Friday 23 June 2017

The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Époque by Don Jacobson – Character Interview and Giveaway

Blog Tour: The Exile - Kitty Bennet and the Belle Epoque by Don Jacobson
Today I’m welcoming Don Jacobson to the blog with my stop on the blog tour for ‘The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Époque’ with a character interview and giveaway. 

This is the second book in the ‘Bennet Wardrobe’ series; ‘The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey’ is Volume 1. I had heard of this series but I didn’t really know what the concept of it was. Let’s start off by explaining a few things!

Firstly, what is the ‘Bennet Wardrobe’? Well it’s literally a wardrobe but it’s no ordinary piece of furniture. It can transport people of the Bennet bloodline forward in time for a period, and then transport them back to their original time. The time traveller doesn’t get to choose when they travel to; it’ll take them to a period that will teach them something they need to know. The first book in the series, ‘The Keeper – Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey’ was the story of Mary’s life after both Jane and Lizzy. ‘The Exile’ is Kitty Bennet’s turn. There is also a prequel novella for ‘The Exile’, ‘Henry Fitzwilliam’s War’.

When was the ‘Belle Époque’ and what was the significance of this period?  Belle Époque means ‘beautiful era’ – it dates from the end of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871 to the outbreak of World War I in 1914. This was what we might call a golden age, with peace, optimism, economic prosperity and discoveries and progress coming thick and fast. This period was particularly good for the arts, with many of the artists that we know as great today finding recognition of their talents, but also wonderful literature, and new forms of performing arts were debuted.  This period was named the Belle Époque’ in retrospect, when compared with the horrors of WWI.

So, what happens in this book? Let’s take a look at the blurb to find out more, and then we’ll join Don Jacobson, who has offered up an interview from an imaginary film promotion tour with Saoirse Ronan who played Kitty in the movie.

Book cover: The Exile - Kitty Bennet and the Belle Epoque by Don Jacobson
Book Blurb:

Beware of What You Wish For

The Bennet Wardrobe may grant it!

Longbourn, December 1811. The day after Jane and Lizzy marry dawns especially cold for young Kitty Bennet. Called to Papa’s bookroom, she is faced with a resolute Mr. Bennet who intends to punish her complicity in her sister’s elopement. She will be sent packing to a seminary in far-off Cornwall.

She reacts like any teenager chafing under the “burden” of parental rules—she throws a tantrum. In her fury, she slams her hands against the doors of The Bennet Wardrobe.

Her heart’s desire?

I wish they were dead! Anywhere but Cornwall!  Anywhere but here!

As Lydia later said, “The Wardrobe has a unique sense of humor.

London, May 1886.  Seventeen-year-old Catherine Marie Bennet tumbles out of The Wardrobe at Matlock House to come face-to-face with the austere Viscount Henry Fitzwilliam, a scion of the Five Families and one of the wealthiest men in the world. However, while their paths may have crossed that May morning, Henry still fights his feelings for another woman, lost to him nearly thirty years in his future.  And Miss Bennet must decide between exile to the remote wastelands of Cornwall or making a new life for herself in Victorian Britain and Belle Époque France.

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Don J:  I am thrilled to have the opportunity to present The Exile to the followers of Babblings of a Bookworm. As a lead-in to this mock interview, I want to note that I subscribe to what the great science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein’s called “the world as myth.” This philosophy argues that the act of writing fiction creates the reality in which that fiction exists. Thus, the interview approaches Pride and Prejudice as if it is a romanticized biography, a work of non-fiction. 

Interview with Saoirse Ronan, Kitty Bennet in “The Renoir Likeness”

Saoirse Ronan is one of the new class of Irish actors making their mark on stage and in cinema. Ronan, 23, has entranced audiences with ground-breaking roles in powerful films like “Atonement,” “The Lovely Bones,” “The Way Back,” “Hanna,” The Grand Budapest Hotel,” and “Brooklyn.” She has been nominated for two BAFTA and two Academy Awards.

