Monday, September 28, 2009

My cat Marley, Autumn and Willoughby's Return

My cat Marley is feeling much better after his nasty accident where he managed to cut his achilles tendon very badly. He's not allowed outside yet but hopefully in a couple of weeks he'll be back in the undergrowth as in the picture above. You can just see him to the left of the photo about to stalk through the long grass doing his impression of a tiger. Like Marianne, my sensibilities prefer a wild garden, and I hate to cut the daisies until I have to - that's my excuse for not cutting the grass and I'm sticking to it!
I love summer, but now the days are growing shorter and autumn is here. We've had some beautiful, bright and sunny days but the evenings are drawing in and I've even lit a fire once or twice. Still, there is something lovely about sitting in a cosy room by the fire - an excuse to re-read Jane Austen!

I think Jane Austen must have been fond of this season - the action often starts at this time of year. In Sense and Sensibility, Marianne Dashwood meets John Willoughby in the autumn before Michaelmas. I wanted to set Willoughby's Return within a similar time frame - I imagined Marianne captivated by the romance of an autumnal landscape: -

Marianne Brandon was bursting with news to tell her sister and was so excited at the report that her husband had divulged at breakfast before leaving for Lyme that morning, that she did not consider there to be time enough to don her bonnet. With her chestnut curls escaping from her coiffure to dance in the wind and her scarlet cloak billowing like a great sail behind her, she almost ran down the lane to the parsonage. Knowing that Elinor would probably scold her for not bringing the chaise, she nevertheless had not wanted to be bothered with the inconvenience of having to wait for it. Muddying her boots and the hem of her gown, she took the shortcut across the fields to the lane that separated the two sisters. Yesterday’s storm had left the ground wet but there was the promise of a most delightful day, the autumnal sunshine kissing her cheeks with a blush.
Marianne had not wanted to say goodbye to her husband but was resigned to his departure. There was nothing she could say or do to change the situation; she knew that from experience. Glad to be outside in the fresh air, she looked about with contented pleasure, waltzing through the familiar countryside that she was delighted to call her home. Delaford House in the county of dorset was as dear to her as the former family seat at Norland had been. Marianne knew in her heart that she was a most fortunate young woman.

As she walks home after calling on Elinor the season brings forth memories from the past.

She walked along in the sunshine, every scent and sound recalling earlier times, bringing forth the inevitable bitter sweetness of memories. Bending to pick a bunch of blue buttons, the last of the wildflowers from the meadow, she was instantly reminded of a posy once given to her in that first season of happiness, now dry and faded. Held together by a strip of frayed silk ribbon, staining the pages of a favourite poetry book, they belonged to the past.

“John Willoughby,” she said out loud.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Willoughby's Return, a Sense and Sensibility Sequel - Colonel Brandon's first love

When we first meet Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility he is quickly established as Marianne Dashwood's admirer much to her dismay. At seventeen she considers the thirty five year old colonel to be past his prime: '...he is old enough to be my father; and if he were ever animated enough to be in love, must have long outlived every sensation of the kind. It is too ridiculous! When is a man to be safe from such wit, if age and infirmity will not protect him?"
When dashing Mr Willoughby appears on the scene Marianne retreats from the colonel's company altogether and takes as much opportunity to ridicule him alongside her lover. Her sister Elinor values Brandon's friendship and sensible conversation, she can see how much he is attracted to Marianne and knows that with the livelier Willoughby for a rival he does not stand a chance. She warms to him even further when she discovers a little about his past.

Elinor's compassion for him (Colonel Brandon) increased, as she had reason to suspect that the misery of disappointed love had already been known by him. This suspicion was given by some words which accidentally dropt from him one evening at the Park, when they were sitting down together by mutual consent, while the others were dancing. His eyes were fixed on Marianne, and, after a silence of some minutes, he said with a faint smile, "Your sister, I understand, does not approve of second attachments."

"No," replied Elinor, "her opinions are all romantic."

"Or rather, as I believe, she considers them impossible to exist."

"I believe she does. But how she contrives it without reflecting on the character of her own father, who had himself two wives, I know not. A few years, however, will settle her opinions on the reasonable basis of common sense and observation; and then they may be more easy to define and to justify than they now are, by anybody but herself."

"This will probably be the case," he replied; "and yet there is something so amiable in the prejudices of a young mind, that one is sorry to see them give way to the reception of more general opinions."

