I'm happy to be welcoming author Elizabeth Adams here to chat with me about rational creatures in general, and in particular Persuasion's Anne Elliot, the character in Elizabeth's story. There's a fantastic giveaway accompanying the blog tour too. Let's read the blurb, and then we'll move on to my interview with Elizabeth Adams.
Jane Austen: True romantic or rational creature? Her novels transport us back to the Regency, a time when well-mannered gentlemen and finely-bred ladies fell in love as they danced at balls and rode in carriages. Yet her heroines, such as Elizabeth Bennet, Anne Elliot, and Elinor Dashwood, were no swooning, fainthearted damsels in distress. Austen’s novels have become timeless classics because of their biting wit, honest social commentary, and because she wrote of strong women who were ahead of their day. True to their principles and beliefs, they fought through hypocrisy and broke social boundaries to find their happily-ever-after.
In the third romance anthology of The Quill Collective series, sixteen celebrated Austenesque authors write the untold histories of Austen’s brave adventuresses, her shy maidens, her talkative spinsters, and her naughty matrons. Peek around the curtain and discover what made Lady Susan so wicked, Mary Crawford so capricious, and Hettie Bates so in need of Emma Woodhouse’s pity.
Rational Creatures is a collection of humorous, poignant, and engaging short stories set in Georgian England that complement and pay homage to Austen’s great works and great ladies who were, perhaps, the first feminists in an era that was not quite ready for feminism.
“Make women rational creatures, and free citizens, and they will become good wives; —that is, if men do not neglect the duties of husbands and fathers.” —Mary Wollstonecraft
Stories by: Elizabeth Adams * Nicole Clarkston * Karen M Cox * J. Marie Croft * Amy D’Orazio * Jenetta James * Jessie Lewis * KaraLynne Mackrory * Lona Manning * Christina Morland * Beau North * Sophia Rose * Anngela Schroeder * Joana Starnes * Caitlin Williams * Edited by Christina Boyd * Foreword by Devoney Looser
Rational Creatures – Elizabeth Adams Interview
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Today I’m happy to be welcoming Elizabeth Adams, author of The Houseguest, On Equal Ground, Unwilling and more, back to the blog. Elizabeth has contributed a story to the anthology Rational Creatures, an anthology focusing on the ladies of Austen’s tales.
The phrase “rational creatures” is actually in Persuasion, said by Sophia Croft to her brother Captain Wentworth:
"But I hate to hear you talking so like a fine gentleman, and as if women were all fine ladies, instead of rational creatures. We none of us expect to be in smooth water all our days."
Elizabeth’s story focuses on a character from Persuasion; the heroine, Anne Elliot, who is one of my favourites of all of Austen characters.
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Ceri: How would you define what a ‘rational creature’ is? Do you think Austen saw being a ‘rational creature’ as a positive characteristic?
EA: I think a rational creature is someone with a good head on their shoulders. A rational person, just as we would think of it today. A rational woman doesn’t need to be put in bubble wrap and protected from life’s storms and sorrows. She can face the day and the future with clear eyes and logical reasoning.
I do think Austen thought of it as a positive trait. The more rational characters in her books are lauded and the silly constantly made to look ridiculous. Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice is not rational at all, and she is not held up as a model to emulate, but someone to poke fun at, as is Sir Walter Elliot in Persuasion. Austen’s books are filled with people acting irrationally—out of anger, pride, passion, stupidity, or sheer silliness. It inevitably leads to a catastrophe of some sort. The happy endings almost always belong to the rational, people of good character.
It seems the logical conclusion that Austen valued rational people and characters for themselves and valued irrational people and characters for little more than entertainment.
Ceri: Anne’s decision to give up her engagement was entirely rational – it was the sensible course of action for both her and Wentworth – but it was a decision she regretted. What do you think are the negatives of behaving rationally?
EA: I think the biggest downside to being rational is that the heart and human emotions are entirely irrational. Your head can tell you all day long that you need to walk away from that friend, family member, partner, etc who is behaving badly and treating you wrongly, but your heart might still miss them. It might be rational to get a steady job with good benefits, but you might long for the creative but badly paid work you did before. The heart doesn’t always listen to the head, as Anne finds out the hard way.
Of course, it’s a little crazy for a nineteen-year-old girl from a wealthy family to marry a headstrong, danger-seeking naval officer who cannot currently afford to keep her in the life she is accustomed to. Many people, even today, would see the facts and advise similarly. Or at least advise waiting.
But if you take into account the human heart, especially one as steady and unchanging as Anne’s, you might think differently. When you are miserable, lonely, and ignored by your own family, knowing you made the rational choice is cold comfort.
Anne says at the end of the book that if a young person were to ask her for advice on a similar situation, she would advise them very differently than she had been advised. Telling, indeed.
Ceri: I feel that modern readers sometimes judge Anne Elliot harshly by applying modern standards to her choice to break off the engagement. How do you view it? Do you think it was faithless of her to draw back, or was it just prudent?
