Books Magazine

Talking Jane Austen

By Mariagrazia

TALKING JANE AUSTEN WITH ...  EMILY C. A. SNYDER + AUSTEN HALLOWEEN GIVEAWAY Emily C. A. Snyder has been inventing stories since she was old enough to babble, and writing them down since she was old enough to dictate. A prolific writer, Snyder is the author of "Nachtsturm Castle" available from Girlebooks.com, as well as the author of The Twelve Kingdoms series from Arx Publishing, LLC (arxpub.com) which includes "Niamh and the Hermit" and "Charming the Moon." In addition to novels, Snyder enjoys writing plays, such as "Wallace's Will" available from from Playscripts, Inc. (playscripts.com).
Snyder holds an MA in Theatre Education from Emerson College, Boston, MA and a BA in Literature and Drama from Franciscan University of Steubenville, OH.When not writing, Emily can most often be seen teaching or directing Shakespeare. And when not doing that, chances are she's driving aimlessly in her car, singing at the top of her lungs. For more information, please visit her website http://www.christianfantasy.net/emilycasnyder or http://www.youtube.com/gaudete
   When did you first read  Jane Austen? Was it … love at first sight?
Far from it, actually!  Jane and I had a romance much like her most popular hero and heroine!  I’ve mentioned bits and pieces elsewhere, but I’ll give the longer version here:
It all began in sixth grade, I was challenged by a mean girl to read the unabridged Gone with the Wind.  Since the challenge was public, and since I’ve got this really competitive streak, I did read Gone with the Wind out of spite.  And then I read it again in seventh grade, just to prove I could.  And then I read it again in eighth grade, just to put a period on it.  However, by that time, I wanted to challenge myself.  I delved into the adult classics.  Les Miserables had just come to Broadway, so I read the unabridged book in eighth grade (spurred on by my English teacher advising me against it – I’ve mentioned my contrary nature, non?), memorized the score, got to see it on Broadway, and clearly having conquered all of French and American literature between those two, I thought I’d better return to English classics.
TALKING JANE AUSTEN WITH ...  EMILY C. A. SNYDER + AUSTEN HALLOWEEN GIVEAWAYMy eighth grade teacher had a copy of Pride and Prejudice on her shelf, and I took this out.  However, I remember that I got no further than the first page before I returned it after a week.  (If it’s any consolation, Silas Marner which I picked up soon after fared little better.)  Mrs Bennet sounded like a tiresome woman, and I wanted the promise of action, adventure, dashing men, and a little bit of revolution in my books at that time.  I turned to fantasy, and was vastly rewarded. 
But Pride and Prejudice remained accusingly on Mrs. Fox’s bookshelf. 
The year I went to college, the 1995 Colin Firth Pride and Prejudice aired.  Although my family taped it, somehow I missed it.  However, my friend had recently read Emma and enjoyed it, so I took that up as my book report for my English class.  Unfortunately, I had the reaction Jane anticipated from her readers: Emma, as a character, disgusted me.  She was like quite a few of the mean girls I knew from high school, and had so recently left behind!  (Of course, the fact that Austen had captured the meaner aspects intrinsic in women that transcended time period should have been lauded at that time, too!)
However,  in 1999, I was directing my senior thesis, Salomé by Oscar Wilde.  In case you don’t know it, it’s about the beheading of St. John the Baptist and includes the wholly fictional dance of the seven veils.  It’s got adultery, incest, passion, obsession…and my wonderful Catholic teacher kept telling me to go darker with my work.  I needed a break.  Right around that time, my family, sick of attempting to reference Pride and Prejudice without me having read it, sent the videos to me.  I, in desperate need for something beautiful, put it in one afternoon…and watched the whole thing.  Then watched it again.  Then invited some of my friends over to watch it.  Then went to class, with them still watching it, and return to find different friends in my room watching Pride and Prejudice.  This went on for weeks.
Darcy, Lizzy, and their whole world were my sensible companions out of the world of Herod’s court.  I finally read the book just after graduation, and then started devouring her other novels in turn.  I discovered Pemberley.com and hovered around those boards for a year, meeting many other lovely Janeites, who were also turning to Austen as a voice of beauty and reason in this distorted world.
Which is your favourite among the major six?
That’s a tough question!  I suppose it varies depending on where I am in life, which book will resonate with me the most.  I believe that Pride and Prejudice is her most perfect work, but I’m partial to Persuasion solely because of a single paragraph in the pentultimate chapter that to me is one of the most beautiful summations of love.
TALKING JANE AUSTEN WITH ...  EMILY C. A. SNYDER + AUSTEN HALLOWEEN GIVEAWAYThere they exchanged again those feelings and those promises which had once before seemed to secure everything, but which had been followed by so many, many years of division and estrangement. There they returned again into the past, more exquisitely happy, perhaps, in their reunion, than when it had been first projected; more tender, more tried, more fixed in a knowledge of each other's character, truth, and attachment; more equal to act, more justified in acting.”
It’s pretty obvious from Nachtstürm Castle that I also enjoy the jauntiness of Northanger Abbey – and I am a convertite to the Cult of Da Man (Henry Tilney) thanks to Margaret C. Sullivan.  Recently, I’ve been enjoying the complexities and charms of Mansfield Park as well.
I suppose that I find her early works wonderful for relaxing in; her later works compelling food for thought.

