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

Holiday Blog Tour & Grand Giveaway Contest! ~ Chatting with Syrie James about her Jane Austen’s First Love

“The summer of 1791 is so firmly fixed in my memory that I believe I can never forget it; every detail is as fresh and vivid as if it occurred only yesterday, and looking back, there are times when it seems as if my life never really began until that moment – the moment when I first met him.”

And so begins Jane Austen’s First Love

Jane Austens First Love by Syrie James

Gentle Readers: As part of her Holiday Blog Tour, Syrie James joins us today to answer a few questions about her latest book Jane Austen’s First Love. Syrie has based her tale on the real-life Edward Taylor, mentioned by Austen in her letters – he may have been her never-forgotten First Love and hence perhaps a model for her very own Mr. Darcy. Today Syrie tells us a bit about her research into Edward Taylor and his world and a few thoughts on her favorite Austen books in her own collection. Please see below for the Grand Giveaway Contest information…

JAFL Banner v6


JAIV:
As far as I can tell, there are three references to Edward Taylor in Jane Austen’s letters: 

-Ltr. 6 of Sept 15-16, 1796, where she writes ““We went by Bifrons, & I contemplated with a melancholy pleasure, the abode of Him, on whom I once fondly doated.” 

-Ltr. 14 of Dec 18-19, 1798, where she writes the news of Taylor’s possible inheritance; and 

-Ltr. 25 of Nov 8-9, 1800, on news of his possible marriage to a cousin and where she makes mention of “those beautiful dark Eyes” [he marries someone else in 1802] 

Can you tell us something of the “ah-ha” moment that prompted you to look into this “fondly doated” upon young man of the “dark Eyes” – and finding nothing much, decided to pursue an extensive research project to learn everything you could about him and his family?? When were you held captive by the idea that Jane Austen indeed could have fallen madly in Love with this young man?? 

SJ: Sure, Deb! The “ah-ha” moment occurred when I was re-reading the above-quoted letter that Jane wrote to her Edward Taylor for JA in Vermontsister Cassandra in Sept. 1796. When I read that line, I sat up in my chair in stunned excitement. Who was Jane talking about? What was Bifrons? Who was the “Him” she referred to? The way she phrased it, whoever it was, it seemed very clear that Jane had once been crazy in love with “Him.”

I quickly learned that the “Him” was a young man named Edward Taylor, and the “abode” was Bifrons Park, the estate in Kent he would one day inherit. To my frustration, there was almost no other information about Edward Taylor in Austen biographies, even though there were those two other mentions of him in later letters that also hinted at how fond she was of him. I knew Jane met him as a teenager while visiting in Kent, but that was about it. So I delved into extensive research—and I’m excited to say that I uncovered his true story. What I learned was groundbreaking. He was an extraordinary young man, and it became very easy to see why Jane fell head over heels for him.


JAIV:
I don’t want to ask many questions about the book so as not to give away too much of its plot [no spoilers here!], but I would like to ask, how difficult [or easy!] was it for you to enter into Jane Austen’s head and essentially become her at the age of fifteen? And to put on paper what would be this 15-year-old’s first-person narrative?

SJ: I had such fun writing about Jane Austen at age fifteen!  I started with all the qualities she clearly possessed as a grown woman: fierce intelligence, a great (and sometimes snarky) sense of humor, boundless imagination, a love of fashion (governed by a tiny budget), and a driven need to succeed, all tempered by sensitivity and deep affection for those she loved. I then imagined her as a young woman based on what I knew of her life: she grew up in a home filled with noisy, active boys, was educated by them side-by-side, and was included in their sports and games. The juvenilia she wrote as a teenager is also lively and hilarious, an indication of her youthful personality. As with all my other Austen novels, I re-read her work over and over during the composition of this book, to keep her voice in my head.

JAIV: Your research interests me a great deal – I know you found previously unknown facts about what appeared to be a very shadowy figure in Jane Austen’s life, and were from there able to fashion a story of possible truth, a lovely weaving of fact and fiction – you have already written about this on several sites and blogs [including here at Jane Austen in Vermont: https://janeausteninvermont.wordpress.com/2014/08/18/guest-post-syrie-james-on-jane-austens-first-love-goodnestone-park-and-the-bridges-family/ ] …  so I’d rather ask you a few questions about your own Austen library: 

– What do you consider the best, the I-cannot-live-without, book by or about Jane Austen in your collection? 

