Author Julie Klassen on her Lady Maybe ~ With Book Giveaway!

Is there a better summer read (we still have three weeks left – don’t rush it please!) than a Regency Romance? And one laced with a mystery, a good number of secrets, and echoes of Jane Eyre?  [Please see below for the Book Giveaway info].

Cover-LadyMaybeJulie Klassen’s latest title is Lady Maybe, a tale of a young woman, an unwed mother, who does all in her power to protect her son, and unwilling to divulge the father’s name. This is one of the many intriguing secrets in this historical romance, and once again Klassen portrays the gruesome reality of the “fallen woman” in Regency England – Hannah Rogers’ only choice is to leave home and try to manage on her own, an impossible task in a world where women are the victims of a system that affords them no way to survive alone, or at least survive respectably.

The book begins with a horrible carriage accident and from there we encounter so many secrets and betrayals that to write any sort of substantial review would spoil the reading journey! Nothing is as it seems – you must puzzle it all out along with the characters – and though it is clear who our Heroine is after the first few chapters, the Real Hero is not truly revealed until the end. And along the way, any number of social issues in early nineteenth-century England are spread before the reader: the plight of unwed mothers, the difficulties of divorce, the prejudicial justice system, and the vagaries of gossip – all this, with some compelling bits of Jane Eyre hovering about, makes Lady Maybe an engaging must-read.

I interviewed Julie here earlier this year for her The Secret of Pembroke Park  – so today I asked her to share with us something about Lady Maybe, and here she tells up how she chose the North Devon coast as the setting for this story.

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On a Cliff’s Edge

                          by Julie Klassen

Jokingly, I say the real reason I write books is to justify my long-held desire to travel to England. But the truth is, my research trips there enrich my novels’ settings and add a great deal of historical detail. So far, I’ve been able to go three times.

While writing Lady Maybe, set in Regency England, I needed to find a road dangerously near a cliff’s edge overlooking the sea. Initially, I searched for the location using Google Earth, old maps, and web sites. I finally found the ideal setting—a coastal road in North Devon along the Bristol Channel near Lynton & Lynmouth. These twin villages are nestled amid the dramatic landscape of Exmoor National Park—also the setting of the novel Lorna Doone by R.D. Blackmore.

I wrote my first draft before I ever visited the area. Then, last year, an old friend and I had the privilege of traveling there. We drove on winding, breathtakingly-narrow roads as far as we could, then continued on by foot, walking on a carriage road hundreds of years old. Wind whipped hair in our faces, pulled hoods from our heads, and drowned out our voices as we searched for the perfect spot to send a carriage careening down into the water far below. Standing on the edge of that cliff, overlooking the sun-streaked blue and gray water, the opening scenes began to play like a movie in my mind: a lady’s companion, a carriage accident, and a desperate woman trying to rescue her child…

Lynton, cJulie Klassen

[Lynton, © Julie Klassen]

During an earlier trip to England, my husband and I visited a carriage museum in Devon. There, I learned the difference between a landau, barouche, traveling chariot, gig, chaise, and more. How fascinating to see so many historic carriages up close, to peer into the rich interiors, and imagine my characters heading off on their life-changing journey.

barouche

[a Barouche]

I hope readers will enjoy the journey as well!

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Lady Maybe synopsis (from the rear cover):

A woman’s startling secrets lead her into unexpected danger and romance in Regency England…

One final cry…”God almighty, help us!” and suddenly her world shifted violently, until a blinding collision scattered her mind and shook her bones. Then, the pain. The freezing water. And as all sensation drifted away, a hand reached for hers, before all faded into darkness…

Now she has awakened as though from some strange, suffocating dream in a warm and welcoming room she has never seen before, and tended to by kind, unfamilar faces. But not all has been swept away. She recalls fragments of the accident. She remembers a baby. And a ring on her finger reminds her of a lie.

But most of all, there is a secret. And in this house of strangers she can trust no one but herself to keep it.

