Welcome to today’s interview with Jenetta James, the author of The Elizabeth Papers.
About the book:
“It is settled between us already, that we are to be the happiest couple in the world.” —Jane Austen, Pride & Prejudice
Charlie Haywood is a London-based private investigator who has made his own fortune—on his own terms. Charming, cynical, and promiscuous, he never expected to be attracted to Evie Pemberton, an emerging and independent-minded artist living with the aftermath of tragedy. But when he is hired to investigate her claims to a one hundred and fifty year old trust belonging to the eminent Darcy family, he is captivated.
Together they become entwined in a tale of love, loss, and mystery tracing back to the grand estate of Pemberley, home to Evie’s nineteenth century ancestors, Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy.
How could Evie know that in 1817 Elizabeth Darcy began a secret journal? What started as an account of a blissful life came to reflect a growing unease. Was the Darcy marriage perfect or was there betrayal and deception at its heart?
Can Evie and Charlie unearth the truth in the letters of Fitzwilliam Darcy or within the walls of present-day Pemberley? What are the elusive Elizabeth papers and why did Elizabeth herself want them destroyed?
Without further ado, please give Jenetta a warm welcome:
When did you first read Pride & Prejudice? And what about the story stuck with you enough to write The Elizabeth Papers?
I first read Pride & Prejudice in the autumn of 1995, when I was 13. The reason I can be so specific is that a school friend and I decided to read it whilst watching the now famous mini series which was on BBC 1 every Sunday evening for 6 weeks. Our goal was to read ahead of the TV programme. We didn’t quite get it right every episode, sometimes reading too far and sometimes not enough. For this reason, it was slightly disjointed, but we loved it none the less. Since then I have enjoyed re-reading the book many times.
The narrative arc of Pride & Prejudice is so simple and elegant and it is a really deft example of character revelation and development. For that reason I think it is a novel which inspires its readers to write – to try to live up to that standard. I also suspect that the number of novels inspired by Pride & Prejudice are many more than those that are openly promoted as such. It is the kind of book that when you read it you think “yes, that’s how you do it”.
When I wrote The Elizabeth Papers, I had already written one Pride & Prejudice variation story, Suddenly Mrs. Darcy. In both cases the basics of the story came to me in a bit of a flash. The Elizabeth Papers commences with a letter written by Mr. Darcy to his solicitor in 1860. When I am not writing, I am a practising barrister and so I have a tendency to pick up on the legal issues in books I read. I had in my mind the far reaching consequences of the entail on Longbourn in Pride & Prejudice and that is an idea that I have tried to play with in The Elizabeth Papers. I hope that readers enjoy it!
Many fans of Austen often do not like to read the Brontes. Do you read the Brontes and enjoy their work? If not, why?
I love the Brontes. I first read all of the novels as a teenager and then re-read Jane Eyre, which is my favourite in my early 20s. All of the Bronte novels are of course very different to Jane Austen, but I don’t see them as mutually exclusive in terms of enjoyment and value. Another favourite classic author is Thomas Hardy – I love his novels and especially the somewhat under-appreciated “Woodlanders”.
When working with someone else's beloved characters, what do you keep in mind when writing new stories for them? What are the challenges? advantages?
It is a real balancing act, and one I’m sure I have not yet perfected! On the one hand, I want the characters to be believable versions of the originals. So, I have to constantly check them against the originals, asking what would Elizabeth do here? What would she say? How would the character from the original have been changed by age and events?
The character features from the original act like a metronome, clicking away in the background, keeping me on track. On the other hand, I don’t want to be too straightjacketed about it and there is a danger of the quest for authenticity inhibiting creativity. I am striving for faithfulness but I want to tell a new story of my own creation as well. That is the challenge.
In The Elizabeth Papers, there are two halves to the story. In the Regency half, almost all of the characters are drawn from Pride & Prejudice. In the modern half, all of the characters are people who I have made up. I feel far more at liberty to do what I like with those characters that I do with Austen’s creations. So, I suppose that I have tried to have my cake and eat it in this department.
If you had to describe Mr. Darcy as readers know him, not as he is perceived by Elizabeth Bennet, what four words would you use and how did you come to chose those terms?
Honourable. This is the first word that jumped into my head when I read your question and it cuts through everything that he says and does in my view. His sense of honour is of course not appreciated by Elizabeth until very late in the day, but once it is understood, it is the glue that sticks his other characteristics together.
Reserved. This is very important in terms of how other people see him, including Elizabeth at the beginning of their story. He is basically rather introverted while Elizabeth is extraverted. I am a chronic introvert and so very ready to spot the same in others, real and fictional.
Romantic. Not to be underestimated although of course this is something that Austen suggests quite lightly and has been subsequently greatly embellished by readers (me included).
Observant. Mr. Darcy is a watcher, not a talker and he observes carefully everything that goes on around him. This, like his reserve, can be misconstrued.
Do you read poetry? Who or what collections would you recommend?
I’m afraid that I do not read poetry very often, and this question has inspired me to think about poetry which I have enjoyed in the past.
The last time I was a regular poetry reader was in my teens. I grew up in Cambridge and had a bit of a Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes thing going on for many years. I bought Birthday Letters on the day that it came out and still have it now. I also recall enjoying William Blake and T. S. Elliot. For A-Level, I studied John Donne and his work manages to be sexy, funny *and* 17th century. You have inspired me to go back and read it again.
I have 2 very little children and several of their favourite books are written in verse. My favourites are Bunny Fluff’s Moving Day by A. J. MacGregor and Appley Dapply by Beatrix Potter. I don’t think these is quite what you had in mind, but I do recommend them.
Thanks, Jenetta, for joining us today.
About the Author:
Jenetta James is the nom de plume of a lawyer, writer, mother and taker-on of too much. She grew up in Cambridge and read history at Oxford University where she was a scholar and president of the Oxford University History Society. After graduating, she took to the law and now practises full time as a barrister. Over the years she has lived in France, Hungary and Trinidad as well as her native England.
Jenetta currently lives in London with her husband and children where she enjoys reading, laughing and playing with Lego. Suddenly Mrs. Darcy was her first novel. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.