Jane Austen is known for her finely drawn and memorable characterizations. Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice is undoubtedly her most famous hero, easily filling the literary romantic icon mantle. Our fascination with his haughty, arrogant noble mien has inspired many authors, screenwriters and even composers to try recreate that magic combination of enigmatic characteristics that Austen so skillfully introduced. The latest Austen inspired novel to feature a Mr. Darcy-like doppelganger is Beth Pattillo’s Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart. It follows a similar format to her previous novel Jane Austen Ruined My Life (2009) which was one of my Top 20 Favorite Austenesque Books of 2009. Set in contemporary times, young heroine Claire Prescott is at a crossroads in her life, travels to England, meets a handsome, haughty and wealthy young man and is thrown into the path of the ‘Formidables’, a secret sect of Janeites harboring Jane Austen letters, manuscripts and her reputation. Beth has kindly offered to chat with us today about her new book and her affinity to one of her favorite authors.
Welcome Beth, thanks for joining us:
When did you first discover Jane Austen and did she influence your reading choices and writing career?
I first discovered Jane Austen my junior year in college. I was lucky enough to do a semester abroad at Westfield College, University of London. It was a bitterly cold winter and I spent a lot of hours curled up beneath my down duvet, radiator blazing, reading those inexpensive Penguin Classic paperbacks. I started with Pride and Prejudice and worked my way through the rest by the time spring arrived.
I love the Regency period and have read lots and lots of research books, so I feel as if it’s a time period I know well. I started out writing Regency romance, spent some time with Southern women’s fiction and mystery, and then, after a trip to London, started to wonder about Austen’s lost letters. That’s when the idea for Jane Austen Ruined My Life was born. The new book, Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart, seemed the logical next step. If I could fantasize about Austen’s lost letters, how much more fun would it be to play a game of “What If” with regards to the original draft of Pride and Prejudice?
Jane Austen is known for her astute observations of human nature and lively characterizations. Which heroes, heroines, rogues and flirts do you admire and or abhor in Austen’s novels and what do you think makes them so memorable?
I love all her heroines, with the possible exception of Fanny in Mansfield Park. I think Elizabeth Bennet is memorable for her wit and complexity. The Dashwood sisters in Sense and Sensibility set up a great ‘debate’ about just how much romanticism is too much romanticism. I have to say, I’m much more an Elinor than a Marianne. Anne Elliot may be my favorite heroine because she takes all the indignities her family foists upon her with good grace – plus, she triumphs magnificently in the end. I also love Emma. I know she rubs some people the wrong way, but I think her heart is in the right place.
As to the heroes, I’m particularly fond of Mr. Darcy, Colonel Brandon, and Captain Wentworth. The first has to tame his own ego, the second has to persevere to gain his heart’s desire, and the third one has to learn how to forgive. They all win our hearts because they prove themselves worthy of their heroines.
As to the rogues and flirts, I have to say I enjoy them all. Austen has such a keen eye for describing human nature. All her characters remind me of people whom I’ve met in my life.
In Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart, one of the main characters is James Beaufort, a wealthy and arrogant young man whose personality and social position are similar to Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy. Could you share your research process for the character and elaborate on the dynamics between him and your heroine Claire Prescott.
I wanted to explore what would happen if Claire did indeed meet her own version of Mr. Darcy. I think that’s a pretty common fantasy among women today! I tried to give James enough of the Darcy elements to make him intriguing without making him a carbon copy. And he had to be tied in to the mystery of the manuscript Claire finds, so I set him up as part of an old publishing family. I think the central Darcy question is whether, in real life, the average woman could trust him, whether his wealth and privilege would keep him from engaging in a relationship of equals. That’s the journey Claire has to take.
The novel is set at Oxford University and your descriptions of the campus and town are vivid and intriguing. Jane Austen’s father, two brothers and uncle attended Oxford and I loved how you tided the family connection into the novel. Did you travel to Oxford for research or are you an armchair admirer of some of the most beautiful eighteenth-century architecture in the world?
I was lucky enough to spend a week at Christ Church, Oxford several years ago as part of a program called The Oxford Experience. (I highly recommend it.) I very much enjoyed reliving in my mind the wonderful places that I experienced firsthand. I do worry that I didn’t get all the details just right, since it’s been several years since I was there. I spent the week I was there doing a writing course with a wonderful instructor, meeting some fascinating people, sweltering in the heat (just as Claire does in the book), and sitting for hours in the Masters Garden. The character of Harriet Dalrymple was inspired (but not based on) a woman that I actually met along the Kings Walk on my first day.
After your success with Jane Austen Ruined My Life, you could have gone in any writing direction but chose another Austen inspired theme. I loved how you tie the two novels together with the ‘Formidables’ a group of Janeites protecting Jane Austen’s long, and thought to be lost letters and manuscripts. Where did the inspiration of this theme come from and do you plan to continue it in your next novel?
I’m not sure where the idea for the Formidables came from, other than that I’m always playing the “What If” game in my mind. What if Cassandra Austen didn’t destroy her sister’s letters, as instructed? Where would they be? Who would have them? And why wouldn’t they have been made public?
I chose the name “Formidables” because that’s how Jane and Cassandra Austen referred to themselves as the strong-but-loving maiden aunts in the family. I hope to write someday about how the group was formed and more about their function.
My next novel from Guideposts will be The Truth About Jane Eyre (Winter 2011). I’m switching to the Brontes for this one and it’s a nice change of pace. I don’t think I’m done with Jane Austen quite yet, though, but it’s too soon to spill any beans.
If you could plan a tea with Jane Austen, who else would you include in your soiree?
If I could have tea with Jane Austen, I wouldn’t invite anyone else, because I wouldn’t want to share her! I’d be terrified and ecstatic all at once. I’d love to know what she would make of our fascination with/adoration of her work. And I wouldn’t mind finding out a little more about how some of her famous couples spent the rest of their lives!
Thanks for chatting with us today Beth. I too would want Jane Austen all to myself if she came to tea. Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart will be released on February 1st, 2010. I highly recommend it.
UPDATE Feb 08: The giveaway contest has now concluded and the winners will be announced today.
UPDATE Feb 04: Because the outstanding response by readers to this giveaway, the publisher has kindly offered to double the number of books being offered to 6 copies of Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart and two sets of MDBMH and Jane Austen Ruined My Life. Huzzah!
Enter a chance to win one of three copies of Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart and one set combined with Jane Austen Ruined My Life by leaving a comment before midnight PT Sunday February 7th, 2010 stating who is your favorite Mr. Darcy in an Austen inspired book or movie. Winners will be announced on Monday, February 8th, 2010. Shipping to US and Canadian addresses only. Good luck!
UPDATE 02/08/10: The contest has concluded. The winner was announced. Follow this link to discover if it was YOU!
Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart: A Novel, by Beth Pattillo
Guideposts Books (2010)
Trade paperback (272) pages