The View From Here caught up with Ronan on a steamy June day at London’s Pinewood Studios where she is in pre-production for “Mary Queen of Scots” in which she plays the tragic lead. The vivacious young actor with the astonishing blue eyes raced up to her trailer breathlessly begging five minutes to take a “splash and dash” before our interview.

She emerged in less than the five, damp hair pulled back, her clear complexion unsullied by cosmetics, and wearing a simple white short-sleeve pullover and jeans. She did not try to add to her mid-five foot height with heels. And, she came out bearing two old-style bottles of Coca Cola that instantly began sweating in the afternoon humidity. A film goddess!

We settled underneath one of the few trees on the giant lot and discussed her latest work “The Renoir Likeness.” The film is based off of the book “The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Époque.” Ronan plays the fourth Bennet daughter: Catherine Marie Bennet who used the remarkable Bennet Wardrobe to leave the Regency behind in exchange for a life of self-realization, art, love, and intrigue in the 1880s.

An open and friendly woman, Ronan spoke with that wondrous Irish lilt which instantly captivated the listener.

VFH:  Thank you for squeezing us in today. You seem to be in a bit of a hurry.

Ronan: ‘tis fittings all day.  How those women ever moved about back in the 1500s is a pure mystery to me. And how they did not expire from heat exhaustion is another puzzle. Of course, since I am the Queen, I have the largest wardrobe. More fittings, more pins, more sweat.  I told Josie (Rourke, director) that I wanted to play a kitchen wench since she would have only one outfit!

VFH: It seems you have entered your “costume drama period.”

R: (laughs) Indeed. First Kitty Bennet in her Victorian regalia that included steel-spring corsets, and now Mary Stuart with her acres of silks and velvets!

VFH: Steel springs?

R: Oh yes. Once the Industrial Revolution took hold, steel replaced wood and whalebone. And, my director, Sally Jenkins (Wonder Woman), was of the Wes Anderson school—everything needed to be authentic down to the unseen items I would carry in my handbag. So I was strapped into my Iron Maiden every day.

VHF: Let’s talk about the film.  There have been so many presentations of Pride and Prejudice. What attracted you to the character of Kitty Bennet?

R: All of those movies treated this story like it was romantic fiction. Look at the characters. Lizzy and Darcy are the only ones with depth. Every other person we meet can be described with one adjective: serene Jane, catty Caroline, thoughtless Lydia, priggish Mary, indecisive Bingley, nervous Mrs Bennet, indolent Mr Bennet. And invisible Kitty, who trailed behind Lydia and coughed. We nearly forget that these were real people rather than cardboard cut outs. But once you read Lord Thomas Fitzwilliam’s remarkably sensitive biography of his parents, In The Lists for Civilization, you understand the role that Lady Kitty played from the turn of the century forward. This woman was not invisible. In fact, she was pure inspiration.

VFH: Inspiration? How so?

R: Modern women, growing up with great draughts of equality, can find little to appreciate in the lot of late Victorian females. Kitty was so exceptional…and I think it was because she was from out-of-time. Strangely enough, because she could always return to her family and friends in 1811 if she was unhappy, her trip in the Wardrobe gave her unlimited freedom to experiment in the 1880s. 

Kitty climbed mountains in Switzerland. She danced with Isadora Duncan. Ravel taught her to play the piano. She nursed the wounded in World War I. Jean Monnet, Claude Monet, and the Renoirs frequented her table at the Beach House at Deauville. She laughed loudly and loved life with her cherished husband.

VFH: And, she never did leave.

R: No she did not. Once I started to peel back what happened to her in the early 1890s, I wished I could have planted my hands on the front of the Wardrobe to fly off to some other where/when. It was unspeakable what she endured at the behest of the Napoleon of Crime. It hurt so much to find her truth.  But, she survived, and it made her unbreakable.

VFH: How did you discover her inner workings?

R:  The events of 1891-92 were the catalyst that helped her understand why she acted as she did between the ages of six and seventeen. I went to Selkirk and Deauville. The Bennet Family Trust also released Freud’s notes for my preparation. For the first time, Kitty’s adolescent nature became clear to me—why she tried to hide in plain sight, why she never competed with her elder sister Elizabeth for her father’s approval, why she shrunk in the face of her mother’s criticism.

