The whole Mr Darcy wet shirt thing: why ‘Becoming Mary’ isn’t about that.

Don’t get me wrong, I love that Mr Darcy wet shirt thing. In fact I love it so much, here’s a photo of it.

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(hmm shirt is actually dry here, but never mind)

You know what, looking for that inspired me to post this one too – the “look of love” across the drawing-room at Pemberley

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(God I love that moment. Can’t actually count how many times I watched it.)

So yeh, I really loved the 1995 Pride and Prejudice, had a massive crush on Colin Firth, and he and Jennifer Ehle remain my preferred actors for Darcy and Elizabeth (having said that I loved Keira Knightley and Matthew McFadyen too and that whole film).

But. But. (Sorry back to the point….) I have also loved the book ever since it ruined my life when I was 13 years old. (Yes Jane Austen, thanks, thanks a bunch for ruining my life. I mean it. Ruined. Totally. Ruined.)

And like so many people out there, I really couldn’t bear that the book was over. So I decided I’d better write a sequel. I think  probably the only way for me to write is to write the book I want to read that I wish someone else had written. I still wish someone else had written it, dammit.

So back to the wet shirt thing. It is my contention that it is the wet shirt scene in the 1995 BBC adaptation of P and P that spawned the whole P and P sequel industry. Of which I have read and enjoyed much.

However, the book I wanted to write was less about sexual fantasies, enjoyable as they are, and more about what happens after “happily ever after”. When I was first thinking about it, I was in a cynical mood, probably at the tail end of one of my marriages, and I had mean thoughts about the Darcys, along the lines of ‘yeh, well, they may love each other now, but we’ll see what happens when the honeymoon period’s over’ etc etc. However, when I started to write, I realised that however much of a realist (read cynic) I am, I could not spoil the Darcys relationship, even in fiction. So that’s when the idea gradually came to me about how Mary might try to do so, seeing as she suffers from the same envy and bitterness that I was feeling at the time.

I suppose I wanted to explore how Mary goes from that  state of envy and bitterness to something even more painful, a realisation of the cause of her own envy, the lack of love in her own life, and then a realisation of the horrible and potentially destructive thing she has done to disguise and relieve her feelings. It’s an age-old sequence: if you can’t have something, first of all pretend you didn’t want it anyway, and then try to ruin it for the people who do have it.  Ouch.

Sound vaguely familiar to anyone else?

Here’s a scene from near the end of the novel, when Mary is full of remorse and is discussing it with “someone”. Hopefully no spoilers.

I took a deep breath and spoke in a rush. “I have destroyed the marriage of Mr and Mrs Darcy!”

“Mary, no! How can you say so? If ever there were two people who loved each other and will love each for ever, it is your sister Elizabeth and Mr Darcy. They could not be more devoted.”

“I know, I know! They were! But you have observed, I know you have, the cold looks he has given her. I have done this; I have poisoned his ears with lies. At least, I did not know they were lies, but I have filled his head with slander and untruth about Lizzy, and now he does not love her any longer, and their lives are ruined and it is all my doing.”

I yielded to a burst of sobbing that lasted at least five minutes.

“But Mary,” Mr Someone said when I had calmed somewhat,  “if you were genuinely mistaken about these lies, then of course that will be understood. If someone has misled you, it is not your fault.”

“No! No! I was not misled! Nobody lied to me; it was my own imagination, my own black and distrustful mind that invented it all. And now my poor sister will never be happy again!”

“Oh dear, this is certainly all very terrible. But I know Darcy, have known him for years, and a fairer-minded man does not exist. He will not blame you for your errors, and he will certainly be reconciled with Mrs Darcy, if indeed they have become seriously estranged, which I beg leave to doubt.”

I shook my head. “I know you are trying to comfort me, but it has gone too far for forgiveness – and anyway, I do not wish to be forgiven. I do not deserve to be. I only hope they can find a way to recover, so that the damage I have done can be repaired.”

He took my hand and held it. “Well, Mary, I think you may be proved wrong, and you will find that these misunderstandings can be cleared up by such rational people as your sister and brother. Meanwhile, if they do cast you off and you need shelter, I have been told that old Mr Jackson’s grandson who works the bellows on a Sunday no longer wishes to do so, so there is a vacancy there for a strong young person such as yourself.”

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Random grumpfest about shopping. I hate shopping for these reasons.