Le Faye - Letters - 4th ed

SJ: That’s hard—I have hundreds of Austen-related books. But I guess the one I turn to the most is Jane Austen’s Letters, edited by Deirdre Le Faye. It’s the world’s best window into Jane Austen’s mind, heart, and soul.

JAIV: What book(s) would you say you especially treasure? In the two categories of older / collectible, and more recent works?

SJ: OLDER/COLLECTIBLE:

Title page of The Taylor Papers Jane Austen in VermontI treasure The Taylor Papers (1913), the rare book I discovered when researching Edward Taylor. A collection of memoirs and letters written by Edward’s brother, Sir Herbert Taylor, it filled in a wealth of details about the Taylor family and the children’s extraordinary and well-traveled childhood, enabling me to understand who Edward Taylor was when Jane Austen met him—and why she adored him.

I also dearly treasure my illustrated set of Jane Austen’s classics (1892, Little Brown & Company). Unfortunately it only includes five of her novels—it’s missing my favorite, Pride and Prejudice.

And I treasure The Brontes: Life and Letters (1908) edited by Clement Shorter, a two-volume work containing all of Charlotte Brontë’s correspondence—it was invaluable when I was writing my novel The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë.

MORE RECENT PUBLICATIONS

Among my favorites (they’re still all older books!) are a whole shelf full of hardcover annotated versions of a great many classics, from Pride and Prejudice, Anne of Green Gables, and Dracula, to the 3-volume set The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes.

JAIV: What title would you most like to own, that either you have been unable to locate or find it is unattainable??

SJ: Pride and Prejudice, (1892, Little Brown & Company) to complete my illustrated set of Jane Austen’s classics.

JAIV: Ah yes! The elusive missing volume – I have a few of those myself! 

All this research, invaluable for your fictional tale, should be made available to Austen scholars! – do you intend to write an article about Taylor and his family for one of the Jane Austen publications? [you must!]

SJ: Actually I did write just such an article. Entitled “Jane’s First Love?” the six-page article with lovely images was published in the July/August 2014 issue of Jane Austen’s Regency World Magazine.

Jane Austens Regency World Magazine Jul Aug 2014 Jane Austen in Vermont

JAIV: Yes, I read that article Syrie – I do hope everyone is able to read it as well.

Your novel tells of Austen before she met Tom Lefroy, the young man we most often hear as being her first and long-ForbiddenCoverLgForWebheld Love [and further rendered into “truth” by the movie ‘Becoming Jane’…]; your book The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen tells the tale of her mysterious love met at the sea-side in later life. Can you tell us what’s up next??  

SJ: I have a few other Austen-tales in mind! At the moment, though, I’m hard at work co-writing the sequel to Forbidden with my talented son, Ryan James.

JAIV:  Excellent news! 

 Now, I just have to ask Syrie, as I know you love the movies: if your book was to become a movie, who would you cast in the major roles?

SJ: For Jane Austen, I think Saoirse Ronan, Hailee Steinfeld, or Kaya Scodelario could be a good choice. For Edward Taylor I’d be thrilled to have the role played by Jamie Blackley (from the film IF I STAY) or Douglas Booth, who played Romeo in ROMEO AND JULIET  (2013.)

Hailee Steinfeld and Douglas Booth

Hailee Steinfeld and Douglas Booth

Jamie Blackley

Jamie Blackley

JAIV:  I can see that you have thought this through – and all very engaging choices – this book is a sure candidate for a book-to-movie venture, don’t you think?! – Anything else you might like to add Syrie??

SJ: Thank you so much for having me here today, Deb. I’m excited to share Jane Austen’s First Love with the world, just in time for the holidays! Readers, do you have any questions for me? Any specific thoughts about Jane Austen’s First Love, or my other books? I’d love to hear!