"I cannot agree with you there," said Elinor. "There are inconveniences attending such feelings as Marianne's, which all the charms of enthusiasm and ignorance of the world cannot atone for. Her systems have all the unfortunate tendency of setting propriety at nought; and a better acquaintance with the world is what I look forward to as her greatest possible advantage."

After a short pause he resumed the conversation by saying -

"Does your sister make no distinction in her objections against a second attachment? or is it equally criminal in everybody? Are those who have been disappointed in their first choice, whether from the inconstancy of its object, or the perverseness of circumstances, to be equally indifferent during the rest of their lives?"

"Upon my word, I am not acquainted with the minutiæ of her principles. I only know that I never yet heard her admit any instance of a second attachment's being pardonable."

"This," said he, "cannot hold; but a change, a total change of sentiments - No, no, do not desire it, - for when the romantic refinements of a young mind are obliged to give way, how frequently are they succeeded by such opinions as are but too common, and too dangerous! I speak from experience. I once knew a lady who in temper and mind greatly resembled your sister, who thought and judged like her, but who from an enforced change - from a series of unfortunate circumstances" - Here he stopt suddenly; appeared to think that he had said too much, and by his countenance gave rise to conjectures which might not otherwise have entered Elinor's head. The lady would probably have passed without suspicion, had he not convinced Miss Dashwood that what concerned her ought not to escape his lips. As it was, it required but a slight effort of fancy to connect his emotion with the tender recollection of past regard. Elinor attempted no more. But Marianne, in her place, would not have done so little. The whole story would have been speedily formed under her active imagination; and established in the most melancholy order of disastrous love.

We later learn that the young lady in question is Colonel Brandon's first love who was forced to marry his brother against her will. Divorced and abandoned whilst the colonel is in India, on his return he is to discover that she has fallen into low company and living a life of sin. As she lies dying Colonel Brandon promises he will look after her three year old daughter, another Eliza, and he becomes her guardian.
When Willoughby later abandons Marianne for the wealthier Miss Grey we learn of another reason for his swift transfer of affection. Willoughby has met and seduced the Colonel's ward who has given birth to a daughter. He, in turn, has been disinherited by his benefactor as a result, and must now marry for money if he is to continue to enjoy the lifestyle he prefers.

Colonel Brandon is first attracted to Marianne because of the likeness she has to his first love. "Your sister, I hope, cannot be offended," said he, "by the resemblance I have fancied between her and my poor disgraced relation. Their fates, their fortunes cannot be the same; and had the natural sweet disposition of the one been guarded by a firmer mind, or an happier marriage, she might have been all that you will live to see the other be.
I cannot help thinking that this coupled with the fact that he maintains a close relationship with his ward and Willoughby's child would create certain tensions within their marriage. How would Marianne feel about the fact that she looks so similar to Eliza? Wouldn't a part of her always be questioning whether she is loved for herself alone, and be wondering if she is being compared to the grand passion of his youth? We know 'Marianne could never love by halves' and in my new book, Willoughby's Return, I explore this aspect of their relationship. Mrs Brandon is a passionate woman - she might even be jealous of her husband's first love, especially as she lives on in her daughter and granddaughter. The fact that both the colonel and Marianne have both been in love before provided me with lots of inspiration!

Willoughby's Return is published by Sourcebooks on November 1st 2009

Jane Odiwe

Monday, September 21, 2009

Photos from my album!

North Parade, Bath, which was used for Mrs Smith's lodgings in the 1995 Persuasion adaptation.

The view down the long drive to the gorgeous house, Luckington Court, which was used in the 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

Thatched cottages in Lacock - the pretty village used in the 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Eliza de Feuillide - Part Two

By Christmas 1787, Eliza was at Steventon Rectory again, and excited about performing in a make-shift theatre (her uncle's tithe barn) with her cousins. The Austen brothers most likely fitted out the barn with a stage, scenery, curtain and oil lamps to illuminate the actors. Eliza tried unsuccessfully to invite her cousin Phila to join them all, but the latter declared she had no wish to appear in public. The play decided on was The Wonder: A Woman keeps a Secret!
James Austen wrote a prologue and epilogue for the play which celebrated the abilities of women to conquer men by their wit and charm - one cannot help wondering if Eliza had influenced his thinking and inspiration! Though I am certain the Austen brothers behaved impeccably, I am sure they were both captivated by the sophisticated and flirtatious Comtesse who exercised every opportunity to steal their hearts by acting alongside them. When Jane Austen later wrote Mansfield Park, surely some of the inspiration for the play scenes came from similar ones she must have witnessed.