Lady Maybe
Berkley Trade, July 2015
Price: $16.
ISBN: 978-0-425-28207-6

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For those of you who love Klassen’s Regency novels, the wait for the next one is short one! The Painter’s Daughter will be released on December 1, 2015 (it is available for pre-order now). Here is the synopsis:

cover-PaintersDaughter

Sophie Dupont, daughter of a portrait painter, assists her father in his studio, keeping her own artwork out of sight. She often walks the cliffside path along the north Devon coast, popular with artists and poets. It’s where she met the handsome Wesley Overtree, the first man to tell her she’s beautiful. Captain Stephen Overtree is accustomed to taking on his brother’s neglected duties. Home on leave, he’s sent to find Wesley. Knowing his brother rented a cottage from a fellow painter, he travels to Devonshire and meets Miss Dupont, the painter’s daughter. He’s startled to recognize her from a miniature portrait he carries with him–one of Wesley’s discarded works. But his happiness plummets when he realizes Wesley has left her with child and sailed away to Italy in search of a new muse. Wanting to do something worthwhile with his life, Stephen proposes to Sophie. He does not offer love, or even a future together, but he can save her from scandal. If he dies in battle, as he believes he will, she’ll be a respectable widow with the protection of his family. Desperate for a way to escape her predicament, Sophie agrees to marry a stranger and travel to his family’s estate. But at Overtree Hall, her problems are just beginning. Will she regret marrying Captain Overtree when a repentant Wesley returns? Or will she find herself torn between the father of her child and her growing affection for the husband she barely knows?

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Author Julie Klassen 2015 x 200About the Author:

Julie Klassen loves all things Jane—Jane Eyre and Jane Austen. She is the bestselling author of ten novels set in Regency England, including her new release, Lady Maybe. Julie is a member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, and enjoys traveling to England to research her books whenever she can. A graduate of the University of Illinois, Julie worked as a fiction editor for sixteen years and now writes full time. Three of her novels have won the Christy Award for Historical Romance. She also won the Minnesota Book Award, and has been a finalist in the Romance Writers of America’s RITA Awards. Julie and her husband have two teenaged sons and live in St. Paul, Minnesota.

For further reading:

Julie’s other novels:

  • Lady of Milkweed Manor (2008)
  • The Apothecary’s Daughter (2009)
  • The Silent Governess (2010)
  • The Girl in the Gatehouse (2011)
  • The Maid of Fairbourne Hall (2012)
  • The Tutor’s Daughter (2013)
  • The Dancing Master (2014)
  • The Secret of Pembrooke Park (2014)
  1. Website: http://www.julieklassen.com/
  2. Her research page, with pictures: http://www.julieklassen.com/Research.html
  3. Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Author-Julie-Klassen/102060596587055
  4. Twitter page: https://twitter.com/Julie_Klassen

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Book Giveaway!

Please comment or ask a question of Julie in the box below to be entered into the random drawing for a copy of Lady Maybe, with hearty thanks to Julie and her publisher Berkley Books. Deadline is Tuesday September 15, 2015 11:59 pm – winner will be announced the next day – domestic mailings only, sorry to say.

Good Luck! and Thank You Julie!

©2015, Jane Austen in Vermont

Julie Klassen’s The Secret of Pembrooke Park ~ Interview and Book Giveaway!

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I first had the pleasure of discovering Julie Klassen while on an camping trek along the East coast – I was looking for some late-night reading while tucked away in that comfortable Airstream bed. I cannot recall exactly how I first came upon The Apothecary’s Daughter – it may have been some kindle special, but though I didn’t know a thing about the author, nor that she was classified as a writer of “Christian fiction,” I loved the title and was hooked from the first page. Since then (and no longer stuck in that Airstream) I have read all of her eight novels, each of them a mix of mystery and romance, with gothic elements and literary illusions in abundance. You will find Jane Austen and the Brontes well represented, especially Jane Eyre.

Her first book The Lady of Milkwood Manor, tells the tale of unmarried motherhood, and each succeeding book focuses on a social issue of the Regency period and the plight of women in this constrained patriarchal world. And yes, there is the Romance, with various brooding Heroes vying for attention, great British houses with secrets to be unearthed, and lovely Heroines who are strong in the face of societal missteps, where faith plays a part in finding one’s way, and all adding up to a perfect read.

Today we are celebrating Ms. Klassen’s most recent book, The Secret of Pembrooke Park, currently on a blog tour sponsored by Laurel Ann at Austenprose, and where this book was awarded “Best Regency Era novel of 2014.” [the blog tour goes from February 16 – March 2nd]

In the spring of 1818, twenty-four-year-old Abigail Foster fears she is destined to become a spinster. Her family’s finances are in ruins and the one young man she truly esteems has fallen for another woman — her younger, prettier sister Louisa.

