Pssst… hey, buddy do you want some Austen?
Hello. My name is Tracy Kiely, and I am a Jane Austen pusher.
I don’t know when it first started. Like most addictions, it began innocently enough. I was about twelve when I saw the 1940 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. I liked it, but I do remember thinking that Lawrence Olivier, well, seemed “old.” In my humble opinion, he had nothing on Sean Cassidy. (Since I’m confessing here, I might as well bare it all, and I guess that includes the embarrassing TigerBeat addiction.)
But, anyway, the movie must have made an impression, because I soon read the book and discovered that it was waaaay better than the movie (the first of many such revelations). I don’t remember thrusting it at my friends, demanding that they read it, but they all insist that I did this. A lot.
In 1995, my “pushing” reached epic proportions when the BBC’s released its version of Pride and Prejudice. Honestly, it was as if Andrew Davies ripped out the pages directly from the book and used them for a script. It was perfect. And it had Colin Firth, and he was perfect. Oh, let’s face it; the whole thing was perfect.
Soon I was forcing my husband to watch it. Repeatedly. When my sister-in-law came down to spend New Year’s with us, I made her watch all five hours of it. Then I bought her the book and sent her home on the train to Boston, firmly in the throws of her own budding addiction (which blossomed all the way into a lovely college thesis).
But really, can you blame me? How could you not fall in love with Jane Austen and her writing? How could you not love her characters and her razor sharp wit? How could you not want to share all that with your friends and family?
Of all the many reasons there are for reading Jane Austen (and there are many), I think that it was her characters that first drew me in. And, don’t get me wrong…I adore Elizabeth Bennet and Ann Elliot, and my feelings for Mr. Darcy and Captain Wentworth are best left unarticulated here as I am a happily married woman and would like to remain that way. But, it was Austen’s creation of secondary characters such as Lydia Bennet and Mary Musgrove that really hooked me. Seriously, we all went to high school with a Lydia Bennet, and I think most of us have a Mary Musgrove in our family tree – you know who I mean – the One Who Must Be Endured during the holidays. These are the characters that made me realize that a) we all have annoying people in our lives, and Jane Austen was apparently no exception, and b) It would have been a blast to sit next to Jane at Thanksgiving (well, you know…had she celebrated that particular holiday).
I think that is what really makes her books so timeless; her characters. They are so real they practically leap off the page. And a fair amount of them are eerily like the people we know and have to endure in our own lives. I think it is her deft depiction of these universally trying souls that forms a large part of the enduring connection that readers have with her. After all, annoying is annoying, no matter if it is wearing Indian muslin or faded jeans.
In fact, it was her secondary characters that actually got me thinking about my own writing. For years I had wanted to write a book, and I knew I wanted it to be a mystery (I also grew up watching – and pushing – Hitchcock films, but that’s for another confessional). But, the characters of Pride and Prejudice kept swirling around in my head. What, if after years of living with unbearably rude and condescending behavior, old Mrs. Jenkins up and strangled Lady Catherine? What if Charlotte snapped one day and poisoned Mr. Collins’ toast and jam? I didn’t want to retell any of Jane Austen’s stories mind you, (she did that just fine the first time), but I did want to explore some of her themes and some of the personality clashes she depicted.
What I ended up with was Murder at Longbourn (2009) – a humorous update of the English cozy that pays homage to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in the process. Since then I’ve followed up with Murder on the Bride’s Side (2010) and Murder Most Persuasive (2011). Each follows the themes outlined in a particular Austen book (specifically, Sense and Sensibility, and Persuasion), and contains numerous references to those works (winks at the reader, if you will).
By writing books that celebrated Jane Austen and – perhaps – encouraging those unfamiliar to her to take a closer look, I took my pushing to a whole, new level.
So, that’s me. Tracy Kiely. Jane Austen Pusher. Thanks for letting me share my story.
Tracy’s NEW RELEASE Murder Most Persuasive