Thursday, January 24, 2013

Yours Affectionately, Jane Austen - Guest Post

Synopsis:  Was Mr. Darcy real? Is time travel really possible? For pragmatic Manhattan artist Eliza Knight the answer to both questions is absolutely, Yes! And Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley Farms, Virginia is the reason why!

His tale of love and romance in Regency England leaves Eliza in no doubt that Fitz Darcy is the embodiment of Jane Austen’s legendary hero. And she’s falling in love with him. But can the man who loved the inimitable Jane Austen ever love average, ordinary Eliza Knight?

Eliza’s doubts grow, perhaps out of proportion, when things start to happen in the quiet hamlet of Chawton, England; events that could change everything. Will the beloved author become the wedge that divides Fitz and Eliza or the tie that binds them?

A Word With The Author, Sally Smith O'Rourke:   2013 is the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, considered by some to be the ultimate romantic novel but for Jane Austen her books had nothing whatever to do with romance. In fact, when someone suggested she write one she responded:

“I could no more write a romance than an epic poem. I could not sit seriously down to write a serious romance under any other motive than to save my life; and if it were indispensable for me to keep it up and never relax into laughing at myself or other people, I am sure I should be hung before I had finished the first chapter.”                            From a letter of 1 April 1816

In  Jane Austen’s time romance in books generally involved women in peril saved by heroic men, often times using supernatural means or in adventurous situations. The gothic romances of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century were filled with scandal and monsters (human and otherwise). Often the two young lovers in these stories are kept apart until the end and only after much terror, horror and heartache can they be together. And there are times they don’t end up together at all.

In Austen’s Sense & Sensibility, Eleanor’s love for Edward is intensified when she learns he is doing the honorable thing by accepting responsibility for the rash actions of his youth and marrying Lucy. His love for Eleanor is compounded by her desire to make life easier for him and his intended spouse when she relays Colonel Brandon’s offer of a living. For us Eleanor and Edward coming together is very romantic. But for Jane it is simply two respectable and honorable people who belong together and are able to wed because others were not so honorable or respectable.

Equalitarianism is a common thread in all her books. To Jane everyone was the same no matter their birth right. Northanger Abbey has the wealthy and well-connected Henry Tilney disobeying his father to ask for Catherine Morland’s hand. Only in Emma are the lovers equal for their day.

In Mansfield Park Austen shows how the upper class, the so called ‘best people’ can be and often are common, corrupt, amoral and downright immoral. Fanny, born into the harshness of poverty is, on the other hand, demure, modest and morally upright. Ultimately she marries her wealthy but pious cousin, Edmond.

Persuasion may be the ultimate romance. Anne Elliot who is the daughter of a Baronet is initially persuaded not to marry Mr. Wentworth as she is to inherit wealth and he is but a lowly sailor. However, years later their roles are reversed since Anne’s father has lost his money and the now Captain Wentworth has become very wealthy. Anne has never loved another and is brought together with Captain Wentworth again when he declares, “Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath.” They walk off into the sunset.

Today in Pride & Prejudice, Darcy’s first proposal, at least part of it, is thought to be exceedingly romantic (“You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you”) and even though Elizabeth takes what follows as an insult, as does today’s reader, in Jane’s time the girl would have over looked the slight and been honored for a proposal from a man so obviously her superior. Which is what Darcy is expecting so is stunned by Elizabeth’s refusal. Angry and humiliated that he followed his heart and not the rational part of his brain he exists.

For Jane Austen the scene typifies the arrogance of Darcy’s class. Elizabeth’s comment later to Lady Catherine ‘…he is a gentleman; I am a gentleman’s daughter; so far we are equal’ is how Jane truly felt; that class and situation should have no bearing on a match.

Humbled by Elizabeth’s rejection, Darcy determines that he wants to be a man capable of pleasing a woman worthy of being pleased and when he realizes that Elizabeth is his intellectual and moral equal she is the woman he wants to please. Elizabeth sees that she was judging on first impressions not on substance and that Darcy is a man of honor and integrity. And so they marry.

This was not romantic for Jane Austen, it was simply the way it ought to be. That marriage should be based on love and partnership; on mutual understanding and respect; not on money, land and connections.

Her gift of making ordinary life entertaining is what keeps her as alive today as she was in 1813. We can all imagine or at least wish ourselves to be Elizabeth Bennet, Anne Elliot or Emma Woodhouse with men who loved us unconditionally. The thing that makes Austen a romantic for modern times is that Jane’s men love the women, even the young Catherine and demure Fanny, because they are independent in thought and strong in character; not in spite of those traits.

Jane Austen’s ability to create characters and situations we can all relate to even two hundred years later is the reason she is considered one of the greatest writers of romance in the world. Something, I believe, that would make her laugh. And she would consider it absurd that anyone even remembers her. But we do and I suspect will for another two hundred years.

I try and capture her spirit in Yours Affectionately, Jane Austen a ‘what if’ story about who Mr. Darcy might have been, maybe even was.

Connect with Sally Smith O'Rourke:  You can connect with Sally online at her blog, Facebook, Twitter and the everything Austen site.

Purchase:  You can purchase Yours Affectionately, Jane Austen online at Amazon for $14 (kindle version $5.99).

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