Welcome to My JA Book Club, Linda ! Welcome back at My Jane Austen Book Club and thanks for accepting to talk Jane Austen with me.
You are very welcome, Maria. Thank you for being the very first stop on the Longbourn to London Blog Tour.
This is my first question for you: Longbourn to London is not your first Austenesque novel, it comes after The Red Chrysanthemum. But when and how you came to think of writing a Jane Austen – inspired book?
Actually, Longbourn to London came first. When I discovered Jane Austen Fan Fiction, in September 2011, I positively devoured every book I could get my hands on. I started with my local library, then on to Amazon and at Powell’s City of Books here in Portland (they also sell online). Through it all, I had no idea about the whole universe of blogs and posting sites like A Happy Assembly. Anyway, operating in something of a vacuum, I decided to try my hand. The sequels were probably my least favourite sub-genre, and I didn’t have a plausible what-if in mind at first, so I decided to look into Pride and Prejudice itself and was drawn to that great gulf Jane Austen left at the very end, rushing us through Elizabeth and Darcy’s betrothal with merely a couple of conversations. Hence, I expanded on the journey of discover Darcy and Elizabeth embarked upon when they became engaged.
If you read Longbourn to London carefully, you’ll find the exact question Elizabeth asks Darcy that ending up being the inspiration point for The Red Chrysanthemum. By January 2013, both books were essentially complete.
Both your Austen-inspired novels focus on the most- widely popular among Austen’s novels, Pride and Prejudice, and her most beloved couple: Elizabeth and Darcy. What are the reasons of your choice?
Three reasons: first, Andrew Davies, screenwriter for the 1995 BBC mini-series. What he accomplished was miraculous. His changes and additions were very gentle, but they made such a huge impact on my understanding of the Pride and Prejudice story. He expanded Darcy’s role not so much by giving him more dialogue, but rather by letting us watch him in unguarded moments.
So that reason leads to the next two, Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. With a story like this, with such well-known and widely discussed characters, the casting has to be spot on. I’ve heard Davies interviewed many times about writing Darcy and Elizabeth, and these two actors embody what I imagine as I read or watch. I would dearly love to have a copy of that screenplay.
Both Longbourn to London and The Red Chrysanthemum are written with Andrew Davies on my shoulder, most especially Longbourn to London.
How did you imagine Elizabeth and Darcy’s married ménage ?
Well…I am known for being unapologetic about writing about their sex life, but I don’t think that’s what you’re asking, is it? I would imagine their households, London and Pemberley, to be very pleasant places to work, not that being a servant in Regency England was any picnic. We know from what Mrs. Reynolds says in canon that Darcy is a good master. I like to think Elizabeth would be a most compassionate and attentive mistress (but not like Lady Catherine de Bourgh is “attentive”). In Longbourn to London, Elizabeth’s maid and the London housekeeper have a telling conversation about their new mistress. Hard as the work was, working for a happy master and mistress makes everything easier.
I like to think about Elizabeth restoring joy and activity to both the London house and Pemberley: renewing old traditions, freshening the decorations; entertaining with musical evenings and soirees; and of course, all done with her “conceited independence”, flying in the face of fashion if necessary. And for the most part, I imagine Darcy being enchanted with everything she does.
The cover for Longbourn to London is very beautiful. It reminds me of a scene I loved in the 2005 film adaption of Pride and Prejudice. Was it your own choice? Can you tell us something more about it?
The cover is very much a collaboration between the artist, ZoryLee Diaz-Lupitou and me. We first started identifying for each other what we thought the iconic images were. We wanted to capture something of the journey. She originally sent me seven rough versions, I think… at least seven. I narrowed it down to three, and when she found these beautiful hands, well, I was, and am, absolutely in love! It is reminiscent of the scene in the 2005 movie where Elizabeth is leaving Netherfield, and Darcy hands her into the carriage, and we see his hand flexing afterward. Hotness!