EA: This is where it gets interesting. I personally go around and around about Anne’s decision. I think it was rational at the time, to an extent. She did not know the future, so she couldn’t know that her life would become so terribly dull and unfulfilling and that the pain of losing him would not recede as everyone promised her it would. Nor could she know how bitter and unhappy her decision would make Frederick (an unintended consequence, because she had convinced herself it was to his benefit).
She says near the end of the book that she had made the right decision. I wonder if she is convincing herself a little. After all, the decision has already been made, she is now living this life, and all had come right in the end. I think the fact that she regretted it is very telling. We seldom regret making a right decision, though we might regret that it had to be made at all. I think she might be saying that there simply was no other decision to be made at the time.
A large part of this is her nature. She is not designed to openly rebel. Imagine Lydia Bennet in that situation—she would have no trouble telling her family to stick it and running off with a sailor. Anne’s sister Elizabeth Elliot would marry whomever she felt was best for her with no regard for anyone else’s feelings or thoughts on the matter. But Anne is dutiful, responsible, and unselfish. She loves her family, whether they deserve it or not, and she is deeply attached to Lady Russell, who though a kind person, has very specific ideas about rank and is horrified at the prospect of a baronet’s daughter marrying a sailor who doesn’t even have a ship yet.
Anne’s eyes eventually open to the faults of Lady Russell, and she is able to love her and value her while making her own decisions independent of Lady Russell’s prejudices. But at nineteen, Lady Russell’s word was highly prized. And to a young woman with no family support, no mother, losing the only family she could rely on—her mother figure, would have seemed impossible and out of the question.
But back the question of prudence: Lady Russell’s adamant insistence that she was throwing herself away at nineteen struck a chord. Anne is nothing if not intelligent and I think she would have realized, even then, that she was young and inexperienced and that it might be wiser to listen to someone with more knowledge of the world. Even Sir Walter had not put his foot down entirely, though he was clearly against the match, as was her sister Elizabeth. For a girl like Anne was, not long out of school or out in society, with limited family and no mother, it was perfectly reasonable for her to rely on Lady Russell.
I think a happy medium would have been to have a private engagement. Don’t announce it, allow them to write to each other as long as they are discreet, and if he or Anne change their minds before Wentworth rises in the ranks and earns his fortune, no harm done.
Alas, it was all or nothing, and we know the story from there.
She was both faithless and prudent. It was the prudent thing to do to give him up, but it did show a lack of faith in both their feelings and in his ability to be successful and provide for her in future. I see why Wentworth was angry. If she thought it was such a bad idea to marry him, why encourage him? Why fall in love with him? Why not shut it all down at the beginning if she knew it was impossible?
The answer can only be that she didn’t think it was impossible. She (wrongly) thought her family would support her and that they could be together, if not immediately, at least eventually.
The only other option is that she was simply so caught up in her feelings that she knew it was wrong, but she continued on regardless, swept up and unthinking. But that doesn’t sound like Anne, not for more than a moment. I can’t see her carrying on an entire relationship over several months, and agreeing to an engagement, if she knew she would break his heart in the end. It’s simply not her style.
No, she loved him, and she naively thought it would all work out. But it didn’t and she was left holding the bag.
Ceri: In Georgian and Regency times, most women didn’t have much power over their fortune or many of their actions. An unmarried woman would be directed by her father or guardian, and a married one by her husband. The women with the most independence would probably have been rich widows. How do you think Austen might have felt about this power imbalance?
EA: I think she was aggravated by it, though perhaps not as much as we are today. Though maybe more, because it was affecting her life in very tangible ways. Sense and Sensibility is all about unfairness to women, from inheritance laws to societal strictures. Her books are filled with women getting the short end of the stick (sorry Mary Crawford), being displaced for men (stinks for Mrs. Bennet), being treated as baggage or secreted away (poor Jane Fairfax), and sinking further and further into poverty with no respectable ways to lift themselves out of it (I’m looking at you, Miss Bates).
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Austen saw these things as injustices and sought to illuminate them in writing. She is so witty and her stories so engrossing that it is easy to overlook the underlying (or overarching) themes of her books. Yes, they are about social commentary and the ridiculousness of the times and class. Yes, they are terribly romantic (in a way). But they are also about finding one’s path in life; about finding a way out of a situation that seems impossible; about knowing your own hopes and desires and not being afraid of them or scared to go after them.
She writes her fair share of silly women, but they are overshadowed by heroines of all types. Witty, beautiful, plain, quiet, steady, vivacious, prejudiced and humble.
She may not have been able to change the power balance in her world, but she could change it in her books. Her female characters take center stage; they craft new lives for themselves and rise above what appear to be insurmountable challenges.
I think she is telling us, in her subtle way, that women are strong enough for whatever comes their way, and perhaps even stronger than the men in their lives. After all, it is the women we see changing and growing, the women who rise above their circumstances, the women who, against all odds, persevere. There are some noblemen in her books (Col. Brandon, Mr. Darcy), but they do not outnumber the strong women, nor do they face as many obstacles.
