyst, reading novels to see if they would make movies. Reading manuscripts went side by side with a restorative and sanity-preserving life in Jane Austen studies and resulted in her writing Austenesque fiction both as homage and attempted investigation of the secrets of Jane Austen’s style. She is the author of In Defense of Mrs. Elton, Mrs. Elton in America, Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma, and the new The Bride of Northanger. She has written hundreds of Austenesque short stories and plays, as well as a biography of her novelist grandmother, and has lectured on her books and staged play readings at places as diverse as Hollywood, Brooklyn, Montreal, Chawton House Library, Alaska, and Yale.

You can visit Diana in all these places:

You can follow the blog tour, hosted by Austenprose, October 28 – November 15, 2019 – all the locations are listed here: https://austenprose.com/2019/10/18/the-teamtilney-blog-tour-of-the-bride-of-northanger-begins-on-october-28th/

You can buy The Bride of Northanger here:

c2019 Jane Austen in Vermont

Guest Author Interview ~ Bryan Kozlowski on “The Jane Austen Diet”

Dear Healthy Readers: I welcome today Bryan Kozlowski, author of The Jane Austen Diet: Austen’s Secrets to Food, Health, and Incandescent Happiness – he joins us here to answer a few questions about his book, why he wrote it, how long he’s been a reader of Jane Austen, and when he discovered she had all these things to say about nutrition and health.  Joceline Bury, the book reviewer for Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine calls it “a delectable salmagundy or culinary history, illuminating quotes, dietary science and intriguing recipes – it made this gourmand’s heart sing. Delicious in every way.”          

*****         

 Welcome Bryan!

When did you first start to realize that Austen’s work contained these words of wisdom about wellness?

Very unexpectedly. Looking back, Jane and I had always been in a very superficial relationship. Begging her polite pardon, I never viewed her beyond anything other than a pure romance writer, always good for a giggle over the newest rich gent in the neighborhood, but not exactly influential to everyday life. If anything, Austen was just a bosom buddy I turned to for distraction from modern life, never realizing she held one of its biggest solutions. Yet that all changed rather quickly two years ago. Nearing my 30th birthday and in the midst of a personal wellness quandary (wondering, among other things, whatever happened to the energy levels of my roaring twenties), I delved into the latest health books for answers. That’s when it happened.  Reading the “newest” research on eating, exercise, and holistic living felt very familiar, like literary déjà vu. Hadn’t I come across these exact insights before in Austen’s novels? Hadn’t she said the same thing, espoused nearly identical lifestyle advice, over two-hundred years ago? It all looked amazingly similar to the way her healthiest characters eat, stay fit, and interact with nature. The discovery led me to health maxims in Austen’s writings I never knew existed, which revealed a side to this famous English spinster rarely, if ever, discussed. Here was a woman just as interested in persuading her readers to live a healthier life as she was inspiring them to fall in love. Plainly, Austen wanted to take my relationship with her to the next level. So I took the plunge, deciding to test out her unique health strategies for myself (rather secretly, at first – one doesn’t announce to the world that one is going on the Jane Austen “diet,” does one?) It was a personal guinea-pig project that – shockingly – was not only suitable to the 21st century, the elegance of embracing “health and happiness” like a true Austenite is one that I now heartily announce to anyone in sore need of adding back some civility and sense to their own modern health routine. 

You’re not a health professional. Do you intend for people to actually follow this plan? Is it a serious contribution to the wellness space?

Quite right. It’s something I discuss upfront in the book: that neither am I nor was Austen a doctor (or apothecary, rather!). Austen was, however, one of the most brilliant observers of human nature, and devoted her literary life to finding out what makes people happier and healthier both in mind and body. For this reason, Austen is often considered one of the best “didactic” novelists, meaning she made it her mission to inspire us – no matter the century – to live a better life. And just like she didn’t need to get married herself to understand the nuances of love, she didn’t need a medical degree to accurately grasp what our bodies need to thrive – the evidence is all in her novels. In fact, the health advice scattered throughout her writing continues to be so timeless today because it was based on organic observation, not on shifting fashions or fads. She knew what naturally worked for our bodies and what didn’t, which is why her wellness philosophies find such resounding support from the latest health research. Moreover, it’s important to remember that Austen lived in an age that faced health challenges nearly identical to the ones we grapple with today. The Regency era had its own mini obesity epidemic, movement crises, and trendy starvation diets to contend with. Yet in her own clever way, Austen chose to respond (never bluntly) but with subtle, counterculture clues woven throughout her fiction: clues meant to gently motivate us to better alternatives. And I, for one, am so grateful she did.

What is the best piece of advice gleaned from Austen included in your book?

