Please join us today in welcoming author David Liss on his blog tour in celebration of the release of The Twelfth Enchantment, a new Regency-era novel featuring Jane Austen’s character Mary Crawford and a bit of magic, published by Random House.
There’s no bad girl like a Jane Austen bad girl. I’m not sure what it says about me, but I’ve always been fascinated by some of the worst women in Austen’s novel. Not the unlikable, begrudging, judgmental, and pinched women, but the big-hearted and flawed ones – the ones who are close to being good except they’re not. They’re bad. High on my list is Lydia Bennet, the wayward youngest sister from Pride and Prejudice, but my number one Austen vixen has always been Mary Crawford, the wicked rival from Mansfield Park.
When I set out to work on my most recent novel, The Twelfth Enchantment, I knew I wanted my main character to be based on an older and wiser version of Lydia Bennet – an iteration of the character type who did not succeed in running off with an older man. The book’s protagonist, Lucy Derrick, ended up evolving away from the source material and becoming her own character since that’s what happens when you write a novel, but the germ is there, and I think any Austen reader will recognize it. I also knew I wanted to have Mary Crawford in the book. Not a character based on her, but the character herself. I wanted to pick up the character’s story after the events of Mansfield Park and show her in an altered state. In my novel, she is most certainly changed, but parts of the character remain the same – beautiful, charming, clever and scheming.
Mansfield Park is not, in my opinion, Jane Austen’s best novel. As a protagonist, Fanny Price is insipid and forgettable, and the novel often evidences an attention to petty detail that is near stultifying. Nevertheless, the book rises above these faults because the world Fanny Price inhabits is nuanced, rich and socially dangerous. The supporting characters are fascinatingly flawed, and the relationships are among the edgiest in Austen’s work. Though Austen’s novels are generally oblivious to the cultural and economic upheavals and human suffering visible everywhere during the early industrial revolution, Fanny’s return to Portsmouth showcases how masterfully the author could have worked with gritty social realism had she so chosen.
Nevertheless, the showcase of the novel is Mary Crawford, whose magnetic presence in the book is rooted, to no small degree, to her similarity to the most popular Jane Austen character of them all, Elizabeth Bennet. Both characters are intelligent, witty, socially adroit, and charming. Mary Crawford, however, is not guided by the same moral compass as Elizabeth Bennet, who may at times be too clever for her own good, but nevertheless remains kind and generous and forgiving. Mary Crawford, on the other hand, is a kind of a villainess, but the line that separates Austen’s most lovable heroine and her most charming antagonist is extraordinarily thin, and that is what initially drew me in.
In my novel, we find Mary Crawford a few years after the events of Mansfield Park. She’s suffered from her romantic failure and the disgrace of her brother that ended the novel, and she’s endured more besides, though to say more would be revealing too much. Suffice to say that she is a changed woman, though the core remains the same. But what exactly does that mean? Is a “bad” character capable of becoming “good?” And if so, what is the nature of this goodness? These were immensely satisfying questions to explore as I wrote the book, and I hope they are satisfying to read about as well.
I loved having the opportunity to play with the seeds planted by Jane Austen and move the archetypal characters into the later stage of their lives – as well as set them loose in a world that is much less cloistered than most of Austen’s work. The Twelfth Enchantment finds its characters amid the real social upheavals of the early 19th century when the world was literally changing before the eyes of ordinary Englishmen and women. The novel is also a fantasy, however, in which traditional English folk magic, as well as more scholarly high magic, really work – the way real people imagined they worked when those same real people practiced magic.
Writers always work in the shadows of their predecessors, and there are few writers as influential as Austen, who revolutionized both what kinds of characters were fit subjects for novels and how those characters can be brought to life. On the one hand, taking Austen’s characters and continuing their stories is an act of fandom and devotion, but given Austen’s influence on the form, I think it could also be argued that that’s what most novelists are doing most of the time anyhow.
David Liss is the author of six previous novels, including A Conspiracy of Paper (2000) which was named a New York Times Notable Book and won the 2001 Barry, MacAvity and Edgar awards for Best First Novel. The Coffee Trader (2003) was also named a New York Times Notable Book and was selected by the New York Public Library as one of the year’s 25 Books to Remember. A Spectacle of Corruption (2004) was a national bestseller, and The Devil’s Company (2009) has been optioned for film by Warner Brothers. Liss also writes the monthly series Black Panther for Marvel Comics. He currently lives in San Antonio with his wife and children.
