Please join us today in welcoming author Stephanie Barron on her book blog tour in celebration of her eleventh novel in the Being a Jane Austen Mysteries series, Jane and the Canterbury Tale to be released tomorrow by Bantam Books.
Walking Godmersham in Search of a Tale
About a dozen years or so ago, when my elder son was still a toddler and my younger not yet born, I left Sam in the care of a nanny and his dad, and wandered around England alone. I had ten days to myself, and the trip would have been intensely boring to anybody but me—no Tower of London, no Blenheim, no flying trip to Warwick Castle. The itinerary was entirely dictated by places Jane Austen had lived. I had written two books about her and intended to write more; but I needed a visual sense of all the places she had known, or could possibly have used herself as settings for her novels.
In some cases, it was easy to find her—in Bath, for example, where a cottage industry in Austen Walking Tours is thriving. Other places were more challenging. I was intrigued by the possibility that Jane had actually visited the town of Bakewell in Derbyshire, three miles from the ducal seat of Chatsworth—a town she actually mentions in Pride and Prejudice, although tradition insists she was never there. She might have gone to Bakewell, possibly, while spending six weeks with her cousin Edmund Cooper in his tiny village of Hamstall-Ridware, Staffordshire. Having seen the easy places—Portsmouth and Southampton, Chawton and Bath, Hans Crescent in London—I threw myself behind the right-handed wheel of a rented car and took to the carriageways, as highways are called in England. They terrified me. I consistently made the mistake of hugging the right lane of multi-lane roads, thinking it would be the “slow” lane—except, of course, in a reverse-world it was the fast lane, and I was the object of frustration and ridicule.
Hamstall Ridware proved depressingly obscure, lost in a maze of hedgerows and competing wooden signposts that helpfully directed me to Ridware, Little Hamstall, Upper Hamstall, Ridware-on-Trent, but never Jane’s particular village. I finally found Edward Cooper’s living and traced his family’s fate on the memorials carved in his church’s walls. Then I got a thankful drink at the village pub. (See Jane and the Stillroom Maid for further details.)
One trip I have never forgot, however, was my golden afternoon in the world of Edward Austen Knight, Jane’s second eldest and most fortunate brother. Edward lived, as all Janeites know, at Godmersham Park in Kent, about eight miles from Canterbury. Having taken a train from London to the walled cathedral city itself, I boarded a local bus and was deposited not long after on a deserted country road surrounded on all sides by open fields. This is sheep-grazing country, hilly and green, dotted with mature trees in occasional clumps; very like the vistas of Rosings in productions of Pride and Prejudice. I had been dropped quite near the sweep—or driveway—that led into Godmersham Park. It was, at the time, a corporate headquarters; but I was free to wander about the grounds, because Godmersham sits squarely on a hiking path—which in England, is sacrosanct. Foot travellers are regarded in the sceptered isle rather as Snooki and The Situation are regarded here. Moreover, the ancient Pilgrim’s Way to Canterbury comes down through the hills across Edward Austen Knight’s property, takes a detour to the old Norman church in which he and his wife Elizabeth lie, then turns and heads on to the cathedral.
It was a perfect July day. Which means, in England, that it wasn’t raining. Sheep were scattered like clouds across the hillsides. The Stour River, which meanders through various counties, is at Godmersham little more than a creek, with a stone bridge arching over it. The classical temple in which Jane and Elizabeth used to sit, still exists.
I would go on to set two books at Godmersham—the first, Jane and the Genius of the Place, in 1805 while Elizabeth Austen was still alive. The second, Jane and the Canterbury Tale, is set in 1813, and makes full use of the Pilgrim’s Way, Chaucer’s legacy, Edward’s protracted state of mourning, and the interesting group of neighbors the Austen-Knights had collected around them. It centers upon a Chaucerian group of characters, bound by fate, love, and revenge, whose tragic tale intrudes upon Jane’s autumn idyll in Kent. Her niece Fanny, and Fanny’s assorted beaux, are pivotal to the story. It was in October 1813 that Jane recorded, in her letters, a visit with Edward—Chief Magistrate for Canterbury—to the Canterbury Gaol. How could any mystery writer ignore such an invitation?
I hope you’ll give it a read.
Stephanie Barron, who also writes as Francine Mathews, is the author of 22 novels of mystery and suspense. A graduate of Princeton and Stanford, she majored in history—and has found that her books delve deeply into past lives in search of a story. She has used Queen Victoria, Virginia Woolf, Vita-Sackville West and Jane Austen as subjects of her fiction, and is currently researching a novel about Edith Wharton. She spent four years as an intelligence analyst at the CIA, where she briefly worked on the Counterterrorism Center’s investigation into the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Her Mathews novels focus on espionage, both contemporary and historic; her forthcoming book, Jack 1939, follows a young Jack Kennedy on leave from Harvard as he travels alone through 1939 Europe—while Hitler prepares to invade Poland. She lives with her husband and two sons in Denver, Colorado. Visit Stephanie at her websites Stephanie Barron & Francine Mathews.
Enter a chance to win one of three copies of Jane and the Canterbury Tale by leaving a comment stating what intrigues you most about reading a Jane Austen-inspired mystery, or if you too have had the august pleasure of visiting any of the Jane Austen pilgrimage sites in England, which was your favorite, by midnight PT, Wednesday, September 7th, 2011. Winners to be announced on Thursday, September 8th, 2010. Shipment to US and Canadian addresses only. Good luck!
Jane and the Canterbury Tale: Being a Jane Austen Mystery, by Stephanie Barron
Bantam Books, NY (2011)
Trade paperback (320) pages
© 2007 – 2011 Stephanie Barron, Austenprose