‘How much of Jane Austen’s story is about sadness?’ A Q&A with novelist Paul Butler

At the recent JASNA AGM in Huntington Beach, Calif., one of the many interesting people I enjoyed meeting and talking to was Paul Butler, whose wonderfully inventive takeoff on “Persuasion” kept me enthralled the whole journey home. After reading “The Widow’s Fire,” (started in the LAX departure lounge, finished on the A train back in Brooklyn), I will never see Mrs. Smith or Captain Wentworth the same way again.  But it’s not a travesty — more of a radical rethinking,  a bit the way Jean Rys flips the narrative in “Wide Sargasso Sea.”

Mr. Butler has in turn done me the honor of reading my book and kindly invited me to answer some questions on his blog. Link here.

 

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Reading While Human

This week I read a wonderful essay titled “Reading Jane Eyre While Black”  that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. Not only does it compare two of 19th -century England’s most fascinating writers — Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen — but it hits on many of the issues I’ve been thinking about lately. About authorial intent, and how there will always  be something a little mysterious about it, even to the author. Also how as both readers and writers we bring our own biases, both the known and unknown, to the page.

Tyrese L. Coleman makes many interesting points along the way, but one key theme is how “Jane Eyre” has been ruined for her by Bronte’s depiction of Bertha Mason, whose craziness and evil is inextricably linked to her West Indian origins and implicit blackness. Continue reading

Behold Me Immortal

In honor of the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, a melancholy moment for anyone who wishes she’d managed to live a little longer and write a few more works, I am sharing her “Plan for a Novel, According to Hints From Various Quarters”:

 

SCENE to be in the Country, Heroine the Daughter of a Clergyman, one who after having lived much in the World had retired from it and settled in a Curacy, with a very small fortune of his own. — He, the most excellent Man that can be imagined, perfect in Character, Temper, and Manners — without the smallest drawback or peculiarity to prevent his being the most delightful companion to his Daughter from one year’s end to the other. — Heroine a faultless Character herself, — perfectly good, with much tenderness and sentiment, and not the least Wit Continue reading

Controversy Brews in the Jane Austen World

Like many people, I am a huge fan of Lucy Worsley and could watch clips of her on YouTube for hours. She has a genius for bringing history to life with her stunts, her costumes, and her general way of being in the world, which one writer has memorably compared to  “a possessed Christopher Robin.” So I was a little surprised to wake up and learn from my Jane Austen Google news alerts that she has been accused of plagiarism.

An article in Private Eye cites numerous examples of similarity in phrasing and content between Ms. Worsley’s new book,  “Jane Austen at Home” and Paula Byrne’s  2014 work, “The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things.”

One does not know what to think about this. Continue reading

When Ideas Acquire Solidity, Part II

Almost five years ago now, I wrote about the strange feeling of going to the a local copy shop to print out copies of my novel in preparation for a manuscript workshop. More specifically, about the strange feeling of walking out of the store with them, that something existing only in my mind had now taken a physical form, had become a thing that existed in the world, like a rock or a highway or a batch of cookies cooling on the counter. Continue reading

Happy Birthday, Jane Austen!

Here was a woman about the year 1800 writing without hate, without bitterness, without fear, without preaching. That was how Shakespeare wrote, I thought, looking at ‘Antony and Cleopatra,’ and when people compare Shakespeare and Jane Austen, they may mean that the minds of both had consumed all impediments; and for that reason we do not know Jane Austen and we do not know Shakespeare, and for that reason Jane Austen pervades every word she wrote, and so does Shakespeare.

                                                                          –Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

Early this morning I walked the dog along the waterfront in the windy darkness, looking at the lights of Manhattan and wondering what Jane Austen would have made of the fact that she’s world-famous and still relevant today, nearly two and half centuries after she was born. I like to think she would have been amused — and not entirely surprised. Does genius recognize itself?

Over at Austenblog, there’s a giveaway of a book of essays that looks to  be excellent.  Sarah Emsley has a fascinating post about Jane Austen and grandparents. The BBC has a great article by Rebecca Smith about the daily routine at Chawton. And you can still enter the Goodreads giveaway for The Jane Austen Project right here. It runs until next Tuesday.