Wentworth Hall blog tour with author Abby Grahame & Giveaway

Wentworth Hall, by Abby Grahame (2012)Seven months until Downton Abbey season 3 airs on Masterpiece Classic PBS. So, what’s a Downtonite to do in the meantime besides re-watching the first two seasons again? Why – read of course.

Please join us today in welcoming author Abby Grahame on her blog tour in celebration of the publication of Wentworth Hall, released this month by Simon & Schuster. Set in Edwardian England, not only will its title intrigue most Janeites with its reference to a certain romantic Captain from Austen’s novel Persuasion, but its author was inspired by Jane Austen throughout. Abby has generously shared with us some insights on her inspiration for writing her first young adult novel and offered a giveaway to three lucky readers.

The “Persuasive” Influence of Jane Austen on Wentworth Hall

A writer’s tool chest is the mind: It is filled with all that the senses have imbibed; the memories and the emotions; the people, the places; the ceremonious days filled with frivolity and the fleeting moments when great truths can be revealed in a subtle nod.  Some things are recalled as if yesterday, others have sunk beneath the forgetful blanket of the unconscious. The profound and entertaining books one has enjoyed are in there too.

All of this comes into play in the act of writing. Sometimes a writer “borrows,” from another source in full consciousness. It is a parody or homage, or simply a theft. Other times the influence bubbles up unbidden from the underground caves of the authorial psyche. Such was the case—I realize only now—when I embarked on writing my first published novel Wentworth Hall.  The spirit of Jane Austen was there, whispering in my ear, for sure. But she was so clever that I didn’t notice her presence at first.

The immediate influence can be seen in naming the novel after a venerable location rife with history and family secrets. (Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park)  But, I have to admit this was also influenced by the luscious TV mini-series Downton Abbey.  (A title that was probably in itself influenced by Jane Austen too.) The upstairs, downstairs approach captivated me. This leads me to the next—and larger—influence.  Class!

In Jane Austen’s posthumously published Persuasion, Ann Elliot is madly in love with Captain Frederick Wentworth but is “persuaded” that he is not of high enough social consequence to merit a match. As in so much of Austen’s work, it is a statement on the hypocrisy and changeability of social class.

In my novel, I wanted to write about these things too. The stratification of our world into a 1% elite with gradations going down to the bottom of society’s poorest has been in the news lately. It is something that has been developing over the last fifty years in an accelerating fashion. These class distinctions are as relevant now as they were in Austen’s day.

Of course there are differences too. Wentworth Hall is set in 1912. Electricity has arrived and the radio will soon be in every home. World War One is looming. The characters see themselves as being on the cusp of a new, modern world that will shake up the power of the old aristocracy around them. A space was opening for the entrenched serving class to rise above their station of birth, just as naval service in the Napoleonic Wars allows Captain Wentworth to become a man of status and wealth.

In Wentworth Hall, the central story involves a great love affair thwarted by class differences. There are also less prominent characters whose lives are affected by the positions they were born into (in some cases the upper class feels trapped as well as the lower class). Hopefully I have explored the common humanity that makes these divides so superficial even though the lock they put on the lives of the characters seems unbreakable and can be disastrous.

So when the name Wentworth Hall occurred to me as a title, I had to have been somehow remembering that Captain Wentworth was man of rising stature in Persuasion  even though at the time I simply thought it had a good sound to it. And now that I have been made aware of the connection by the Jane Austen fans of my acquaintance, I couldn’t be more pleased. I loved Persuasion when I first read it as a college Literature major. Wentworth Hall is, indeed, imbued with the spirit of Captain Wentworth, the dashing character whom Jane Austen created with, if not precognitive, then certainly with the keen social perceptivity she brought to all her books.

So, thanks, Jane Austen. I couldn’t ask for a more acute and observant guide through the halls of class, romance, and social change.

Author Bio:

Abby Grahame lives in upstate New York. Her interest in historical fiction and British period dramas inspired Wentworth Hall. This is her first novel.