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Thank you Syrie for joining us today! If you have any questions or comments for Syrie, please respond in the comment box below to enter into the Grand Giveaway Contest – all information is below:

Book Blurb: In the summer of 1791, fifteen-year-old Miss Jane Austen is determined to accomplish three things: to do something useful, write something worthy and fall madly in love. While visiting at Goodnestone Park in Kent for a month of festivities in honour of her brother’s engagement to Miss Elizabeth Bridges, Jane meets the boy-next-door — the wealthy, worldly and devilishly handsome Edward Taylor, heir to Bifrons Park, and hopefully her heart! Like many of Jane’s future heroes and heroines, she soon realises that there are obstacles — social, financial and otherwise — blocking her path to love and marriage, one of them personified by her beautiful and sweet tempered rival, Charlotte Payler.

Unsure of her own budding romance, but confident in her powers of observation, Jane distracts herself by attempting to maneuver the affections of three other young couples. But when her well-intentioned matchmaking efforts turn into blundering misalliance, Jane must choose between following her own happily-ever-after, or repairing those relationships which, based on erroneous first impressions, she has misaligned.

QUICK FACTS: 


Syrie James headshot 2012 x 250AUTHOR BIO: 

Syrie James, hailed as “the queen of nineteenth century re-imaginings” by Los Angeles Magazine, is the bestselling author of nine critically acclaimed novels that have been translated into 18 languages. Her books have been awarded the Audio Book Association Audie, designated as Editor’s Picks by Library Journal, named a Discover Great New Writer’s Selection by Barnes and Noble, a Great Group Read by the Women’s National Book Association, and Best Book of the Year by The Romance Reviews and Suspense Magazine. Syrie is a member of the WGA and lives in Los Angeles. Please visit her at syriejames.com, Facebook or say hello on Twitter @SyrieJames.

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GIVEAWAY DETAILS: 

Grand Giveaway Contest: Win One of Five Fabulous Jane Austen-inspired Prize Packages

To celebrate the holidays and the release of Jane Austen’s First Love, Syrie is giving away five prize packages filled with an amazing selection of Jane Austen-inspired gifts and books!

JAFL Grand Prize x 420

To enter the giveaway contest, simply leave a comment here at Jane Austen in Vermont, or on any of the other blog stops on the Jane Austen’s First Love Holiday Blog Tour: http://www.syriejames.com/LatestNewsPageNEW.php

Increase your chances of winning by visiting multiple stops along the tour! Syrie’s unique guest posts will be featured on a variety of subjects, along with fun interviews, spotlights, excerpts, and reviews of the novel. Contest closes at 11:59pm PT, December 21, 2014. Five lucky winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments on the tour, and announced on Syrie’s website on December 22, 2014. The giveaway contest is open to everyone, including international residents. Good luck to all!

c2014 Jane Austen in Vermont

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

cover

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

Guest Post ~ Syrie James on Jane Austen’s First Love, Goodnestone Park, and the Bridges Family ~ and Book Giveaway!

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. See below for Giveaway details!

Gentle Readers: I welcome Syrie James today with a post on a bit of her background research for her new book Jane Austen’s First Love. Syrie has based her tale on the real-life Edward Taylor, mentioned by Austen in her letters – he may have been her never-forgotten First Love and hence perhaps a model for her very own Mr. Darcy. 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. – see details at the end of the post on how to win a copy of your own…

Jane Austens First Love by Syrie James

Letters From Lady Bridges on the Engagements of Her Three Daughters

By Syrie James

 

“It is certainly a very singular instance of good fortune in One Family, that 3 Girls, almost unknown, should have attach’d to themselves three Young Men of such unexceptionable Characters.” —Lady Bridges of Goodnestone Park, July 10, 1791  

Sir Brook Bridges and Lady Bridges

The above was written by Lady Bridges, the former Fanny Fowler, wife of Sir Brook Bridges, 3rd Baronet of Goodnestone Park in Kent. Lady Bridges had eleven children including Elizabeth Bridges, who married Jane Austen’s brother Edward Austen in December, 1791. That year must have been a very busy and happy one for the Bridges family, as sisters Elizabeth and Fanny became engaged within weeks of each other, and another sister Sophia became engaged a few months later—an unusual occurrence in any family at any time, as Lady Bridges gleefully notes. 