Forced to retrench after the bank failure of Austen, Gray & Vincent, the Foster family optimistically pool their resources for another London Season for her sister in hopes of an advantageous alliance. While searching for more affordable lodgings, a surprising offer is presented: the use of a country manor house in Berkshire abandoned for eighteen years. The Fosters journey to the imposing Pembrooke Park and are startled to find it entombed as it was abruptly left, the tight-lipped locals offering only rumors of a secret room, hidden treasure and a murder in its mysterious past.

Eager to restore her family fortune, Abigail, with the help of the handsome local curate William Chapman and his sister Leah, begins her search into the heavily veiled past aided by unsigned journal pages from a previous resident and her own spirited determination. As old friends and new foes come calling at Pembrooke Park, secrets come to light. Will Abigail find the treasure and love she seeks…or very real danger?

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We are fortunate to have Julie join us here at ‘Jane Austen in Vermont’ for an interview. [Please see below for the Grand Prize Contest and book giveaway details]

Welcome Julie!

JAIV:  You heartily credit Jane Austen as the greatest influence in your writing – tell us how and when you first discovered her, and how she has continued influencing you. And what do you think it is about Jane Austen that she is more popular than ever, in both academia and popular culture?

JK:  I have been a fan of Jane Austen ever since I fell in love with Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy in the 1995 BBC/A&E adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Seeing it led me to read all of Jane Austen’s books and in turn, to set my novels in the Regency period, when her books were published. As far as her on-going popularity, no doubt experts could answer that better than I could, but for me her novels’ endless appeal lies in the ideal they depict–family affection, chivalry, romance, and true love triumphing over adversity–things so many of us long for. Jane Austen’s timeless humor is the icing on the cake!

JAIV:  You have many references to Jane Austen’s characters in all your novels. The Girl in the Gatehouse for GirlintheGatehouse_cover.inddinstance, reads like a sequel to Mansfield Park – a young woman sent from her home, her reputation compromised by the seduction of a rake of a man named Crawford – her name is Mariah, her sister Julia [though I do have to say I was happy not to see Mrs. Norris hanging about!].

In The Secret of Pembrooke Park, we have a handsome, intelligent and caring vicar – does he have a Jane Austen model? Tell us something of your research into the Anglican clergy during this time period.

JK:  The Girl in the Gatehouse is one of my favorites. I fondly call it my “ode to Jane,” since it has the most nods to Miss Austen. In The Secret of Pembrooke Park, the character of William Chapman was in a great way inspired by Austen’s wry and witty Henry Tilney in Northanger Abbey. (Although he is more like Edward Ferrars in that he hasn’t a living of his own, nor a wealthy benefactor).  Mr. Chapman is handsome and humble, godly and kind, but also a man’s man—athletic, good-humored, and hardworking. To research Anglicanism, I read biographies of 19th-century clergymen, attended several Anglican services in the US and England, and consulted the Book of Common Prayer. But it would take much more than that to become expert, so I had a London vicar’s wife read the manuscript to help me avoid errors. Her husband kindly answered questions as needed.

JAIV:  You write what is termed “Traditional Regencies” – i.e. more like Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer than Eloisa James and other “bodice-ripper” writers – Romance for sure with lots of butterflies, quivering lips, and stolen kisses, but no explicit sex scenes. [Jane Austen approves heartily!]. Has it been easy to find a publisher for your Christian-based tales? And have your three Christy Awards helped in spreading the word about your books?

JK:  When my first novel was published seven years ago, most historical fiction from Christian publishers was set in post-Civil War America. Now, there are many authors writing traditional regencies. Because of this, I am often credited with inspiring the growth of the genre in the inspirational market. I don’t know if the awards have helped or not, but I am certainly grateful and humbled to have won them!

JAIV:  Your books all strongly emphasize the power and presence of a Christian God – both your Heroines and Heroes go through times of doubt and loss and then embrace their faith to find themselves. Do you think this aspect of your work limits your readership? How has your own faith influenced your writing?

