A new Pride and Prejudice spinoff, The Other Mr. Darcy was released this month to positive fanfare. Focusing on Caroline Bingley, a secondary character in Jane Austen’s original novel, I truly enjoyed her transformation and romance. You can read my review to get all the details of the plot and my impressions.
It’s author Monica Fairview is visiting today during her blog tour in celebration of its release. Thanks for joining us today Monica to chat about your new book The Other Mr. Darcy, a new Austenesque novel.
While many Austen sequel writers have focused on Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, the main characters in Austen’s original novel, you have chosen to spotlight the minor but very memorable Caroline Bingley. Known for her snooty behavior and snide remarks, she is not exactly likable heroine material for a novel. What inspired you to select one of Austen’s most famous Mean Girls for your heroine?
Not all Mean Girls are Mean all the way through. I felt Jane Austen herself wanted to tell us that. Chapter 45 of Pride and Prejudice starts: “Convinced as Elizabeth now was that Miss Bingley’s dislike of her had originated in jealousy, she could not help feeling how very unwelcome her appearance at Pemberley must be to her.” I read that as an insight into Caroline’s behavior, and a recognition on Elizabeth’s part that Caroline was just trying to keep Mr. Darcy to herself. Jealousy is a very strong emotion, and it tends to bring out the mean streak in everyone. After all, wouldn’t you fight to keep Darcy if you thought you had a chance?
I read this sentence as Jane Austen providing us with Caroline’s motivation, and took it from there. If Caroline is in love with Mr. Darcy, of course she’s going to try and represent Elizabeth in the worst possible light to him. Hence her snide remarks.
When I originally read the advance publicity on The Other Mr. Darcy before it was released in the UK last summer, I was intrigued with the creative title. To many readers, Mr. Darcy is the ultimate romantic icon. Who could this other Mr. Darcy be? Like most young ladies, (or not so nearly young), my imagination is very rapid; it jumped from a twin separated at birth, to a multiple personality disorder, to an imposter in a moment! Your Mr. Darcy is of course none of those possibilities, but turns out to be his American cousin. What was your inspiration for Robert Darcy and how is he similar and differ to his English cousin Fitzwilliam Darcy?
The title was the first thing I thought of, before I even started writing. Originally, I wanted to shadow Mr. Darcy, to create a character that was the other side of him in a way. What came out was Robert Darcy. That’s why if you go through the novel, you’ll find a lot of shadows associated with him. But as he developed, he turned out to be very sunny, and he seemed to prefer open spaces and sunshine. He went his own way.
Robert is different from Fitzwilliam Darcy because he likes talking about things, he insists on being open and putting his cards on the table. His manners are easygoing and he likes to laugh. To all appearances, he has nothing in common with his cousin Fitzwilliam. But as the novel progresses, they become more similar. There’s a point in the plot where Robert is the one who is earnest and reserved, while Fitzwilliam is – well, I don’t want to give away anything in the plot, but let’s say they’re more similar than one would have thought.
Let’s delve deeper into the personality of that jealous, manipulative and scheming Caroline Bingley! In Pride and Prejudice she uses all her charms and allurements to entice Mr. Darcy into marriage. When he selects Elizabeth Bennet, of inferior birth and no consequence, her dream of being Mrs. Darcy is thwarted. In The Other Mr. Darcy your Caroline is still devastated by Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth’s marriage hiding her emotions behind propriety. Since you put yourself in her shoes so-to-speak to write the character, can you share with us your thoughts on Caroline’s personality, what you liked and disliked about her, and what you hoped to achieve in telling her own story?
Caroline used every trick she knew to get Mr. Darcy’s attention. But wouldn’t you? He was a good catch in every possible way. Because we’re on Eliza’s side, we only see Eliza’s perspective. We’ve got to remember that Eliza despises both Mr. Darcy and Caroline when she’s describing the way Caroline toadies to him. Later, she learns more about Mr. Darcy, so she comes to appreciate him. But we don’t get to know Caroline, so that initial impression remains. I felt there was a story there, particularly since Caroline is from a lower social class, and I wanted to know how she really felt about that.
The other issue that puzzles me about Mr. Darcy’s relationship with Caroline is that he chooses to spend time with her. He’s perfectly happy staying with them in Netherfield, and spends days if not weeks in the company of Caroline. Then, as if it isn’t enough, he later invites her to Pemberley to stay with him there. And of course, he dances with her at that first ball. There must be something good about her, if he’s willing to spend so much time with her. It’s not as if the Bingleys are the only friends he has (one hopes!).
