Sunday, October 28, 2007

Open Book

One of my very lovely friends, Katie Fforde, author of such fabulous books as Going Dutch and Bidding Love, alerted me to the fact that Mr Darcy's Diary was going to be discussed on Radio 4's Open Book programme.

As it happened the book discussed was another Mr Darcy's Diary (Jane's sandpit is getting distinctly crowded). BUT one of the contributors, the fiction editor of the Sunday Times, spoke eloquently about retellings, and mentioned that Amanda Grange had also written a book called Mr Darcy's Diary, as well as Mr Knightley's Diary and Captain Wentworth's Diary.

The programme raised an interesting point: why do writers love to write sequels to famous novels? In my case I think a lot of it is down to curiosity. It's rather like picking up a much-loved antique vase in order to see what it looks like from a different angle. There's also the pleasure of being able to use formal language, and to create Austen-like minor characters to populate the new sections. And of course there's the joy of spending all day in Austen's world.

I particularly loved creating Captain Wentworth's brother, not only because I wanted to explore Wentworth's relationship with his sibling, but also because I was intrigued by him. Wentworth is a naval captain, his sister is an admiral's wife, and yet his brother is a country clergyman. I thought that this situation would lead to a lot of teasing and I enjoyed imagining what it would be like.

This is from the start of the book, when Wentworth meets his brother for the first time since coming ashore in 1806:

As we walked back to his house along the dusty road I told him all my news, of the ships I had sailed in and the Captains I had sailed under; of the battle of St Domingo and my promotion to Commander; and in return I listened to his tales of sermons and services, of neighbours and parishioners. I could not help laughing at the difference.
‘What! One of your neighbours climbed over your wall uninvited last month? What a calamity! I do not know how you survived the excitement!’

‘A pretty time you have had of it!’ Edward retorted. ‘Never knowing where you would be in a few hours’ time, and whether you would be alive or dead. I would rather be safe in my parish with my garden and my books, my home and my church, rather than tossing about on the open sea in a flimsy wooden boat. You were always the bold one, Frederick.’

‘And why not? The war has made it possible for men of ability and ambition to rise in the world, and I mean to use the opportunities it has given me to make my fortune. Ah! the limitless horizons, both at sea and on land, the battles to be fought, the prizes to be won. I will be a wealthy man soon, and I mean to own an estate before I am done.’

‘And then be off again the minute you have bought it! You will never settle on land, you will find it too dull. I believe you will scarcely be able to tolerate your shore leave. I can offer you no battles, unless you wish to frighten my parishioners into listening to my sermons instead of whispering about each other’s bonnets, and I can offer you no glory, save the glory of being a novelty, to be examined and talked over like a prize bull at a fair.’

‘It is enough. I have had my fill of battles for the time being, and I am ready for variety. A man may grow weary of the sea as well as anything else, and I will fight all the better for the change. Besides, I mean to enjoy myself whilst I am here, and to do all the things I cannot do on board ship. I mean to ride and walk and explore the countryside, and I am looking forward to meeting your neighbours. You have told me a great deal about them in your letters and I cannot wait to make their acquaintance. I hope there are some pretty girls hereabouts!’

‘I have never noticed.’

‘Come, now, even a curate notices a pretty face,’ I said.

‘If you had been plagued by every spinster from sixteen to sixty for the last twelvemonth, as I have, you would not be so eager to attract their notice.'

If you'd like to listen to the programme you can find it by clicking here here until next Sunday, 4th November


Tumperkin said...

I've just discovered this site. Love the little titbits of info like the stuff on Brighton Pavilion.

Re this post, I think the lure of existing characters is that there is a sort of discipline enforced on the author. The person(s) in question already exist, if only in the imagination and you have to be true to them. And sometimes those kind of limits are actually quite liberating.

Mags said...

One of the things I like best about the retellings (especially Amanda's) is the stuff "outside" the original. If it's done well, it enhances one's enjoyment of the original.