JK:  I came to faith in my twenties. Like the characters in my novels, I have made many mistakes in my life and am still far from perfect. But I have experienced forgiveness and second chances and this naturally weaves its way into my novels. Considering the time period, it would be more unnatural not to include things like church services and family prayers, which were a regular part of Jane Austen’s life as a clergyman’s daughter and common in society in general. As far as limiting readership, that’s the wonderful thing about publishing—we all like different kinds of books. A good thing, too, or we would need only a few authors rather than the broad spectrum writing today! As writers, the content we choose to include—or not to include—affects our readership. Some people avoid steamy novels, for example, and some avoid sweet ones. The books I write reflect the kind of fiction I like to read and who I am as a person. I appreciate reviews like this one from Booklist, that says, “…the author’s deft incorporation of the faith-based component of her story means this well-crafted romance will have wide appeal beyond inspirational romance fans.” And thankfully, this seems to be the case, because I hear from readers from various backgrounds who enjoy the books.

JAIV: Your epigraphs show a wide reading of early women writers, as well as Jane Austen’s works and letters – is there anyone you have read that you have enjoyed as much as Austen or Bronte [I know you love Jane Eyre!] who has influenced your own writing?

JK:  Thank you. I also love Elizabeth Gaskell, Frances Hodgson Burnett, and Georgette Heyer. And no one created characters like Charles Dickens!

Elizabeth Gaskell (1832) - wikipedia

Elizabeth Gaskell (1832) – Wikipedia

JAIV:  Each of your eight novels has a strong heroine who finds or places herself in a situation that reflects her Cover-SilentGovernesslimited choices as a woman: servant, governess, teacher, medicine healer, a novel-writer [think “Anonymous”!], etc. You cover the topics of unwed motherhood, the life of servitude, loss of inheritance, loss of reputation, herbal medicine, the “evils” of dancing, and more … all about women trapped in social and personal prisons. As a woman of the 21st century, it is difficult to imagine that world of 200 years ago. How do you get it right?

JK:  I am sure it helps that I love this time period—my favorite novels, costume dramas, blogs, and research books, are all set in or around this era. I spend a lot of time in Jane Austen’s letters and check my dialogue on an online etymology dictionary to make sure each word spoken was in use at the time. I sometimes have experts read sections or answer questions on certain topics (the military, cricket, blacksmithing, English country dancing, etc.). I am a member of JASNA and learn a lot through their meetings and speakers. And I go to England when I can. It’s an ongoing education! I am certainly fallible and make my share of errors, but I do my research and work hard to accurately portray the era. That said, I write fiction, not history, and occasionally take liberties for the sake of the story. When I do, I acknowledge this in my Author’s Note at the back of the books.

JAIV:  The Secret of Pembrooke Park is your longest novel to date, offering again your reader-pleasing combination of mystery, scary gothic elements, and of course Romance, to tell a tale where the reader is never quite sure who the Hero might be and how the mystery will play out – did you know when you set out on your writing journey how it would all be resolved?  Which brings us to: can you share with us your writing process? – do you start with a social issue, or a character, or a mystery to be solved?

JK:  I submit a synopsis to my publisher in advance, so I have a fairly good idea of how things will be resolved, but there is always room for surprises along the way. My process has evolved over the years and I’m still fine-tuning it. But I usually begin with a situation that intrigues me, e.g. a lady who finds herself working as a wet nurse, or having to go into hiding as a housemaid or, in this case, moving into a long-abandoned manor. From there, I think about what kind of character would be most interesting and satisfying to see in—and grow through—that situation. Specific plot points and twists develop from there.

JAIV:  Your next book is already available for pre-order: Lady Maybe, due out in July 2015. Can you tell us something about it? And, what’s up next??

Cover-LadyMaybeJK:  Lady Maybe (Berkley) is about a woman whose startling secrets lead her into unexpected danger and romance in Regency England. And then in December comes The Painter’s Daughter (Bethany House), which is my first novel with a marriage-in-name-only premise.

JAIV:  Thank you Julie for so generously sharing your thoughts on writing, your faith, and your forays into the Regency period! I very much look forward to your next two books – such a treat to have two in one year!

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Please leave a comment or a question for Julie and you will be entered into the Giveaway Contest!

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Grand Giveaway Contest 

Win One of Four Fabulous Prizes!

In celebration of the release of The Secret of Pembrooke Park, four chances to win copies of Julie’s books and other Jane Austen-inspired items are being offered.

Three lucky winners will receive one trade paperback or eBook copy of The Secret of Pembrooke Park, and one grand prize winner will receive one copy of all eight of Julie’s novels:

  • Lady of Milkweed Manor (2008)
  • The Apothecary’s Daughter (2009)
  • The Silent Governess (2010)
  • The Girl in the Gatehouse (2011)
  • The Maid of Fairbourne Hall (2012)
  • The Tutor’s Daughter (2013)
  • The Dancing Master (2014)
  • The Secret of Pembrooke Park (2014)

…and one DVD of Northanger Abbey (2007) and a Jane Austen Action Figure.