Austen would probably get a merry kick out of my attempt to answer this, as her health code purposefully defies any attempt at tidy condensing. But if possible to boil down, you could say that it’s built on one refreshing reminder – that “health” is far more holistic than most of us have been conditioned to view it today (that is, as an isolated number on a scale, BMI chart, food plan, fitness strategy, or dress size). As a matter of fact, weight hardly mattered to Jane at all, who progressively considered excessive thinness, not fatness, as a much more serious risk to health. There are corpulent characters in her novels, of course, who could certainly loose a few pounds, but Austen chose to widen the lens and focus instead on what she calls the “complete” “picture of health” throughout her fiction. In short, Austen’s healthiest characters never have just one defining attribute that makes them “lovely, blooming, [and] healthful” but a sweeping range of interconnected lifestyle habits and patterns that keep them effortlessly “in health” from tip to toe: from their relationship to food and exercise, to their interactions with nature, to how they think and feel about their bodies. Your corset size mattered far less to Jane than how you laced up the rest of your life.

 Which of Austen’s heroines lives the healthiest life, and why?

What I love about Austen’s approach to wellness is its firm footing in reality – that is, none of her heroines start their stories as perfect paradigms of health. Everybody has something to learn. Anne Elliot begins Persuasion “faded” and frumpy and Marianne Dashwood certainly has some hard health lessons ahead of her in Sense and Sensibility. But if any heroine could be said to have a head start on the rest, I believe it would be Lizzie Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. If nothing more than the fact that she begins the novel completely comfortable in her own skin. So much so, she instantly laughs off Mr. Darcy’s infamous body-shaming snark (“he had detected with a critical eye more than one failure of perfect symmetry in her form”). And that alone was incredibly important to Austen, an early promoter of body positivity. Because becoming healthy in Austenworld truly begins in your mind, where the quality of your relationship to food, fitness, and even your reflection in the mirror will greatly depend on how you think about those things. Still incredibly important today, these are the mental “exercises” that set apart the body healthy from the body harmful in Austen’s novels. As Fanny Price insists in Mansfield Park, “that would be exercise only to my body, and I must take care of my mind.”

What is the most surprising/useful habit that those living in Austen’s era abided by for health?

The most surprising aspect of Austen’s wellness program is her insistence that a healthy diet includes far more than just food – that it relies on a daily dose of nature, too. Things like fresh air, sunlight, trees, good clean dirt and sea breezes are practically treated like vitamins in her fiction, routinely prescribed to any character in need of a body reboot. And though I used to (shamefully) think Austen had gone a wee bit too far with her love for nature – note Lizzie in Pride and Prejudice, at one point, prefers “rocks and mountains” to actual men – thanks to new and growing support from modern science, it is now an essential part of my own wellness walk with Jane, and one I cannot live without.

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About the author:

Bryan Kozlowski is a passionate champion of “lit wit” – bringing the wisdom of classic literature into everyday life. From Jane Austen to Charles Dickens to children’s cookbooks, his books celebrate the modern magic of living literarily. His works have appeared in Vogue, the New York Times and the Washington Post. He graduated valedictorian from The Culinary Institute of America in New York, where he fell in love with British food history, and interned at Saveur food magazine before setting off on the writing path.

About the book:

Bryan KozlowskiThe Jane Austen Diet: Austen’s Secrets to Food, Health, and Incandescent Happiness

Turner Publishing, 2019
Paperback: 304 pages
ISBN: 978-1684422128

If you have any questions for Bryan, please comment below.

Thank you Bryan for sharing your new book with us! I am heading out now for my daily walk knowing Jane would heartily approve!

c2019 Jane Austen in Vermont

Guest Post ~ Nancy I. Sanders on Her New Book, “Jane Austen for Kids”

Good Morning Readers! Today I welcome Nancy I Sanders, author of the recently released Jane Austen for Kids: Her Life, Writings, and World. Designed for ages 9 and up, the book provides 21 enriching activities to help them gain a better understanding of daily life in the Georgia era: playing whist, designing a coat-of-arms, planting a kitchen garden, learning the boulanger, hosting a tea, playing cricket, sewing a reticule – all activities Jane would have participated in – and now we can too! Filled with pictures and much information of Austen’s life and works, this is a lively and engaging way to learn more about Jane Austen. I highly recommend that you add this book to your Austen collection, no matter your age – you might learn how to curl your hair just like Jane did!

Join Nancy as she takes us on a tour through Jane Austen country, where she was inspired to write this book!

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Our beloved Jane once wrote in a letter to her sister Cassandra, “It appeared so likely to be a wet evening that I went up to the Great House between three and four, and dawdled away an hour very comfortably.”

Two centuries later, early in the afternoon on July 19, 2017, I rode with my husband Jeff and our JASNA tour group on the tour bus toward the Great House. My heart beat with excitement as we drove past quaint homes, many reflecting days gone by.

I had traveled all the way from Los Angeles here to Hampshire to treasure this experience today. As a children’s writer, I was researching and taking photographs for my newest book, Jane Austen for Kids. But for me as well as others in our group, today would be a highlight of our trip. I would get to visit Jane’s adult home, the church she attended with her mother and sister and other family members, and her brother Edward’s nearby mansion, known affectionately as the Great House.

Chawton House –  “The Great House”

We turned up the lane and I saw it. The Great House. Jane spent many a merry day here visiting her nieces and nephews…exploring the well-stocked library…meandering over the manicured grounds…drinking delightful teas…and, I dare say, collecting many ideas for her novels.