By the late 1790's after Eliza had become a widow, and when James himself became a widower, he most likely pursued Eliza along with Henry, but she resisted them both vowing she would not give up 'dear Liberty, and yet dearer flirtation' for any of her beaux. However, Henry won her heart at last. They were married on 31st December 1797. George Austen sent them £40 towards wedding celebrations with Henry's regiment.

In a letter to Warren Hastings Eliza wrote:

...I have consented to an Union with my Cousin Captn. Austen who has the honour of being known to You. - He has been for some time in Possession of a comfortable income, and the excellence of his Heart, Temper, and Understanding, together with his steady attachment to me, his Affection for my little Boy, and disinterested concurrence in the disposal of my Property, in favour of this latter, have at length induced me to an aquiescence which I have withheld for more than two years...

Eliza was thirty six, and Henry ten years her junior.

Read more - Deirdre Le Faye has written a book - Jane Austen's 'Outlandish Cousin' - The Life and Letters of Eliza de Feuillide. The letters she wrote to her cousin make fascinating reading!

The top photo shows Manchester Street off Manchester Square where Eliza lived at around the time that Henry was courting her. Coincidentally, I chose Manchester Square for the London home of the Brandons in my new book, Willoughby's Return. I wandered all round the area trying to decide where I should house them, and the Square seemed perfect.
The bottom photo is from the film Becoming Jane showing Henry and Eliza's marriage.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Eliza de Feuillide - Part One

Eliza de Feuillide (1761-1813) is a fascinating personality in Jane Austen's life. Eliza's mother was Jane's aunt, her father's sister, Philadelphia Hancock. Jane's father George and Philadelphia had been orphaned from a young age and though it seems they managed to stay in touch with one another, they both had to make their way in the world. Philadelphia was apprenticed to a milliner in Covent Garden for five years before being shipped off (most likely by her uncle Francis Austen) at the age of 15 to India in order to find a husband. She met and married Tysoe Saul Hancock, a surgeon, twenty years her senior but remained childless for the first six years of their marriage. In Calcutta they befriended Warren Hastings who later became the Governor General of India. When Eliza was born Hastings became her godfather and took his role so seriously that there was a certain amount of gossip spread about that he was in fact her father. Whatever the truth of the matter, he set up a trust fund for Eliza of £10,000. After Mr Hancock died, Philadelphia took Eliza to France and it was here that she became part of the glittering French society and where she married her first husband, Captain Jean-Francois Capot de Feuillide, a self-styled count who had little fortune but had been given the grant of an area of marshland near Nerac. It was decided that her first child should be born in England though in fact Hastings, as the child was named, was born prematurely at Calais.
Eliza, her mother, and the baby first visited the Austens in Steventon on December 21 1786 just in time to celebrate her own twenty fifth birthday, also bringing a present of books for Jane's birthday which had been on the sixteenth. Jane was 11, Cassandra, nearly 14, Henry, 15, Frank, 12, and Charles, 6. James was away at this time travelling to France to visit the count. Jane must have been intrigued by the exotic Eliza who would have shared wonderful tales of her life in India and France. Mrs Austen's description of Eliza in a letter paints her as lively and entertaining, amusing them all with her performances on the pianoforte. It is interesting to note that Henry, ten years younger than Eliza (and most likely already infatuated) went to stay with her in London the following April. Eliza must have introduced Henry to a style of life he had never witnessed before and to have a beautiful young woman accompanying him around the metropolis would have been enough to turn any young man's head.

This extract from a letter she wrote to her cousin gives us an idea of her life in the capital.
...I have been for some Time past the greatest Rake imaginable...I only stood from two to four in the Drawing Room & of course loaded with a great hoop of no inconsiderable Weight, went to the Duchess of Cumberland's in the Evening, and from thence to Almacks where I staid till five in the Morning, all this I did not many days ago, & yet am alive to tell You of it. I believe tho', I should not be able to support London Hours, & all the racketing of a London Life for a Year together.

Eliza's letters at this time are full of descriptions of society gatherings in London and her cousin Philadelphia Walter wrote of their experiences in Tunbridge Wells; shopping for bonnets, attending balls, horse races and the theatre. Whilst in Tunbridge Wells they saw the plays Which is the Man? and BonTon which by the following Christmas, Eliza had decided would be the very entertainments to show off her dramatic talents and simultaneously flirt with the Austen brothers, James and Henry!