VFH: Without revealing any spoilers, what was the key to her survival?

R: I think it had to be her friendships with both Maggie Small and Aline Renoir. These two women formed an impenetrable net of love and support without which Kitty would have certainly died. Not only did they save her, they provided her with the clearest examples of healthy human behaviour.

VFH: I am surprised you did not mention Henry Fitzwilliam.

R: Henry really did not come back into her life until she had already passed through 90 per cent of her trials. That is not to say Henry did not contribute to her growth…but the foundation stones were laid before he finds her again in May 1892. Henry’s story in the book is a tale of his search for the love of his life.

VFH: Speaking of Henry, what was it like working with Eric Bana again?

R: When I played opposite Eric on Hanna, he was my father. Here in Likeness, Eric is playing the man who disturbs my heart. Totally different!

          Henry was a man who had heard artillery…but only after he travelled in the Wardrobe. He was terribly injured, but survived. He found love in that future and then left her to return to his time. He carried a torch for this woman—to him known only as the Voice because he never saw her face—that led him to take decisions that affected him and Kitty.

          Eric’s method is so intense. He really took to heart Henry’s anguish that was so clearly expressed in Kierkegaard’s quote, “The most painful state of being is remembering the future, particularly the one you will never have.” Eric’s brooding nature, especially after he put in his steel grey contacts, made him a completely believable partner.

VFH: Before we end, we need to talk about the Wardrobe.

R: This was my first experience with magical transport. You would have to ask Emma Watson what she thought of the floo network. But, I was amazed at how the Trust’s Archives showed that the Wardrobe really cared for the Bennets. Every remark I was privy to impressed upon me that, while Lydia asserted, “The Wardrobe has a unique sense of humour,” no malicious intent was ever behind its workings.

In fact, I am totally convinced that the Wardrobe has a greater motive beyond sending Bennets to times for them to learn what they need to know. I believe that the ultimate goal of this device is to provide them with what they need.

VFH: And that note is a perfect ending. A cliffhanger. Thank you Saoirse Ronan for talking with The View From Here about The Renoir Likeness.

Please enjoy this excerpt from “The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Époque”

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Chapter XXVII

Kitty sat alone in the icy garret room. Even in her diminished state, her primal brain would not allow her to give up her tenuous grasp on life. So, she snuggled deeper under the quilts Maggie had tossed atop her before she went below stairs to find food.

Peering out between the folds of dusty, worn cloth, Kitty had gazed over at the frost creeping down the tattered wallpaper that had been new when Napoleon III ruled. Her world had become so small, circumscribed by the walls of this tiny icebox. She could not find the energy to shift from the chair. Even if she did, where would she go? The tiny circuit of bed to commode to table to chair and back again already defined her life. No variation could be found that could relieve the boredom.

Heavy steps…not Maggie’s…sounded in the stairwell leading to her aerie. The sound was one she had not heard in months—the crumble as soles ground grit into the worn wooden treads coupled with the dull thud as boots misguided by drink-numbed senses stubbed against the stairs. Cold fear watered her bowels as she awaited the inevitable appearance of her most hated memory.

The door hung open on its weary hinges. Winters swung through the opening and scanned the room, his bloodshot eyes settling on Kitty shivering—am I freezing or frightened—in the old armchair. Planting his hands on his hips, a sneer distorting his features, he stared down upon his victim. Then in a decisive move he flew across the room and grabbed Kitty’s arm, pulling her from the chair and throwing her across the room to the bed.

Her body had barely stopped moving before he pinned her to the mattress. Kitty gagged as his sickly sweet smell combined with body odor overpowered her. Bile rose in her throat and she retched, casting up what little she had in her belly, the yellow-green liquid splashing on Winters before he could lurch away.

White fury blinded him as he grabbed her from the bed, picking her up so her feet dangled above the floor.

He shook her and roared, “Puke on me, you bitch? Ruin my last set of decent clothes? Thanks to your meddling Lord Henry and Sherlock Holmes, god damn his eternal soul, I am down to my last few pounds with no more in sight.”

