Hello dear readers! I’m so very happy to welcome back author Ann Mychal to Austenesque Reviews today! You may remember last year she came to visit and I reviewed her fantastic continuation for The Watsons, Emma and Elizabeth. Well, here she is a year later with a special treat for us all – a sequel to Emma and Elizabeth, that is Sanditon inspired!
Brinshore, sequels, and heroines of a certain age
Thank you, Meredith, for the wonderful opportunity you have given me of writing my first ever author post. It is both a pleasure and a privilege, and just a little bit daunting. Right now, I’m sitting at home, looking out onto the garden. It is a sunny day and the leaves are turning. Autumn is here, and I’ve just made myself a cup of tea. There’s a list beside me of all the things I need to accomplish today, and first on the list is ‘Author Post for Meredith.’
It is reassuring to note that Jane Austen was familiar with the distractions, interruptions and obligations of everyday life. ‘Composition seems to me impossible, with a head full of joints of mutton and doses of rhubarb,’ says she, in a letter to Cassandra. It is an observation with which I fully concur, and I’d be surprised if I were the only author in the world for whom it is true. If only there were twice as many hours in the day! So, with a head full of joints of mutton and doses of rhubarb, I’ll see what I can do.
I was reminded of something the playwright Alan Ayckbourn said recently about his habit of eavesdropping on conversations in restaurants when I found myself doing the very same thing the other day. I was having lunch at a well-known fish restaurant in Whitby when three women of mature years were shown to the table opposite. I didn’t set out to eavesdrop; but it was impossible not to do so, for the conversation was boldly articulate, entertaining and loud. As I listened to their exchanges, I had to bite my lip in an attempt to conceal my amusement: their voices made me smile, for they were just as I imagined Lady Osborne (the Dowager), Lady Forbes and Mrs Turner to be, characters in Emma and Elizabeth and Brinshore.
I’ve called this post ‘Brinshore, sequels and heroines of a certain age.’ Perhaps ‘women of a certain age’ or ‘characters of a certain age’ might be a more accurate description, but I’d like to take a broader view, for we are all heroes and heroines to someone. The Dowager Lady Osborne, Lady Forbes and Mrs Turner may not be central or pivotal characters, but I wonder whether the main character in this case is not a person at all, but a place: Brinshore. Mr Parker, in Jane Austen’s Sanditon, has this to say of Brinshore:
‘… What in the name of common sense is to recommend Brinshore? – A most insalubrious air – roads proverbially detestable – water brackish beyond example, impossible to get a good dish of tea within three miles of the place – and as for the soil – it is so cold and ungrateful that it can hardly be made to yield a cabbage…’
It is unlikely, however, that the inhabitants of Brinshore agree with the assertion. I live on the coast, you see. There can never be anywhere better than the place where one lives…
One of the challenges of advancing a story by two decades is what to do with aging characters. By setting Brinshore in the year 1816, twenty years on from Emma and Elizabeth, I was uncertain at first about reprising certain characters, the three women in particular. After all, they would by then be in their mid-seventies if they were alive at all. I deliberated over the plausibility of populating the narrative with characters of advancing years in an age when life expectancy was not what it is now. And yet, though Jane Austen died in her early forties, we need look no further than her immediate family for evidence of longevity.
The wit and vibrancy of the ‘back and forth’ conversation in the fish restaurant, the verbal equivalent of a doubles’ match at Wimbledon, was highly engaging. The wealth of life experience, the satire, the cynicism, all expressed in eloquently comic terms, seemed delightfully Austenesque. I came away feeling quite reassured that I had not despatched the Dowager, Mrs Turner or Lady Forbes into the arms of the grim reaper.
When I began writing Brinshore, I didn’t expect to find sequel writing as problematic as it turned out to be. Taking up the threads of a story and setting it twenty years into the future is not quite as simple as it seems at the outset, at least I did not find it so. When we meet an old friend we haven’t seen for a number of years, sometimes it is simply a matter of picking up where we left off, a bit like knitting. But it isn’t always the case: people change or are changed by the circumstances that shape their lives. A lot can happen in twenty years: births, marriages, deaths, reversals of fortune, the making of new friends and the leaving behind of old ones.
And so, another consideration was how to choose from and manage an increasing raft of potential storylines. Ushering in a new generation not only gives rise to a greater pool of characters on which to draw, but it means that the ‘heroes’ and ‘heroines’ of a past generation are no longer the central characters of the piece. Moreover, in contemplating the demise of some characters and the introduction of others, I had in mind the wider Regency romance genre where characters of mature years (unless rich and male), and seniors most particularly, are often portrayed as frail and selfish, but are virtually unrepresented as objects of romantic interest. Not entirely, of course. Jane Austen gave us Sir Walter Elliot’s dalliance with Mrs Clay, the exploits of Lady Susan, and Mr Weston’s marriage to Miss Taylor. (I don’t know whether a story based on the love interest of Lady Catherine de Bourgh exists — perhaps I should — but it is not beyond the imagination, and it might seemingly provide possibilities for interesting and intriguing character development as well as great comic potential. It’s just a thought.)