Secret Pembrook Park Blog Tour Prizes x 350
To enter the giveaway contest, simply leave a comment on any or all of the blog stops on The Secret of Pembrooke Park Blog Tour starting February 16, 2015 through 11:59 pm PT, March 9, 2015. Winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments and announced on Julie Klassen’s website on March 16, 2015. Winners have until March 22, 2015 to claim their prize. The giveaway contest is open to residents of the US, UK, and Canada. Digital books will be sent through Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Good luck to all!

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Author Julie Klassen 2015 x 200Author Bio:

Julie Klassen loves all things Jane—Jane Eyre and Jane Austen. A graduate of the University of Illinois, Julie worked in publishing for sixteen years and now writes full time. Three of her books have won the Christy Award for Historical Romance. She has also been a finalist in the Romance Writers of America’s RITA Awards. Julie and her husband have two sons and live in St. Paul, Minnesota. Learn more about Julie and her books at her website, follow her on Twitter, and visit her on Facebook and Goodreads.

For more information:

-Twitter handles: @Julie_Klassen, @Bethany_House
-Twitter hashtags: #PembrookeBlogTour, #JaneAusten, #HistoricalFicton, #RegencyRomance, #Reading, #GothicRomance, #Austenesque

Publication info on The Secret of Pembroke Park:

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Remember, please leave a comment or a question for Julie here or at any of the other stops on the blog tour to qualify for the book giveaways by March 9, 2015. Blog tour stops are listed here: http://austenprose.com/2015/02/15/the-secret-of-pembrooke-park-blog-tour/

Thank you again Julie!

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c2015 Jane Austen in Vermont

Part I ~ The Perfect Visit ~ Interview with Stuart Bennett, Wherein We Meet Jane Austen and Shakespeare … and Enter to Win the Book Giveaway!

The Perfect Visit (Longbourn Press, 2011) is, no way to say it otherwise, a perfect treat – who of us would not want to spend a few days [or pull an all-nighter!] in the company of a time-travelling couple who are each in turn lovers of books, Jane Austen, Shakespeare, and just possibly each other? –

Today I welcome the author Stuart Bennett for a blog interview where we talk about how a rare bookseller became a writer of a first novel that brings to life both Jane Austen and Shakespeare, takes us on a whirlwind tour of their times, regales us with book history as we trek about the bookstalls of London and Bath, and all this in a mere 342 pages, a book sure to take a prime spot on your bookshelf.  So join us today for Part I of the interview, stay tuned for Part II this weekend, and enter the Book Giveaway by commenting or asking a question on either post before 11:59 pm 15 April 2012. Winner will be announced on Monday April 16, 2012 (worldwide eligibility).

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Welcome Stuart!  Thank you so much for joining us here at Jane Austen in Vermont. I have known of you for a good number of years as a rare bookseller and for a time president of the ABAA [Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America] – needless to say when I discovered you had recently published this book on Jane Austen [the title even comes from Emma: “It was a delightful visit; – perfect in being much too short.” [Vol. I, Ch. XIII]] – I saw my two worlds colliding in the most marvelous of cosmic alignments! I was so greedy to begin, I immediately downloaded it on my kindle, my hardcopy order far too slow to arrive, and was happily transported to the various times in your tale. So lets talk a bit about your background as a rare bookseller, your love of Jane Austen and Shakespeare [and how you dared to put both in the same tale!], the history of books, the time-travel bits, the woman-issue, and of course, just the sheer pleasure of a really nice romance…

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Talking about the story:

JAIV: To start, please explain the premise of your tale – a time-travel, book-loving love story that you say was first titled “A Bibliographical Romance” – so tell us about “The Project,” or at least a quick synopsis without giving too much away!

SB:  It starts as the tale of two bibliophiles planning to go back in time to rescue lost books and manuscripts. Vanessa decides on Regency England; Ned goes to Shakespeare’s. But they both have their own agendas as well.  Vanessa wants to rewrite history. And Ned wants to meet the Bard himself. 

Vanessa falls foul of the law, transported from Jane Austen’s genteel world to the dark underbelly of a Regency prison. 1607 London shows an equally black side to Ned when he antagonises one of Shakespeare’s rivals, escaping with his life only to find that an accident of time takes him only halfway home.