Was Jane Austen more a romantic girl or a matter-of- fact woman? And why so much Jane   
Austen in the 21st century?
Oh, I think that Jane Austen was the perfect blend of romance and practicality.  Her books are full of the difficulties women faced – and in some wise, still face – between financial security and emotional happiness.  Her heroines are never insensible of pursuing both, while her female foils always pursue one at the expense of the other.   I like charts, so I’m going to make a chart here:
Elizabeth & Jane Bennet   Both marry for love and money.  If anything, Elizabeth must overcome her temptation to marry only for love, by allowing that a man of means can be romantic, too!
   Verses
Charlotte Lucas, Caroline Bingley & Lydia Bennet  The first marries solely for money (e.g., financial security) while the second pursues Mr Darcy primarily for his lineage and his fortune, in order to cover up her own links to shopkeepers.  Conversely, Lydia pursues emotional pleasure over all, which leads her into squalor…and then, one presumes, an unhappy marriage thereafter.
The rest of Austen’s canon follows in this exact vein.  Those who marry a man whom they admire, but who is also capable of supporting them financially, are our heroines, while those who allow either their ambition or their passion to rule them are invariable left in shambles.
In our own day of the “modern woman” – of working moms and career women – we still face those same dilemmas.  If we give ourselves over simply to the romance of the moment, we face an endless string of first dates and one-night-stands – we Lydia ourselves.  When we pursue nothing but our ambition – perhaps sacrificing our time or our relationships, romantic or otherwise, to the great god Career, we Charlotte ourselves.  True romance lies, and has always lain, on that tightrope between passion and position.   True romance is that daily battle to overcome our pride and our prejudice, to make sense of our sensibilities.  True romance does not change, no matter the era – and I think our era is striving to remember that.
As G. K. Chesterton wrote regarding the tightrope of Romance: “There are many angles at which one can fall down, but only one at which one can stand up.”
The huge spreading  of spin-offs, sequels, mash-ups is due to a desire to preserve and Jane’s messages, atmospheres, techniques and prolong the pleasure or more to the ambition to correct and adapt  what in her work is considered too distant or different? AND  Do  you think that all these adaptations, both written and for the  screen, could alter, mislead  or even distort the interpretation of Austen’s work?
I actually was having this conversation with my sister the other day.  She’s in the process of creating illustrations for Little Women, and I’m in the middle of staging a post-apocolyptic-writer’s-nightmare version of The Tempest, and we got to discussing why some works seem to be “stuck” in their particular time period, and why others can be played with. 
Now, in the case of Austen/Alcott vs. Shakespeare, there’s also the understanding that Shakespeare is not writing a completed work – since a script is just a third (maybe) of the finished show.  Every actor, director, designer…every audience transforms the same words into something unique from moment to moment.  The script is “just” the bones upon which we build our world.  But even so, there are plays – most of our modern plays, in fact – which are bound not only to a place and time and their ideals, but even to costume.
I do believe that people are drawn to Austen’s world…and there’s a camp that’s drawn to playing in Austen’s world, and there’s another camp that wants Austen to play in our world. 
