Keeping Jane Austen Alive Through My Writing by Mary Lydon Simonsen

Searching for Pemberley 

A brief summary of Searching for Pemberley: Set against Regency England, World Wars I and II, and postwar England, three love stories intertwine in surprising and fateful ways. American Maggie Joyce, touring Derbyshire in 1947, visits Montclair, an 18th century Georgian country house, that she is told was the model for Jane Austen’s Pemberley. More amazingly, the former residents of the mansion, William Lacey and Elizabeth Garrison, were the inspiration for the characters of Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice.  Through letters and journals written by the Laceys, Maggie continues to search for signs of the real Darcy and Elizabeth. But when her search introduces her to both a dashing American pilot and a handsome descendant of the Darcy/Lacey line, Maggie must decide how her own love story will end.

Greetings! My thanks to Kim and Jenn for inviting me to be a guest blogger. I have been asked to write about keeping Austen alive through writing. I thought a little background on the Jane Austen sequel bonanza might be of interest to readers of the Romance Junkies’ blog.

Jane Austen is a literary superstar. While many of her contemporaries, such as Fanny Burney and Maria Edgeworth, are seldom read, Jane is a world-wide phenomenon. She has always had her fans, some quite prestigious, such as Sir Walter Scott, Anthony Trollope, and Rudyard Kipling, as well as a secret group of World War I soldiers who read Austen in the trenches. Imagine what reading about Jane’s pre-industrial world must have meant to soldiers who were staring out at a landscape devoid of any living thing because of modern technology.

But it is because of modern technology that admirers of Jane Austen’s works can write prequels, sequels, and screenplays or portray Darcy as a werewolf, Elizabeth Bennet as a vampire, and have the Dashwood sisters from Sense and Sensibility being courted by sea monsters. The oldest tie-in I could find was Catherine Anne Hubback’s The Younger Sister, published in 1850. There are a few sequels in the 1920s and 1930s and Jane Gillespie’s novels in the 1980s. But things picked up considerably in the 1990s, and it had become an industry unto itself in the first decade of the 21st Century. 

Jane first made the leap to the silver screen with the 1940 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Although the costumes were all wrong (having been used in the production of Gone with the Wind), the plot had been tampered with, Greer Garson probably could have played Mrs. Bennet, and Laurence Olivier was wooden, it was still a success because, at its heart, it remained Elizabeth and Darcy’s story.

There were other adaptations, a 1980 BBC production was particularly good and faithful to Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, but it was A & E’s 1995 production of that novel with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth that reminded everyone of just how wonderful a novelist Jane Austen was, and she crossed over into superstardom.

When I started writing my novel, Searching for Pemberley, in 2005, I knew of one Austen sequel, Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife, and that was because I was visiting my sister in Austin, and Linda Berdoll was being interviewed by the Austin Statesmen. So I went to the library to see if there were others. Oh my goodness! I had no idea. There was Pamela Aiden and Emma Tennant and Stephanie Barron’s mystery series as well as many others. But why should I have been surprised? I wanted to write a novel with a tie-in to Pride and Prejudice as well. 

But, of course, mine is different. In the first place, it’s not a sequel. My main character, Maggie Joyce, is an American living in post World War II London. When she learns that the characters of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, in her favorite novel, Pride and Prejudice, may have been based on real people, she travels to Derbyshire to find out. With all of these wonderful film adaptations of Austen’s work, in which everyone is dressed in the Regency Era style, people may not know that Jane Austen lived most of her life in the Georgian Era. So when Maggie reads the diaries of Elizabeth Lacey, who is possibly the model for Elizabeth Bennet, she is reading about events in the 1790s, such as the French Revolution, and the exodus of aristocratic émigrés from France to England. The madness of George III is in the future, and the kingdom is not yet being run by his profligate son, the Prince Regent and future George IV. 

The reason I write Austen sequels (another novel is coming out in December 2010) is because she gave us characters whom we care about, and because we do care, we want to know more about them. What were the early years of Lizzy and Darcy’s marriage like? Did Georgiana find true love? What was Captain Wentworth doing all those years at sea? Did Fanny Price find happiness with Edmund Bertram? 

If by reading Searching for Pemberley, someone, who has never read Austen, becomes curious enough about Pride and Prejudice to pick up a copy of her book, then I am a minor contributor in keeping Austen alive through my novels. But when you consider that the groundwork for any sequel has been laid by one of the greatest novelists in the English language, it is an easy task to build on that foundation. The difficulty comes in writing a darn good yarn; one that Jane would like to sit down and read in the front parlor at Chawton Cottage, Hampshire.

For more information, please visit my website at www.searchingforpemberley.weebly.com or my blog at http://marysimonsenfanfiction.blogspot.com.

Searching for Pemberley is available from: Amazon as well as Barnes and Noble, Books a Million, Chapters.Indigo.CA and Sourcebooks.

6 Responses to Keeping Jane Austen Alive Through My Writing by Mary Lydon Simonsen

  1. Lisa G

    This book sounds exciting and fun to read!

  2. Mona Risk

    What a great post Mary. I love Pride and Prejudice. I saw it so many times I can recite some passages by heart. And Collin Firth is such a fabulous Mr. Darcy. I am also an avide reader of Regency books. Okay, P&P is not supposed to be Regency, but they look so good in their clothes.

  3. Mary Simonsen

    Thank you, Lisa. If you decide to buy it, I hope you will let me know what you think about it. Hi Monica. I think the women’s clothes in the Keira Knightley P&P were much closer to what Austen would have worn, but I would not have wanted to see Mr. Darcy/Colin Firth in the fashions of the fops (which proceeded the dandies of the Regency Era) with their wigs and makeup and high collars. Thanks for commenting.

  4. Pam S

    I really enjoyed your post Mary. I am a huge Pride & Prejuidice fan. I have 5 or 6 versions of the movie and a few books inspired by it. I also love Jane Austen’s other works, aside from Mr. Darcy, Mr. Knightly would be another hero she penned I’m fond off. I quite agree with your take on Jane. Searching for Pemberly is on my wishlist :)!

  5. Mary Simonsen

    Hi Pam, I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I loved the A&E production of P&P, and I thought the Keira Knightley/Matthew MacFayden adaptation was excellent, considering it was only 90 minutes, and they had so much to fit in. I like Mr. Knightley as well. Although I think that has a lot to do with the fact that I love Jeremy Northam. Captain Wentworth is another favorite. As for Searching for Pemberley, I hope you get your wish.

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