Talking about Jane Austen: 

“It was a delightful visit; – perfect, in being too short.” [Emma, vol. 1, ch. 13]

JAIV:  I know of your background as an antiquarian bookseller and former ABAA president – you have spent most of your life in books published before 1850.  So why Jane Austen for you? And why Shakespeare? Why not Frances Burney or Chaucer? Is it their times or their works, their continuing popularity today? 

SB:  Jane Austen and Shakespeare are central to my book because I love them.  A bookseller writing a “bibliographical romance” is committing a self-indulgent act – the more so with the presence of time-travel – and these two authors are part of it.  Frances Burney is intriguing, but I confess that had Jane Austen never written (could I have written any kind of  Perfect Visit without J.A.? – I doubt it) I might have been more tempted by Maria Edgeworth as a character.  Or maybe Hester Lynch Piozzi.  Chaucer and his world needs a true mediaevalist: I don’t have the knowledge of or empathy to go there.

JAIV:  You say in your postscript: “It is a presumption of a very high order to bring both Jane Austen and William Shakespeare into a single work of fiction, let alone a first novel … of the two, somehow Jane Austen intimidates me more, even though Shakespeare is perhaps the greater genius.” Explain your thoughts on the intimidating Miss Austen!

SB:  Wonderful question.  What is it that’s so intimidating?  I think it may be that, compared to Shakespeare, we really know quite a bit about Jane Austen’s life, notwithstanding the wholesale destruction of her letters by her sister and niece.  And what we know seems domesticated and uneventful. 

So how and why did she become, as I see her, the greatest novelist ever to write in English?  One could ask a similar question about Shakespeare and his plays: how did the grammar-school boy from provincial Stratford manage those.  And of course the fact that we know so little about Shakespeare’s life allows those in Shakespeare-denial (Oxfordians and similar snobs) scope for their own inventions. What we have of Jane Austen’s personal history is secure. 

As a novelist it’s a relief to have no sense of what Shakespeare was like as a man, let alone as a conversationalist.  I could invent quite freely.  The real Jane Austen, on the other hand, survives in family memoirs and letters, and I considered it my job to try to be true to her.  All I felt confident about at the time went into The Perfect Visit , but she haunts me still, and features much more largely in one of the two sequels/prequels to P.V. which are complete in first drafts but still have a long way to go.

JAIV:  How and when did you first discover Jane Austen? – as a reader or a collector or as a bookseller?  Or was your name [despite that extra “t”!] the impetus behind reading and writing about Jane Austen?! 

SB:  No to the last – I didn’t know there was a character in Jane Austen with my name mis-spelled until I was in my early twenties.  J.A. wasn’t quite the household name she’s become in the last thirty years, and I think I was lucky in being no younger than twenty-one, at university in England, when first introduced to the novels via Emma.  I couldn’t put it down.  

(I should add, however, that I take comfort in the fact that my spelling of “Bennett” is the same as the street in Bath.  Perhaps J.A. – or so I like to think – was recollecting the street as a good character name and simply forgot the last “t”.)

JAIV:  I don’t like to ask this question because who can ever work through such a dilemma, but I always do because the answers are so enlightening – but first I would ask if Persuasion is your favorite Austen novel? – it figures prominently in your story: Ned’s reading Persuasion; he and Vanessa are in Bath and literally take a Persuasion tour [which was great fun!]; and their romance has echoes of the Anne / Wentworth story.  ….

SB:  Your question – I’m sure this won’t surprise you – contains its own answer.  All the elements you describe in my book derive from my love of Persuasion. which seems to me to express most clearly Jane Austen’s own longings and losses, as the most autobiographical of all her novels.

JAIV:  A lovely answer! Persuasion is my own favorite, and it is wonderful how you weave Anne Elliot’s tale into your own. 

Is it every antiquarian bookseller‘s dream to actually visit the time of their literary hero[es]? To meet them as Vanessa meets Jane Austen and Ned William Shakespeare – is this your own vicarious dream? And has this time-travel story been in your head for the longest time?  I know you have written non-fiction works on book collecting, but have you written other yet-unpublished novels or fictional pieces?

 SB:  I think I may have answered the salient points of this great question in the course of dealing with other questions, but I would add this:  The most successful antiquarian booksellers I know don’t spend time dreaming about time-travel.  Instead they get to the auctions and flea-markets I didn’t know existed, woo wealthy collectors, and have healthier bottom lines. 

