Wednesday, August 05, 2009

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


Amanda Grange said...

Good post, Mona, and very timely! I'm blogging over at today and I've put some of my thoughts on Should we / Shouldn't we write Austen inspired fiction in one of the comments.
I write Austen inspired novels because the ideas pop into my head, I like them and so I write them, it's as simple as that!

Lois said...

I keep starting this over because I think there are lots of things that I could go with, but I think one thing that those who aren't thrilled with those things inspired (in our case, JA) is even knowing they are not JA, they expect to pick up something JA, and they get disappointed and angry when it's nothing like it. And ignoring all of them because of some bad ones is ridiculous too, because like any genre of anything, there are good, there are bad and ones in between. Sure, one doesn't have to pick any up if you don't want to, but I do always believe in knowing what you're criticizing, and if it's only based on one or two or zero books read, it's not much of a serious argument.

Me, I love JA related books -- I know I am not picking up Jane's latest, and I'm fine with that. I don't care if the author is trying to sound like Jane or sound more today. . . I just like the ideas, I like knowing the possibility of what was going through Darcy's (or put your favorite here) mind since we didn't see that perspective. I like seeing the possiblities of what comes after the oh so familiar The End of the actual novels, and since I have no imagination, I'll pick up someone else's. I'm not going to like all of them that I read or pick up every one of them, not everything works for everyone.

My only suggestion would be, while I so very much love Darcy, I do look for other novel inspired ones too. So I guess I'm simply someone who instead of wishes they'd all disappear, I would love to see more, but also more of non-Darcy family ones too. But I love him too, so bring him on too. :)


Monica Fairview said...

Thank you, Lois, for your thoughtful comments. I think you hit the nail on the head. Some people expect the impossible. They expect a new Jane Austen novel, as if JA is using us "sequel writers" as a conduit! But there are lots of readers, too, who have more realistic expectations. These are the ones who, like those of us who write, want more -- more of the characters, more of Jane Austen's world, more of the dances and social interaction, more of all the possibilities. You expressed it very well. And yes, it's unfair to judge a whole genre of writing if you've only read one or two examples. Thank you so much for your insights.
Hello, Amanda. I'll head that way and read what you have to say. And yes, sometimes it's that simple, isn't it? We're inspired by Austen, and we want to write something related to her.

Lois said...

Thanks :) I kept starting over, in the hopes that I would make sense in the end. LOL I'm the same with Phantom of the Opera inspired ones too -- I want more Erik, and you can only go to the original and the musical so much for a fix (though you can never get enough of GB as the Phantom pictures LOL). And there are many Phantom inspired books out there too. Haven't read as many as Austen, since you can find more Austen ones in the stores versus really only online, but you have the great ones, bad ones and in between as well too. There though, I don't see as many people dead set against the idea of having sequels or alternate views out there, just some hate this one or that one, though I'm sure there are many who hate the idea of messing with the original Phantom as well. In the end, for all of it, just have to look at something for what it is -- and give me my Austen or Phantom fix, and I'm happy! :) Heck, it's a vastly better thing to get hooked on than some other stuff out there like drugs or whatnot! LOLOL


Jane Odiwe said...

A brilliant post Mona - as ever, you've said all I feel and more! At the end of the day it's down to the readers and they clearly love all this Jane Austen inspired fiction in whatever guise it appears.


Monica Fairview said...

Thanks, Jane. Absolutely. There are so many readers out there who love Jane Austen inspired novels, and they're the ones deciding what they want!

MJ Smith said...

I love this genre as well. There's something about going back in time. Romance was much more present then.

I'm a new author and I love to write historicals.

Cheers to all historical romance authors