I am most pleased to welcome Karen M. Cox to Austenesque Reviews as she celebrates her new release, Find Wonder in All Things! I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing Karen’s first novel, 1932, on my blog in November 2010 and I am very excited to read her modern-day retelling of Persuasion – which sounds amazing, by the way! In her guest post today, she discusses the themes of Persuasion and how she was able to turn our beloved Anne Elliot into a modern-day heroine. Thank you, Karen, for including Austenesque Reviews on your blog tour! We wish you the best of luck in your new release!
Persuading a Beloved 18thCentury Heroine to Enter a Modern Era
Thanks for the invitation to guest blog here at Austenesque Reviews, Meredith! I always enjoy coming here and combing through the reviews and interviews.
I love reading historical novels from a variety of time periods — Regency, Victorian, Medieval, the American West. Those settings provide an escape to different places and exciting times, and they always broaden my perspective a bit — and induce me to read more about that time period. Sometimes, though, I relish the idea of bringing forward ‘old-fashioned’ ideas into modern stories.
That was my objective when I wrote my second novel, which was recently released by Meryton Press in paperback, Kindle and Nook formats. Find Wonder in All Thingsis a Persuasion-inspired novel, set in the late 20thcentury. It is the story of Laurel Elliot, a young woman who has an intense love affair the summer after she graduates from high school. The young man she falls for is a college student who takes a seasonal job working at her father’s marina. After a bitter break-up and a long separation, they meet again, but it seems that everything has changed for them. Find Wonder in All Things then explores the conventional Persuasion story arc within a modern-day context.
Now, I realize there are probably ten Pride & Prejudice-based books for every one that takes on Persuasion. This is, in part, because Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet are some of the most fascinating characters in literature. I’ve written a P&P variation myself, my first novel, 1932. But Persuasion is a special story too — a deep, emotional ride through the psyche of a woman named Anne Eliot, whom no one but the author, and subsequently the reader, really knows. The character of Anne tugs at my heartstrings in a way that not even my beloved Lizzy Bennet manages to do.
To me, Persuasion is a story of three themes: forgiveness, second chances, and the supreme importance of timing. Anne must forgive Frederick for his anger toward her after she breaks their engagement, and also for his insensitivity to her when they are reacquainted some years later. Frederick must forgive Anne for hurting his pride and rejecting him when they were young and in love.
The reappearance of Captain Wentworth in Anne’s circle of friends is an opportunity to reconnect with her only love, but second chances in relationships have to be taken by both parties, and he doesn’t seem so inclined when they first meet again. Taking a second chance means letting go of old hurts, and for much of the book, it seems that Captain Fred is unable to move past…well, the past.
Finally, the issue of timing reigns supreme as an important factor that directs the characters’ lives. Some of the most profound lines in Persuasion are uttered by Anne herself, regarding her decision to break her engagement to the young, brash Lieutenant Wentworth:
The reality — and Jane Austen knew this — is that young Lieutenant Wentworth and his well-born bride could have made out swimmingly (forgive the naval pun), or the marriage could have been a disaster, filled with disappointment, poverty and suffering. Anne was forced to make a decision without knowing all the facts or realities in her future (as it is with some of our most important decisions). The timing of an incident can make a choice easy or difficult, good or bad — and experience and wisdom are often the best tools to see how an event’s timing might influence our lives.
What an enduring set of themes for a story! And how relevant to our modern times! What an incredible contemporary tale is buried within this almost 200-year-old text!
Anne Eliot is an old-fashioned girl. If you put her Regency self in our modern society, she can appear – as one of my readers commented – ‘pathetic’ instead of ‘sympathetic.’ In the original book, she is initially described as a ‘woman past her bloom’ – at 27 years of age, if you can imagine! Almost no one these days thinks of a 27-year-old woman as an old maid. The dictates of Regency society subjugate the unmarried Anne to the whims and poor judgment of her father and older sister, a pair of irresponsible, self-absorbed and vain people. The older Eliots stubbornly cling to a class system that is dying in their England, yet the family holds sway over Anne’s social and financial well-being. She tries to rein in her father and elder sister’s expenditures, but she has no real power over them to enforce the necessary economy. To make matters worse, their blasé disregard for her feelings borders on cruelty. Anne is a Cinderella without the step-sisters, and a heroine saddled with a well-meaning but flawed fairy godmother, in the form of her mother’s friend, Lady Russell. Society’s rules prevent Anne from expressing her feelings about Wentworth. She isn’t supposed to be assertive with the opposite sex, so she can’t tell him how she regrets and misses him. In many ways, at the beginning of the novel, Anne Eliot looks to our modern eyes like what some readers might call ‘a doormat.’
Now, consider the challenge of bringing said ‘doormat’ to the late 20thcentury. How do you make a believable modern-day Anne Eliot, long after the dissolution of class distinctions based on birth? Or after women’s suffrage and the women’s movement that took place in the US during the 60s and 70s? Or after the Sexual Revolution? What would induce a modern woman to not follow her heart, when the pundits of modern society are always screaming ‘follow your heart and everything will turn out fine’?
Then there is the issue of Regency Anne’s isolation at her family’s home in Kellynch – to understate the point, the girl does not get out much! If a modern woman were that isolated, it would have to be at least in part by choice, would it not? Or would it perhaps be because of financial necessity? A choice of lifestyle? A self-imposed simplification of her life?
And what about the disapproval from Anne’s family and friends? Modern parents would not dismiss a young man interested in their daughter based on lack of noble birth. So what would an impractical modern Sir Walter Eliot value that he doesn’t see in a modern Wentworth? Lady Russell’s advice to break the engagement in Persuasion is tainted by her belief in a class system to which we no longer subscribe (at least publicly). If I had any chance of bringing Persuasion to modern times, in any kind of realistic way, I had to explain my Lady Russell’s advice in a manner that shows her opinion to be flawed, but still believable.
In general, I tried to work around these issues by removing them from the macrocosm of society’s structure, and bringing them in to the microcosm of Laurel’s life as an individual person. In place of Regency class differences, I substituted differences in views on education, money, and what should be the driving force in a person’s life. In place of physical isolation, I made an isolated existence for Laurel based on her personality, family dynamics and her choice of profession. I made it easier for Laurel to idolize her Wentworth by making him as incredibly dashing, romantic and sexy as I could, then keeping her in virtual isolation (by her circumstances and her choices) so no other man could touch her heart for a long time. I had to show a fault in the advice of my Lady Russell character, a flaw that isn’t readily apparent to a young Laurel Elliot, but was precipitated by an outdated view of the world and of male-female relationships.
It wasn’t easy. I wanted to thump them both on the head —many times. But the characters’ foibles endeared them to me. And to watch them change — as an author, to make them — forgive each other and the others around them, see their opportunities and take advantage of them, all intermeshed in the chaotic swirl of unpredictable timing and serendipitous chance, was an exciting roller-coaster of a writing journey.
GIVEAWAY!!! Thanks to the lovely people at Meryton Press I have ONE BRAND NEW paperback copy of Find Wonder in All Things to give away!!!
All you have to do is leave a comment on this guest post. (To save your inbox from unwanted spam, please don’t leave your email address.) Just check back to see if you win! Fortunately for our international friends, this giveaway is open worldwide! Thank you, Michele!!
All giveaways are still open!