What a joy it was to explore the Great House. Now known as the Chawton House, its collections feature Jane Austen as well as other famous women writers. We visited its library room with collections of rare books. We saw the huge portrait painted of Edward Knight, Jane’s fortunate brother who was adopted by the childless Knights. The silhouette of this adoption was also here at the Great House. It was because of her brother’s adoption by Jane’s wealthy relatives that Edward eventually inherited this property and also the humble cottage that eventually was granted for Jane, her mother, and her sister Cassandra to live in.

In the dining room was the same dining table where Jane would sit down to eat when she visited her brother and her favorite niece, Fanny. We saw Jane’s favorite window overlooking the gravel driveway where Jane would sit and look out and imagine…

 

Finally it was time to leave. There were other memories to explore. We headed toward St. Nicholas Church, located next to the Great House.

Arriving at St. Nicholas Church, a peaceful pastoral scene greeted us. Its open gate beckoned us inside.

Later that day, I wrote in my travel journal of this experience:

As we walked down the golden gravel path, the gentle mist fell around us as the gentle mist of time melted away. We walked in the footsteps of Jane and her family on their way to church and to visit each other. Sheep bleated peacefully in the nearby pasture. Jane’s sister and mother are buried behind the church. Their tombstones stand as silent reminders that there are stories of our Jane still waiting to be told…

 

Parish Church of St. Nicholas, Chawton

 

We passed by tombstones, weathered by the rains and sunshines of time. Even though this church has been renovated and altered from its original design, it was still a remarkable site to see.

Inside was a simple magnificence.

A hushed stillness comforted our visit and filled us with awe.

I headed outside, paused for a moment to take a photo shot, then walked around in search of the graveyard.

More sheep grazed quietly near the old churchyard fence.

A giant tree, ancient silent sentinel, hosted a sign that pointed me toward the back.

And then I saw them. Standing side by side as markers of the two women who were perhaps most influential in Jane’s life. Her mother and her sister, both named Cassandra. The moss and ivy made delicate frames for this picturesque site. I lingered…savoring this moment…quiet…reflecting…the influence of these women reaching down through two centuries to influence me as a woman, as a reader, and as a writer.

But there was more to see, so I finally pulled myself away and headed back to the front of the church, out the gate, and down the gravel lane. I turned to take one last look at St. Nicholas and bid it farewell.

****

Then down the gravel lane to the country road. Destination? Chawton Cottage, the home where Jane lived and wrote a large bulk of her novels. Today it houses Jane Austen’s House Museum.

We walked down the Jane Austen Trail….

The country land led us past moss-covered fence posts and ivy-covered trees. I must have brushed against the undergrowth because suddenly, the calf of my right leg was on fire.

Alas! That ancient culprit. Stinging nettle! I had become its victim just as in Jane’s day. Except for the pain, I had to smile. It was an unexpected souvenir of my day’s adventure.

We meandered past more quaint homes and delightfully overgrown gardens.

 

We turned the corner. And there it was. Chawton Cottage. Jane’s beloved home. Tea awaited us! Along with a glimpse into the daily life and heart of Jane.

Inside we found her writing table. The infamous door that squeaked. The bedroom she shared with Cassandra her adult life. The garden where she gathered flowers…but more than just things, we found rich treasures. Pearls and diamonds enough to fill our hearts to overflowing…yet never enough. Can one ever get enough of our Jane?

 

Once outside again, a surprise awaited us. This bench was one of many benches painted in commemoration of 200 years of Jane’s legacy to the world. They were scattered throughout Hampshire and we saw quite a number of them at various historic sites where Jane visited or stayed.

This beautiful bench brought me back from the 1700-1800s to my current day. It reminded me that I had a task to do. An exciting project that I would spend the rest of that year working on. My biography of Jane that would bring her life to young readers in a way no other book has done, focusing on Jane’s childhood and juvenile writings as well as including historic activities based on Jane’s life and times.

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Jane Austen for Kids: Her Life, Writings, and World
By Nancy I. Sanders
Official book’s website:  http://nancyisanders.com/jane-austen/

About the author:

Nancy I. Sanders was introduced to Jane Austen as a teenager when she read Pride and Prejudice aloud with her future sister-in-law. Since then she chose to follow in Jane’s footsteps to become a writer—although her published books mostly are enjoyed by younger readers (such as the rollicking fun picture book A Pirate’s Mother Goose). With over 100 books to her credit including bestsellers and award-winning titles, Nancy still enjoys reading Jane Austen with Persuasion being her current favorite. Nancy and her husband Jeff live in Norco CA near their two sons and their wives, and three grandchildren.

