‘I do not pretend to understand how I came to find myself in America, or in the twentieth century. Nothing of the kind has occurred to me before, nor to any other person in the whole of my acquaintance. At one moment I was in our dear cottage at Chawton, opening a closet to search for my pelisse, and at the next I found myself deposited in an alien realm of bewildering speed and noise.
Fortunately, I soon encountered a kindly person – Miss H. Abigail Bok, the author of “A Dictionary of Jane Austen’s Life and Works” – who professed sympathy for my bewilderment and undertook to be my guide and protector in this foreign circumstance. She encouraged me to continue in my writing, assuring me that even in this future world my efforts would find an appreciative readership. She it was who arranged on my behalf the publication of the work before you.
It is my hope that one day I will return to Chawton and my beloved sister, Cassandra. In the meantime, I am determined not to repine, but to continue deriving pleasure from observation of the peculiarities of character that are to be discovered in any neighborhood.’I have been given the opportunity to pose some questions to ‘the Lady’ in relation to ‘An Obstinate, Headstrong Girl’, and if you read on, there is also a giveaway opportunity.
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Q: I would like to begin by telling you what an honour it is to be able to speak to you today. The book ‘An Obstinate, Headstrong Girl’ was set in the year 1999. Did you ever discover what caused you to travel in time?
A: The honour is all mine on this occasion. Sadly, I am still unable to account for my appearance in this place and time. I have looked into every closet that I came across, and not one of them has opened a passageway into the past. Perhaps at this end, the portal is something more modern—a metal detector in a library, or some similar device? I am quite at a loss to understand it.
Q: As I am sure Miss Bok has informed you, your work is very popular all over the world. Did you ever think, when you wrote your novels, that they would achieve such long-lasting popularity?
A: I think I may say without giving offense that Miss Bok has proved rather secretive about my previous life. Upon consideration we agreed that if my dislocation proved only temporary, it were better for me not to know too much about the nature and number of my days. She has, however, encouraged me to believe that readers throughout the intervening years have continued to derive pleasure from my pen; and her assurances have helped me to sustain my spirits in exile. They also gave me the courage to attempt a depiction of the present day—or almost the present day. I set ‘An Obstinate, Headstrong Girl’ in 1999, close to the time of my arrival, and not in the twenty-first century. This was owing to the appearance of social media communications, which were beyond my powers to convey. I found that 140 characters did not suffice for meaningful self-expression.
Q: There have been many screen adaptations of your novels. Did you watch any of them, and if so, do you have a favourite?
A: What wonders of invention there are in your age! Miss Bok did show me a selection of
these moving pictures, as I apprehend they are called, by way of proof that my work had not been quite forgot—though she spared me several that she described as rather too warm. There was a scene in one in particular, which she alluded to, in which Mr. Darcy removes his garments and plunges into a lake! I cannot imagine a gentleman of his years and dignity doing any such thing.
There was a rendition of ‘Pride and Prejudice’, however, that was rather like watching a play. I believe Miss Elizabeth was acted by a person named Elizabeth Garvie, who was prodigiously elegant but not as charming as the lady of my imagination. That version was amusing, although perhaps the Bennets could not have afforded such lavish clothing, nor worn it for morning visits had they possessed it. There was also a dramatization of ‘Northanger Abbey’ that I enjoyed; its Henry Tilney was very much as I imagined him.
Q: Many things must have seemed very different to you when you found yourself in twentieth century America. What differences struck you the most? Do you think the world a better place in the nineteenth or twentieth century?
A: At first, it was difficult for me to adapt to the tremendous speed of life today; and Americans appear to be very much addicted to frankness. There is much to be said for both worlds—having more consistent rules of civility could be considered an advantage, but on balance, especially for women, the twentieth century offers many advantages. Having once experienced the liberty to determine one’s own fortunes, independent of obligations to father or husband, that modern women enjoy, it may prove difficult for me to slip back into submission and duty.
Q: Did anything you learned in your trip to 1999 USA find itself into any of your other works?