Visit David at his website Novelist David Liss, on Twitter @David_Liss, and on Facebook as David Liss.
The Twelfth Enchantment: A Novel, by David Liss
Random House, New York (2011)
Hardcover (416) pages
Cover image, guest blog, & author bio courtesy of Random House © 2011; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2011, Austenprose.com
This novel looks interesting. If I won it, I would peruse it first. To tell the truth, these competitions are nothing but intriguing.
No other author has inspired the seductive art of what I call “projecting” as often as Miss Austen has with me. Projecting is the stimulating mental exercise of extending the author’s story and characters beyong the intended story’s end. However, I must cross swords with you, Mr. Liss, over Fanny Price who I consider anything but insipid. For me, she is an almost savior-figure to the Bertrams and in spite of her physical infirmities, she possesses an almost heroic moral resolve as unbending as a bar of iron on the inside. I LOVE Fanny as a heroine. I predict you’ll have a winner featuring Mary, with her beauty, intelligence, accomplishments, cleverness, and moral complications as an indeal “projection” project! Best of wishes….
I must agree here with my fellow comboxer, Jeffrey…His take on Fanny…spot on… Fanny, I think uses the insipid thing as a mask to take in everything around her and then rises to the occasion when necessary.. Smart, smart, smart..Mansfield Park may perhaps be the best of Miss Austen’s novels for the character interplay alone but I agree it may not be the best allover of all of her novels. In my humble opinion MP takes us into a world Austen didn’t touch in her other masterpieces… Austen’s characters are fleshed out in such a way it is astounding that here is a woman who watched life as a way of diving into it. Her abilities intellectually almost scary, as she is a master social scientist only to be topped by an author like no other.
Mary Crawford could have been a trite character but only Jane could take it to the higher level. I think perhaps this is the reason you chose Mary, Mr. Liss.
It will be an honor and delight to purchase and read your book. Austenites will agree you served up a juicy hunk of meat only we could appreciate.
Mille grazie, and best of fortune in your work,
Wow, this novel seems amazing. Mary Crawford, the 19th century, AND magic! I think I may be in love. Perfect title, too – Mary Crawford, whatever her faults, is definitely an enchanting character.
I have not read Mansfield Park so it is very difficult to guess how and why Mr. Liss chose to include her in his novel. I must say reading this post has inspired me to read Mansfield Park and I just ordered it. I’ve read a couple of other novels by David Liss and look forward to reading this one. Thanks so much for the giveaway.
I think Mr. Liss chose Mary to be the centerpiece of his novel because she had the most to gain by changing some of her personality traits. She would not have succeeded if she wasn’t beautiful as well as being crafty as a fox!
It would be appreciated if I could be lucky enough to win a copy. Thank you for the giveaway.
Mary Crawford is one of those characters I’m on the borderline in opinion. She’s not all bad however she is selfish and not one of my fave’s. Her in an upcoming novel would be interesting and as a magician….not sure really. She does seem to like being in the spotlight so maybe.
Mary is so mysterious–sometimes she can turn on the charm (no pun intended, of course), and sometime she seems genuine. I can totally see her as a magician!
Mary Crawford is a fascinating character because while she is amoral according to the standard of the times, she is also the character who sees each of the Bertrams as they truly are. She, as much as her selfish and manipulative nature will let her, is actually kinder to Fanny than the Bertrams.
Alas, I wish I could delete that beginning drivel of mine with embarrassing mis-spellings, plus, I didn’t even address the topic! Forgive me, let’s try that again. Yes, I can envision the seductive Mary Crawford delving into magic. I tend to link the magical arts together with the supernatural and I don’t know if this work does that; however are not the magical arts often portrayed as morally neutral but can be manipulated by the practicer for either good or evil? I should hope Mary Crawford finds some redemption in practicing her gifts for goodness. I am drawn to any fantasy that involves the supernatural or the unexplained. Your latest offering is doing just that to me, Mr. Liss!