JAIV:  Yes! That bottom line does get in the way of day-dreaming and novel-writing, doesn’t it?! Jane Austen’s very own problem as well! 

 We find, along with your heroine, that we are soon to be in Jane Austen’s presence: 

“The first response to Vanessa’s knock was a rustle of papers, receding footsteps, and the creak of an interior door.” [p.5] 

– and we know we are in Jane Austen’s house in Chawton! … and we are there almost holding our breath as Vanessa first meets her, describes her – how difficult was she to create on your page, knowing readers all have their very own Jane Austen in their head?

Chawton Cottage

SB:  I did my very best to describe the physical J.A., and also Martha Lloyd, that emerge from contemporary accounts.  As to that first conversation, as well as later ones, the Jane Austen I hear is graceful, a little shy, with a ready wit and even sarcasm, but fundamentally kind.  Can any J.A. aficionado really demur to that?

JAIV:   Your heroine Vanessa Horwood is what Mr. Darcy would call an “accomplished woman” – even your Jane Austen character says “I have, it seems, in one young woman a literary critic, a musician, a financier, and an apothecary.”  [p. 7]. Is it fair to ask a male writer with a female protagonist, for a good part of the book at least – are you a little bit in love with your Vanessa?

SB:  All’s fair, and of course I am.  But I was also a little taken aback when many who know me best said that my Vanessa reminds them of me, and not always my most lovable side.

JAIV:  Aah – you have created your own better half it seems! 

 The description of clothing is very exact! – may I ask if you tend toward Henry Tilney in “understand[ing] your muslins, sir”?

Morning Dress @1819, R. Ackermann [wikicommons]

SB:  I hope so.  But Ackermann’s Repository and other contemporary sources are a great help too, not to mention the modern books by the Cunningtons, e.g. Handbook of English Costume in the Nineteenth Century

JAIV:    As you mention above, these times had heavy realities that Austen kept in the background for the more astute reader to find – but they are there – your heroine is jailed for forgery and will likely hang or will be transported – so this part of your story tells this darker side, the underbelly of Regency life, especially for women.  What was prison like and what resources did you use to make this seem so real? 

Newgate Prison - eb.com

SB:  I’ve read, and also bought and sold, so many accounts of English malefactors and their punishments in Regency and earlier times that I can’t really cite many of the sources that contributed to my sense of what a prison must have been like at that time.  Did I get it right?  Perhaps partly so, but I suspect the reality of most female penitentiaries was worse than I describe.  

Two essential sources for the Regency period are those to which Elizabeth Fry (who makes an appearance in The Perfect Visit) contributed: Notes on a Visit to some of the Prisons in Scotland and the North of England with Elizabeth Fry (this was published by Elizabeth Fry’s brother Joseph John Gurney) and Observations, on the Visiting, Superintendence and Government of Female Prisoners.

 

Elizabeth Fry, by Charles Robert Leslie - wp

 
Talking about Time-Travel:

 “Thus the whirligig of time brings in his revenges.” [Twelfth Night, Act V, Sc. 1] – [p. 113]

JAIV:  This is a time-travel book: and filled with “Rules of Time –Travel” – are these of your own creation for this story or from other sources? A few of the “rules” for example: 

  • -you cannot kill anyone
  • -cannot play modern music [in this case Vanessa playing Rachmaninoff if anyone is present]
  • -only organic clothing and material will pass through the time portal, so books, coins of the times, etc. will go, but no illuminated manuscripts
  • – the loss of the language of our 21st century life
  • -can only go the past, no travel into the future

SB:  As a child I watched, and was haunted by an episode of The Twilight Zone in which (as I recall from my single viewing close to fifty years ago) a criminal transports to the past, remains a criminal, and murders his own grandfather. 

Was it in the Wild West?  I’m not sure.  But what I remember is the image at episode’s end where the onscreen modern criminal dissolves saying something like “If I’ve just killed my grandfather, then how” [more dissolve] “can I” [almost gone] “exist?”  That was the origin of the first rule.  The others I developed as I sought consistency

JAIV:  Yikes! I remember that Twilight Zone episode! [also quite a faded memory!]. My other favorite was the 2-part Star Trek tale when Captain Kirk goes back in time and falls in love with Joan Collins – her character dies in “real life” and he must watch this and not step in to help so as not to completely alter the socio-political history of the future – I think I’ve seen that show 10 times! And it breaks my heart every time… 

So, I must assume you are a fan of time-travel literature? Your favorite? 