This remarkable circumstance in the Bridges family is one of several things which inspired me to write my novel, JANE AUSTEN’S FIRST LOVE. The book takes place during the summer of 1791, when fifteen-year-old Jane visits the Bridges family to join in a month of festivities celebrating their daughters’ engagements. While at Goodnestone Park, Jane meets and falls in love with devilishly handsome Edward Taylor, heir to the nearby, ancestral estate of Bifrons. Edward Taylor is a real person who Jane adored in her youth, as mentioned in several of her letters to her sister Cassandra—references that made me eager to learn more about him, and to write about their relationship. 

Goodnestone in late 18th century

During my research, I uncovered a trove of information about the remarkable Edward Taylor and his family which was previously unknown to Austen biographers. He spent much of his youth living and traveling abroad, and was extremely well-read and accomplished, qualities which must have greatly appealed to the young Jane. Learning all this was exciting, and it helped me to bring him to life in my novel accurately and in vivid detail.

Another Austen fact that inspired JANE AUSTEN’S FIRST LOVE is that in 1791, Jane wrote a comedic short story, The Three Sisters, featuring characters named Fanny and Sophia. I felt certain that Jane visited Kent that summer, where she not only met the young ladies who inspired that story, but also met and became enamored of Edward Taylor—and that her experiences there greatly shaped her views forever after regarding love and marriage. 

During my research for the book, I was excited to come upon three letters which Lady Bridges wrote in 1791, announcing the engagement of her daughters Elizabeth, Fanny, and Sophia. The letters are little gems, providing us with a glimpse of that family’s history. Here are the letters in their entirety:

LETTER #1

To Mrs. Fielding, St. James’ Palace, London.

Goodnestone: (March 2, 1791)

MY DEAR MRS. FIELDING, 

Elizabeth Bridges

Elizabeth Bridges

I cannot leave to my Daurs the pleasure of informing you of an Event that gives us the greatest satisfaction. We had for some time observed a great attachment between Mr. Austin (Mr. Knight’s Relation) and our dear Elizth; and Mr. Knight has, in the handsomest manner, declared his entire approbation of it; but as they are both very young, he wish’d it not to take place immediately, and as it will not suit him to give up much at present, their Income will be small, and they must be contented to live in the Country, which I think will be no hardship to either party, as they have no high Ideas, and it is a greater satisfaction to us than if she was to be thrown upon the world in a higher sphere, young and inexperienced as she is. He is a very sensible,  amiable young man,  and I trust and hope there is every prospect of Happiness to all parties in their union. This Affair has very much agitated Sir B., and he has not been quite so well for some days past as he had been for a month before; but now it is decided he will, I make no doubt, be better again in a few days, but I have long observed that when his mind has been agitated he has had a return of cough and oppression. He has sent his case to Bath, and if he is encouraged to go there, we shall set out according to the time pointed out from thence, as he has desired to know when the Waters have most efficacy. Fatty is so good (as) to stay with my Girls during our absence, or I should be much distress’d at leaving them so long. She has been pretty well, upon the whole, ever since she has been here, and in remarkable good Looks and Spirits.

Adieu, my dearest Mrs. Fielding. All here unite with me in kindest love and compts: as due. My Daurs desire their duty to you.

Believe me ever yours affectionately, F. B.

 

[NOTES: “F.B” is Lady Bridges, whose Christian name was Fanny, the same as her eldest daughter. “Sir B” is Sir Brook, her husband. “Fatty” was Isabella, sister of Mrs. C. Fielding’s husband. A popular woman, she was known all her life as Fatty Fielding, and often visited at Goodnestone Park and Godmersham Park.]

edward-austen-knight

Edward Austen Knight

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LETTER #2

Goodnestone: (March 28, 1791)

 