The former camp produces, so I think, books which could pass muster with her canon: retellings from another character’s perspective, sequels, prequels, and so on.  This camp, by and large, also adheres to Austen’s interests and philosophies: romance is practical, the bourgeoisie are interesting, realism is the mode du jour, scandal is not unknown – but not celebrated; the little things matter.  Too often, I think, we forget that Austen lived in a world that had just come from the excesses of the 1700’s, the American revolution and the far more gory French one – and that even the Prince Regent was hardly a model of respectability!  Austen’s revolution is a quiet one, but potent: she reminds us that “the centre is central” (another G. K. Chesterton bon mot for you!), and that revolution just goes around and around, but to change society, one must first change oneself.
The latter camp, I believe, is a bit more interested in her structure.  After all, Austen wrote one of the best hate-at-first-sight, opposites-attract stories of all time.  It’s little wonder that her Pride and Prejudice has been reincarnated time and again, played with, stretched, put in modern times, with a Narnia-esque through-the-wardrobe-ness, in Bollywood, and with zombies.  This camp wants to use Austen’s structure, by and large, without her philosophy.  (Although I admit there is crossover even here.  For example, Clueless, I truly believe, is the best version of Emma available – even better than the novel.  But I’ve mentioned my history with my literary name-twin.)
For me, however, I think what makes Austen’s voice unique – what makes any author’s voice unique – is their worldview, their philosophy.  This is what makes it possible for anyone to write anything at all.  It’s quite true that there are only six original plots in the whole world.  The most common of them is: Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl again.  The “givens” may change (e.g., in Weird Al’s UHF, Stanley Spadowski love his mop, Stanley loses his mop, Stanley heroically gets his mop again), but the story is the same.
What makes is possible, what makes it imperative for authors to write, is that they have a way of exploring and explaining the world through story which is unique.  Delayed love is a theme that’s common in both Persuasion and Much Ado About Nothing.  But Austen examines it through one facet of the prism which is unique to her time period and her concerns, while Shakespeare approaches it from another.  Same story; different treatments. 
And it’s that very element that makes it possible to play within Austen’s world, I think.  Or, yes, to draw it out into our own.  What’s important in either case, however, is not so much that we must preserve Austen’s perspective – but that when we’re writing in her world or introducing elements of our own into hers, that we do so as a conversation between Austen’s perspective and our own.  That’s what I hope Nachtstürm Castle did.  Austen herself was having a conversation with the Gothic novels that proceeded her; I hope that I am entering that conversation with my own voice, too.
   How would you advertise your book in less than 50 words?
Mystery!  Dopplegangers!  Ghosts!  Trapdoors!  Mysterious butlers!  Lots of Alps!  A travelogue!  Romance!  Gypsies!  Graveyards and (possible) suicides!  Fights!  Flights!  And Henry Tilney on horseback!  Catherine Tilney’s long-delayed honeymoon to the ominously named Nachtstürm Castle is all a Gothic novel enthusiast would want…if only Catherine believed any of it were true.