Thankfully, restaurants are not the only sources of inspiration, or writing would be an expensive business. Some time ago, I was watching Pointless, a UK game show, with my mother. I don’t recall the subject category (it might have been historic battles, nineteenth century poets, or capital cities, or something of the kind). My mother was astonished at the lack of knowledge among some of the contestants and said, ‘Their heads are full of emptiness!’ What a wonderful opening line, I thought. And so I give you part of the opening chapter of Brinshore.
Osborne Castle 1816
‘Her head is full of emptiness!’ said Mrs Turner.
‘Quite full of it,’ agreed the Dowager Lady Osborne. ‘Emma is just as she should be at nineteen. I cannot deny it — my granddaughter reminds me of myself at that very age.’
Mrs Turner sighed in fond remembrance of a happier time. ‘Oh, to be nineteen again! To laugh and flirt and dance to one’s heart’s delight! If only Emma were more inclined to show herself to advantage…’
‘Exactly my view,’ interrupted the Dowager. ‘The ball at Lowford Park is a case in point.’
Mrs Turner, determined to be heard, raised her voice and continued, ‘Why, Lowford’s nephew was obliged to enquire of his uncle whether Miss Osborne was out or not.’ Vexed by the Dowager’s insistence on interjecting at every turn, Mrs Turner quickly added, ‘It was quite the other way in our day.’
‘Indeed,’ replied the Dowager. ‘No one was left in any doubt about you, my dear Mrs Turner.’
Lady Osborne regarded her aunt and mother-in-law with amused complacency, but said nothing. Instead, she set about mixing the tea leaves, and contented herself with thoughts of her own concerning certain practical matters of household management. When called upon some minutes later to proffer an opinion on a matter quite unrelated to the contents or otherwise of her daughter’s head, Lady Osborne was lost for words.
‘Forgive me,’ said she. ‘My mind was elsewhere.’
‘Dear me,’ said Mrs Turner, ‘you are too young to suffer unsteadiness of mind. Such is my defence against tiresome society.’ Glancing at the Dowager, Mrs Turner continued, ‘I expect we two can seem rather wearisome company at times.’
‘Oh no, dear Aunt,’ said the present Lady Osborne. ‘Wearisome is not the word.’ Taxing might better have described the company of the two women who had first become acquainted half a century ago in the old rooms at Bath, and who graced her ladyship’s drawing room with relentless frequency. The Dowager and Mrs Turner’s presence could be relied upon on every fine day of the year, every feast day, and on days when the ancient barouche at the Dower House was deemed fit for use in inclement weather. The Dowager, who was quick to assert and retain her independence over every sphere of her life, would accept no help from her son and his wife in matters pertaining to the maintenance of her conveyance. Her insistence on moving here and there at will, without the inconvenience of explaining her movements by sending to the Castle to beg the use of one of her son’s carriages, would not be surrendered easily.
‘Then what think you of our scheme?’ said the Dowager.
‘Mrs Turner is to give up Delham Cottage.’
‘I am to move to the Dower House,’ said Mrs Turner.
In a lofty tone the Dowager added, ‘I have invited your aunt to be my companion.’
Lady Osborne had, over the years, learned to expect a certain element of the unpredictable from her mother-in-law and bore it well, but this news was of a different order, and entirely unforeseen. Nevertheless, she endeavoured to maintain as steady a countenance as she was able in light of her mother-in-law’s disclosure.
However questionable the plan seemed in the mind of the hearer, given the dispositions of the persons concerned, Lady Osborne was inclined to speak favourably of it, at least for the present. Objections could be safely left to her husband, who would have no hesitation in raising them once his amusement and incredulity at the prospect of such a proposal had been properly spent.
‘So you approve, my dear?’ said Mrs Turner.
‘I do,’ replied Lady Osborne with studied nonchalance.
‘My dear Mrs Turner, one is not obliged to seek approval from one’s family upon such matters,’ said the Dowager. ‘Indeed, one is not obliged to seek approval from one’s family on any matter of import at all. It is quite enough simply to inform them of one’s decision.’
Mrs Turner caught the look that passed between the Dowager and Lady Osborne and gave up any thought of pursuing the subject further. For several moments the ladies sipped their tea in silence, avoiding each other’s gaze. At length, as the clock in the hall chimed on the hour, and to ease an awkward breach in the proceedings, Mrs Turner ventured to observe, ‘How very agreeable it will be to have a carriage completely at one’s disposal, having been so long without one.’
