It is my honor and distinct pleasure to welcome Syrie James, author of so many of my favorite Jane Austen Inspired reads, to Austenesque Reviews today! If you have not already heard, Syrie has a newly released novel about Jane Austen as a teenager, titled Jane Austen’s First Love.
Syrie, I am a big admirer of your work and I am very excited to have this opportunity to interview you!
Syrie, in my humble opinion, you are the “Queen of Jane Austen Biographical Fiction” – The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen, and now Jane Austen’s First Love! All magnificent creations where you blend fact and fiction and share some “unknown” secrets about Jane Austen’s life. What inspires you to continue to write about Jane Austen? Why write tales about Jane Austen and not her characters?
I have loved Jane Austen for many years, and consider her novels some of the finest in all of British literature. It is a tribute to Austen’s genius that so many people across the globe are fans of her work, and that her clever plots and brilliant characters are so memorable and evocative that they want those stories to continue. Although it’s great fun to see the different interpretations of what happens next to favorite Austen heroines and heroes such as Lizzie and Mr. Darcy, I haven’t felt compelled yet (unless you count my short story in Jane Austen Made Me Do It) to write about her characters. I’ve been more interested in the authoress herself.
I’m intrigued by the notion that a woman who lived in a tiny village in the countryside in an era when it was very rare for women to be writers, was educated primarily at home by her father, and had no connections whatsoever to the publishing world, still managed to write novels so splendid and witty that they are still popular 200 years later! For her to have written with such insight about courtship, romance, and matters of the heart, I believe she must have experienced a love affair (or two!) of her own. I couldn’t find any books featuring a grand romance for Jane Austen eight years ago, so I decided to write one myself—that became The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen. It was equally exciting to bring to life Jane Austen’s First Love, a romance that really happened, and which may have influenced Jane Austen’s future work as a novelist.
As for The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen, that came into being for a slightly different reason. Like so many other Austen fans, I bemoaned the fact that there were only six novels, and I wondered: what would happen if there was a seventh that was lost—and suddenly found? The notion both inspired and challenged me. Although it was a rather daunting task, I undertook it, and wrote the seventh novel myself as a tale-within-a-tale. Thankfully critics and readers seem to love it!
Absolutely! You are giving us the stories and romances about Jane Austen we wish to really see come true one day! Speaking about what is true, I was amazed when I read the Author’s Afterward at the end of Jane Austen’s First Love and learned how much of your story was inspired by real people and events from Jane Austen’s life. Can you tell us what specifically prompted you to pen Jane Austen’s First Love? What first planted the seed?
The idea for the novel was inspired by a letter Jane wrote to her sister Cassandra in 1796, when Jane was visiting their brother Edward Austen in Kent. Jane wrote, “We went by Bifrons and I contemplated with a melancholy pleasure the abode of Him, on whom I once fondly doated.”
I learned that “Him” was a young man named Edward Taylor, and the “abode” was Bifrons Park, the estate in Kent he would one day inherit. But there was very little other information about Edward Taylor. Biographers mentioned him only briefly. I was so intrigued by that reference in Jane’s letter! The way she phrased it, it seems clear that she had once been crazy in love with this young man. I wanted to know: who was Edward Taylor? Why did Jane dote on him so fondly? I was determined to learn more about him and excited when, after months research, I uncovered a ton of new information that made it clear to me why he was Jane Austen’s First Love.
I never heard the name Edward Taylor until learning about your book. It seems like Tom Lefroy has been more popularly recognized as Jane Austen’s first love. Let’s talk a little about Edward Taylor – what a dynamic and captivating young man he is! *swoon* I very much understand how Jane Austen lost her heart to him. I know you did extensive research to learn all you can about Edward Taylor’s life, what were some of the challenges you faced in portraying this love interest for our dear author? What is the one thing you think Jane Austen loved most about Edward Taylor? What do you love most about Edward Taylor?
I had such a wonderful time writing about the young, vivacious Jane Austen and the remarkable Edward Taylor! What a joy it was to imagine their romance and bring it to life on the page. At first, the biggest challenge was just to find information about Edward Taylor. I was worried for a while that I was going to have to invent a back story for him. Thankfully my research was astonishingly fruitful, enabling me bring him to life based on facts and truth. Almost all the other characters in the novel are also real people who Jane Austen would have met that summer. I research every single one, so that I could portray them as accurately as possible—that was another huge challenge.