Why did you choose to write a sequel to Austen's Northanger Abbey? What is the appeal of this novel to you?

I wrote Nachtstürm Castle after I had written the first draft of the (forthcoming) Presumption, which is a continuation of Pride and Prejudice.  This was in my devour-everything-Austen stage of 2000.  I had just read Northanger Abbey and enjoyed it very much, but I felt a little frustrated that it didn’t include more Gothic elements.  I felt, along with my version of Catherine, a little cheated that there wasn’t a single trapdoor anywhere in Northanger!  So, following in the idea of conversing with Jane Austen about the whole Gothic novel genre, I thought that it would be fitting for Catherine and Henry to find themselves suddenly within a Gothic novel – replete with every possible cliché.  And, because Catherine wouldn’t want to be fooled twice, like she was with the japan closet, she wouldn’t believe anything that was happening to her.
Sidenote:  This is actually based a little bit on my own adventure in Paris in 1997.  I had travelled there by myself (word to the wise: it doesn’t matter how tough you are ladies, never make your first trip to Paris penniless, friendless, and sleep-deprived), and got caught up with this African fellow right off the boat from Nigeria.  However, having been brought up quite firmly with White Man’s Guilt, when I first met him I thought: “Oh!  He’s black!  He must be a good person!”  By the end of that particularly horrible six hours – after losing what francs I had, being propositioned, and then unpleasantly kissed in the train station – I learnt the far better lesson which civil rights should have taught me, to trust people based on their merits and not on my presuppositions.  Anywho….
One of the things that Austen did so beautifully in all her books, but particularly in Northanger Abbey, was to keep her tongue firmly in her cheek.  Since all things Gothic seem to cry out to be mocked, this proved very easy as I threw everything and a doppleganger into Northanger Abbey.  However – and this is where I’ll admit I entered the conversation with a different outlook – whereas Austen could really care less about the religious prejudices inherent in English Gothic novels, which were really quite viciously anti-Catholic, I was quite pained by that aspect of books like The Monk, and to a faaar lesser extent, The Myteries of Udolpho.  Since I am Catholic, and since I did have the opportunity to spend a semester in the foothills of the Alps, I wanted to engage that part of the conversation a little.
Mostly, though, I wrote it to entertain.  The ability to write in third person, to address the reader directly, to indulge myself in silly titles (which are sometimes nearly longer than the chapter!), and to just have fun was more than I could resist.  So I didn’t!
TALKING JANE AUSTEN WITH ...  EMILY C. A. SNYDER + AUSTEN HALLOWEEN GIVEAWAY         Are your Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney very similar to the original or did you decide to change anything? I’d say that their characters are both a little bit more grown-up than when we left them last, but that they’re also a little expanded in scope because they’re in the middle of a Gothic novel.  Catherine has settled into domestic felicity quite happily, and it was great fun to write her cozy life – whether in Woodston or Nachtstürm – with Henry.  They’re a very comfortable couple, both as Austen wrote them, and as I imagine them!  But as I mentioned with  the Paris anecdote, sometimes we can convince ourselves so much of a thing, that all our wisdom becomes pig-headed foolishness again.  And I think this quality of Catherine’s – to see what she wants to see – is tested again in Nachtstürm.  Compare this to Henry who is much older, and who tends to see things as they are (including muslin!), that when he encounters the oddities of Nachtstürm deals with them very practically.  I will admit, however, that Henry may be a shade more dashing than he had opportunity in Bath, and that Catherine may fall into the trap of being that passive heroine so common in Gothic novels.
Do you think Jane Austen read Gothic novels and hate them, hence the reason of heparody   in Northanger Abbey or she read them and loved them, hence her homage to Mrs  Radcliffe’s work in  Northanger Abbey?

