Monday, April 12, 2010
Guest Monica Fairview: THE DARCY COUSINS and PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
Linda Banche here. Today's guest blogger Monica is Fairview, whose latest book, The Darcy Cousins, is the second chapter in the saga of the American (gasp!) branch of the Darcy family.
Leave a comment for a chance to win one of the two copies of The Darcy Cousins, which Sourcebooks has generously provided. Monica will select the winners. Check the comments to see who won, and how to contact me to claim your book. If I cannot contact the winners within a week of their selection, I will award the books to alternates. Note, Sourcebooks can mail to US and Canada addresses only.
It’s really a pleasure to be invited to blog here on Historical Hussies, which is a wonderful resource for those of us who write historical fiction. Linda sent me a question to get a conversation started for this guest blog: Since the setting/original story is so well known, how do you keep your own tale fresh and new, but still stay true to Austen's original?
If there is anything universally established, it is that no one can aspire to imitate Jane Austen’s style without incurring general censure.
Accordingly – and I hope my confession will not throw my readers into a fit of spasms like Mrs. Bennet – I resolved right from the beginning not to do so, resisting some gentle nudging from my editor at Robert Hale. Surely she could not hold up any hope that I could capture Jane Austen’s sly turn of phrase, her sparkling wit, the intricacy of her thought? Any attempt would leave me as open to ridicule as Mr. Collins, with his laboriously penned efforts to please the ladies. Or to draw on a notorious quote Jane Austen would have known: "A woman's preaching is like a dog's walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all." (Samuel Johnson). Much as I may disapprove of Johnson’s sentiments regarding women, in this case it would surely be wise to avoid the trap of being the dog.
No, it was not a desire to emulate my worthy patroness that inspired me to write what is called, for the lack of a better phrase, an Austenesque novel. Rather, it was curiosity – that failing which has proven so destructive to our feline companions – that compelled me to revisit her characters and further my acquaintance with them. For the sad truth is, while Miss Austen was diligent in revealing the fate of the main personages in Pride and Prejudice, she left something to be desired when it came to some of the others.
Side by side with that curiosity came a compelling need to answer that most eternal of questions: “what if?”
What if Miss Caroline Bingley were heartbroken at losing Mr. Darcy? Having allowed that all too troubling question to take root, other questions followed thicker and thicker, until a whole garden of tangled weeds began to grow. What if she were to encounter a stranger, in the form of Mr. Darcy’s American cousin? Would she be kindly disposed towards him? Would she ever be able to overcome her social inhibitions the way Mr. Darcy did?
Once I had tended to Caroline, I found that Georgiana, too, suffered from Jane Austen’s neglect. She spoke so seldom in Pride and Prejudice that she could well have been one of the portraits Miss Bennet viewed when first visiting Pemberley. What if Miss Darcy chose not to be the obedient little sister Mr. Darcy expected her to be? What would her brother’s reaction be – a brother, moreover, who not only is ten years her senior but had stood in the stead of both a father and a mother to her for many years? Would he tolerate independence in her as he tolerated it in Elizabeth?
What of Miss de Bourgh? If possible, she speaks even less than Georgiana. Had she always been a sickly child, or was her character too weak to overcome the cosseting and imperious manner of her mother? Did she have any hopes or dreams of her own, beyond her mother’s failed plan to marry her to Darcy? What if she disobeyed Lady Catherine?
More questions tumbled through my head than I could ever endeavour to answer. Were I to encounter Miss Austen herself, I would have presented her with some of these queries and she would have undoubtedly engendered far wittier responses than I could ever conjure up. Alas, in the absence of that possibility, I could rely on no one but myself. Writing The Other Mr. Darcy and after it The Darcy Cousins were the only means I had at my disposal to satisfy my curiosity.
As for how I remained true to Jane Austen’s characters, I can only say that my prior acquaintance to them – generated over many years – provided me with the means through which I could extrapolate, interpret and improvise their roles when I placed them in new situations. I have said I did not seek to imitate Jane Austen, any more than an actor playing a role seeks to imitate the character. An actor must first memorize the lines and learn everything possible about the character, then she/he must seek to breath life into those lines. Once this has been accomplished, an actor can then improvise if necessary, construing the character’s reactions to new situations from her/his intimate knowledge of how the character thinks. Ultimately, the actor provides an interpretation which will succeed or fail depending on whether we recognize the character’s internal logic. Writing Jane Austen’s characters into my own creation entailed something very similar. It required learning the internal rhythms of the characters’ speech, recognizing their distinctive qualities, and being able to work out the direction of their thoughts. Above all, it required the discipline of setting aside my own voice to be able to hear theirs more clearly.
Having provided a very disciplined answer, I hope you’ll allow me the freedom of answering your question now in my own voice. The reason I’m able to keep the tale fresh and new is quite simply, because writing The Other Mr. Darcy and The Darcy Cousins was such tremendous fun.
THE DARCY COUSINS BY MONICA FAIRVIEW
A young lady in disgrace should at least strive to behave with decorum…
Dispatched from America to England under a cloud of scandal, Mr. Darcy’s incorrigible American cousin, Clarissa Darcy, manages to provoke Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Mr. Collins, and the parishioners of Hunsford all in one morning!
And there are more surprises in store for that bastion of tradition, Rosings Park, when the family gathers for their annual Easter visit. Georgiana Darcy, generally a shy model of propriety, decides to take a few lessons from her unconventional cousin, to the delight of a neighboring gentleman. Anne de Bourgh, encouraged to escape her “keeper” Mrs. Jenkinson, simply…vanishes. But the trouble really starts when Clarissa and Georgiana both set out to win the heart of the same young man…
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Literature professor Monica Fairview loves teaching students the joys of reading. But after years of postponing the urge, she finally realized that what she really wanted to do was write. The author of The Other Mr. Darcy and An Improper Suitor, the American-born Ms. Fairview currently resides in London. For more information, please visit www.monicafairview.com.