Credits:

  • “It appeared”: Jane to Cassandra Austen, 13 June 1814, in Chapman, Jane Austen’s Letters, 388.
  • Chawton House photos by author, courtesy of Chawton House
  • St. Nicholas photos by author, courtesy of St. Nicholas, Chawton
  • Chawton Cottage photo by author, courtesy of the Jane Austen’s House Museum

c2019, Jane Austen in Vermont

Reblog: The Inexhaustible Jane Austen: An Interview with Jocelyn Harris and Bucknell University Press

Gentle Readers: I post here the full text of an interview with Austen scholar Jocelyn Harris that she did with her publisher Bucknell University Press on her newest book Satire, Celebrity, & Politics in Jane Austen. You can find the original post here: http://upress.blogs.bucknell.edu/2017/10/16/the-inexhaustible-jane-austen-an-interview-with-jocelyn-harris/

[Photo by Reg Graham]

Upon the release of her new book Satire, Celebrity, & Politics in Jane Austen (Bucknell University Press, 2017), Jocelyn Harris was kind enough to discuss her research and writing on the witty English novelist.  Jane Austen has been the subject for much of Harris’ work, and still is, as Harris continues to uncover new insights into Austen’s life and writing. As Harris puts it, Austen is “quite simply inexhaustible”—and as Harris’ responses demonstrate, new methods of research and deeper investigation reveal more about her with each new endeavor.

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Bucknell University Press [BUP]: You state in your introduction that you “reconstruct Jane Austen’s creative process by means of the newspapers she perused, the gossip she heard, the streets she walked upon, and the sights she saw.”  This method suggests a focus on environment, an almost anthropological study of a different time and place.  What was the research process like in regards to uncovering evidence from the past?  What challenges did you meet?  What was the most rewarding?

Jocelyn Harris [JH]: Distance is my biggest challenge, because I live in New Zealand, half a world away from the great libraries of Europe and North America. The Internet has quite simply changed my life. Exciting new resources such as databases of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century newspapers, digitized manuscripts, online books, blogs, and search engines all open up cultural and historical contexts that bring her back to life—as do new books and editions in print and e-book form, readily accessible articles on the web, and email suggestions from friends.

Reading the magnificent modern editions of Fanny Burney’s letters and journals made me aware that snippets of her correspondence, obviously too good to ignore, reappear in Austen’s novels. My guess is that her mother’s gossipy cousin, who lived over the road from the celebrated author, could have told the family many a sensational tale of Burney’s life at the court of George III.

With the help of the Internet, I realized that Austen probably based Elizabeth and Jane Bennet on two royal mistresses. Dorothy Jordan, celebrity actress, mistress to the Duke of Clarence, and mother of his ten children, seems to have inspired her creation of the lively Elizabeth, while Austen would identify a portrait of the regent’s mistress, Mrs. Georgina Quentin, as Mrs. Bingley. When the regent came courting this “professed spanker,” Georgina was living in Covent Garden, where Austen stayed with her banker brother, Henry.

Most of Jane Austen’s correspondence has been lost, and she kept no diary. Therefore, I had to fill out her life by poring over her locations, her reading, her social and literary networks, her knowledge of current events, and her viewing of cartoons and portraits.

BUP: While she is immortalized by her writing, Austen was a real person living during a unique moment in history.  In your opinion, what is the most compelling piece of information that you learned about Jane Austen during the research process for this book?

JH: Austen is often regarded as a gentle, amusing ironist. But as the title of Satire, Celebrity, and Politics in Jane Austen indicates, I believe that she was a courageous political satirist.  At a time when the cult of celebrity was in its infancy, she targeted celebrities, up to and including the Prince of Wales. Her in-jokes about public figures demonstrate her worldliness, her fascination with fame, and her relish of rumor.

She was also never more than one degree of separation away from royalty. To know from a local historian’s website that the young Prince of Wales lived near Steventon, Austen’s home, was to understand why she created so many satiric avatars of him. Austen was a patriot, and the prince was endangering the nation. She attacked him in the only way she could, obliquely, through her characters and plots. In Northanger Abbey, for instance, the unlovely John Thorpe lies, boasts, swears, looks, and behaves as badly as Prince George. A “stout young man of middling height,” with a “plain face and ungraceful form,” Thorpe utters “a short decisive sentence of praise or condemnation on the face of every woman they met.”

Austen attacks the prince yet again in Mansfield Park’s Henry Crawford, a man marked like him by caprice and unsteadiness. Crawford indulges in the “freaks of a cold-blooded vanity,” and rids himself of his money and leisure “at the idlest haunts in the kingdom.” In Persuasion, she criticizes Sir Walter Elliot’s status and power, as unearned as the regent’s, and praises Captain Wentworth’s merit and courage. Austen’s lacerating portraits suggest first-hand knowledge of the prince’s vulgar, voyeuristic, and self-indulgent ways.

BUP: Considering again the study of place, if Austen had lived during this day and age, who do you think her subjects for inspiration might have been?  How do you think the world would have reacted to her wit, humor, and criticism?

JH: A Regency woman in a golden age of satire, Austen attacked the Prince of Wales for his much-lampooned appearance, his lewdness, his vanity, his instability, his outrageous spending, his tremendous debts, his desire for absolute power, his implicit treason, his fondness for over-the-top building ventures, and his embarrassing braggadocio. Even court insiders warned that the prince was not fit to be king, and Austen wrote that she hated him. The current resurgence of political satire in social media, newspapers, and cartoons would have delighted this savvy, progressive, and thoroughly modern woman.

BUP: Satire, Celebrity, and Politics being your third book on Jane Austen, how has your research evolved regarding your interest in her life and writing? Are there any questions that still need to be answered? What will you do next?

