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

‘The Bride of Northanger’ ~ by Diana Birchall ~ Join the Blog Tour!

Hello there Austen Folk and all Lovers of Northanger Abbey,

Please join in on the Celebration and Blog Tour for Diana Birchall’s new book The Bride of Northanger.

First some information on the book and blog tour, hosted by Austenprose:

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

  • Tour Dates: October 28 – November 15, 2019
  • Genre: Austenesque, Historical Fiction, Gothic Mystery
  • Publisher: White Soup Press (September 19, 2019)
  • Length: 230 pages
  • Trade paperback ISBN: 978-0981654300
  • eBook ASIN: B07Y2HGSMX
  • Author’s website: https://austenvariations.com/diana-birchall/

What’s it all about? (without giving too much away – it is a mystery after all!)

A happier heroine than Catherine Morland does not exist in England, for she is about to marry her beloved, the handsome, witty Henry Tilney. The night before the wedding, Henry reluctantly tells Catherine and her horrified parents a secret he has dreaded to share – that there is a terrible curse on his family and their home, Northanger Abbey. Henry is a clergyman, educated and rational, and after her year’s engagement Catherine is no longer the silly young girl who delighted in reading “horrid novels”; she has improved in both reading and rationality. This sensible young couple cannot believe curses are real…until a murder at the Abbey triggers events as horrid and Gothic as Jane Austen ever parodied – events that shake the young Tilneys’ certainties, but never their love for each other…

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Blog Tour sites and dates:

The Doyenne of Austenesque fiction, Diana Birchall*, tours the blogosphere October 28 through November 15 to share her latest release, The Bride of Northanger. Thirty popular bloggers specializing in historical and Austenesque fiction will feature guest blogs, interviews, excerpts, and book reviews of this acclaimed continuation of Jane Austen’s Gothic parody, Northanger Abbey. Here’s the schedule; I will update the links every day, so check back – and please visit for my interview with Diana on November 6!

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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.

Purchase info:

Diana Birchall’s Social Media links:

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Please come back here on November 6th, for my interview with Diana!

c2019 Jane Austen in Vermont, images courtesy of Austenprose

Fending Off Zombies, Jane Austen Style ~ A ‘Pride and Prejudice’ for a Modern World

cover-P&P&ZOk, so I should start this post by saying that I LOVE the movies and am easily entertained – if I take confession further, I also loved Roy Rogers, thought I WAS Dale Evans, and dressed exclusively as Annie Oakley for about four years – so please keep that in mind when I tell you I LOVED this movie…

But then I also liked the 2005 Pride & Prejudice, one among few at the JASNA AGM in Milwaukee . While most everyone was disgusted with the pigs in the kitchen, the Bennets having a sex life, and a Darcy with chest hair exposed at early dawn, I just sat there for two+ hours with a smile on my face – they got it! I thought – the sense of the story, albeit compacted, but in the end Austen’s tale, her characters, her wit was all there (I do think you have to like Keira Knightley to like the movie…and I do concede the American ending was atrocious). No one can duplicate the 1995 Ehle-Firth – it is brilliant and 20 years on, still nearly a perfect adaptation – but I think Joe Wright got it right enough in 2005, much like Clueless gave us a perfectly rendered Emma set 200 years later. How well Austen translates to different worlds, different tellings.

So Pride & Prejudice & Zombies? – does Austen translate into a world of the undead? Blood and guts amidst Regency gowns and an etiquette-proscribed society? I didn’t think so – as much as my early years of “Million Dollar Movie” trained me well (can re-watch Roman Holiday, An Affair to Remember over and over and still cry every time), such things as Mummies and Zombies and Vampires and Blobs, and any and all Creatures of the Deep were never my cup of tea. I much prefer spies and westerns and civilized space invaders to anything emerging from a decaying earth. But I did buy P&P&Z – every self-respecting Jane Austen collector should have it on their shelf, a must-have really, but alas! there it sits unread –  I couldn’t get past the first mention of  “a zombie in possession of brains,” whether universally acknowledged or not. Indeed the frontispiece alone told it all:

Frontispiece

“A few of the guests, who had the misfortune of being too near the windows, were seized and feasted on at once”

And that’s about all I needed to know – with 85% of the language from Jane, I felt creepily imaginative enough to fill in the other 15%… – so perhaps I am not a fair critic – I don’t know how much it follows the Grahame-Smith invention – but I went only to see a visual presentation of a P&P set in your everyday zombie-infested England – sort of a black plague on steroids… and what we really have here is the base story of P&P, a good solid dose of Austenian wit, a few drastic changes to the plot to make it fit into this rather gross world, and really just good plain fun.