You can’t parody a thing unless you love it.  Parody is born from love.  Satire is born from disdain.  Take a look at Christopher Guest’s A Mighty Wind vs. his Best in Show.  The latter is a really bitter look at dog grooming competitions; the former is a beautiful take on the silliness and the sweetness of the music from the early 60’s.  (And the CD is great!  Seriously!  Go out and buy it!  Mitch and Mikey were totally robbed at the Oscars!  Ahem.  Anywho…)
I truly believe that Austen loved a good Gothic novel.  And Gothic novels were all there were for young women in her day.  So Jane even has her hero defend them in the first few chapters of Northanger!  (A far cry from Madam Bovary, which isn’t just satire, but an attack.)  However, I also believe that Austen realized that she just couldn’t bring herself to write a book about exotic locales and impossible people.  She could write about England, and ridiculous people.  She could recreate the modern heroine as someone you’d meet on the street.  She could create a hero who had all the charm of the rake with none of the peccadillos.  Austen’s villains are venial: the Thorpes, Tilney’s brother and father.  The worst abduction is an unwanted ride in a carriage.  But when you look at everyday life, most of us are venial – and it’s those little niggling vices which wound the most.  It’s the stolen bits of time by a bore which are the most distressing.What Austen latched onto was the truth behind those Gothic novels.  She took away the trappings, but left the truth: that life is fraught with peril, but that hope and decency will prevail.  Not bad stuff at all, I think
Henry Tilney is such a brilliant hero!  What position is he in your Austen – hero list? (In mine he is n. 4!)TALKING JANE AUSTEN WITH ...  EMILY C. A. SNYDER + AUSTEN HALLOWEEN GIVEAWAYArgh!  Another tough one!  Of all the heroes I love to write, Tilney is number one.  He’s willing to play.  Darcy number two – although I tremble to write him, lest he arch his fine brow at me.  I’m partial to Knightly, mostly out of deference to my sister, and also because if he had a profession, he’d be a teacher and, as a teacher, I think pedagogy is smexy.  Wentworth is number four, but just by a hair and mostly because of the first half of the book where he’s holding a grudge.  I have a number of Wentworths in my life, as well, so the romance of the character is shattered by the reality.  Edward Ferrars, Edmund Bertram and Colonel Brandon are all bunched together at the very bottom of the list, alas.  I’m a gal who finds Henry Crawford and John Willoughby rather delicious scamps.  But then, I’m a sucker for a good sideburn.
      
Is there a minor character in Jane Austen’s work you’d like to write a spin-off story for?
I’m actually working on the revision of my novel, Presumption, which matches Colonel Fitzwilliam and Maria Lucas from Pride and Prejudice together.  I feel bad for both of them – the shunted aside characters – and thought they might make a good match.  I’ve also been asked to write a redemption of Henry Crawford – the beginnings of which you can see in the short stories “A Dark and Stormy Night” and “A Matter of Resolution” which are available now in Letters of Love & Deception.  I like working with minor characters more than main characters, because I believe that Austen was so brilliant at fleshing out real people.  It was only because Catherine and Henry were so playful that I felt I could play with them!
        That's all for now, Emily. Thanks for being my guest. I'll wait for you back soon!Thank you so much!  It was fun talking Austen with you!
GIVEAWAY TIME! 
TALKING JANE AUSTEN WITH ...  EMILY C. A. SNYDER + AUSTEN HALLOWEEN GIVEAWAY
Leave your comment + e-mail address to get a chance to win the e-book version of Emily C.A. Snyder's Nachtstürm Castle,  the perfect Gothic gift for the Halloween night. The giveaway ends at midnight (local time) on October 31st.

Emily's Links 

Website: http://www.christianfantasy.net/emilycasnyder
Blog: http://emilycasnyder.blogspot.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Emily-C-A-Snyder/178945355469040
Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/gaudete
Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/emilycasnyder
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2915669.Emily_C_A_Snyder
Girlebooks: http://girlebooks.com/ebook-catalog/emily-c-a-snyder/
Playscripts: http://www.playscripts.com/author.php3?authorid=844
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Emily-C.-A.-Snyder/e/B001K7XAS6
TALKING JANE AUSTEN WITH ...  EMILY C. A. SNYDER + AUSTEN HALLOWEEN GIVEAWAY


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