JH: I only want to know how Jane Austen did it (only!). In Jane Austen’s Art of Memory (Cambridge University Press, 1989), I followed the turns of her mind as she picked up elements from other writers and made them into her own. Undeterred by being a woman, she took whatever she wanted from anywhere.

In A Revolution Almost Beyond Expression: Jane Austen’s “Persuasion” (University of Delaware Press, 2007), I traced her creative process in the only manuscript to survive from her published novels. In the cancelled chapters of Persuasion, she deletes, interlineates, writes new material in the margins, and sticks on a scrap with a wax wafer. Eight days later, she threw all that away, and wrote some of the most remarkable scenes in her work––the last chapters of Persuasion.  She was indeed a true professional.

At a time of hardship, inequality, and war, Austen wrote, “How much are the Poor to be pitied, and the Rich to be blamed.” In Persuasion, she attacks the class hierarchies propping up the society of her day. In a highly subversive move, she sets Sir Walter Elliot’s Baronetage against Captain Wentworth’s Navy List, pride of birth against pride of accomplishment. The aging patriarch of the Elliots cannot compete with the glamorous young Captain Wentworth, who derives from real-life heroes such as Lord Nelson, Lord Byron, and Captain Cook. So too, in this brave new world of energy and achievement, the faded beauty of Bath gives way to the Romantic sublimity of Lyme Regis. In this eloquent novel about second chances, Anne Elliot finds a fragile happiness.

Jane Austen is quite simply inexhaustible. I’m writing about her relationship to Madame de Staël, the foremost woman genius of the age; the London locations where she could have seen contemporary cartoons; and her continual fascination with Fanny Burney. There is always more to find out about this extraordinary woman.

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For more information on Austen, take a look at Harris’ latest book Satire, Celebrity, and Politics in Jane Austen. To order visit http://www.rowman.com or call 1-800-462-6420. Use code “UP30AUTH17” to save 30% on the list price (not valid on eBook).

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c2017, Jane Austen Vermont, reblogged from Bucknell University Press

Guest Post ~ “The Jane Austen Project” ~ by Kathleen A. Flynn

Dear Gentle Readers: I welcome today Kathleen A. Flynn, author of the just-released The Jane Austen Project, a time-travel tale wherein we will find ourselves in 1815 Regency England and meet up with Jane Austen. Kathleen includes here an excerpt from the first chapter – you will want to read the rest after this intro!

The Jane Austen Project

This excerpt is from early in the first chapter. Our time travelers, Rachel and Liam, have arrived in 1815, regaining consciousness in a field in Leatherhead, Surrey, a town that is now on the edge of greater London but at that time would have been well out of the city. With only the period-correct clothes on their back and a small fortune in fake banknotes concealed under those clothes, they pull themselves together and start on foot to the nearest coaching inn, the Swan. Their plan is to take rooms for the night to rest and recover from the physical ordeal of time travel before heading to London and their mission objectives. But in a development that will become a theme of their stay in the past, things do not go quite as intended.

The story is told from the perspective of Rachel, an outspoken doctor with a love of adventure and of Jane Austen. Her colleague, Liam, is an actor turned scholar, a more reserved and cautious person. Part of the conflict of the story will come, not only from the difficulty of their mission, but also from this clash of their characters, and with Rachel’s frustration with the limitations of being a woman in 1815.

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As we started down the road, Liam’s stride was longer and I began to fall behind, though I’m normally a fast walker. Until now, indoors was the only place I’d worn my half boots, handmade products of the Costume Team. The soles were so thin I felt the gravel under my feet. And then, the intensity of everything: the smells of grass and soil, a far-off cry of an owl, it had to be an owl. The entire world seemed humming with life, a shimmering web of biomass.

The Swan loomed as a whitewashed brick building outlined by flickering lamps along its facade, with an arched passageway into a courtyard and stables beyond. As we drew closer I heard men’s voices, a horse’s whinny, a dog’s bark. Fear swooped up my spine like vertigo. I stopped walking. I can’t do this. I must do this.

Liam had stopped too. He shook himself and took a few long, audible breaths. Then he seized my elbow with an unexpectedly strong grip and propelled us toward the door under the wooden sign of a swan.

“Remember, let me do the talking,” he said. “Men do, here.”

And we were inside.

It was warmer but dim, timbered ceiling, air thick with smoke, flickering light from not enough candles, and a large fireplace. A knot of men stood by the fire, while others sat at tables with bread and mugs of beer, platters of beef, ham, fowl, and other less identifiable foods.

“Look at all that meat,” I whispered. “Amazing.”

“Shh, don’t stare.”

“Do you see anyone who looks like they work here?”

“Shh!”

And he was upon us: a small man in a boxy suit, a dirty apron, and a scowl, wiping his hands on a dirty rag as he looked us up and down. “Are ye just come, then? Has someone seen to your horses, have they now?”

“Our friends set us down from their barouche a bit hence.” Liam had thrown his shoulders back and loomed over the man. “We are in want of rooms for the night, and a coach to town in the morning.” His inflection had changed, even his voice: a haughty lengthening of vowels, a nasal, higher-pitched tone. We’d done lots of improvisational work in Preparation, yet he’d never given me this eerie sense I had now, of his becoming an entirely different person.