But I must set the scene first: This was a spur of the moment decision to see this movie (a late matinee) – a quick email to my Jane Austen cohorts brought various no’s – other plans, hate zombies, etc., all good excuses, and there was no inducing my husband on this one – so I went alone, afraid the movie won’t be around here very long – and when I say alone, I mean ALONE – there was not another single soul in the theater! – a private screening (do they run a film if NO ONE shows up?) – I had no idea what to expect – I have purposely read no reviews, avoided all press on the movie, so I was there quite innocent of the oncoming mayhem – so I hunkered down and only briefly considered the gruesome truth that it was just me and the zombies, and me without a single weapon…

So here goes my checklist of a review, brief to avoid spoilers of any kind… and with my emphatic advice to just go see it…

Bella Heathcote (left) and Lily James star in Screen Gems' PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES.

Bella Heathcote (Jane) and Lily James (Lizzie)

  1. Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James): other than periodically confusing her with Natasha in the just-finished-the night-before War & Peace (some of the clothing strikingly similar – same time period so I guess it should), James makes a compelling Lizzie – those “fine eyes” are very present, she’s a terrific and fearless warrior, and I am sure that Andrew Davies must have had a hand here, or at least sat in a sub-director chair bellowing “more heaving bosoms please”… But this Lizzie is also Darcy’s equal in every way… and loved watching them find their way to each other… expertly slinging all manner of machetes along the way.
  2. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet  (Charles Dance and Sally Phillips): well cast, all the right lines there to clearly identify them as Austen’s parents, she ridiculous and he negligent (though Charles Dance, thankfully resurrected from Games of Thrones, and still hiding in his Library, did have the good sense to have his girls (and all FIVE are present and accounted for) trained as warriors). There is no embroidery or ribbons for these young ladies (though all are stunningly dressed!)- they spend their idle hours cleaning weapons – one feels safe in such a home as this.

fivebennets-youtube

The Bennet Sisters, warriors all (youtube)

  1. Lady Catherine (Lena Headey, in Game of Thrones mode) – ha! – delightful – a black patch becomes her…

LadyC-winteriscoming

Lena Headey as Lady Catherine (winteriscomingblog)

  1. Wickham (Jack Huston) – Huston was perhaps born for this role – Wickham’s evil side taken to new heights – I shall say only this so as not to give anything away – “pig brains.”

Wickcham-Huston-finalreel

Jack Huston as Wickham (finalreel.co.uk)

  1. Who knew that Charlotte Lucas snores?? – one can almost have sympathy for Mr. Collins… well maybe just a little…

     6. Ok, Darcy’s turn…

Darcy-Riley-screenrant

Sam Riley as Darcy (screenrant)

Darcy, or “Fitz” as Wickham affectionately calls him (Sam Riley): I expect black leather great coats to become the latest fashion statement– too reminiscent of Nazi-Germany perhaps, but at least the costume here of the good guys. Riley shall be added to the Darcy roster, another name to check off in the endless “your favorite Darcy” polls – this Darcy, no idle aristocrat tending his own land, but fully armed with a small jar of dead-skin-detecting flies, is a Colonel in the Zombie-Annihilating Army, who like his black-clad not-so-distant cousin Batman, has the good sense to show up at exactly the right time, every time. (And obsessed Firth fans, have no fear – there is the barest glimpse of that essential piece of male wardrobe – the white shirt). Smitten with Elizabeth from the first look (after his initial requisite “she is tolerable” speech), his heartfelt but so hopelessly cringe-inducing proposal results in more than just Austen’s war of words – oh, most of the words are there, purists don’t worry, but if we line up all the available proposal scenes (such fun to do this – there are eleven I think, if you include Wishbone…) – this one shall surpass them all for pure energy and brilliant choreography… (and Davies was definitely here for this, coaching the proper removal of buttons…).

