One for Georgette Heyer fans/nerds mostly. Of which there can never be too many.

“Our appreciation of much-loved books changes as we age.” Discuss with reference to a favourite novel.

Don’t shoot me pleeeeez, but I’ve gone right off Annis Wychwood in Lady of Quality. I still enjoy the romance and the banter, but on a recent re-read I just felt, well,  Annis, get over yourself. (Disclaimer: this post written from a place of deep Heyer-love.)

lady of qu betterThe biggest sadness/trauma in Annis’s life was the restriction felt by a rich, independent woman forced to live a best-supporting-actor life in her brother’s house. Then guess what, she can afford to get her own place. Yes, it’s still boring, but for the times, my, did she have it easy. Her greatest anxiety in the book is that her protégée, Lucilla, might be thought ‘fast’ by the Bath Quizzes, thus damaging her prospects on the marriage-mart. First-world problems, Annis, first-world problems.

I’m not judging Annis by the standards of different historical times or fiction genres – even within the context of the historical period, and within the wonderfully integrated fantasy world that Heyer created, I think she is, as she might say herself, a poor creature – selfish, contemptuous and espousing values of extraordinary triviality. She can be kind to her sister, true, and she’s intelligent and beautiful – which helps: imagine if she wasn’t beautiful – she could never get away with being so snarky.

Compare and contrast your chosen novel with an earlier work by the same author.

sylvester-or-the-wicked-uncle-georgette-heyer

I couldn’t help comparing her to Phoebe in Sylvester. Phoebe has a proper Cinderella story – dead mother, weak father, cruel stepmother. Her response is to write a book – a creative response from within herself. Phoebe cares passionately about justice, about the underdog: she is more concerned with Sylvester’s moral character than with propriety or his status, but she is also capable of compassionate understanding of how the death of his brother affected him.

Phoebe’s behaviour is driven by her sense of justice, by remorse and self-criticism, by her care for others, whereas Annis’s behaviour is all aimed at her own comfort within a particularly limited palette.

All fiction is disguised autobiography. Discuss.

When I read Jennifer Kloester’s biography recently, I felt that the difference between these two heroines may well have been a reflection of Georgette’s own state at the time of writing. She was at her happiest and most productive when she wrote Sylvester; but Lady of Quality was her last book, and she was pretty unwell and tired. Stylistically, romantically, I think it is as good as any of her books, despite being very much a rehash of Black Sheep, but I think the narrowness and grumpiness of Annis’s inner (and outer) world, reflect the exhaustion, and dare I say it, rather self-righteous bitterness of a woman who had lived a life of both unthinking privilege and extremely hard work. I think there’s an autobiographical element in Annis, in Georgette’s idealising of Annis’s crossness, in the privileging of appearances over values and heart, but Annis lacks the saving grace of Georgette herself, whose achievements were hard won by her own graft. Annis was a daddy’s girl like Georgette, but Annis simply inherited money which gave her freedom. GH worked incredibly hard, and was the main breadwinner for much of her marriage, as well as supporting her mother and at times, her brothers. In a sense, she had earned the right to be a curmudgeon: Annis certainly didn’t.

I welcome comments and further discussion. It’s possible that you may not agree with the above!

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Self-improvement the Mary Bennet way

Becoming Mary is all about transformation – it takes a girl who’s a vain and pompous ugly-duckling type and also miserably unhappy, and turns her into a much nicer, more realistic sort of…. duck (can’t say she’s a swan really), who’s – well, more or less happy.

(Here’s a picture of an ugly duckling – you’d be surprised how hard they are to find on the internet. It turns out pretty much all ducklings are cute.)

Dusky Moorhen

Here’s what she grew up to be….

(or not)Ugly bird

Ok, maybe it’s disappointing that she doesn’t morph into a feisty, liberated, proto-feminist sex-kitten, but she does become happier and nicer, and that’s basically a result right?

So how the hell does she do it? We all want to know how to be happy – or happier. Some of us might like to be nicer. I’m naming no names.

What’s her secret?

Do not fret, dear Reader. I am here to reveal to you how to get a bit of a makeover if you’re a plain, affected and conceited fictional character in Jane Austen Fan Fiction. You need never feel anxious again about what to do if you suddenly get transported into a Pride and Prejudice sequel

Mary Bennet’s Top Tips to Improve your Life.