Making a disgusted sound, Winters threw her back on the bed with a teeth chattering impact that shook her to her core.

Calming slightly, he continued in a more menacing tone, “And now the ancient whore mistress wants you out of her life. She insisted that I take you away today. But from the looks of you, you would probably relieve her of her burden yourself in a few days.”

His eyes assumed a faraway look and he muttered to himself.

“There has to be a way for me to turn this to my advantage. If only I could get my hands on your money. Word is that you are worth well over £200,000. I wonder who could pry that money away from those tight-fisted bastards at the Trust.

“No way I could ever show my face in London without some sort of legalities out of the way.”

Winters continued to loom over the cowering woman, mumbling as he sorted his thoughts through a wine hued prism. Then, a dreadful resolve cleared his mind.

“There is one way…and only one way…I could be given my due for all the trouble Holmes, you, and your verdammt family have given me.”

He spun on his heel and marched out of the room.

* * *
Author Bio:

Author Don Jacobson
Don Jacobson has written professionally for forty years.  His output has ranged from news and features to advertising, television and radio.  His work has been nominated for Emmys and other awards.  He has previously published five books, all non-fiction.  In 2016, he published the first volume of The Bennet Wardrobe SeriesThe Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey, novel that grew from two earlier novellas. The Exile is the second volume of The Bennet Wardrobe Series.  Other JAFF P&P Variations include the paired books “Of Fortune’s Reversal” and “The Maid and The Footman.”

 Jacobson holds an advanced degree in History with a specialty in American Foreign Relations.  As a college instructor, Don teaches United States History, World History, the Historyof Western Civilization and Research Writing.

He is a member of JASNA-Puget Sound.  Likewise, Don is a member of the Austen Authors collective (see the internet, Facebook and Twitter).

          He lives in the Seattle, WA area with his wife and co-author, Pam, a woman Ms. Austen would have been hard-pressed to categorize, and their rather assertive four-and-twenty pound cat, Bear.  Besides thoroughly immersing himself in the JAFF world, Don also enjoys cooking; dining out, fine wine and well-aged scotch whisky.  

His other passion is cycling.  Most days from April through October will find him “putting in the miles” around the Seattle area (yes there are hills).  He has ridden several “centuries” (100 mile days).  Don is especially proud that he successfully completed the AIDS Ride—Midwest (500 miles from Minneapolis to Chicago) and the Make-A-Wish Miracle Ride (300 miles from Traverse City, MI to Brooklyn, MI).

Book cover: The Keeper - Mary Bennet's Extraordinary Journey by Don JacobsonContact Info:

• Website • Amazon Author Page • Goodreads Author Page • Twitter •  

Thank you to Don for joining us with this inventive post and darker than expected excerpt! Remember, you can buy this book now, 

Buy Links:

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Giveaway Time

Book cover: The Exile - Kitty Bennet and the Belle Epoque by Don Jacobson
Use the rafflecopter below to enter to win an eBook of 'The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Époque' by Don Jacobson. Each winner will be randomly selected by Rafflecopter and the giveaway is international.

Terms and Conditions:

Readers may enter the drawing by tweeting once a day and daily commenting on a blog post or review that has a giveaway attached for the tour. Entrants must provide the name of the blog where they commented (which will be verified). If an entrant does not do so, that entry will be disqualified. Remember: Tweet and comment once daily to earn extra entries.

Blog Tour Schedule:

Blog Tour: The Exile - Kitty Bennet and the Belle Epoque by Don Jacobson
15 June   From Pemberley to Milton; Guest Post, GA
16 June   My Jane Austen Book Club; Guest Post, Excerpt, GA
17 June   Just Jane 1813; Review, Excerpt, GA
18 June   Free Date
19 June   Diary of an Eccentric; Excerpt, GA
20 June   Savvy Verse and Wit; Guest Post, GA
21 June   Darcyholic Diversions; Author Interview, GA
22 June   My Vices and Weaknesses; Review, Excerpt, GA
23 June   Babblings of a Bookworm; Character Interview, GA
25 June   My Love for Jane Austen; Vignette, GA
26 June   Interests of a Jane Austen Girl; Review, Excerpt, GA
27 June   So little time…; Guest Post, GA
28 June   Laughing With Lizzie; Guest Post or Vignette, Excerpt, GA 

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  1. Enjoyed both the character interview and the excerpt.