“A barouche?” the man repeated. “I’ve seen no such equipage pass.”

“Had it passed here, they would have set us down at the door.”

This logic seemed sound, but the man surveyed us again, frown deepening. “À pied, is it?” It took me a moment to work out what he meant; nothing could have sounded less like French. “And not so much as a bag between the both of ye? Nay, we’ve no rooms.” A party of the three men nearest—rusty black suits, wigs askew—had stopped eating to observe us. “You could sup before you continue on your way.” He waved a hand at the room behind. “Show us the blunt first, though.”

Was our offense the presumed poverty of showing up without horses, or was something else wrong with our manners, our clothing, us? And if the first person we met saw it, what were our odds of survival here, let alone success? Liam had gone so pale, swaying a bit, that I feared he might faint, a known time-travel side effect.

Fear made me reckless. “William!” I whined, pulling on Liam’s sleeve and bracing myself under his elbow to shore him up. His eyes widened as he looked down at me; I heard his intake of breath. I went on in a stage whisper without a glance at the man, and if my mouth was dry, my accent was perfection: “I told you, Papa said this was a shocking inn. But if it has no rooms, perhaps it has horses. ’Tis moonlight! A chaise and four, or two, and we will be there by dawn. I said I would visit Lady Selden the instant we got to town, and that was to be last week, only you never can say no to Sir Thomas and his tedious gout.”

Liam looked from me to the man and drawled: “My sister’s word is law, sir. Should there be coach and horses, I would be happy to show the blunt, and to see what I hope will be the last of this inn.” He produced a golden coin, one of our authentic late-eighteenth-century guineas, flipping it into the air and catching it.

I held my breath. What if the inn had no horses in shape to go, no spare carriages? It happened, animals and vehicles being in constant transit from one coaching inn to another. And now we were robbery targets, with Liam waving around gold.

The man looked from me to Liam; his eyes returned to me. I raised my gaze to the ceiling with what I hoped was an expression of blasé contempt.

“I’ll have a word in the yard, sir. Would you and the lady take a seat?”

*******

It was colder, the waxing gibbous moon up, before we were in the post chaise, which was tiny and painted yellow, smelling of the damp straw that lined its floor as well as of mildew and horse. We’d drunk musty red wine and picked at a meat pie with a sinister leathery texture as we sat in a corner of the room feeling the weight of eyes upon us and not daring to believe, until a porter came to lead us to it, that there was actually going to be a chaise.

Our postilion swung himself onto one of the horses, and a large man wearing two pistols and a brass horn gave us a nod and climbed into the boot at the back. He had cost extra, nearly doubling the price of the journey—but it was no night to encounter highwaymen.

“You were good back there,” Liam said in his usual voice, so quiet I had to lean in to hear him as we creaked out from the yard. One seat, facing forward, was wide enough for three slender people. Drafty windows gave a view of the lanterns on each side, the road to London ahead of us, and the two horses’ muscular rumps. “Fast thinking. I know I told you not to talk, but—”

“A hopeless request. You know me better than that by now.”

He made a sound between a cough and a laugh and said after a pause, “So you really never acted? I mean, before this?”

I thought of the unscripted workshops we’d done together in Preparation: imagining meeting Henry Austen for the first time, say, or buying a bonnet. “Why would I have?”

We were bumping down the road, moon visible above the black tree shapes, the world beyond the lanterns’ glow spookily monochrome and depthless to the eye, but rich with smells. The Project Team’s guidance had been for us to spend the first night near the portal site, in Leatherhead, recovering from the time shift before braving town. Materializing in London, dense with buildings and life, was risky. Traveling by night was risky too, but here we were. I wondered what else would not go according to plan.

I don’t know how long I was asleep, but I woke up shivering. Liam was slumped with his head against the window, wig slid sideways, snoring. I pulled my shawl tighter around myself, coveting his waistcoat, neckcloth, and cutaway jacket—a light weight, but wool—and Hessian boots, the tall kind with tassels.

I had lots of layers too, but they lacked the heft of menswear: a chemise, then a small fortune in coins, forged banknotes, and letters of credit in a pouch wrapped around my torso, topped by a corset, a petticoat, a frock, and a shawl, synthetic re-creation of a Kashmir paisley. I had a thin lace fichu around my shoulders, over-the-knee knitted cotton stockings, dainty faux-kid gloves, and a straw bonnet, but no underpants; they would not catch on until later in the century.

The darkness was becoming less dark. I stared out; when did countryside turn urban? We had pored over old maps, paintings, and engravings; detailed flyover projections in 3-D had illuminated the wall screens of the institute. Yet no amount of study could have prepared me for this: the smell of coal smoke and vegetation, the creaking carriage, the hoofbeats of the horses like my own heartbeat. And something else, like energy, as if London were an alien planet, its gravitational field pulling me in.