Grand Giveaway of Wentworth Hall

Enter a chance to win one of three copies available of Wentworth Hall, by Abby Grahame. Please leave a comment revealing who your favorite character is in Downton Abbey or why you would love to read this new young adult novel by 11:59 PT, Wednesday, May 16, 2012. Winner announced on Thursday, May 17, 2012. Shipment to US addresses only. Good luck!

Wentworth Hall, by Abby Grahame
Simon & Schuster (2012)
Hardcover (228) pages
ISBN: 978-1442451964

© 2007 – 2012 Abby Grahame, Austenprose

Giveaway Winners Announced for Rosedale in Love

Rosedale in Love, by Lev Raphael (2011)43 of you left comments qualifying you for a chance to win one of three copies of a digital edition of Rosedale in Love, by Lev Raphael.

The winners drawn at random are:

  • Mary Ann Potter who left a comment on January 24, 2012
  • Laura’s Reviews who left a comment on January 24, 2012
  • Evangeline Holland who left a comment on January 27, 2012

Congratulations ladies! To claim your prize, please contact me with your full name and address by February 8, 2012. Electronic shipment internationally.

Thanks to all who left comments, and to author Lev Raphael for helping us celebrate Edith Wharton’s 150th birthday.

© 2007 – 2012 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Hello Wharton Abbey: In Celebration of Edith Wharton’s 150th Birthday: Her Novels and Their Legacy: Guest Blog by Lev Raphael

Edith Wharton's copies of her works at The Mount. © Photo by David Dashiell

“True originality consists not in a new manner but in a new vision.” – Edith Wharton

Edith Wharton, Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist, short story writer, designer, and taste-setter of her time was born 150 years ago today. Huzzah!

Author and designer Edith WhartonRenowned for her novels: The House of Mirth (1905), Ethan Frome (1911), The Age of Innocence (1920), and last unfinished work, The Buccaneers (1938), Wharton was also an incredibly talented garden and interior designer writing two of my favorite classic design books in my personal collection: Italian Villas and Their Gardens (1904) and The Decoration of Houses (1897). Many of her works have been adapted into movies including three standouts: The Age of Innocence (1993), The Buccaneers (1995), which has thematic ties to the wildly popular mini-series Downton Abbey, whose second season is currently airing on Masterpiece Classic PBS, and The Old Maid (1939), the Warner Bros. classic starring Bette Davis. My mother introduced me to this movie as a teenager, and like her indoctrination to the classics by film with Pride and Prejudice (1940,) it piqued my interest enough to seek Wharton out and read the original novella. Thanks mom! Besides Austen and Cooper, Wharton is on my top five list of favorite authors.

Edith Wharton's works adapted into movies

In celebration of Wharton’s sesquicentennial birthday, author Lev Raphael has generously contributed a guest blog honoring Wharton, his fascination of The Gilded Age, Downton Abbey and his new novel Rosedale in Love.  

Wharton Abbey

Overwhelmed by the cascading changes at Downton Abbey, Maggie Smith’s indomitable Dowager Countess complains in Season One, “”Sometimes I feel as if I were living in an H.G. Wells novel.”

Watching Downton Abbey, I’ve found find myself feeling I’m living in an Edith Wharton novel.  More than one, in fact. Wharton’s novel The Buccaneer, unfinished at her death, was all about American wealthy young woman like Cora who were launched like arrows to hit titled English targets.  Born in 1862 to old New York money, Wharton observed this international exchange as America’s Gilded Age burst into lavish bloom.  Her native city of New York was a frenzy of building, money, and that modern invention we take for granted: publicity, which the Downton family is desperate to avoid.

House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton (Oxford Worlds Classics) 2009The series is imbued with the preoccupations of Wharton’s fiction.  As in The House of Mirth, the Grantham girls have few choices aside from marrying a man, preferably one with money.  New money like Sir Richard Carlisle’s may be suspect, but money is the drumbeat, even when people claim not to care about it.  Acquiring money, and the status and safety it brings, obsesses Lily Bart, the heroine of The House of Mirth, Wharton’s 1905 best seller.