Mary Crawford is a perfect choice for this premise. She is familiar enough as a Jane Austen character, but most likely not a favorite or heroine in anyone’s opinion. I love the idea of potential redemption, the bad girl turned good, but I am not sure if that is what to expect in this novel. The magic element is great for a personal of questionable morals. Magic can be used for good or evil and I look forward to seeing how Mary Crawford fares in her future.
I think Mary Crawford was an excellent choice. She’s such an overlooked character from Austen’s world. Also being a secondary character gives an opportunity for an author to explore her as a character.
Mary Crawford is a wonderful choice! She practically oozes confidence and when she enters a room men and women alike stop and take notice! MP is one of my favorites as is Fanny.. she seems so quiet but she’s incredibly smart and aware and full of righteous opinion! She is so in love and even as Mary seems to take over you can see her struggle with hating Mary for being in the way while at the same time liking her company and attention to a certain degree. This is the pure animal pull of Mary Crawfords personality! I can’t wait to see what she is like in this new novel! I’m so excited and I can NOT believe I’ve just now found this site! I’m sure I’m not refined enough to be here but as I cannot get enough Austen I really have no choice in the matter! ;)
This sounds like an ‘enchanting’ read. Mary Crawford, of any of Jane’s characters, (except maybe the fey Jane Fairfax) would be perfect in a magical setting. Her beguiling ways and that little ‘edge’ to her, when things don’t go her way!
Thanks for the chance to win a copy of this book! It has been in my TBR pile for a bit now and what better way to make sure it gets to theTOP of the pile to read!
oreannie at yahoo dot com
Mary Crawford already IS a magician! She enchants men of the cloth and tempts them away from their vocations – much in the line of Circe or Morgan le Fay, who both, I think, would happily agree with Mary that “one must always forgive selfishness, for there is nothing to be done about it.”
Actually, I’d be fascinated with MP redone as a fantasy novel. I think it might do quite well – and a continuation of MP as an alternate world fantasy (my favourite!) sounds lovely!
Pretty please may I win this book?
I think Mary, like Fanny, is far more complex than a surface reading of Mansfield Park offers. I work with teen girls. I see them don many masks and personas in order to be accepted, liked, or even the ‘chief’ in their particular tribe. I wonder if Mary did much the same. Might be why she was chosen for this lead role.
I truly love David Liss’ other books! I am so excited to see he has taken on Jane Austen now. This is a book I definitely want to read. He writes wonderful historical mysteries. I always learn from his books and enjoy the time and place of his books as much as his characters! I am truly looking forward to this book. I would love to win a copy.
I so look forward to reading David Liss’s new book. Mary Crawford has all the qualities of a great magician: she is clever, smart, pretty, witty, an excellent conversationalist, a consummate actress, and uses sleight of hand to skillfully get what she wants, nearly succeeding in convincing a dutiful man to give up his preferred vocation, just to be with her. A great choice for a flawed heroine, for all worthy heroines must have faults, and learn, grow, and change. I can’t wait to see what David has done with her.
I’m currently writing another Jane Austen-themed novel myself, and am reading only books by Jane, about Jane, about her characters, and/or about the Regency period, to keep Jane’s voice and the details and style of the era in my mind. This novel would be the perfect addition to my collection. I would be thrilled to win a copy!
I think Mary is one of Austen’s most interesting characters (much more so than say, the ever so good Catherine in Northanger Abbey). She is so different from other Austen characters. She is morally flawed, smart, and out to get what she wants from life. I’m sure Austen herself must have envied Mary a little for grabbing what she wanted instead of submitting to social restrictions of the time. Mary would be an intriguing character to read more about, and I can’t wait to read your novel!
This book sounds really interesting! It’s been a while since I’ve read Mansfield Park but I remember Mary being ambitious and willing to do anything to get what she wants/needs which is unusual for that day and age. I think this makes her stand out from Austen’s other female characters and an interesting character to further explore.
I certainly agree with the author about Fanny Price. She makes you wonder what Jane was thinking of when she wrote this novel. Actually, many of the characters in this novel are one-dimensional. However, both Mary and her brother are not. They certainly are worth expanding on. The author described Mary Crawford as a vixen. I must agree with this since she has good qualities. She’s not the totally bad character that Aunt Norris at all. This certainly sounds like an interesting read