Monday, July 21, 2008

Writing a hero's diary, Henry Tilney - part 4

If you'd like to read the previous posts on this subject, then scroll down to 6th June, 21st June and 6th July

Here is the rough draft for the opening of Henry Tilney's Diary, as discussed in my previous post on 6th July

The opening scenes take place 9 years before the events of Northanger Abbey, which is why they are taking place in 1790

Friday 2 July
Frederick came home roaring drunk again this morning and demanded a thousand pounds from my father to cover his losses at the gaming tables. My father, no stranger to the first half of Frederick’s complaint, began roaring himself, and said that Frederick had disgraced the name of Tilney.

‘By God, boy! It’s the army for you. I’ve been lenient with you for long enough.’
Mama implored him to change his mind, saying that Frederick was too young to join the army, to which my father replied, ‘Eighteen? Too young? If anything it is too old.’ Then turning to Frederick he demanded, ‘Well, Sir, what have you to say for yourself?’
Frederick smirked and fell into a chair.
‘That the women will not be able to resist me in uniform!’

‘Puppy!’ roared my father.
‘Please, dear, do reconsider,’ implored my mother. ‘Frederick is the heir. He cannot go into the army. What will happen if he is killed?’
‘He’ll be killed if he stays at home. He’s forever putting his horse at breakneck jumps, and drunk or sober he’s been in more duels than any man I know.’
‘But think of the estate,’ said Mama; a concern which fooled no one, for she cares very little for the estate and a great deal for her firstborn son.

‘If Frederick is fool enough to get himself killed then Henry will look after it,’ shouted my father, who has not yet mastered the skill of normal conversation but continues to speak as though he is on a battle field.
Mama pleaded with him for some time but to no avail, and at last she left the room, closely followed by my father, who was still shouting his dissatisfaction with his eldest son.
If I had a taste to step into Frederick’s shoes I would be well pleased with the turn events have taken, but alas! I have no desire to inherit the estate. It is not well managed and I have no desire to spend my time trying to reclaim it from the brink of disaster.

‘Have a thought for me,’ I said to Frederick, as he staggered drunkenly to his feet. ‘I would much rather inherit the family living than the family estate, so take care of your neck. I do not want to see it broken.’
He smiled broadly as he lurched towards me, then he put his arm round my neck, told me I was his best friend and passed out on the floor.

Saturday 3 July
‘Inherit the estate? Oh no, my dear Henry, it would never do,’ said my sister Eleanor, laughing, as we strolled through the gardens this morning. ‘You could never play the part of a firstborn son. You are not nearly reckless or rakish enough.’

I've no idea if this opening will remain. I will edit it many times before it goes to the publisher, and I might change it completely, or begin the book elsewhere, but somehow I don't think so. It accomplishes a lot in a small space. It introduces us to Henry and his family and it gives us some indication of their personalities. It also sets the scene for later events, such as Frederick running off with another man's fiancee and General Tilney trying to make his children marry wealthy spouses.

Next time I'll be talking about the Gothic influence on Northanger Abbey and my thoughts on working the same influence into Henry Tilney's Diary.
Amanda Grange

Available books in the Austen diaries series are Mr Darcy's Diary, Mr Knightley's Diary, Captain Wentworth's Diary, Edmund Bertram's Diary and Colonel Brandon's Diary. They're available from bookshops or from Amazons including Amazon US and Amazon UK


Jan Jones said...

I love this beginning, Amanda. Not only does it encompass the whole backstory, it makes the protagonists very human too.

Anonymous said...

Ha ha, Tibby's an affectionate drunk, then? Endearing yet annoying.

I've always found Eleanor's comment about Frederick "never finding any woman good enough to be loved" interesting. There's something there. A broken heart? Or just extreme pride and arrogance?

Another of Eleanor's throwaway comments is interesting--when she says "though Henry--though my brothers are very affectionate..." An interesting slip of the tongue!

But is the estate badly managed? Seems the opposite to me--the General is kind of a micromanager, and has modern ideas, has made the kitchens modern and convenient, etc. And I think that's part of the Gothic parody; one would expect a run-down old pile and yet the Abbey's modern and well-run.

Sorry, you know I think too much about this stuff. ;-) Interview questions are on their way...

Anonymous said...

Hi Mags!
I was more trying to get into Henry’s character and portray things through his eyes - I think if Edmund witnessed exactly the same scene his diary would recount his dismay and disappointment, but Henry sees the funny side of things and so I think it’s as much a comment on Henry’s outlook on life as it is a comment on Frederick’s behaviour.

At the time of the first diary entry I’m portraying Frederick as a typical older son who likes a good time, but I’m planning on giving him a back story (chronologically it takes place after this diary entry but before the events of NA) to explore his character more deeply – Eleanor’s comment has always made me think as well!

It’s an interesting point about the estate. I tend to approach things from the point of view of character in the diaries so my starting point was, Why does the General court Catherine for her money? Is it need or necessity?

It’s possible to make a case for either. He could have retired from the army, put his energies into running the estate with military precision and then, having achieved everything he could with the estate, tried to bolster the family fortunes still further through his children’s marriages out of sheer greed.

Or he could have retired from the army, bossed everyone around – including the estate manager – without really knowing what he was talking about, and ended up making a mess of the estate and therefore trying to marry his children to rich spouses from necessity.

Although the kitchens are very nice, I don’t think this rules out the ‘need’ idea as the estate could look prosperous on the surface but still be in a mess financially, with a crash imminent. This would still create a contrast between the Gothic stereotype of a decrepit Abbey and the reality of a ‘modern’ Northanger.

But that’s one of the things I love about writing the diaries, there are so many options to explore. I think it’s one of the reasons people like reading them as well. They can compare their ideas of the novel / characters with mine and either have the pleasure of saying, ‘Good point, I hadn’t thought of that,’ or the equal (or possible greater)pleasure of saying, ‘What’s she talking about? The estate wasn’t badly managed, it says quite clearly that the kitchens are modern and convenient.’ :-)

Anonymous said...

YES, Henry would see the funny side of it, definitely! :-)

I've always thought it was greed, but I like the idea about the "surface" hiding what is really there. But Catherine makes a comment that she hates the idea of one great fortune looking out for another--not knowing that might be exactly what the General is doing. Would he be able to get at Catherine's money if she married Henry? I guess if he pressured Henry enough...

Looking forward to Tibby's backstory... (That's my nickname for Frederick, stolen from a friend's fan fiction--his army buddies call him Tibby.)