Here’s the rest of him:

Darcy-Riley-movieweb

 

  1. All other characters terrific – Jane and Bingley, alas! Caroline given short-shift, Mr. Collins (Matt Smith) as good as any of his predecessors, a stone-like Anne De Bourgh…

JM4_9719.NEF

Matt Smith as Mr. Collins (craveonline)

  1. Fun things to look for: lots of Austen quotes from her various writings – it will keep the Austen-knowledgeables on their toes and give the Austen newbies a new found appreciation of her brilliance. They might even go on to read the real book, sans zombies. My favorite line: “…if adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad” – and thus a zombie warrior is called to her destiny. [quiz: which novel?]
  2. The Zombies? – and Austen? If one is tempted to shake their heads in disgust and moan “Austen must be rolling over in her grave” – perhaps not an apt phrase for this particular story line – please go see it before you profess to know how Jane might feel. All told, this latest adaptation has a deep respect for the original text. It is not a “camp” over-the-top retelling but rather it seems to take the realities of this invasion of England very seriously – just another human-induced war of Good vs. Evil, no different perhaps than depicting Napoleon and the French army conquering the shores of England, a valid fear in Austen’s day. There are laughs to be sure – who cannot when a demure-looking Elizabeth suddenly hoists up her Regency finery to expose her sword-clad leg, grabs her weapons, and deftly slices off the head of a trespassing undead; or Darcy, in his frustration over Lizzie’s refusal, engaging in sword-play with most of Lady Catherine’s lovingly sculptured boxwood topiaries. Mr. Collins at the dance? – he’s perfect; the black-patched Lady Catherine (fashion or function? asks Mrs. Bennet) as the Queen of Zombie Warriors? – Game of Thrones trained her well…  So much of it all laugh-out loud (does one laugh-out loud if alone in a movie theater?)
screenrelish.com

screenrelish.com

But no, not “camp” at all – this all just seems to be almost real, a straight-on approach to a real threat to life as we know it, no one’s tongue in their cheek (well, maybe a little). One must just let go and get into the spirit of the thing, beginning with the introduction, a clever illustrated story-book depiction of the past 100 years of the zombie epidemic. And wonderful to know that all of Austen’s characters seamlessly fit into this world  – I think she’d be far from a turn-over in her grave, appalled at yet another mash-up of her “light, bright and sparkling” tale – I think she’d be sitting up and shouting Brava! Bravo! to her Elizabeth and Darcy and everyone else involved. It is after all, not much removed from her very own Juvenilia.

And the zombies themselves? Rest assured, they are really not that bad (have you seen The Picture of Dorian Gray recently?) – a few gruesome faces with blood and snot and rot, but all thankfully quickly dispatched – heads removed, bodies kicked and stomped with boots (lovely boots) – and most of it done in a flash or just shy of camera-range – brilliantly done really – and I confess to only once or twice turning around in the empty theater to be sure I was indeed alone…

PP&P&Z-poster

One piece of advice – stay for the credits…

[Stay tuned for another post with links to reviews, etc.]

c2106 Jane Austen in Vermont

Book Giveaway! ~ Sarah Ozcandarli’s Revisit Mansfield Park, How Fanny Married Henry

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Announcing today the winners of the book giveaway of Sarah Ozcandarli’s Revisit Mansfield Park, How Fanny Married Henry – you can see the original post here.

Sarah has kindly offered two kindle copies of her book, and the winners are:

1.  Kerri Spennicchia, who wrote:

As one who has dated multiple Henry’s over the years, I have always agreed with Austen: that he should be tossed to the curb. (However, that doesn’t mean I think Fanny should be saddled with Edmund, after all, he too is a mess.)

I look forward to discovering what life would be like for Fanny should she have been persuaded to marry Henry. (Rather, I look forward to discovering how “you” think this story will progress if they had married.)

2. Allison Sullivan, who wrote:

Oh, I love reimagined classics! This sounds very interesting – going on my kindle wishlist right now! 

Congratulations to you both! – you are in for a treat! 

Please email me as soon as possible with your contact info and that you indeed have a kindle and Sarah will arrange for your free copy. If you don’t have a kindle, let me know and I will select someone else.

Thanks all for your comments and to Sarah for the giveaways!

c2014 Jane Austen in Vermont

When Henry Met Fanny, or Let’s Talk about a Different Ending for Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park ~ Guest Post by Sarah Ozcandarli

UPDATE: The deadline to comment and win a kindle copy of  Revisit Mansfield Park, How Fanny Married Henry has been extended until next Sunday November 30, 11:59 pm due to the holiday – winner will be announced December 1st. Sarah has offered a second copy of her book as an incentive to comment! Happy Thanksgiving all!