MY DEAR MRS. FIELDING, 

I flatter myself you are so truly interested in the welfare of my dearest children, that I am not afraid of being troublesome in writing again so soon, but must inform you that my dearest Fanny has received an offer of Marriage from Mr. Lewis Cage, a Gentleman of this County of an unexceptionable good character. His proposal has our entire approbation. As you was so kind to express a wish to be acquainted with Mr. Austin, I inform’d him of it, in consequence of which he call’d at St. James’s, and was very much disappointed he was not so fortunate to find you at home, as his Time would not permit him to make a Second Attempt; indeed, I should be quite happy that your two future Nephews should be known to you, and I hope it will not be long before they have an opportunity of being introduced. My Daughters are going to-morrow to Godmersham for a Week; I do not accompany them, as Mr. Bridges is here. Sir Brook continues charmingly well, and is in very good spirits. I hope we shall get a glimpse of you as we pass through town to Bath the middle of next month, tho’ our stay will be very short. How is Miss Finch? I hope much recovered since she left Margate. I am quite delighted to hear such good accounts of Augusta,  and hope she feels no remains of her severe Illness, but that she and all the rest of your Family are well. All here unite with me in kindest Love to you all.

Believe me, ever yours affectionately, F. B.

[NOTES: “Miss Finch” was probably one of Mrs. Fielding’s three sisters. “Augusta Sophia” was the youngest daughter of Mrs. Fielding.]

A close-up of Goodnestone in Austen's Day

A close-up of Goodnestone in Austen’s Day

 

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LETTER #3

Brock St., Bath: (July 10, 1791)

MY DEAR MRS. FIELDING, 

After having wrote to you so lately you will be no doubt surprized at hearing again so soon, and not less so to find that the Cause of my addressing myself to you is to inform you that we have received proposals of Marriage from Mr. William Deedes for your God-daughter, our dear Sophia. He is a young Man of a very Amiable Disposition and universally beloved, and his Father has been so kind to approve his Choice. I hope it will meet with your approbation, and think she bids as fair to be happy with her Connection as her sisters with theirs. It is certainly a very singular instance of good fortune in One Family, that 3 Girls, almost unknown, should have attach’d to themselves three Young Men of such unexceptionable Characters, and I pray to God that their future conduct will ever do Credit to their Choice. Mr. William Deedes is gone with Mr. Knight on the Scotch Tour; he had been long engaged to accompany them, but did not choose to set out on so long an excursion till he had explain’d himself. As I have many letters to write I will not obtain you longer than to beg our best Love and good wishes to you and all your dear Family, and kind Compliments to Lady Charlotte and Miss Finch.

Believe me, ever affectionately yours,
F. B.

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Goodnestone Park today

Goodnestone Park today

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If you’d like to read more about my research for JANE AUSTEN’S FIRST LOVE, please visit my guest post on Austenprose. You’ll find more images of Goodnestone Park and its lovely gardens in my guest post on Laura’s Reviews. I hope you enjoyed Lady Bridges’s letters, and I hope you love JANE AUSTEN’S FIRST LOVE!

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Syrie James 72 dpi

About 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.

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Thank you Syrie for sharing those wonderful letters with us – a perfect example of the marriage market of the late 18th century – such a happy year for these parents in 1791! And how interesting that you discovered these letters in your research into Edward Taylor. Readers, please either comment or ask Syrie a question about her new book and you will be entered into a giveaway for a copy of Jane Austen’s First Love.

Deadline is Tuesday, September 2, 2014 at 11:59 pm (EST) – winner will be announced September 3rd. Limited to US residents, sorry to say – and with hearty thanks to the publisher Berkley for the giveaway.

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UPDATE:

I add this comment here from Janine Barchas who wished to send this along to Syrie James: the cover of a Mansfield Park (Philadelphia, circa 1900) with the image of Fanny Brydges as seen above. Thank you Janine for sharing this – always nice to bring Mansfield Park into the mix whenever possible!

MP1900-Barchas

c2014 Jane Austen in Vermont; text and images courtesy of Syrie James, with thanks.

On My Bookshelf ~ Jane Austen Scholar Janet Todd Turns to Fiction and Takes on Lady Susan!

Well, not sure if an ebook can be termed “on my bookshelf” but no matter – this new book out today by Austen scholar Janet Todd has already made its way to my kindle, so a virtual bookshelf it is … and I shall drop all my other reading and begin this immediately!

cover-ladysusan

Professor Todd has taken on Jane Austen‘s Lady Susan in her fictional account Lady Susan Plays the Game – this is from the Bloomsbury website:

A must-read for any devotee of Jane Austen, Janet Todd’s bodice-ripping reimagining of Austen’s epistolary novel Lady Susan will capture your literary imagination and get your heart racing.