As I imagine my story, the scene on the front cover takes place as Darcy and Elizabeth make a final stop at Longbourn after the wedding breakfast at Netherfield. Mr. Bennet has asked for a moment alone with them before they make their way to London. So here, we see Darcy handing Elizabeth down from the Darcy carriage outside Longbourn on a chilly late-November day. If you want to know why Mr. Bennet asks them to stop, you’ll have to read the story!
The back cover is the array of gifts Darcy gives to Elizabeth during their engagement. There is also some correspondence in the story, but we decided since a gift card is on the back cover of The Red Chrysanthemum, we wanted to show something different this time. The emerald ring that constitutes the first O in London in the title is a ring of Darcy’s mother’s, which he thinks suits Elizabeth better as a betrothal ring than the larger diamond-ring his mother wore. Darcy’s taste in jewellery is fabulous!
Now, if you don’t mind, let’s go back to more general Jane Austen-related questions. What is the appeal of Jane Austen’s world to you?
The appeal is not so much the Regency world, but rather, it is Jane’s writing. Oh, how I would love to be able to talk with her about her writing process, why she started and stopped some of her stories, rewriting and completing them later. In many ways she was so much ahead of her time. There are so many ways she influenced the English language… ways I didn’t understand until I started researching her through the Oxford English Dictionary. And her letters are just as fascinating as her novels. The idea of her sister Cassandra burning many of Jane’s letters is another reason I want a “way back” machine. One doesn’t want to change history, but I would love to slap Cassandra Austen senseless (really, this is sooo Jane Bennet of her!).
Some of Jane’s characters are so modern, even enlightened. And she almost always offers redemption. She’s keen on second chances. For all her satire and cynicism, Jane Austen was hopeful, or at least her writing voice was in the novels.
What would you miss the most if you could go back living in the Regency Era?
My impression is that books were an indulgence then, and reading was a rather expensive hobby. If I had to live on the Regency equivalent of my modern income, books would have been a luxury. I would have loved the fashions, with all that roominess around the waist!
What would Jane Austen appreciate the most in our contemporary world, if she had had the chance to live nowadays?
What would she make of websites like www.writelikeausten.com, where every word from every novel has been counted, qualified, and defined as to its Regency usage? I am sure she would be all astonishment!
I also think she would love the array of fresh food we can grow, all of the improvements in how we eat (refrigeration, gas stoves, preservation). She was an avid gardener. And I believe she would be a great traveller.
The huge spreading of Austen fan fiction is due to a desire to preserve Jane’s messages, atmospheres, techniques and prolong the pleasure or more to the ambition to correct and adapt what in her work is considered too distant or different?
I can only answer for myself. Perhaps, in Longbourn to London, I am arrogant enough to imagine I am “improving” Pride and Prejudice by providing what Jane left out in the ending. And in The Red Chrysanthemum, I am answering a question that Jane didn’t answer: why was Darcy at the inn in Lambton just when Elizabeth had finished reading about Lydia’s elopement? I hope I “…prolong the pleasure...”
I don’t want to believe most authors feel they are correcting or that they need to “adapt what in her work is considered too distant or different…” But again, I can only speak for myself, and I may be wrong. I think her language is quite perfect, and I strive to emulate her phrasing and style as best I can.
Of course, Jane never wrote so directly about sex… maybe that’s what was in the letters Cassandra burned!?
Do you think that all these adaptations, both written and for the screen, could alter, mislead or even distort the interpretation of Austen’s work?
Yes… I would hate to think that anyone’s knowledge of Pride and Prejudice began and ended with the 2005 movie! Even the 1995 miniseries is a derivation. But if either of these, or the 1980 mini-series, or any JAFF story inspires folks to seek Jane Austen for the first time, well, that’s really the whole point.
Why do we still read JA’s novels in your opinion? What can we learn from them?
Her novels are heavily atmospheric, transporting us quite vividly to another place and time; they are hopeful; they are clever in a way that resonates in the modern ear. It is such a treat to hear her read aloud by someone with some practise. And she has created truly compelling characters…we can’t let them go!
