If you’ve been reading this blog long enough, you know that I love Jane Austen, particularly Pride & Prejudice, and that I sometimes read variations and re-tellings of her work, or novels that have Jane Austen as a character.
The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen: Vol. 2 looks at how Austen would have fared had she married and had a family.
About the Novel:
The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen trilogy by Collins Hemingway respectfully reimagines the beloved English author’s life and resolves the biggest mystery around the actual historical records about her life during the Regency era in England: What really happened during the “missing years” of her twenties? Why did her sister destroy all of her letters and records of her life then? Why have rumors of a tragic lost love persisted for two hundred years? www.austenmarriage.com
Since embarking on my Jane Austen journey, I’ve been asked many a time why a present-day man, who spent most of his career involved with computers, marketing, and aviation, would explore the “what ifs” of the life of a literary woman from two hundred years ago.
The answer goes back primarily to Dr. Duncan Eaves, my graduate school instructor and an expert in Eighteenth Century literature. He and another wonderful instructor at my school, Dr. Ben Kimpel, wrote the definitive biography of Samuel Richardson, usually considered the first English novelist, and Dr. Eaves edited an edition of Richardson’s novel Pamela.
Dr. Eaves could recite Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Graveyard” as mournfully as the tolling of a bell, or playfully rattle off long stretches of Pope’s satiric heroic couplets. He could convince his students, by good humor alone, to finish Richardson’s agonizingly dull Pamela or Clarissa.
Jane Austen herself found Richardson gratifying, according to her brother Henry, who was careful to add, however, that “her taste secured her from the errors of his prolix style and tedious narrative.”
Dr. Eaves eschewed the usual Jane Austen reads, Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, for Emma, which he considered much the superior work.
At this same time, in a class on modern poetry, I read a poem—by Anne Sexton or Maxine Kumin, I believe—that described what life would have been like for Romeo and Juliet had they not “escaped” with a romantic death: squalling babies, money hassles, arguments over daily life.
I had married young, had a child, and was struggling financially. I knew, even at the age of 21, that courtship and marriage were radically different things.
The situation led to animated exchanges with Dr. Eaves about Austen. My view was that she was a brilliant but superficial writer simply because courtship did not lend itself to investigation of the deepest feelings of the heart or the substance of life. Her books, I told Dr. Eaves, ended where they should have begun: with marriage.
Dr. Eaves told me to come back and read Austen every ten years or so. As I gained experience, he said, I would see more of life woven into the fabric of her work and less of the comedy of manners. Over time, his prediction came true. Austen pushed the bounds of convention, and likely her own sense of propriety, by addressing substantive issues obliquely—premarital sex and the slave trade, to mention two.
Even the delightful Emma, with its breezily misguided protagonist, manages to provide “perfect happiness” for a scandalous situation, that of Harriet’s illegitimacy. Interestingly enough, her being a “natural” daughter turns out not to be nearly as important as whether her father was a gentleman, as Emma supposes, or a tradesman, as turns out to be the case.
Novels of the day often addressed the question of a lady’s virtue but never seriously addressed other matters of consequence, before or after the wedding. Austen’s secondary characters are the ones involved in dubious—thus consequential—activities, and she often leaves open the question of future happiness for them. The main characters, meanwhile, skip off gaily into the future.
I felt that there had to be a way to capture Austen’s spirit and insight while also bringing the more serious issues of Austen’s day out of the background and into the light. I wanted to see how an intelligent woman of the early 1800s would respond if personally tested by those issues.
For many, many years, while mastering computer products during the day, I continued to study the history of the Regency period and to read Austen and what biographers had to say about her. All of the matters above percolated in my head.
My wife and I visited southern England several times, from the coast of Kent to Land’s End. On one of these trips, in 2006, we took the train down to Bath, where we spent several days seeing the sights and visiting some of Austen’s haunts. I picked up more books and bios.
Bath was not Austen’s favorite locale, but I was affected by being where she had walked and shopped and visited with her family—and had many of her own characters interacting. At the end of the weekend, I was struck by a thought as sharp as Emma’s arrow: Write my story.
I understood immediately. Write the story of Jane Austen living to the fullest the personal life that most women then experienced. Write the story of the public life she would have undertaken if she had had the opportunity to engage in the exciting, chaotic maelstrom that was the Regency period. Write as she would have, freed from the restrictions and conventions that stifled women authors then.
On the train back to London, I pulled out my journal and began to jot down notes under a title that wrote itself: The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen.
A decade later, I’m returning to Bath to launch the second volume of the trilogy that, I hope, does justice to the voice that struck me: the voice of Jane Austen.
Thank you for stopping by.
Please leave a comment below with an anecdote or piece of advice about marriage or finding love?
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