Ceri: Although the idea of feminism is a more recent concept, do you think that Anne Elliot had any feminist tendencies? What about other characters in Austen’s writing? Do any of them stand out to you as having the potential to be early feminists?
EA: Anne doesn’t begin with feminist tendencies, but she certainly ends with them. She refuses to go with her father to see their noble relations and chooses instead to visit with a sick friend in reduced circumstances. She chooses Capt. Wentworth even though her family still disapproves of him, and now as a grown woman, she can love them and disagree with them at the same time. Coming into your own and realizing your own agency, your power to choose, is a feminist thing to do, though we’ve been doing it so long now it doesn’t seem new to us.
I’ve always thought Mary Crawford has the makings of a feminist. Also Elinor Dashwood. She’s too practical not to. Same for Charlotte Lucas. Oddly, I think Miss Bates might be. If she could get a job and live in better circumstances, I think she’d be thrilled. Lydia Bennet might be—I could see her passionate nature being turned towards suffrage if she met with the right person and ideas. Lady Susan is definitely a feminist—the dangerous kind!! Caroline Bingley for sure. Jane and Elizabeth Bennet—after all, Jane could be stubborn when she knew she was right. Fanny Price probably, Marianne Dashwood after she’s had her heart broken, Emma after she turns thirty.
I think all of the mothers could potentially be. What is their desperation to see their daughters married well but ambition for success? I could see Mrs. Bennet pushing her daughters to go to medical school if she was modern. Yes, she was boy crazy, but she was also money hungry.
Ceri: Please can you tell us a bit about your story in the anthology?
EA: I thought the parts of Persuasion I was most curious about were the break up between Anne and Capt. Wentworth, their courtship and engagement prior to that, and their lives between breaking up and getting back together.
I started three years after the break up, when Anne is being courted by Charles Musgrove. The story is told in that time period with a series of flashbacks to her time with Frederick.
We see how they met, what made them like each other and eventually fall in love, the engagement and subsequent breaking of it. That was probably the hardest scene to write. The first draft came quickly, but then I went back and redid it over and over again, trying to get it exactly right. I acted out the motions in my dining room to make sure they made sense. I saved no fewer than 3 alternate versions. I read it out loud.
If you’re going to break up one of literature’s favorite couples, you have to do it right.
I wanted to show the reader why Anne made the choices she did, which of course meant I had to know why she made the choices she did. Seeking out her motives was a long process, but I think it all worked out in the end. We’ll see if the readers agree!
Thank you so much to Elizabeth for the answers she gave to my questions! I hope you all enjoyed reading them as much as I did.
Elizabeth Adams is a book-loving, tango-dancing, Austen enthusiast. She loves old houses and thinks birthdays should be celebrated with trips - as should most occasions. She can often be found by a sunny window with a cup of hot tea and a book in her hand.
She writes romantic comedy and comedic drama in both historic and modern settings.
She is the author of historical books The Houseguest, Unwilling, Meryton Vignettes, and On Equal Ground, as well as Green Card, a modern comedy.
You can find more information, short stories, and outtakes at elizabethadamswrites.wordpress.com
Buy Links for Rational Creatures
Rational Creatures is due out on 15 October. I don't have a buy link just yet but you can add it to your Goodreads shelf, and keep in touch with the project by liking the Facebook page for the anthologies.
The giveaway to accompany the blog tour is fantastic! Comment on the blog posts to enter, and at the end of the tour a name will be randomly picked from all the comments on all the blog tour posts. This person will win all 21 prizes!
|Mahoosive prize bundle!|
The prizes are:
- Winner’s choice of one title from each authors’ backlist (that’s 16 books, ebooks, or audiobooks)
- Our bespoke t-shirt/soap/candle
- A brick in winner’s name to benefit #BuyABrick for Chawton House
- The Quill Collective anthologies in ebook or audiobook
September 18 / My Jane Austen Book Club / Guest Post
September 20 / Long and Short Reviews / Guest Post
September 25 / Books & Wine are Lovely Playlist
September 27 / Fangs, Wands and Fairydust / Guest Post
October 2 / Babblings of a Bookworm / Guest Post
October 4 / From Pemberley to Milton / Guest Post
October 9 / Austenesque Reviews / Guest Post
October 11 / Silver Petticoat / Guest Post
October 15 / Just Jane 1813 / Book Review
October 16 / My Love for Jane Austen / Guest Post
October 18 / Rosie’s Review Team / Book Review
October 23 / More Agreeably Engaged / Guest Post
October 25 / The Book Rat / Guest Post
October 30 / Margie’s Must Reads / Book Review
November 1 / My Vices and Weaknesses / Guest Post
November 6 / Diary of an Eccentric / Book Review
November 8 / Of Pens and Pages / Book Review
November 13 / Let Us Talk of Many Things / Guest Post
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