I think Jane Austen loved many things about Edward Taylor! He was so highly accomplished. He was well-read, well-educated, and well-informed on such a wide variety of topics—and he was a great conversationalist. Austen valued education, adored reading, and as she famously said, “My idea of good company…is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation.” That describes Edward Taylor to a “T.” I can see why he impressed her so much. He was about to turn seventeen when Jane met him, and already spoke four or five languages—that certainly impressed me!
What do I love most about Edward Taylor? That’s easy: I love his ambitious nature and his sense of individuality. He wasn’t prepared to settle for what society expected of him. He thought for himself—the scene at the ball where everyone else has powdered hair being just one example. As he says to Jane, ““One should not, must not, be swayed by popular opinion or the ideas of others, to think or act against his or her own convictions. It is not always easy…but if possible, we must be true to ourselves, for I believe the only route to happiness is to follow our own hearts.”
Edward was very wise for such a young man! I loved how you grounded your story with a good deal of realism – this wasn’t a romantic fairy tale of falling in love and being happily ever after. You illustrated how poor the Austen family really was, how frustrating it can be to not control your own destiny, and how often people in Jane Austen’s time weren’t allowed to follow their heart. Did you consciously set out to illustrate these points or did they just occur naturally? What aspect of Jane Austen’s life was most important for you to illustrate in this tale?
I wrote the previous reply before reading this question—I’m glad that you seized on the same point, about controlling one’s destiny/following one’s heart. I didn’t set out with that theme in mind when I began the novel. But as the book progressed, everything I’d learned about Edward Taylor made him truly came alive for me; he made that particular point to Jane without me planning it—it was if I was just listening to their conversation and taking dictation.
With regard to Jane’s life, I wanted to show what she might have been like as a teenager. Based on the woman she became, and the liveliness of her letters, I see Jane at fifteen as vibrant, clever, smart, ambitious, deeply romantic, and full of excitement to learn and experience everything in life—but also, in some ways, a tiny bit naïve. It was thrilling to write about her falling in love for the first time, and important to me that along the way, she learns some important life lessons that not only affect her as a person, but influence her writing as well. I am so glad you enjoyed the result!
I loved how you portrayed young Jane – she had so much exuberance and her head full of romance! I liked how she had some flaws and made mistakes as well! What is next for you Syrie? You have gifted us with so many wonderful and riveting novels – three of them about Jane Austen, do you have plans to write anymore?
I don’t yet know if and when I’ll write another Austen novel—time will tell! At the moment I’m co-writing (with my son Ryan) the sequel to Forbidden, a novel we wrote a few years ago—readers have been clamoring for a second book and we are having a great time working on it. I’m also hard at work trying to spread the word about Jane Austen’s First Love, which I hope everyone will enjoy reading as much as you did!
Thank you so much for so thoughtfully answering my questions! It has been such a pleasure to have you visit Austenesque Reviews today! And thank you to Laurel Ann, for including me on this lovely blog tour! I wish you both much success in this blog tour and all your future endeavors!
Thank you again, Meredith, for having me here today. It’s been a pleasure to answer your questions. Readers, do you have any questions for me?
Syrie James, hailed as “the queen of nineteenth century re-imaginings” by Los Angeles Magazine, is the bestselling author of nine critically acclaimed novels that have been translated into 18 languages. Her books have been awarded the Audio Book Association Audie, designated as Editor’s Picks by Library Journal, named a Discover Great New Writer’s Selection by Barnes and Noble, a Great Group Read by the Women’s National Book Association, and Best Book of the Year by The Romance Reviews and Suspense Magazine. Syrie is a member of the WGA and lives in Los Angeles. Please visit her at syriejames.com, Facebook or say hello on Twitter @SyrieJames.
MY REVIEW of Jane Austen’s First Love
Win 1 of 5 Fabulous Jane Austen-inspired Prize Packages
To celebrate the holidays and the release of Jane Austen’s First Love, Syrie is giving away five prize packages filled with an amazing selection of Jane Austen-inspired gifts and books!
To increase your chances of winning, visit any of the other blog stops on the Jane Austen’s First Love Holiday Blog Tour and check out Syrie’s unique guest posts will be featured on a variety of subjects, along with fun interviews, spotlights, excerpts, and reviews of the novel.
- This giveaway is open worldwide. Thank you, Syrie!
- This giveaway ends December 21st!