  2. Happy day and here comes the weekend! Thank you for stopping by. Look forward to your reviews!

  3. Loved the interview! Quite inventive and realistic at the same time! This excerpt still sends shivers up my spine for Kitty!

    1. Of all the chapters in the book, the one which follows this is by far my favorite. It is brief, but intensely visual...and Kitty is there only as a silent character.

    2. Thank you so much Janet!

  4. Great interview Ceri. I love Belle Epogue with it's Art Nouveau. :) Thanks for the giveaway.

    1. Kate...Sorry for the delayed reply. No Internet will do that! Thank you for noting art! This is an underlying meme for Kitty. I used music as the meme for Mary in "The Keeper." Lydia, I think, will not be fashion, but rater an extension of fashion into the fashionable life (as we know from the Prologue to The Exile she ends her life as the Dowager Countess). Thomas will continue to be reading, research and the printed word.

    2. Thanks for your comment Kate. I love that each character has an underlying theme.

  5. Carole in Canada24 June 2017 at 15:20

    Eric Bana as Henry? Yes that works for me! Saorise Ronan as Kitty is brilliant!!! Absolutely loved her in 'Brooklyn'!
    Really enjoyed the interview and would agree with Janet on the excerpt...chilling indeed!

    1. Carole in Canada24 June 2017 at 15:21

      Oh, please do not enter me in the giveaway...I have already read and reviewed it! Love it!

  6. CinC (Could mean Commander in Chief):

    I searched for male and female actors who would best represent Kitty and Henry in physical archetype, but more importantly to be able to portray them within the emotional range the parts demanded. Ronan has that ability to look deep into your soul. Bana simply smoulders and reminds me of a panther when he moves.

    Thank you. Today I am over at Covent Garden!

    1. I wasn't familiar with either actor, but obviously I've looked them up since. Thanks so much for your post Don!

  7. I can't imagine what Kitty did to deserve such treatment at the hands of Winters and I shudder to think what may lie in store for her.
    Very inventive interview!
    Best of luck with the book,Don!

    1. Mary, Thank you. In an upcoming Guest post at another site on the tour I ponder the question of whether the pain Kitty undergoes is the result of me being gendered as a male writer. Love to get some reactions on that. Thank you for the kind thoughts. I tried to keep it fresh! Maybe the movie will get made (grin).

    2. Well actually Mary, from the excerpt Don sent me, things actually get worse for Kitty, not in respect of what is done to her, but what happens to her.

      It's an interesting point about whether this treatment is affected by the gender of the writer. I read nearly exclusively female writers so I rarely get a male perspective.

  8. Oh man, Kitty's in for it in this story after reading the excerpt. Loved the clever interview. :)

    1. SR...Trying to keep it fresh. As I noted in my reply to Mary, the rough treatment Kitty experiences worried me. Except she needed to have this trauma happen so she could relive and, ultimately with Freud, relieve the trauma from when she was 6 years old. I did not want Kitty and the story to be victimized by me being a gendered writer--offering a "male" perspective rather than an androgynous one. See and upcoming blog stop on the tour in which I explore this concern.

    2. The cleverness of the interview was entirely thanks to Don, Sophia. He is the creative one out of the two of us!

  9. I have the books in this series on my TBR pile. They do seem like a new and different approach to variation of our beloved P&P. Thanks for sharing.

    1. It's a different concept, isn't it Sheila. I hope you enjoy the books when you read them.

  10. Don, thank you for telling us about the Belle Époque. I have been wondering it myself but have not found out what it means. And what a cliffhanger we have. It intrigued me that Winters fell on hard times as I read other excerpts before which says that he is the future brother-in-law of Henry Fitzwilliam.

    1. Hi Luthien. When I knew that Don was visiting my blog with this book I decided that I had two questions, which were what the Bennet wardrobe was, and what exactly the Belle Epoque was and why this might be significant, and that is why I began the blog post with some answers!


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