In The Other Mr. Darcy you’ll find there’s a lot that’s good about her, once she realizes it’s useless to try and keep up the social pretences. It takes quite a few blows to recognize that, but once she does, and the real Caroline emerges, we can see why Fitzwilliam Darcy liked to spend time with her.
I don’t want to say more about Caroline, because the novel’s partly about her process of self discovery, so I don’t want to spoil the experience for the reader. But I do want to remind people that Caroline, who is younger than Charles Bingley, couldn’t have been more than twenty one. She’s young and inexperienced, One of her redeeming features is that she’s willing to learn from her mistakes. I think of her, in some ways, as resembling Emma, who also arrogantly blunders along and has to learn along the way, except that Emma perhaps is more confident, as she never had to prove herself to anybody.
Your first novel An Improper Suitor was also a historical romance set in the Georgian/Regency times. Your historical references and knowledge of the era are quite impressive. In The Other Mr. Darcy, Caroline travels from Netherfield Park in Hertfordshire by carriage to Pemberley in Derbyshire. Your descriptions of the towns and countryside along the route were remarkable. How do you research your novels? Did you actually reconstruct the rout in the early 1800’s to inspire your writing?
It took me a long time to work out the details of the journey north. I consulted strip maps of the time (literally, maps that are strips. They cover one particular section of the route in detail), I researched each of the places they passed through, and I used only real historic inns of the time. It was a lot of fun, but it took ages. I’m planning to take the route myself one of those days, just to see the actual places. A bit after the fact!
I’ve visited the places I mention in my next novel, though, so I know exactly what the places look like. It doesn’t make me very popular with my family, I can tell you, because I spend hours taking pictures of every nook and cranny, while they stand around being bored to tears!
Jane Austen has obviously influenced your writing. You have also mentioned your admiration for author Georgette Heyer when you wrote about her novel The Grand Sophy last summer on Jane Austen Today. What other writers have inspired, influenced, or cajoled you into becoming a writer? Who are you reading right now?
Speaking of Georgette Heyer, now that’s one writer who’s absolutely amazing with historical detail, because she’d know the routes and the distances between towns and villages at the blink of an eye. Her books are an encyclopedia of information. I remember once painstakingly doing research about some of the famous boxers of the time, and then I picked up one of her books, and in one scene she gave us more information than all the research I’d done!
I can’t say which writers influenced me most. There are so many. Virginia Woolf was important to me because through her I discovered stream of consciousness writing, and I fell under her spell for a while, until I discovered she was really too melancholy. I’ve loved Oscar Wilde, too, since I was a teen, and I would give anything to be as witty as he is (I haven’t seen Dorian Gray, yet, though I wouldn’t say wit is the strong point in that piece). Another writer I love is Toni Morrison. Perhaps at the back of my mind when I wrote The Other Mr. Darcy I had Jean Rhys’ Wild Sargasso Sea, which gives voice to the madwoman in the attic in Jane Eyre. I’ve read so many types of books, from science fiction to fantasy to postmodern, I can’t begin to say who influenced me. But I’m grateful to them all.
The only sad thing about writing is that you don’t have as much time to read.
I read many Jane Austen inspired books over a course of a year, but only a few authors really surprise and delight me as much as you did with The Other Mr. Darcy. Do you have another Austen inspired novel in the queue, or will you take a new direction?
Thank you for saying that, Laurel Ann. I’ll treasure those words. My next novel, The Darcy Cousins, is coming out in the spring, which is lovely really, because it starts in the springtime. The Darcy Cousins deals with Robert’s sister Clarissa. Meanwhile I’m working on a third book related to Pride and Prejudice, but I can’t reveal more than that.
Thank you for joining us today Monica. I am looking forward to reading The Darcy Cousins when it is released in the UK (Robert Hale) in March 2010 and in the US (Sourcebooks) in April 2010.
As a literature professor, Monica Fairview enjoyed teaching students to love reading. But after years of postponing the urge, she finally realized what she really wanted was to write books herself. She lived in Illinois, Los Angeles, Seattle, Texas, Colorado, Oregon and Boston as a student and professor, and now lives in London. To find out more, please visit her webite Monica Fairview or her blog Monica Fairview, Author.
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- September 29: The Review from Here/ScribVibe
- September 30: Everything Victorian
- October 1: The Good, the Bad, the Unread
- October 2: A Bibliophile’s Bookshelf
- October 5: Books Like Breathing
- October 6: The Burton Review
- October 7: Bloody Bad Books
- October 7: Austenprose
- October 8: The Long and the Short Reviews
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- October 11: Curious Statistical Anomaly
- October 12: Good and Bad Books *adult content*
- October 13: Lib’s Library
- October 16: Fresh Fiction