Bespelling Jane Austen

Cat 243 Dover by Mary Jo

In marketing, a brand name can take you a long way, and there is no stronger brand in romance than Jane Austen.  Her wit and sharp but compassionate characterizations and social commentary have never gone out of style.  Her stories have been filmed again and again, and there have been an incredible variety of spin-off pastiches. 

Which brings us to Bespelling Jane Austen, in which four most excellent Bespelling cover authors:

Mary Balogh  

Colleen Gleason 

Susan Krinard  

Janet Mullany

have paranormal fun with Jane.  They are visiting the Wenches today (particularly Janet, who is a member of my local RWA chapter) to talk about their stories and how Jane Austen might feel about them!

There are very well organized authors!  Bespelling Jane Austen has a website and here is a link to excerpts of all four stories

For this visit to the Word Wenches, I decided to cut right to the chase: 

“Would Jane Austen forgive the liberties you've taken with her?”  <G>

MARY BALOGH
Jane Austen not only had a great sense of humor, but she also had a fine sense of the Secretaffair-med absurd. Think of Mr. Collins as a perfect example. I think if she were living today she might well get a chuckle out of finding her stories being so irreverently (but very affectionately!) used as a jumping off ground for wild tales of vampires and reincarnated lovers and the like. I know I would if anyone should ever try doing something similar with my books.

And that for me is the ultimate test. Would I mind if it happened to me? Since the answer is definitely no, I can only assume and hope that Jane Austen would not find our stories disrespectful. Please, Jane, don't turn over in your grave. One or four of us might just have to write a story about it…

Janet cover JANET MULLANY

Consider that if Austen did mind and was around to do something about it she’d have her revenge on all four of us in the most devastatingly elegant and merciless satire. I hope she’d admire our humor and our inventiveness in analysis and reconstruction of her books into shorter works.

For instance, the episode of Mr. Elton and the picture of Harriet, which takes up several chapters in Emma, I interpreted as a photo on his cell phone; the gift of the piano to Jane Fairfax is the gift of a car, something extravagant and not altogether suitable for someone living in a historic area with cobbled streets. Austen might object to us not including enough of her originals and not going far enough with it—she was a woman who wasn’t afraid of a literary challenge.

As Shadows Fade COLLEEN GLEASON

Jane would, I think, very much enjoy the liberties I took with Northanger Abbey for my own version simply because her version was a take-off on the very popular "horrid" novels of the time. She obviously had a sense of humor, and I like to think that she would have liked the wink-wink-nudge-nudge I tried to incorporate into “Northanger Castle.”

In her book, Catherine Morland is terribly wrong about certain things, and she is mortified when her overactive imagination gets her in trouble. In my version, Caroline Merrill has her own embarrassing moments, but they aren't quite as tenuous as Catherine's. Plus, I think Jane would have loved Lord Rude. 😉

SUSAN KRINARD

Yes, I think she would. Jane Austen was ahead of her time in writing a story that BrideOfTheWolf gently mocked social conventions but also wrote books that were enjoyable purely as fiction. We, as romance writers, are doing much the same thing by couching the language of modern life in stories readers can relate to. I'm sure Jane had plenty of imagination, and would have appreciated the tribute of other writers.

So there you are! Riffs on Jane Austen by four authors who love, admire, and know her work. 

A free copy of Bespelling Jane Austen will be given to one commenter between now and midnight Tuesday. 

Bespelling cover Fangs for the visit to Janet, Susan, Colleen, and Mary!

Mary Jo

A Love letter to Jane Austen

CE-avatar Hi all, Cara/Andrea here,

As spring fever begins to waft through the air, bringing with it beguiling hints that the long, cold winter is finally waving goodbye, I decided it was high time to take off my fuzzy synchilla sweatpants and venture outside of my cozy little writing room. I love sitting for hours on end at my computer, tapping out my stories with my patented two-fingered hunt-and-peck technique. But I also love research forays, which I find are like a breath of fresh air to the creative process.

Whether it’s a museum exhibit, a history lecture, a library talk—I always find something new and exciting to get my heart thumping. Imagination is a wondrous thing, and it’s fascinating to see how each of us has a unique perspective on the world around us.  

JA-letter My foray this week was to the Morgan Library in New York, where they were featuring an exhibit entitled: “A Woman’s Wit: Jane Austen’s Life and Legacy. A small but fabulous show, it consisted mainly of her personal letters to family and friends, along with related prints from the era and early editions of her books. (The Morgan owns the largest collection of Austen’s correspondence, and much of it not been shown for over twenty five years.)

It was an incredible experience to see her actual handwriting, and read her astute observations and pithy comments! She becomes so very real as a person, and at times I was almost laughing aloud at her tart humor and acerbic wit. Not that it was any surprise, but it highlighted how much of her own personality is in her books. Here’s one of my favorite examples: in writing about a new acquaintance, Jane comments, “I do not perceive any Wit or Genius in her . . . She seems to like people rather too easily.”

JA-snippet Her brother Henry notes that Jane loved party-going and was very fond of dancing. (It is noted in the exhibition that most of her heroines and heroes were excellent dancers—Jane and Elizabeth Bennett included.) Indeed, one of Jane’s letters says, “I believe I drank too much wine last night at Hurstbourne.” Not that I think she would give Paris Hilton a run for her money, but apparently Jane liked to cut loose on occasion!

Just to give you all a bit more of the flavor, I’m going to share some more actual quotes, as listed in the Morgan’s exhibit notes:

JAPortrait Austen's niece Caroline recollected: "As to my aunt's personal appearance, hers was the first face I can remember thinking pretty. Her face was rather round than long, she had a bright, but not a pink colour—a clear brown complexion, and very good hazel eyes. Her hair, a darkish brown, curled naturally, it was in short curls around her face. She always wore a cap." (Note, this painting on the right is an idealized portrait of Jane, taken from the unfinished sketch done by her sister Cassandra.)

Jane-bennett In her letter dated 24 May, 1813, Austen reports seeing a painting of how she imagines Jane Bennet, who marries Mr. Bingley at the conclusion of Pride and Prejudice. "Mrs Bingley is exactly herself, size, shaped face, features & sweetness; there never was a greater likeness. She is dressed in a white gown, with green ornaments, which convinces me of what I had always supposed, that green was a favourite colour with her." Scholars suspect that the painting she refers to is the Portrait of Mrs Q by the French portrait painter François Huet-Villiers. (shown at left) Harriet Quentin was a mistress to George IV when he was prince regent. William Blake's 1820 engraving reproduces the portrait. In the same letter, Austen suspects that Elizabeth Bennet, later Mrs. Darcy, would have different preferences: "I dare say Mrs D. will be in Yellow."

Gillray In Austen's letter to Cassandra, written from Bath on 2 June 1799, she commented on the style of contemporary hat decorations with evident amusement: "Flowers are very much worn, & Fruit is still more the thing.—Eliz: has a bunch of Strawberries, & I have seen Grapes, Cherries, Plumbs & Apricots—There are likewise Almonds & raisins, french plums & Tamarinds at the Grocers, but I have never seen any of them in hats." (The image at right is a detail from one of the Gillray prints that are part of the exhibit.)

I adore Jane Austen, and found this exhibit gave me an even deeper appreciation of her as a person and an author. How about you? Are you an Austen fan? Do you have a favorite book or character? (I love Lizzie Bennett and Anne Elliot.)