My guest today is an author for whose work I have huge affection – partly because he sometimes writes about places I know and partly because he’s just so good!
He’s here today in celebration of the release of A Certain Persuasion – an anthology of Austenesque stories from Manifold Press.
Jane Austen’s grasp of the English language is justly celebrated. Is there any part that you can quote for us that you particularly relish?
I’ve always been intrigued by something Mrs Jennings says to Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility, about how dull life will be with the two Miss Dashwoods absent:
“Lord! We shall sit and gape at one another as dull as two cats.”
Admittedly cats are not particularly entertaining when they’re asleep, but then no more is anybody else! In fact, I do wonder whether Miss Austen had her tongue firmly in her cheek at this point – and not for the first time, obviously – because anyone who has more than a passing acquaintance with cats will know that their lives are never dull, and nor are those of the people they look after. If they’re not exploring where they shouldn’t be, or kindly tidying up cotton reels or corks or other small objects, then cats are almost certainly begging for attention by getting between humans and their work. I’m sure Jane worked in a room with the door shut and didn’t allow interruptions of any sort, but it’s irresistible to imagine her working away on her ‘bit of ivory’ – perhaps describing Elizabeth Bennet’s fine eyes – when some tabby monster with no manners jumps up, sticks its tail up her nose, and demands to be fed. No, Mrs Jennings, I’m afraid I won’t allow it; you and Colonel Brandon may have to make your own entertainment for a while, to be sure, but cats are very rarely dull at all!
What inspired your story in the A Certain Persuasion anthology? May we have an excerpt?
The relationship between Emma Woodhouse and Harriet Smith has always intrigued me; it’s a mentor/mentee relationship, but Emma herself is still very young – although she has had a good upbringing from Miss Taylor and is certainly mature for her age in many ways. Harriet, on the other hand, is young and has perhaps been over-protected. In a bizarre way, it’s almost the same sort of dynamic (I use the word advisedly!) as that between Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson; the older and wiser character ‘adopting’ the younger and more vulnerable one. I also think the very unfixed quality of Harriet’s emotions – she staggers about from one unsuitable crush to another – together with Emma’s own determination not to marry, allows for the intriguing possibility that in the right set of circumstances they might even fall in love with each other, and the comparatively recent precedent of the ‘Ladies of Llangollen’ would at least allow them not to feel quite so alienated by the discovery as might otherwise have been the case.
Here’s Emma, the morning after Mr Elton’s proposal, telling Harriet what’s occurred!
“Harriet, my dear, you must prepare for a disappointment,” she began. “Mr Elton is gone from Highbury – and gone, I am afraid, quite out of countenance with me; I have offended him too far and too greatly soon to be recovered from, I think.”
Harriet’s astonishment was great, and her foremost inclination to demur. “Oh! – but I’m certain you could never – I mean, Miss Woodhouse, surely it must be impossible – ” However she was unable to reconcile denial of her friend’s guilt with the discourtesy of rejecting her confession altogether, and stumbled inarticulately into silence. “I am sorry indeed to hear it,” she continued, recovering. “I am confident there must have been a misunderstanding. I cannot believe that you had any intention of offending him.”
“Oh, but I did!” exclaimed Emma, warmly. “When I learned what it was he wanted, I said whatever I could to prevent him speaking to me any further. He had asked, you see – He had asked me if I would be his wife.”
“Good heavens!” It was the strongest expression ever to have passed Harriet’s mild lips, provoked as it was by astonishment rather than sorrow or despair. “Oh, but it demonstrates such excellent judgement on his part; indeed, I would hardly have thought him equal to it!”
Taken aback at this response, Emma could say little to the purpose but “Indeed, Harriet? Surely what it demonstrates is ambition coupled with an absence of refinement?” She explained to her friend how Mr Elton had intruded himself upon her in her carriage after visiting the Westons at Randalls, and how he had declared himself in love with her and evidently expected her to demonstrate a similar devotion in return.
“But if he loves you – ?” began Harriet, and then could find no words with which to continue.
“If he loved me,” said Emma, “the strength of my answer would surely have wounded him, but I believe he is not and has never been in love – except, perhaps, with himself! He is not a man of emotions, Harriet; he is calculating and entirely concerned with his own advancement, and he thought a few syrupy words and hackneyed sentiments would induce me to accept him. He was too presumptuous, too forward, and esteems me too little if he imagines I can be taken in by such obvious hypocrisy! It does him no credit that he thinks so meanly of me – or indeed of any woman else!”
What are you working on at present?
The sad answer to that is ‘very little’. I’m doing some research for a project which has been languishing in my files for many years and really ought to be revived, and which I hope to be able to pull together in time for publication in 2017, and I’ve also got a short story bubbling under for another Manifold Press anthology project, the details of which are due to be announced shortly. I’ve been going through a very bad spell with my writing lately, and I’ve found it difficult to concentrate on anything for long enough to make any appreciable progress. I haven’t given up, however, and I have loads of lovely people cheering me on; it’s just all taking a great deal longer than I would really like it to, I’m afraid
A Certain Persuasion
from Manifold Press
Thirteen stories from eleven authors, exploring the world of Jane Austen and celebrating her influence on ours.
Being cousins-by-marriage doesn’t deter William Elliot from pursuing Richard Musgrove in Lyme; nor does it prevent Elinor Dashwood falling in love with Ada Ferrars. Surprises are in store for Emma Woodhouse while visiting Harriet Smith; for William Price mentoring a seaman on board the Thrush; and for Adam Otelian befriending his children’s governess, Miss Hay. Margaret Dashwood seeks an alternative to the happy marriages chosen by her sisters; and Susan Price ponders just such a possibility with Mrs Lynd. One Fitzwilliam Darcy is plagued by constant reports of convictions for ‘unnatural’ crimes; while another must work out how to secure the Pemberley inheritance for her family.
Meanwhile, a modern-day Darcy meets the enigmatic Lint on the edge of Pemberley Cliff; while another struggles to live up to wearing Colin Firth’s breeches on a celebrity dance show. Cooper is confronted by his lost love at a book club meeting in Melbourne while reading Persuasion; and Ashley finds more than he’d bargained for at the Jane Austen museum in Bath.
A Pemberley-sized anthology featuring authors: Julie Bozza, Andrea Demetrius, Sam Evans, Lou Faulkner, Adam Fitzroy, Narrelle M Harris, Sandra Lindsey, Fae Mcloughlin, Atlin Merrick, JL Merrow and Eleanor Musgrove.