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 Gentle Readers:  I invite today to ‘Jane Austen in Vermont’ Sarah Ozcandarli, who has written a story reimagining the ending of Mansfield Park, an ending about which all of us, including Jane Austen, have pondered the “what if…?” Her book is titled Revisit Mansfield Park, How Fanny Married Henry – I confess to not having finished the book as yet – it is now on my kindle awaiting a moment to give it the time it deserves (I will say that the first three chapters very nicely summarize the plot and characterizations of Mansfield Park).

Sarah contacted me a few weeks ago to say that a number of my links on the blog led to the dreaded oops! – where did you find such a link?” – because as all we bloggers know, who has time to go back and check all the links we ever have put out there, links that go nowhere – such a disappointment to the reader – I wonder always, where does this information go to? Some cyberspace default-filled world with thoughts and ideas and information no longer accessible – it is all quite daunting really, isn’t it?? – but I did go in and remove or edit some of these links Sarah told me about, and in our conversation she told me she had written a tale of Mansfield Park with the plot line that Fanny and Henry do end up together (no spoilers here, this outcome, as you see, is in the title!), as do Edmund and Mary – not an uncommon thought among those people largely disappointed with the lacklustre ending of Mary going off to London, Henry off with Maria and then on to his surely dissipated life (a life Fanny could have salvaged if she had only given him the chance he asked her for),  and Fanny and Edmund riding off into the sunset of boredom.  So I give you a post from Sarah about how her love of Jane Austen began, and what it was about Mansfield Park that made her want to change the ending. Please leave your comment or question for Sarah to win a kindle version of her book – see details below!

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First falling in love . . .

“You will not know the day or the hour”, says St. Matthew, but if the agent is Masterpiece Theatre in the year 1981, the day will Tuesday and the hour 8:00 pm. I was toiling through my last semester at university on that fateful night, when there were two contenders for my attention: Electricity & Magnetism II and the BBC’s Pride & Prejudice. I wanted to study E&M, but my housemates Meg and Laurie were determined that I should be acquainted with Jane Austen. They were two against one, but we were all winners, for I fell in love with Lizzy and Darcy and their creator about fifteen minutes into the program.

Once graduated, and free to read according to my own inclinations, Jane Austen quickly became my first favorite among writers and has never descended from that pedestal. I read all I could find about her life and family, I devoured her letters, but oddly enough, I never noticed the vast collection of Austen-related news, fact, and opinion on the internet. One day in 2012 I googled “white soup” and read through one blog, and then another, and realized that our respect for the greatest novelist in the English language need not prevent us from using her characters to people our own stories! 

Then writing a book . . . 

That being so, I could fulfill my wish (and Cassandra Austen’s as well) that in Mansfield Park Fanny Price should be allowed to marry Henry Crawford, instead of Edmund Bertram. After all Jane herself had written that if Henry had “persevered, and uprightly, Fanny must have been his reward,” and with Jane’s and Cassandra’s opinions of Henry duly noted I was emboldened to write a different ending for Mansfield Park – a sort of Volume III(b) – with plans for a sequel to tackle Edmund and Mary’s problems.

The first difficulty of the story I wanted to tell was that Fanny justifiably disliked and distrusted Henry, and had no

CE Brock -Mansfield Park - Mollands

CE Brock -Mansfield Park – Mollands

conception that his interest in her was genuine until Sir Thomas informed her that Henry had made “decided proposals” for her. When Henry left Mansfield a few days later he had achieved very little in his quest to change Fanny’s opinion of him. When next they meet, Henry was in Portsmouth to visit Fanny, and as he took his leave of her, he nearly begged her to advise him to return to his work at Everingham. In Mansfield Park Fanny rather unkindly dismissed Henry’s plea; in my story Fanny observed that:

“Henry had said he would show Fanny by his constancy that he deserved her, and now, when all her friends at Mansfield, excepting perhaps her aunt, had forgotten her even more thoroughly than she had anticipated that they would, here was Henry Crawford, as constant as he had declared he would be, and asking her advice.”

Fanny’s judgment, though in all respects sound, was only once sought in all of Mansfield Park. Edmund asked Fanny to approve his participation in Lovers’ Vows – though Edmund was well aware that Fanny would not approve – and having gotten her opinion, he ignored it. Henry’s request was a much greater compliment, not least because he intended to abide by her advice; he truly wanted to be encouraged to do right by his responsibilities at Everingham. This, I think, is the pivotal moment for Henry and Fanny, when they will move forward together if Fanny tells Henry her opinion, or stall out if she does not.