‘The carriage will, of course, be at your disposal when I have no use of it,’ said the Dowager.
Mrs Turner replied with a slight, acquiescent nod of the head.
A further silence ensued until once again she took the liberty to remark, ‘I shall bring my servants with me, of course.’
‘Oh no, my dear,’ said the Dowager. ‘There will be no room for your servants at the Dower House. Find them new positions, if you will, but do not foist them on to me.’
‘Foist them?’ replied Mrs Turner, incredulous.
‘Better still, send them to the Castle. Their need is greater than mine judging from the state of the morning room and the chimney in the great hall.’
Lady Osborne smiled with all the patient benevolence she could muster. ‘Dear Mama, how very obliging of you to offer the services of those who are not in your employ.’
‘I am ever willing to offer advice where it is needed.’
‘And you offer such liberal amounts of it,’ said Mrs Turner. ‘Your generosity knows no bounds. I — ’
‘And when you have consulted my housekeeper,’ interrupted the Dowager, ‘you will agree to the wisdom of the plan.’
‘But what about Hedges? Poor dear Hedges! She makes the most delicious rabbit fricassee! And she is so very attached to Delham Cottage and to me. How will she bear it?’ said Mrs Turner, contemplating the disagreeable prospect of losing her cook.
‘With perfect ease, I should imagine,’ said the Dowager. ‘She will have the distinction of being in the employ of the Castle.’
‘The Castle already has a cook,’ replied Lady Osborne. ‘And you know what they say about too many cooks.’
‘Quite,’ said Mrs Turner, in full agreement with her niece.
Seeing that the Dowager would not be moved, her daughter-in-law sighed, ‘I will see what I can do.’
‘Without delay if you please, my dear’ continued the Dowager, ‘or Mr Edwards will have Mrs Turner marching up the aisle before one can say — ’
‘Mr Edwards? Whatever do you mean?’ said Lady Osborne. ‘Aunt?’
Before Mrs Turner was able to open her mouth, the Dowager interjected, ‘And if your aunt is to avoid Mr Edwards’ advances, which are, I might add, wholly unwelcome, the Dower House is the perfect place for concealment. Were he to call, I should simply not receive him.’
‘Is this true, Aunt?’
‘And Mrs Edwards not yet a complete twelvemonth in her grave,’ said the Dowager. ‘It is scandalous how men get out of mourning their dear departed so much sooner than the rest of us!’
Mrs Turner shrugged. ‘I expect Mr Edwards means well.’
‘He is in want of company. His spirits are low, as they must be at so great a loss,’ said Lady Osborne.
‘One might describe Mr Edwards in many ways, but “grieving widower” is not, I fear, one of them,’ replied the Dowager.
‘If Mr Edwards seeks companionship, why should he not — ’
‘Mr Edwards is five and seventy if he is a day!’ replied the Dowager.
‘Five and seventy is indeed a great age for any gentleman to be contemplating matrimony. What can a gentleman mean by it?’ said Mrs Turner.
‘One can only imagine,’ replied the Dowager. ‘In your case, my dear, any consideration of material advantage must be ruled out. We can only conclude, therefore, that comfort of another kind is his aim.’
‘Impossible!’ said Mrs Turner, outraged by such a suggestion.
Lady Osborne suspected that neither her aunt nor her mother-in-law would appreciate even the gentlest of reminders that they too were nearer five and seventy than five and twenty.
‘In his defence,’ said Mrs Turner, ‘Mr Edwards retains most of his teeth and more strands of hair up top than any other elderly gentleman of my acquaintance.’
‘That may be, but he is, as you describe him, an old man. The application of the word ‘gentleman’ in this case is perhaps a degree too generous. Were he fifteen or even ten years younger —. I cannot abide an old man who seeks to pass himself off as a younger one. Nor can I abide a man who eats gruel for supper!’ said the Dowager.
So excited about this, Ann! Can’t wait to begin reading Brinshore next week! 🙂 I’m so looking forward to encountering Lady Osborne, Emma, and Mrs. Turner again!
Today Ann Mychal generously brings with her 3 BRAND NEW copies of Brinshore (winners’ choice – paperback or kindle) and 3 BRAND NEW copies of The Watson Novels (Emma and Elizabeth + Brinshore) (winners’ choice – paperback or kindle) for me to giveaway!! (Can I get a WOOT WOOT?!?)
To enter this giveaway, leave a comment, question, or some love for Ann!
- This giveaway is open worldwide. Thank you, Ann!
- This giveaway ends October 14th!