SB: As a kid I loved Robert A. Heinlein’s Door into Summer.  And Ray Bradbury wrote perhaps the greatest of all time-travel short stories, “A Sound of Thunder,” from which “the butterfly effect” has become a scientific term of art.  Alison Uttley’s Traveller in Time is a children’s book that transcends the genre (but then so do many of the best children’s books).  More recently I sobbed my way through The Time Traveler’s Wife (too bad about the movie though).

JAIV:  I haven’t watched the movie because I heard it was so dreadful – and yes, the book was sob-city-central! 

Shakespeare’s time reads like a gazetteer of London as Ned tours around looking for booksellers and all things Shakespeare, with detailed street names and historical sites and bookseller stalls – You must be familiar with London, so I must ask what is your favorite book on London? And London during the Elizabethan period?  The Regency period? And your favorite London haunt? [other than perhaps the British Library?!]

[Map of London 1593 – Internet Shakespeare Editions]

SB:  Oh dear, I didn’t want to sound like a gazetteer.  I lived more than ten years in London, and three in Bath, so much of what I wrote was from recollection.  Then I went back, retracing my characters’ steps with period maps and other clues to get the street names right, and to remove bridges and buildings that weren’t there at the times I was writing about.  I consulted all kinds of odd books, especially Regency ones, that I’d put aside during the course of my bookselling.  Pierce Egan’s Walks through Bath (1819) is a good example, and a useful one too.  For a modern book on London in Shakespeare’s time, the Oxford compendium Shakespeare’s England, first published in 1916, is still (I think) as good as it gets

JAIV:   On no! I meant that your book reading in parts like a gazetteer was a GOOD thing! I love the old London maps and had great fun following Ned around! 

The topic of carriages interests me very much, and the question of calculating distances and times is a difficult one: you say a coach traveling to London from Winchester in 1817 [50 miles] took 7 hours.  What sources did you use for those calculations?

SB:  Contemporary travel guides are not easy to come by, and sometimes even give conflicting information, but quite a few of the Regency and later guides to London have appendices of travel times.  I did the best I could with several of these.

JAIV:   I love the little bit about Fanny Dickens, Charles’s oldest sister, though you do say you muddled the dates a bit  – why Fanny and not other characters from the London or Bath of the time?

SB:  My brain accumulates trivia, and from somewhere or other I knew Fanny Dickens was a talented pianist.  That scene in Perfect Visit (I love it too – thank you) unexpectedly wrote itself one afternoon in the London Library where I was supposed to be doing other things.  I couldn’t let go of that scene, even when I found out I’d muddled the dates.  But with Fanny, Jane Austen, Elizabeth Fry, John Payne Collier, et al., already in the Regency parts of the novel, I felt that cluttering it up with even more celebrities would be too much of a good thing. 

JAIV:  Your Part III and IV are set in September 1833 [I will not ruin the plot and tell anyone the how and why!] – so without giving too much away, why this date? 

SB:  Touché!  September 1833 imposed itself on an early draft of the novel when I was trying to figure out a way to get Ned to the early 19th century.  My justification seemed compelling at the time, and then, quite suddenly, didn’t much matter at all.  But I’d gone to a lot of trouble getting the topography and costume of 1833 London as close to right as I could, so I kept Ned there.  I could invoke other reasons too, but I agree they would spoil the plot.

***************************** 

Thank you Stuart! – we will continue our conversation this weekend – Gentle Readers, please ask any question you might have for Stuart or leave a comment on either this post or the Part II post, and you will be entered into the random drawing for a copy of The Perfect Visit. Please do so by 11:59 pm, April 15, 2012.

Stuart Bennett was an auctioneer at Christie’s in London before starting his own rare book business. He is the author of the Christie’s Collectors Guide How to Buy Photographs (1987), Trade Binding in the British Isles (2004) which the London Times Literary Supplement called “a bold and welcome step forward” in the history of bookbinding, and many publications on early photography, auctions and auctioneers, and rare books. He currently lives and works near Boston, Massachusetts.

The Perfect Visit, by Stuart Bennett
Longbourn Press, 2011
ISBN: 9780615542706

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Copyright @2012 Jane Austen in Vermont