Anything could happen to a person in Regency London: you could be killed by a runaway carriage, get cholera, lose a fortune on a wager or your virtue in an unwise elopement. Less dangerously, we hoped to find a place to live in a fashionable neighborhood and establish ourselves as wealthy newcomers in need of guidance, friends, and lucrative investments—all with the aim of insinuating ourselves into the life of Henry Austen, gregarious London banker and favorite brother of Jane. And through him, and the events we knew were waiting for them both this autumn, to find our way to her.

I eased next to Liam, the only warm object in the cold carriage, my relief at getting away from the Swan curdling to anxiety about everything that lay ahead. Queasy as I was from the bumping carriage, with the stink of horse and mildew in my nose, with the gibbet and the meat pie and the innkeeper’s rudeness still vivid, the Jane Austen Project no longer seemed amazing. What I’d wanted so badly stretched like a prison sentence: wretched hygiene, endless pretending, physical danger. What had I been thinking?

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About the author

Kathleen A. Flynn grew up in tiny Falls Village, Conn. Currently a copy editor at The New York Times and resident of Brooklyn, Flynn has taught English in Hong Kong, washed dishes on Nantucket, and is a life member of the Jane Austen Society of North America. The Jane Austen Project is her first novel.

About the book 

September, 1815 : Two travelers, Rachel Katzman and Liam Finucane, arrive in a field in rural England, disheveled and weighed down with hidden money. They are not what they seem, but rather colleagues from a technologically advanced future, posing as wealthy West Indies planters—a doctor and his spinster sister. While Rachel and Liam aren’t the first team to go back, their mission is by far the most audacious: meet, befriend, and steal from Jane Austen herself.

Carefully selected and rigorously trained by The Royal Institute for Special Topics in Physics, disaster-relief doctor Rachel and actor-turned-scholar Liam have little in common besides the extraordinary circumstances they find themselves in. Circumstances that call for Rachel to stifle her independent nature and let Liam take the lead as they infiltrate Austen’s circle via her favorite brother, Henry.

But diagnosing Jane’s fatal illness and obtaining an unpublished novel hinted at in her letters pose enough of a challenge without the continuous convolutions of living a lie. While her friendship with Jane deepens and her relationship with Liam grows complicated, Rachel fights to reconcile the woman she is with the proper lady nineteenth-century society expects her to be. As their portal to the future prepares to close, Rachel and Liam struggle with their directive to leave history intact and exactly as they found it…however heartbreaking that may prove.

The Jane Austen Project, due out on May 2, 2017, is available as an e-book, a paperback, and an audiobook. Here are some buy links:

Regency images:
1. Swan Inn – Know Your London
2. Post Chaise: Regency Reader
3. London street – British Museum

c2017 Jane Austen in Vermont

Guest Post ~ Julie Klassen on “A Jane Austen Promenade” ~ Blog Tour and Giveaways for “The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill”

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Dear Gentle Readers: Please join me today as I welcome Julie Klassen with a guest post in celebration of the release of her newest book The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill. Julie tells of visiting Bath this past September for the Jane Austen Festival and the joys of dressing the part – Regency-style – for both she and her husband Brian. Below her guest post is information on her book and how you can enter to win the giveaways.

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A Jane Austen Promenade
by Julie Klassen

This year, for the first time, I attended the Jane Austen Festival in Bath, England. The festival, held every September, draws hundreds of Jane Austen fans (like me) to one of the biggest gatherings of Regency reenactors in the world.

lrbrian_cravatOn Saturday, my husband and I participated in the “Grand Regency Costumed Promenade.” The Bath Jane Austen Festival achieved the Guinness World Record for “The largest gathering of people dressed in Regency costumes” in 2009 at 409. The number rose up to 550 in 2014. Since Bath already holds the record, they did not try to set a new one this year. Instead, we paraded through the streets of this historic city simply to enjoy ourselves, honor Jane Austen, and entertain the hundreds of onlookers who lined the parade route—locals as well as tourists from all over the world. This was fine with me, because I was not terribly interested in setting a world record, but I was determined to dress my husband as Mr. Darcy, and knew this would be my best chance.

Months ahead of time, we contacted an historical costume maker in England who has made similar gentleman’s attire. She sent us fabric swatches and I sent her Brian’s measurements. After some postal delays, we received the outfit. It did not fit Brian well at all at first—likely due to my poor measuring skills. But thankfully a friend-of-a-friend is a skilled seamstress, and she altered the pieces to fit Brian better. I also ordered Brian a top hat, gentlemen’s historically-accurate silk stockings, and pointy-toed shoes, which allowed him to dance at the ball better than he could in tall riding boots. You really can find almost anything online. He also wore his old Bell Ringer gloves. I didn’t bring any “how to tie a cravat” instructions, but thankfully another participant helped Brian tie his.

lrbrianjulieBrian’s cutaway frockcoat is a bit more Georgian in style than true Regency, which worked better with his build, though he had to add suspenders to keep up those high-waisted breeches.

And I want you to notice his long sideburns or “side-whiskers” as they were called, which he grew out to please me and look more the part of an early 19th century gentleman.