1. Having to buy something that I don’t want for a gig I don’t want to do.

2. It’s a shiny blouse, which they don’t have in the shops yet because it’s not Christmas

3. Everything in the shops is vile

4. All I can see is the people in sweatshops making this shit for tiny amounts of money so that we can all have lots of disposable cheap shit

5. Having to spend money I’d rather not spend.

6. Having to look at myself in changing room mirrors and have an entire battle with myself not to get sucked into vicious self-loathing but maintain some age-appropriate sense of reality

7. I had to go on the bus.

8. Now I have to go back to work (not writing) for four intense hours.

9. I have completely lost the will to live. It is somewhere in Marks and Spencers, if anyone sees it lying around, please email it to me here. Thanks.

10. I apologise for my firstworldproblems moanfest.

On plagiarism. Or unconscious homage, to put it more kindly

I went round the Brighton Pavilion at the weekend, built by the crazy old Prince Regent himself, and costing brazilians of pounds. Image

It’s a lot prettier on the outside than on the inside. The man was probably certifiable. He certainly had dreadful taste. Talk about plagiarism – it was supposed to be kind of Chinese/Indian style. Yergh. Bleurgh. Good Lord. etc.

Anyway, the slightly annoying thing was that as I wandered round the repulsively sumptuous palace, it triggered a memory of a scene from Regency Buck by one of my favorite authors, Georgette Heyer, and I realised I have a very similar scene in my novel. In Regency Buck, the heroine, Judith Taverner, is at a dinner at the Pavilion, and is preyed upon by the lascivious Prince Regent, who has the idea that she is a woman of easy virtue, after her disgraceful curricle race from London to Brighton, something no lady would do, obviously.

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In my novel, poor little Mary gets preyed upon by an equally lascivious older man who she thinks is interested in her mind (a familiar delusion – in my case I’ve always wished someone would love me for my body and not my mind, but hey ho, you can’t have everything….). Like Heyer’s Judith, she is rescued by the hero, though in my novel, Mary’s sister Lizzy Bennet now Darcy also plays a crucial part. The reader doesn’t find out what Lizzy said to the horrible man, as Mary has been spirited away from the scene and is crying onto the hero’s shoulder by this time and we only see things from her POV; however, the smile on Lizzy’s face when she returns to the company is enough to tell you that she’s still on the same form as when she took on Lady Catherine de Bourgh back in the day.

So anyway – is it plagiarism? If so, it was most unconsciously done (spot the quotation from P and P anyone? A free mention on my twitter feed for the first person to identify it [now slow down everyone, don’t all rush at once]).

And to be fair, I think lascivious men preying on young females in historical novels – well, is it plagiarism, is it just a well-worn trope, or is it just a fairly accurate reflection of what it’s like to be a young and ignorant and compliant female? Or is it a crucial plot device?

 

I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like…..

This was Jane Austen talking about Emma – and I freely admit my debt to Emma in writing my Mary Bennet novel.

There are some notable differences: Emma is handsome, clever, rich and of a happy disposition, while Mary is plain, basically quite stupid, poor, and with a rather sour and prissy disposition, certainly nothing happy about her.

And yet, as with Emma, you can’t help but identify with her. What’s attractive to me about both heroines is first of all their flaws, which make them human – and following that, how they change. With Emma, I do wonder how much she can change in truth, and with Mary even more so.

The trouble with genre……

I love genre novels. Well, I’d better qualify that, because I’ve suddenly thought of 30 or 40 genres that I don’t love. So – I love crime, I love historical, I love romance, I love a whole load of sub-genres  – I don’t love science fiction (I’m sorry, I love some science fiction, I’m just not drawn to the genre –  no offence, seriously).

And just by writing a book based on what happens to Mary Bennet after the end of Pride and Prejudice, I am de facto writing a genre novel (mem to self: look up de facto and check that it means what you think it means [alternatively just publish the post and let someone have the pleasure of correcting you]) I guess the genre is:

– historical romance

– regency romance

– Jane Austen sequel

– fan fiction

All of the above.

And that causes me certain difficulties, because I’m also trying to write a novel which is primarily about the idea that a shrivelled, shallow and thoroughly unlikeable person such as Mary, can develop, given the chance, into a human being who is capable of loving and being loved – and I don’t just mean romantic love.

But of course, genre fiction sets up expectations – and readers have expectations – and I have expectations – that there will be a proper romance, with a proper Jane Austen type ending with love and marriage and all that.

I don’t want to give too much away (spoiler alert: I love genre fiction), but my recent structural editing job has been all about the demands of genre. And it was a killer to do – because well, apparently writing is hard.

But it’s done, it’s done, it’s done.

I think.