1. Leave home and get away from your critical, neglectful parents.
2. Preferably go to a magnificent country estate.
3. Have nice older sisters who decide to take you in hand.
4. Have an annoying younger sister who also takes you in hand a bit.
5. Meet a couple of guys who take an interest in you and try to help you.
6. Have a hideous public humiliation when you realise you are actually not as clever as you think you are.
7. Fall in love.
8. Have another hideous public humiliation when you realise you are actually an awful person.
9. Be forgiven by everybody and live happily ever after.

Sounds great doesn’t it?
I promise you it really works.

(This started out as a very serious post about what helps people to change, as illustrated in the story of Mary Bennet. I guess the ‘science’ bit is, reading between the lines: in order to change you need help, you need kindness, and you need to go through emotional pain. I can elaborate on this, pretty much endlessly. But I won’t)

Sex! Pride and Prejudice! Mr Darcy! (Did I get your attention yet?)

I asked a friend of a friend to read my novel – I’ve had a lot of love for it from family and friends, as you do, and I thought I’d better bite the bullet and see what people think who don’t care about hurting my feelings, and don’t love me in the first place. She kindly critiqued it for me, and basically enjoyed it, which was great, though I have lost a few teeth in my bullet-biting experience.

One of her reactions intrigued me: it was a rather endearingly old-fashioned discomfort at the sex in the novel. Now just to be clear, as P&P sequels go, Miss Mary Bennet is as pure as the driven snow and other pure things. It’s much closer in tone to Georgette Heyer than to Fifty Shades. There are no explicit sex scenes. There are references to off-stage sex, ranging from Mary’s naive comments on Elizabeth’s state of deshabille, which the reader understands though Mary does not, through Lydia and Wickham’s obviously active sex-life (off-stage) to some kisses, desired and not, via some instructive conversations that Mary has with Lizzy and Jane.

My friendly critic was partly shocked by the non-Jane Austen nature of the – I can’t call it sexual content, let’s say sexual knowingness, or what I think it was – a fairly uncomplicated acknowledgement of the existence of sex as part of life; it felt a bit clunking to her, especially at first, and she also felt intrusive as a reader, as though she had strayed rather impolitely into the master bedroom and caught some respected figures in flagrante.

This got me thinking, mainly about sex and Mr Darcy (as you do). As you all know (massive assumption based on the thought that if you’re reading this post, you already have a keen interest in P&P and are probably familiar with a few of the sequels and may even have read some of them), the vast majority, and I mean vast majority, of P&P fanfiction, spin-offs, sequels etc etc are about sex. Yes, there are zombies and murders and christianity and feminism, but mostly, in the vast majority of the genre, the books are essentially about Darcy and Elizabeth having sex. Occasionally the other characters too.

As I have written before in my post “the whole wet shirt thing”, it is my contention that it is the wet shirt scene in the 1995 BBC adaptation of P&P that spawned the whole P&P sequel industry. The overt sexuality of Darcy and Eliz on the TV got people very excited – as it does – and it set something off in the national and international psyche – basically, it gave all the women of the world permission to fantasize about having sex with Mr Darcy.

It was a slow-burning phenomenon at first, this massive global sexual fantasy – I remember being delighted and astonished and I confess somewhat aroused by discovering my first lot of P&P inserts (sorry can’t think of a better word – there is one, isn’t there?) on the internet, and I have watched in amazement as it has proliferated and shows no sign of stopping.

This has inspired me to create a brief analysis of this global worldwide universal phenomenon of the sexual sequel to P&P. Here’s my 2 cents. I apologise for occasional wild generalisations and over-statements used in order to make my point.

Reasons why there are so many of these damn sexual sequels to P&P

1. Every woman in the world wants to have sex with Mr Darcy. He is your absolute classic blank-sheet hero onto whom everything can be projected. Plus he’s handsome, rich and mean. Luckily he gets nice enough to marry in the end. He is sine qua non the prototype for the romantic hero of Mills and Boon, Harlequin and pretty much all romantic fiction, up and to and including 50 Shades (interesting typo moment there – I accidentally typed 50 Shags…hmm no need to disturb Professor Freud for that one).