I wore my new bonnet and the spencer jacket I blogged about previously (made by Matti’s Millinery), over my gold gown (made by my niece), as well as gloves and reticule. I also brought a silk parasol. The style is not 100% historically accurate, but with rain in the forecast, I decided it was “better safe than sorry.”

And, unfortunately, it rained a LOT during the promenade, and I was very glad indeed to have the waterproof umbrella. The streets and paths we trod were wet and dirty and I saw several ladies with hems “six inches deep in mud,” to quote Pride and Prejudice. But rain or shine, it was an enjoyable time anyway.

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Have you ever participated in a Regency costume party or reenactment?
What did you wear?

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The Giveaways!

Please comment below about your own Regency fashion experiences and you will be entered into the random drawing for two giveaways! The winner will receive a $20 Teavana gift card and a package of four inspirational British romances from four different eras (The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill by Julie Klassen, A Haven on Orchard Lane by Lawana Blackwell, The Lost Heiress by Roseanna M. White, Not by Sight by Kate Breslin). Deadline is December 21st – the winner will be notified on December 22.

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Here’s the blog tour schedule (you can comment on any of the blogs to be entered into the drawing):

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cover-innkeeperAbout The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill:

The lifeblood of the village of Ivy Hill is its coaching inn, The Bell. When the innkeeper dies suddenly, his genteel wife, Jane Bell, becomes the reluctant landlady. Jane has no idea how to manage a business, but with the town’s livelihood at stake and a large loan due, she must quickly find a way to save the inn.

Despite their strained relationship, Jane turns to her resentful mother-in-law, Thora, for help. Formerly mistress of The Bell, Thora is struggling to overcome her losses and find purpose for the future. As she works with Jane, two men from her past vie for her attention, but Thora has promised herself never to marry again. Will one of them convince her to embrace a second chance at love?

As pressure mounts from the bank, Jane employs new methods, and puzzles over the intentions of several men who seem to have a vested interest in the place, including a mysterious newcomer with secret plans of his own. With the help of friends old and new, can Jane restore life to the inn, and to her empty heart as well?

Visit talesfromivyhill.com to find a map of the village, character profiles, a book giveaway, and more!

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My thoughts:

I will say that Julie has done it again! – offering her readers a fully-developed world in a small English village during the Regency period, this time an intriguing tale of Inn-keeping – we have: Coaching inns and Carriages; Women characters in precarious positions trying to manage in a patriarchal world; there is Cookery and housekeeping details (love this!); every character has a secret and there is a mystery to be solved; and of course there is Love – of various sorts and with a fair amount of guessing as to who might be best suited. This is Book I of Julie’s projected series of three books – all with characters introduced here. As Julie says in her interview on the blog From Pemberley to Milton:

The series tells the stories of four women facing life-altering challenges with the help of their quirky neighbors and intriguing newcomers. Each novel will have a romance and drama wrap up in a hopefully satisfying way, while the main character’s story spans all three books. The series celebrates the strong bonds of friendship, because in a small village like Ivy Hill, everyone is connected, like leaves on a vine.

Book II, The Ladies of Ivy Cottage will be released in December 2017, and Book III, The Bride of Ivy Green, December 2018. I am only disappointed that I must wait so long to engage with these endearing characters once more!

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For more on Julie’s trip to England to research her novels, here’s her tour of Lacock Village,
the inspiration for The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill:

**(You might be interested to know that Julie is going to be leading a tour next September (2017) to many of the places that have served as inspiration for her novels. You can view details here: http://concertandstudytours.com/julie-klassen-coast-tour/).

klassen_julie1About Julie:

JULIE KLASSEN loves all things Jane–Jane Eyre and Jane Austen. A graduate of the University of Illinois, Julie worked in publishing for sixteen years and now writes full-time. Her books have been honored with the Christy Award for Historical Romance, the Minnesota Book Award, and the Midwest Book Award, among others. Julie and her husband have two sons and live in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota. For more information, visit www.julieklassen.com and also at these author links:

 |  Facebook  |  Facebook  |  Twitter  |  Goodreads

You can find The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill here: [ISBN  9780764218132]  Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

A hearty thank you to Amy Green of Bethany House Publishers and to Julie Klassen for inviting me to join this Blog Tour. Don’t forget to comment to be entered into the drawing – Good luck one and all and Happy Reading!

c2016 Jane Austen in Vermont

Julie Klassen’s “The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill” ~ Blog Tour Schedule and Giveaways

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Julie Klassen’s latest book, The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill, has just been released and there are various bloggers offering up reviews, excerpts, interviews and guest posts. I will be posting about the book on December 20th, but wanted you to see and follow the other posts that began on December 5th – please be sure to comment on any of the blogs in order to be entered into the random drawing: the winner will receive a $20 Teavana gift card and a package of four inspirational British romances from four different eras (The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill by Julie Klassen, A Haven on Orchard Lane by Lawana Blackwell, The Lost Heiress by Roseanna M. White, Not by Sight by Kate Breslin). The winner will be notified on December 22.

Here’s the blog tour schedule:

The Prizes:

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Stay tuned for my post on December 20th, where Julie tells of attending the Jane Austen Festival in Bath this past September!

c2016 Jane Austen in Vermont