What is the peculiarity which makes Jane Austen’s genius unique?
She was an innovator for sure. There are so many phrases she coined. It is worth reading her letters, as some of her choicest phrases are there.
Was Jane Austen more a romantic girl or a matter-of- fact woman, in your opinion?
I have read that some scholars think that in many ways her scepticism and sarcasm (as read in her letters), indicate that in personality, she bore some resemblance to Mr. Bennet. The “Mr. Bennet Haters” will dispute this, but I see the resemblance. And I adore Mr. Bennet as a character. Elizabeth Bennet was her father’s daughter in many ways, and as a character, he reflects certain opinions of the author. In Longbourn to London, Mr. Bennet acts as something of a hero for Lizzy.
Since the interview is almost over, Linda, what about a bit of blunt promotion? Do you think you can advertise your Longbourn to London in about 50 words?
Longbourn to London is an expansion of the official betrothal period of Elizabeth and Darcy. It is not without its trials, but mainly they have their good opinion of each other confirmed, and share their observations of the world around them. Elizabeth is a curious creature, and Darcy must quickly learn direct her as best he can. And of course, she him!
Great! Thanks a lot, Linda. It’s been a real pleasure to talk Jane Austen with you. Best wishes and good luck with your new release.
About the book
A courtship is a journey of discovery, but what do we know of the official betrothal of Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet? We may assume there were awkward social events to navigate, tedious wedding arrangements to negotiate, and Bingley’s toplofty sisters to accommodate. How did Darcy and Elizabeth manage these travails, and each other?
Longbourn to London is not a Pride and Prejudice “what if,” nor is it a sequel. Rather, it is an expansion of the betrothal of Jane Austen’s favorite couple. We follow Lizzy’s journey from spirited maiden scampering about the fields of Hertfordshire to nervous, blushing bride in Mayfair, where she learns the unexpected joys of marriage to a man as willing to be teased as she is to tease him.
Join us as IPPY award-winning author Linda Beutler (2013 Silver Medal, Independent Publishers Awards, for The Red Chrysanthemum) imagines the betrothal and early honeymoon of Jane Austen’s greatest couple.
Includes mature content.
About the author
Linda Beutler is an Oregon native who began writing professionally in 1996 (meaning that is when they started paying her...), in the field of garden writing. First published in magazines, Linda graduated to book authorship in 2004 with the publication of Gardening With Clematis (2004, Timber Press). In 2007 Timber Press presented her second title, Garden to Vase, a partnership with garden photographer Allan Mandell. Now in 2013 Linda is working with Meryton Press.
Linda lives the gardening life: she is a part-time instructor in the horticulture department at Clackamas Community College; writes and lectures about gardening topics throughout the USA; and is traveling the world through her active participation in the International Clematis Society, of which she is the current president. Then there's that dream job--which she is sure everyone else must covet but which she alone has-- curator of the Rogerson Clematis Collection, which is located at Luscher Farm, a farm/park maintained by the city of Lake Oswego. They say to keep resumes brief, but Linda considers Garden With Clematis her 72,000 word resume. She signed on as curator to North America's most comprehensive and publicly accessible collection of the genus clematis in July 2007, and they will no doubt not get shut of her until she can be carried out in a pine box.
And now for something completely different: in September 2011, Linda checked out a book of Jane Austen fan fiction from her local library, and was, to put it in the modern British vernacular, gob smacked. After devouring every title she could get her hands on, she quite arrogantly decided that, in some cases, she could do better, and began writing her own expansions and variations of Pride and Prejudice. The will to publish became too tempting, and after viewing the welcoming Meryton Press website, she sent her child before the firing squad. Luckily, the discerning editors at Meryton Press saved the child from slaughter, and Linda's first work of Jane Austen-esque fiction, The Red Chrysanthemum, is ready for publication.
Linda shares a small garden in Southeast Portland with her husband, and pets that function as surrogate children. Her personal collection of clematis numbers something around 230 taxa. These are also surrogate children, and just as badly behaved.