Why I Enjoy Writing Austen-Inspired Novels
In the midst of all the reactions -- from outrage to excitement -- at the explosion of Jane Austen-inspired writings (usually called sequels though only a few of them are), I have been pondering why on earth someone would be insane enough to write a Jane Austen "sequel".
There's the obvious answer, of course. She was such a great writer, I just had to imitate her.
Which is odd, because actually, when I was writing The Other Mr Darcy, I wasn't trying to imitate Jane Austen at all. I very consciously chose not to write like Jane Austen, even though my editor Gill (lovely lady) kept trying to get me to have longer sentences and introduce semi-colons to seem more Jane Austen-like. But funnily enough, I resisted. In fact, the only thing I tried to do that was vaguely Jane Austen-like was to stick to a single point of view, the way Jane Austen did, and I did that very consciously throughout the novel, clinging to one person's perspective through thick and thin.
But wait a minute. Wasn't Jane Austen a so-called omniscient narrator, using an omnipotent point of view? Actually she was very sly. That's what she tried to make us believe, but, if she was trying to be omniscient, she wasn't very fair, because mostly we see things from Eliza's perspective.
The fact is, I didn't even try to use an omniscient narrator-slyly-following-one-character point of view at all.
Very well, then. What about Jane Austen's sharp wit and humour? You must have tried to imitate that. I'd have to say no. Jane Austen's sly wit and humour is unique. No one does anything like it. Except perhaps Oscar Wilde. He's the closest that anyone comes to Jane Austen's caustic witticisms.
I'll admit I'm neither caustic now witty (alas!). I like to laugh, and there are (I hope) plenty of funny bits in The Other Mr Darcy, but I didn't try to imitate Jane Austen's humour. Not for more than one moment.
Then it must be the romance between Elizabeth and Darcy that you wanted to write about. Like so many people who saw the wet-shirt scene (Do you think Colin Firth won over Lawrence Olivier because of that scene?), you've been fired up with enthusiam to prolong that unlikely love affair between repressed Mr Darcy and Playful Elizabeth.
Not really. While I love the growth of the romance between them, I have no desire to explore in further, nor to plumb the depths of passion they reach.
Why on earth, then, you ask, did I write a Jane Austen sequel?Cynics would say: because I want to make an easy buck, like Seth Grahame-Smith did with Pride & Prejudice & Zombies (more about this on my blogspot). Everyone conveniently forgets that the book was the "surprise hit of the season," which means that neither publishers nor even Seth himself expected to hit it so big.
So am I writing it for the money? Now let's be exceptionally honest here. People generally take up professions hoping that they will make money. How many times did you go to a job interview without wanting to know how much you're going to earn? However, the odds of making a decent wage when you're a writer are not very high, so if I wanted to make money, I should have done something a bit more rewarding financially. Like becoming the CEO of a bank.
Money, while it glitters and glints at me from a distance, was not my one overwhelming motivation when I wrote a Jane Austen-inspired novel.
What was it, then? I would have to say it was the grip of larger-than-life characters: The Bennet family, gently dysfunctional, the Bingleys, with their snobbish exterior (though Bingley is such a softie), Mr Collins, Lady Catherine. I'm gripped by a need to learn more about them, to see them again, to understand more about the unsaid things behind Jane Austen's witty exterior. More than any other writer, I think, Jane Austen chalenges us because she makes us realize there is more unsaid than there is said. The beauty of her writing is that she leaves so much open to interpretation. The critics delve into her writing their own way. I look at her work as a box of delights to be opened. I can't wait to discover what's inside. And the only way for me to discover it is to explore the characters by putting them in different situations and see how they react.
I can't speak for other Austen-inspired writings, but I think there is an element of that in many of them. Whether we're talking about the inner thoughts of the Austen heroes as in Amanda Grange's diaries (we know so little about the heroes, yet we love them), or the explicit sexual activity of Eliza and Darcy (From Mr Darcy Takes a Bride to the RITA award winner Seducing Mr Darcy), or what Bingley and Jane felt (Miss Bennet and Mr Bingley).
As mistress of understatement, Jane Austen concealed more than she revealed, leaving us guessing. We in the 21st century are piqued with curiosity to know what Jane Austen has hidden from us. We are post-Freudians dealing with a pre-Freudian world. We need to uncover what she so skilfully conceals -- we need to know their unconscious motivations, their back stories, their desires.
Curisity killed the cat. I hope not. But there you are. I'll admit it.
I write Jane Austen sequels because I really, really want to know.
From Monica Fairview, author of The Other Mr Darcy