A: I experienced my dislocation during the period in which I was writing the work that has come to be known as ‘Mansfield Park’. If I am so fortunate as to return to that tale, my Fanny Price must inevitably change. She has been, I now realize, too meek and timid, for her own good and for that of the story. She must learn to stand up for her own wishes and principles, more like a woman of the present.
Q: One of my favourite quotes about you, which proves to me that we are on a wavelength, is this:
“I find many Douceurs in being a sort of Chaperon for I am put on a Sofa near the Fire & can drink as much wine as I like.”
What food and drink did you enjoy in your trip to 1999 that you wish you could have had in Chawton?
A: Oh dear, do modern people even pore over my letters to Cassandra? Imagine your knowing that I expressed such a sentiment! (Though it does you credit that you appreciate it.) And I must ask Miss Bok what a wavelength is before I can know whether I am on one.
As far as the foods of the twentieth century are concerned, it seems that, particularly in California, people are remarkably addicted to the consumption of vegetables. When meat IS served, however, it is a great deal fresher than I was used to seeing at home, for which I am grateful.
Q: In ‘An Obstinate, Headstrong Girl’ two of the Bennet sisters are instead brothers (Jane and Lydia are now John and Lydon). What was your reason for doing that?
A: In ‘Pride and Prejudice’ they all had to be girls because of the entail on the Longbourn estate. While Mrs Bennet may take the pursuit of husbands to extreme lengths, she is right to be concerned about her children’s future security. Once I learned of the extraordinary changes that have occurred in the laws of inheritance, I felt myself at liberty to offer Mr Bennet some small measure of relief from female society. Although the company of Lydon might not indeed prove a consolation to his declining years, he could perhaps derive pleasure from John. I am particularly fond of Mr Bennet, and was happy to give him any reason I could think of to set foot outside his library.
Q: Did you find many things that shocked you in the twentieth century?
A: The particulars of dissipation and vice may have altered, but human nature remains very much what it ever was. For what do we live, but to make sport of our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?
* * * * *Book blurb (from back cover):
The peaceful hamlet of Lambtown, in central California’s ranch country, is cast into disarray after the Bennet family appears on the scene. From Mrs. Bennet’s social climbing to her youngest children’s dissolute behavior, the newcomers provoke universal censure. Eldest daughter Lizzy, a landscaper, challenges decorum with a series of social experiments aimed at improving the lot of the Spanish-speaking poor. And her gentle brother John offends many by virtue of his romance with local entrepreneur Charlie Bingley.
Nobody is more outraged by the Bennets than thoroughbred breeder Catherine de Bourgh and her amanuensis, Morris Collins. While Collins at first imagines that Lizzy is a promising prospect, she will have none of him, attracted instead to the elusive Jorge Carrillo. Unbeknownst to Lizzy, she has also been noticed by Fitzwilliam Darcy, scion of the founding family of Lambtown. Darcy, tantalized by her spirit but disapproving of her social crusades, makes an awkward pass that is spurned.
How will hearts be healed and peace return to a divided community? Who will move beyond their pride and prejudices to achieve lasting happiness?
About the Author (from back cover): The humble author of the volume before you finds herself much discomposed by her journey in the time travel device into which, in a moment of inattention to the niceties of comportment, she inadvertently strayed. She is even further bewildered by the world in which she finds herself; but, striving for the appearance at least of equanimity, is determined to inscribe a faithful record of all she observes here. Perhaps, by continuing to be true to her nature in such an odd circumstance, she will find her way home at last.
To learn more about her current novel, An Obstinate, Headstrong Girl, visit LitLovers or read excerpts and purchase the book at http://www.obstinateheadstronggirl.com
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I am very grateful to Miss H Abigail Bok for arranging for me to pose these questions to 'The Lady'. Her generosity doesn't stop there as she is also offering an international giveaway of a paperback copy of 'An Obstinate, Headstrong Girl' to three lucky winners. To enter, all you need do is comment on this post, making sure you leave a way for me to contact you should you win. I'll be posting my review of the book on Friday 21 May, and you can comment on that for a bonus entry to the draw. The closing date is Monday 25 May. Please note this giveaway is now closed.