Austen’s only anti-heroine, Lady Susan, is a beautiful, charming widow who has found herself, after the death of her husband, in a position of financial instability and saddled with an unmarried, clumsy and over-sensitive daughter. Faced with the unpalatable prospect of having to spend her widowed life in the countryside, Lady Susan embarks on a serious of manipulative games to ensure she can stay in town with her first passion — the card tables. Scandal inevitably ensues as she negotiates the politics of her late husband’s family, the identity of a mysterious benefactor and a passionate affair with a married man.

Accurate and true to Jane Austen’s style, as befits Todd’s position as a leading Austen scholar, this second coming of Lady Susan is as shocking, manipulative and hilarious as when Jane Austen first imagined her.

Published: 15-07-2013
Format: EPUB eBook
ISBN: 9781448213450
Imprint: Bloomsbury Reader 
RRP: £6.99  [ in the US, the kindle price is $7.19 :  Amazon.com

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You can read a post by Janet Todd here at the Bloomsbury Reader blog –  where she “tells us her thoughts on writing, language, and the pressure of re-imagining Jane Austen:”

Anne Elliot, virtuous heroine of Persuasion, was ‘almost too good’ for Jane Austen. ‘Pictures of perfection make me sick and wicked,’ she remarked towards the end of her life. All Austen’s novel heroines are indeed ‘good’: two of them initially hazard improper or injudicious remarks—Elizabeth Bennet and Emma—but later they learn to repress such high spirits.

Now look at Jane Austen’s own letters. Recollect that most of them address her beloved Cassandra who, after Jane’s death, guarded her sister’s image by burning anything she deemed unsuitable—not so much for the public, since Jane was not yet famous enough to have her private correspondence of general interest, but for the younger members of the extended family now living in high Victorian rather than racy Regency times.  Yet even the unburnt letters show a woman very different from the fictional heroines, a woman with a naughty propensity sometimes to laugh at the virtuous, the vulnerable or the just plain unfortunate—a wife with an uncomely husband experiencing a still birth or young girls lacking beauty and unable to compensate for it.  This Jane Austen emerges very fully in a little work she wrote just as she was entering adulthood and long before she’d published any of her masterly novels: ‘Lady Susan’….

Continue reading…

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About the Author:

janet_toddJanet Todd is an internationally renowned scholar of early women writers. She has edited the complete works of England’s first professional woman writer, Aphra Behn, and the Enlightenment feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, as well as novels by Charlotte Smith, Mary Shelley and Eliza Fenwick and memoirs of the confidence trickster Mary Carleton. She is also the general editor of the 9-volume Cambridge Edition of the Works of Jane Austen and editor of Jane Austen in Context and the Cambridge Companion to Pride and Prejudice. Among her critical works are Women’s Friendship in Literature, The Sign of Angellica: Women, Writing and Fiction 1660-1800 and the Cambridge Introduction to Jane Austen. She has written four biographies: of Aphra Behn and three linked women, Mary Wollstonecraft, her daughter, and her aristocratic Irish pupils.

In the 1970s Janet Todd taught in the USA, during which time she began the first journal devoted to women’s writing. Back in the UK in the 1990s she co-founded the journal Women’s Writing. Janet has had a peripatetic and busy life, working at universities in Ghana, the US, and Puerto Rico, as well as England and Scotland. She is now an emeritus professor at the University of Aberdeen and lives in Cambridge.

 

Further reading:

book cover-LadySusanpenguin

c2013 Jane Austen in Vermont

 

Winner of The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen by Syrie James…

… and the winner is: Dianna Anderson who commented on January 15:

I would love to comment on a book I’ve read but sadly I haven’t, but I would love to. If I were to win a book though I could easily read it and email a question later. :-)

 

Congratulations Dianna! – please email me your contact information and the book shall be sent to you right away.  And after you have read it, we hope you shall comment!

And thank you all for your comments and to Syrie James for her great post about JASNA.

The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen by Syrie James