A chance to win . . .

Dear Readers, please comment or leave a question for me to be entered into the giveaway of the Kindle version of Revisit Mansfield Park, How Fanny Married Henry. [see details below]

Revisit Mansfield Park for Kindle – It is available only in English, but can be purchased from Amazon in the USA, England, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Japan, India, Canada, Brazil, Mexico and Australia, and may be read for free with the Prime or Kindle Unlimited Programs.

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picture of SOZAbout the author: Sarah Ozcandarli graduated in 1981 from Carnegie-Mellon University with a BS in Physics and English, and went back three years later for an MS in Industrial Administration. Her varied career took her to Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York City, Los Angeles and Boston, where she sought and found her Mr. Darcy. They were married in 1996 and live near Boston with a large menagerie of wild and domesticated critters, some of which are now hibernating.

For more information, see Sarah’s facebook page or her goodreads page

kindle store: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MKB0XRC

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Book Giveaway! Please leave a comment or question for Sarah by Sunday Nov 23, 2014, 11:59 pm to be entered into a random drawing to win the kindle version of Sarah’s book, available to all, but you must of course be a kindle user!

You might consider the question Sarah asks:  In your reading of Mansfield Park, have you ever thought that Fanny should have ended up with Henry Crawford and Edmund with Mary? And if so, why?

c2014 Jane Austen in Vermont

Announcing Giveaway Winner! ~ Syrie James’ Jane Austen’s First Love

Jane Austens First Love by Syrie JamesHappy to announce the winner of the book giveaway for Jane Austen’s First Love by Syrie James!

schilds, who wrote on August 18:

“How did you find such wonderful letters? I love reading letters from the past. The style is so beautiful. It makes you see the reality of their time.”

Please email me within the next 36 hours with your contact info and the book will be posted to you directly from the publisher – with many thanks to Berkley for the giveaway.

Thank you Syrie for your wonderful post on these Fanny Bridges’ letters – and all your responses to the comments. Sending you very best wishes for the success of this, your latest book – I wonder what is next on your writing desk?!

c2014 Jane Austen in Vermont

Reminder: Book Giveaway!! ~ Syrie James’ Jane Austen’s First Love

Jane Austens First Love by Syrie James

Just a reminder about the giveaway for Syrie James’s newest book, Jane Austen’s First Love. I am extending the deadline for another week, through the holiday weekend until Tuesday September 2, 2014, with the winner announced Wednesday September 3. Please either comment on this post or the original post where Syrie wrote about Lady Bridges’ letters on her daughters’ marriages – one of those daughters, Elizabeth, married Jane Austen’s brother Edward Austen (later Austen-Leigh). (Sad to say, Elizabeth died at the age of 35 shortly after the birth of her eleventh child). These letters from Lady Bridges to her friend tell the tale of the desire to marry one’s daughters well – not unlike Mrs. Bennet!

Syrie’s new book is about Jane Austen’s acquaintance with Edward Taylor whom she met while visiting the Bridges’s home at Goodnestone Park in Kent. It is the imagined story of Jane Austen’s first love, based on extensive research. Syrie’s previous books on Jane Austen have been first class entertainments as she has taken us into the Regency world we all so love to visit! – and I highly recommend this new work, where we have real-life and fiction so beautifully intertwined.

Please comment or ask Syrie a question either here or on the previous post:

https://janeausteninvermont.wordpress.com/2014/08/18/guest-post-syrie-james-on-jane-austens-first-love-goodnestone-park-and-the-bridges-family/

Syrie James 72 dpiAbout the Author: Syrie James, hailed by Los Angeles Magazine as “the queen of nineteenth century re-imaginings,” is the bestselling author of nine critically acclaimed novels including The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen (“A literary feast for Anglophiles”—Publisher’s weekly), The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen (named one of the best first novels of the year by Library Journal), and The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë (Audie Award, Romance 2011; Great Group Read, Women’s National Book Association). Syrie’s books have been translated into eighteen languages. She is a member of the Writer’s Guild of America and a life member of JASNA. Follow Syrie on twitter, visit her on facebook, and learn more about her and her books at syriejames.com.

Best of luck in the giveaway – You have until September 3rd!

 

c2014 Jane Austen in Vermont