Wharton lived in France during World War One, whose impact we’re seeing in the show right now, and she wrote a powerful novel, A Son at the Front, about the surprisingly high cost of war for those who aren’t in the trenches.  When war broke out, she worked with astounding energy to aid the French war effort through fund-raising and solving the refugee crisis.  But she was more than a combination of Lady Cora and Mrs. Crawley: she visited the front and wrote about it, and her extraordinary efforts earned her the highest civilian honors Belgium and France could bestow.

Wharton challenged convention by being intellectual and an author.  However, she was still a product of her class, which frowned on arrivistes of all kinds, especially Jews, who symbolized the vast social and financial changes rocking her comfortable world.  In The House of Mirth, her one Jewish character, wealthy Simon Rosedale, is frantic for status and vainly pursues Lily Bart, the faded society flower who finds him repulsive when he isn’t ridiculous.  Wharton relied heavily on stereotype to create him: he’s flamboyant, vulgar, buffonish, speaks bad English.

Rosedale in Love, by Lev Raphael (2011)His portrayal is an aggravating flaw in a novel I’ve read many times and love for Wharton’s profound understanding of how shame can crush our hopes–something that plays out again and again in Downton Abbey.  Having written two other books about Wharton, a mystery and a critical study, I decided to do something completely different: tell Rosedale’s unknown story.  Rosedale in Love is a reply to The House of Mirth, a book that gives Simon Rosedale a soul, a past, a family–that makes him human, in other words.

I wrote in a period voice, which I channeled after two years of reading books set in The Gilded Age. And just as Downton brings a lost way of life into our homes, I wanted Gilded Age New York to live for my readers.  I wanted them to feel the city’s obsessions, ride along its streets, dance at its balls, celebrate its weddings, marvel at its splendid hotels, dine at its elite restaurants, relish its remarkable extravagance, and savor its gossip.

So as you read the ebook, imagine it beautifully bound, pages freshly cut, being read by various denizens of Downton Abbey.  Think of Lady Mary or Anna pained by the sad search for love, Thomas enviously following someone else’s success, and the Dowager Countess sniffing at a whole novel devoted to “one of those people,” but ultimately admiring the main character’s courage.  After all, one of her ringing calls to action is “Don’t be defeatist, it’s very middle class.”

About the Author:

Lev Raphael is a former academic, radio talk show host, and newspaper columnist who’s published twenty-one books in genres from memoir to mystery with publishers like Doubleday, St. Martin’s, Faber and Walker.  His fiction and creative nonfiction appears in dozens of anthologies In the US and in Great Britain, and he has taught in colleges and universities around the country.

A world traveler and lecturer, his most recent adventure was his second German book tour for his memoir My Germany last fall, sponsored by the American Consulate in Frankfurt, and he will also be reading from his novel Rosedale in Love at the Edith Wharton in Florence conference next June (Austen and Wharton were major influences in his career). Visit Lev at his website Lev Raphael, on Twitter as @LevRaphael, and on Facebook as Lev Raphael.

A Grand Giveaway

Enter a chance to win one of three e-book editions of Rosedale in Love, by Lev Raphael by leaving a comment wishing Edith Wharton a happy birthday, or by revealing which characters or plot lines in Downton Abbey are similar to any of Edith Wharton’s novels by 11:59 pm, February 1, 2012. Winners to be announced on Thursday, February 2, 2012. Digital copies are available in Nook and Kindle formats.

Happy birthday Edith Wharton. We know you have very little in common with the other Edith, Lady Edith Crawley, daughter of the Earl of Grantham in Downton Abbey, but we hope that screenwriter Julian Fellowes will give her a new direction and a second chance, just as author Lev Raphael has done for your character Simon Rosedale from The House of Mirth.

Other Edith Wharton Celebrations Around the Internet:

© 2012 Lev Raphael, Austenprose