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Guest Post: Abigail Reynolds Ponders 200th Anniversaries of Jane Austen Novels

Abigail Reynolds is a master at answering the What If? question when it comes to Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet’s romance in her re-tellings.  Whether Mr. Darcy decides to hold his tongue at the Meryton Assembly or doesn’t botch his proposal to her in Kent, Reynolds finds new ways to keep this couple and readers guessing as to whether they will get together.  Mr. Darcy’s Undoing is the latest in her What If? series of books and seeks to uncover how far Darcy will go to woo Lizzy if after his disastrous proposal she accepts one from another man.

Today, Reynolds will share with you what inspires her to write her re-imaginings and what the significance of this year’s 200th anniversary of Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen means to her.  Without further ado, please welcome Abigail.

This year’s Annual General Meeting of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) was dedicated to the 200th anniversary of the publication of Sense & Sensibility. It’s a major event in the Janeite world. Although Pride & Prejudice was the first novel Austen wrote, Sense & Sensibility was the first one published, so it’s our first bicentennial publication event. Pride & Prejudice, Austen’s best known and most popular book, won’t have its 200th anniversary of publication until 2013.

I write variations on Pride & Prejudice, novels in which I’ve taken the original and changed one key event. In my latest release, Mr. Darcy’s Undoing, the change is a whopper. Elizabeth Bennet, rather than remaining single until she encounters Darcy at Pemberley, becomes engaged to another man, a childhood friend whom she cares for and trusts, but doesn’t love. This changes the plot quite decisively, creating dramatic tension about how Darcy and Elizabeth will reach their happy ending. That’s the trick of a variation: to find something that changes the events of the novel but doesn’t interfere with the ending. Most changes I could make to the plot don’t produce dramatic effects. If Darcy doesn’t attend the Meryton Assembly, he’d have the same reaction to Elizabeth at a later date. If Elizabeth didn’t travel to Kent where she re-encounters Darcy, the events there would just take place whenever they next met, or they would never meet again and the ending would be different. I couldn’t make a book out of those.

When I’m asked which Austen heroine I resemble most, it’s an easy call. I’m definitely an Elinor, and as a result, Sense & Sensibility will always be very dear to my heart. It’s tied with Persuasion for my 2nd favorite Jane Austen novel. I’ve often considered doing a variation on it, but it’s hard to find an appropriate turning point to change. Part of that is because the novel follows three romances rather one – Marianne/Willoughby, Marianne/Colonel Brandon, and Elinor/Edward Ferrars. To create a balanced variation, something would have to occur to interfere with all three of those romantic possibilities, but without causing a change in the ending. That’s very tricky, given the complexity of relationships between many of the characters. Another issue for me is that, being an Elinor, it would be hard for me to portray Elinor fairly or Marianne as effectively as I’d like. Persuasion is a more promising candidate for a variation simply because of the possible turning points in it.

Truth be told, aside from attending the JASNA celebration, the 200th anniversary of Sense & Sensibility hasn’t affected me much simply because it’s been overwhelmed by another anniversary for me as an author of Pride & Prejudice variations. It’s also the 200th anniversary of the events of Pride & Prejudice. The Meryton Assembly took place on October 15, 1811. November 12 will be the 200th anniversary of the day Jane Bennet rode through the rain to dine at Netherfield park with the Bingley sisters. I’m involved in a project with many of my fellow authors of Austen-inspired novels at the Austen Authors website wherein we’re tracking the events of Pride & Prejudice in real time. Dubbed the P&P200 project, we take turns portraying missing scenes from Pride & Prejudice and existing scenes from different points of view, and we post them on the 200th anniversary of the given event. It’s turned out to be a fascinating project, not only in making me consider the time frames involved in the book in a different way, but in making me look more closely at secondary characters, and discovering they have backstories of their own that I’ve never considered. It’s a different kind of anniversary celebration, but it’s been enriching my understanding of Jane Austen, and that’s what all my writing is about.

Thanks for hosting me today!

Abigail, thank you for sharing your thoughts with us today on Sense & Sensibility and Jane Austen.  Stay tuned for my review of Mr. Darcy’s Undoing at the end of the week.

  • Wonderful guest post!! I too have wondered why no S&S spinoffs — it’s good to hear from someone who is an expert! I love hearing how Austen’s work is still being revisited, explored, played with, toyed with, revered, and treasured — makes me so happy.

    • It makes me happy too. I just love these spinoffs and variations.

  • Tara Finlay

    I’ve read one continuation of S&S and I enjoyed it. What might be fun is S&S from Edward’s point of view, perhaps starting when he meets Lucy Steele at Plymouth.

    • I like that idea, Tara.

  • Great post. It’s always interesting to see what inspires author’s. I’ve been seeing this one around quite a bit and it does sound like a good one. I look forward to your review Serena.

    • I love all of Reynolds’ books. She has such a great imagination.

  • I think the project for P&P sounds really interesting. It’s amazing to think how popular Austen’s books are 200 years later. S&S isn’t one of my favorites, but I have noticed that there aren’t too many re-tellings. I really long to read more variations of Persuasion because I love that book so much. Great post!

    • I really enjoyed the inside scoop about the P&P project. How fun.

  • I was just wondering the other day why a Sense and Sensibility spin off was not more prevalent… I now have my answer, and a very good answer at that. Marrianne and Col. Brandon have always been dear to me for many reasons, so I guess I wouldn’t want their story changed too much, anyway. Thank you for the insight into your writing. Definitely looking forward to seeing what pleasures you have created for us with Mr. Darcy’s Undoing!

    • Svea, thanks for stopping by. I’m reading Darcy’s Undoing now and will have a review on Friday.