"Yes, novels; for I will not adopt that ungenerous and impolitic custom so common with novel–writers, of degrading by their contemptuous censure the very performances, to the number of which they are themselves adding.... There seems almost a general wish of decrying the capacity and undervaluing the labour of the novelist, and of slighting the performances which have only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them. “I am no novel–reader — I seldom look into novels — Do not imagine that I often read novels — It is really very well for a novel.” Such is the common cant. “And what are you reading, Miss — ?”

“Oh! It is only a novel!” replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. “It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda”; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best–chosen language." --Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey, Chapter 5

Monday, April 1, 2013

How I came to write Jane Austen Fan Fiction

I first read Pride and Prejudice as a teenager, but was rather disappointed at the lack of kissing in it. I was big into Georgette Heyer in those days, and Austen's subtler humor and more restrained passion just didn't do it for me. I'm fairly certain I also read Emma at one point too. I didn't read Austen as an adult until I became part of a very brief book club in my church. We only met once, but Pride and Prejudice was the first book we read. After that, I went on and read all of Austen's complete novels, enjoying all of them, and loving each one the best as I was reading it. The only I had trouble with was Northanger Abbey, because the Thorpes were so irritating I just couldn't stand it. I did eventually come back and finish that too, though.

Somehow, I don't remember how any more, I became aware that my local library had several books wherein various people tried to retell Pride and Prejudice from Darcy's viewpoint. (This, I believe, is the root of all JAFF--a fascination with Darcy.) I picked the one which sounded like it was the most faithful to the original. It was a very early attempt and I wasn't impressed with it and, inevitably thought, "I could do better than that!" After which I promptly sat down wrote out the scene at the Mertyon Assembly from Darcy's point of view. Not too terribly long after I discovered JAFF on the Internet, first the Bits of Ivory archive at The Republic of Pemberley, which I steadily read my way through, and then at the Derbyshire Writer's Guild. The more I read, the more I wanted to write my own, and so I did, and three years or so later, I still do. After a lifetime of thinking of myself as a writer and wanting to write but not finding any ideas which could hold my interest, I owe a great debt to the world of Jane Austen fanfiction for givng me a subject and a forum that would, at last, turn me, not into someone who can write, but someone who does.

And in thanks for reading that small history, I now give you the very first piece of Jane Austen fanfiction I ever wrote (never before seen by anyone):

The Assembly Ball

            It was a very boring ball. Of course, he always found balls boringcrowded, hot, noisy affairs that they were, full of far too many people, most of whom invariably seemed shallow, silly or boringgossipy matrons, simpering maidens, awkward young swainspeople, moreover, who he did not know and did not understand.

            This ball, being a country balland a public one, at thatwas by far a greater evil still. Here he stood surrounded by not even half a dozen people of his acquaintance, amidst a crush of outmoded fashions and sweating bodies, and everywhere he went he knew people were watching, whispering, speculating, pushing forward their blushing daughters precipitously, and expecting him to receive it all as a high treat. Not that he cared for their opinion, but it offended his sense of propriety, and his fastidious taste, and the loud music and unmodulated voices invariably grated on his nerves. For a moment he thought longingly of the quiet halls of Pemberley.

            For Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, future lover of Elizabeth Bennet, possessor of £10,000 a year, a beautiful Derbyshire estate, and a very proud name and family treeMr. Darcy, a just, honest, scrupulous, clever and high-minded man of the world if ever there was onewas in his heart a lover of quiet and intimacy. Even as a boy he had hated to leave Pemberley his home, and all the servants that knew and loved him. Going away to school had been difficult for him, but of course he had not let it showoh, no, that would not have been befitting a Darcy. He knew, even then, what a great name he had inherited. His parents had instilled that in him, from infancy upthat pride in his heritage, that deep sense of what was due it, and that faint, ineffable sense of superiority that sprang from knowing what a rare and special thing it was to belong to such. So he concealed his shyness beneath cool, silent composure, and as for those who thought him overly proudhe shrugged. What of them?

            So this habit remained and increased into adulthood. Add to it the habit of command from an early age, refined tastes and high standards, and a cynicism borne of the continual courting that rich and handsome well-connected young men generally receive (especially by the fairer sex and their mamas), and you have the Mr. Darcy who was currently disdainfully surveying the milieu before him.

            Charles of course, was having a roaring good timebut then, he always did. It was Charles’s chief gift in life, and one Darcy did occasionally sincerely envy him. For one fleeting moment now, he felt so, as he observed his friend’s complete contentmentbut it was very fleeting indeed, as he saw a particularly voluble woman lead up hergood heavens, was it five daughters? Really it was ridiculous, he thought impatiently. He was sure these were good enough people in their own sphereperhaps really fine people, some of thembut what had they in common with him, or vise versa? Thank heaven his own reserve protected him from the worst of these importunities.

            He danced with each of Bingley’s sisters, as he knew he must, but he did not really care much for dancing anyway, and so took refuge in his own thoughts on the side of the room. Not by one flicker of an eyelash did he betray any consciousness of the general dislike that was rising around him due to his indifference, and he would have thought it beneath him to care if he did. He had come to please Charles, not a room full of strangers.

            His friendship with Charles Bingley was something of a surprise to many who knew them both, but was nonetheless genuine for all that. Mr. Bingley had endeared himself to him with the same sweetness and transparency of temper that won him love everywhere. He had, furthermore, good naturedly refused to be offended by the older man’s aloof manner, until Darcy had finally laughed, unbent, and made himself as pleasant as he knew how to do when his esteem was fairly won. Darcy disdained artificial friendliness, but in Bingley he saw only genuine benevolence, and liked him for it.

            In visiting him he had, of course, seen much of his two sisters, especially the younger, and accepted them as friends for his sake. Caroline Bingley did not attract him much as a woman, but at least she had breeding, and taste, and wit enough to be sometimes amusing. She was moreover very kind to his sisterand Darcy’s sister was the dearest thing to him on earth.

            When Bingley, bright-faced from so much exercise, came over to enjoin him to dance, Darcy replied in the strong negative. If dancing with friends did not much attract him, now much less with a stranger?

            "I would not be so fastidious as you are for a kingdom!” cried his dauntless friend. “Upon my honor, I never met with so many pleasant girls in my life as I have this evening; and there are several of them you see uncommonly pretty."

            "You are dancing with the only handsome girl in the room,” he replied depressingly, looking at the, admittedly, very pretty and elegant young woman he had partnered with.

            "Oh! She is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld! But there is one of her sisters sitting down just behind you, who is very pretty, and I dare say very agreeable. Do let me ask my partner to introduce you."

            Really, why must Charles press him so? “Which do you mean?” he asked to appease him, and glanced indifferently at the young lady indicated. No, she was not her sister’s equalthat was all he really noted before, catching her gaze, he withdrew his own. “She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me; I am in no humor at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me,” he said firmly and rather coldly. He did not see the martial light that kindled in the dark eyes behind him then, or he might of looked twice at their owner’s face. As it was, he presently went his way without any consciousness of having met his fateor slighted her.

1 comment:

  1. I've sometimes wondered how Darcy and Bingley became friends. I can picture them going on charmingly once they began (hah!), but how could two men so dissimilar form a friendship? Your description is brief but in character for each of them.

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