2. Next reason: every woman in the world – and I mean every woman, no exceptions, is convinced that she and she alone is the real Elizabeth Bennet (trust me this is true – I have literally come to blows with my sisters about which one of us is Elizabeth – and no, Lizzy, having the same name does not qualify you. Not as much as being the second-born daughter, that’s for sure [sorry everyone, I just can’t let it rest]). Because in our secret hearts we know we are witty, pretty with fine eyes, just as attractive and lovable and beloved of our fathers as Lizzy (or if not, dammit, we should have been). In a word, we are Cinderellas, one and all. (sorry if you’re getting mad now, feisty modern females, but you know I’m right. You don’t have to admit it to anyone, it’s fine.)

Reason no. 3: the costumes. It is  pleasantly pervy to be a sexual modern woman who in her imagination is wearing a high-bodiced dress with little puffed sleeves such as only children wear – i.e. very unsexual – and having sex with a man with big leather boots on. Well, I’m sorry, but it is. Or is it just me? Oh god, embarrassing. Never mind.

Reason 4: a nicer, innocent age where people had lovely manners and wore high-bodiced dresses with little puffed sleeves. The lovely enduring fantasy of the age of innocence – where nobody was bitchy or complicated or neurotic or corrupt – or if they were they were obviously baddies. Somehow it’s just classier to have sex in period costume than in modern clothes. There were actual virgins in those days too.

(Obviously Reason 4 is bollocks. We all know it wasn’t a nicer time – a) there was no internet b) there were no flushing toilets c) dentists were terrible as were teeth d)and what about antibiotics? I’m afraid a mustard plaster just isn’t as effective. also e) no central heating. Come on!)

Reason 5: I may have run out of reasons.

But it’s interesting isn’t it? Well, I think so.

 

Too much information

Turns out I’m an information lightweight.

I joined twitter, thinking, well, novel’s finished, time to seek out My People and commune with them in the great twitterverse.

There are a lot of My People out there, a lot. Perhaps you, gentle reader, are one of them. People who love Jane Austen, people who write JA fan fiction, people who are obsessed with Pride and Prejudice (both the 2005 and the 1995), general Regency Period nutcases, many, many enthusiastic self-publishers of all kinds.

And then there are the journalists, the historians, the random funny people (I recommend @rhymeswithjen), familiar names that I can follow and feel bizarrely connected with in that bizarre internet way that feels real and yet isn’t – that feels so strangely real that when I actually meet friends of friends who I’ve chatted with on Facebook, I hug them with tears in my eyes. No joke.

So, what you don’t know about me (or care about either, and who can blame you), is that generally I try not to follow the news too much. In my day job (i.e. not writing) I hear lots of terrible things – basically that is what my day job is, listening to terrible things – and I feel that I am pretty much maxed out in the hearing-terrible-things department. I also believe that whether I know about the news or not, isn’t going to make much difference to the poor bastards who are going through whatever terrible thing it is. I read the Saturday paper, and eavesdrop on the odd conversation, just so that I have something pertinent to say when I am called upon.

But oh dear, once you start twittering or whatever it’s called, you’re just doomed. You get sucked in. You start having opinions. Next thing you know, you’ve clicked a link to the Tory Party Conference and are reaching for the nearest mallet to beat the shit out of the computer while you wipe the froth away from your chin.

Yesterday, there was this thing – I call them threads but I don’t think that’s the right word – it was called #mydadhatedbritain – and it was a response to the froth-inducing, mallet-requiring repulsiveness that is the Daily Mail, and their pathetic attack on a politician’s dad. Anyway, it was fab – joke after joke after joke, pouring in at great speed. The power of humour to undermine the twattiest newspaper in the country, even worse than the Sun.

Thing is, it filled my head so much I was actually hallucinating the twitter feed when I went to bed. And now I know so many dreadful things about Tories and what they’re doing, and I feel really angry and powerless and upset.

Today I am fried. I have information overload. I truly believe there are too many opinions in the world. I used to think just journalists had opinions. Journalists and Kesslers (you know who you are). But it turns out everyone has an opinion, and everyone’s kind of angry. Though actually loads of people are very witty, which is nice.

But just one other thing – you know when people say, ewwwww, too much information, like when you tell them something gross about a body part or some sort of excretion. Weirdly I don’t mind that.