We are very happy to share the exciting news of the upcoming publication of Shannon Winslow’s next book, The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen, to be released on August 11, 2014.
Those who are familiar with her bestselling The Darcy’s of Pemberley and Return to Longbourn will be thrilled to learn about this new “what if” story focusing on Jane Austen’s personal inspiration to write her final novel, Persuasion. Here is a brief preview and exclusive excerpt to peak your curiosity.
For every fan who has wished Jane Austen herself might have enjoyed the romance and happy ending she so carefully crafted for all her heroines…
What if the tale Jane Austen told in her last, most poignant novel was actually inspired by momentous events in her own life? Author Shannon Winslow theorizes that Austen did in fact write Persuasion in homage to her one true love – a sea captain of her own – and that she might also have recorded the details of that romance in a private journal, written alongside the progressing manuscript. In The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen, Winslow weaves the two together, and we finally hear Jane’s own parallel story of lost love, second chances, and finding her happy ending.
Here is a never-before-seen excerpt of how Jane first met her Captain Devereaux. She was just twenty-two at the time, and the date was December 31, 1797.
“Jane, do allow me to introduce to you a very good friend of mine,” said my cousin Eliza (newly made my sister-in-law) at the breakfast following her wedding to my brother Henry. “This is Captain Philippe Devereaux.”
I looked up and there he was. The second before, I had been laughing and rattling on with someone else – who, I really cannot remember – in a most frivolous fashion. But my chatter died instantly away when I saw the dashing gentleman in naval uniform before me. He was tall, and, as I have now written of Captain Wentworth, a remarkably fine young man. My breath caught in my throat as he reached out his confident hand for mine, and I stood frozen for a moment, unable to do anything more than stare at him.
I had beheld plenty of handsome men before, of course, none of whom had demonstrated any ability to deprive me of my considerable powers of speech. This was different, however; I knew it at once, even before Captain Devereaux opened his mouth. Perhaps it was the soulful way he returned my gaze with those searching, dark eyes of his. Or perhaps I had a certain sense, even then, that my life would be forever changed because of the stranger before me.
The gentleman bowed deeply over my hand. “Enchanted,” he said in a low rumble. I believe I murmured something unintelligible in response, and then Eliza, looking at me archly, got on with the business of making us acquainted.
“Captain Devereaux has been a friend to me – as he was to my first husband – for many years. He did me a great service at the beginning of the Revolution, seeing to it that my son, my mother, and I came safely away from France.” Then, addressing the gentleman, she added, “Dear Jane is by far my most favourite cousin, sir, and it is my considered opinion that two such charming people ought to know one another.” With no more than that, she left us together.
We continued to stare at one another until finally the captain said, “I am very happy to make your acquaintance at last, Miss Austen. In truth, it was all my own idea. So highly has your cousin spoken of you that I insisted on receiving an introduction.”
His English was flawless. His elegant accent, however, although faint, was decidedly French like his name. A French expatriate in the British navy? My quick curiosity demanded satisfaction. But first, I nodded, acknowledging his compliment, and I managed to say, “I am pleased that you did, sir.”
This is when I should by rights have smiled coyly. Here was my opening for trying my powers of flirtation on a new and very appealing subject. Yet I was too much overcome by the strength of the man’s mere presence to attempt it. His nearness made my every nerve come alive. It excited an almost painful mingling of attraction and agitation. Ordinary flirting was out of the question. How could I hope to be clever when I could neither think clearly nor still the violent flutterings inside my breast? Besides, some inner voice told me that this was not a person to be taken lightly.
So instead, I did my best to swallow my discomposure as I said in earnest, “Eliza has the most remarkable friends. I am already intrigued by what she says about you, Captain, that you helped her to escape from France. I can only suppose that there must have been considerable danger involved.”
He dropped his eyes for a moment. “Some, yes, but I would not wish to excite ideas of heroism. It was my own life I was saving as well as hers when we sailed for England.”
This surprising humility impressed me. “I am sure you are too modest,” I said. “May I know more about how it happened?”
A shadow crossed his face. “Oh, no. Reciting my sad history can be of no use on a day meant for celebration. Let us find a more suitable topic. Your cousin has told me that you possess a very keen interest in literature, Miss Austen. Pray tell me, what is the kind of thing you most like to read?”
As disappointed as I was to have been turned aside from the first subject, the second was equally compelling. “All kinds, Captain, or very nearly all. How could I chuse only one food when there is a banquet spread before me?”
One side of his mouth pulled up into a half smile. “That is well expressed, mademoiselle. I myself take my reading pretty equally from biographies, plays, poetry, and the papers. For moral extracts, I like Dr. Johnson. Have you read Dr. Johnson, Miss Austen?”
“I have indeed! He is a great favourite with me as well.”
“Excellent. We have already found one thing we have in common. I very much look forward to discovering many more.”
By this time, my initial unease was fading, nearly done away with by growing exhilaration. Abandoning my last scruple, I plunged ahead. “Then, at the risk of offending you, sir, I will be so bold as to ask you this. Do you admit to reading novels?”
“I do! And furthermore, I am not ashamed of saying so. Although novels may not yet enjoy the respect they deserve, I believe nowhere else is the excellence of the human mind and imagination so well displayed. I have novels to thank for taking me on some very fine adventures – to the far corners of the world as well as to the hidden reaches of the soul.”
I could not trust myself to speak at this, so deeply were my already-excited feelings gratified by the captain’s warm commendation of that art form which meant the world to me. It seemed there could be no better proof of our compatibility.
“You smile, Miss Austen, and yet I cannot judge what you are thinking. Do not leave me in suspense. What do you say to my confession that I esteem the novel?”
I gathered my wits together again. “I could not agree with you more, Captain, I assure you.”
We pursued this happy line for several minutes longer, comparing lists of our preferred novels and discussing in further detail those we had read in common. Nothing could have been more satisfying or more thrilling. It was not that our opinions, Captain Devereaux’s and mine, always coincided; they did not, in truth. But here at last was an attractive gentleman – a very attractive gentleman – with excellent manners, a well-informed mind, and a wealth of intelligent conversation. I had nearly despaired of finding one such; now he stood before me. And, of equal importance, he appeared to be as taken with me as I was with him.
I saw and heard nothing beyond ourselves. For the moment, my world had contracted to that one conversation, and yet it had at the same time immeasurably expanded to encompass all the pleasurable possibilities as to where it might lead…
The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen: A Novel, by Shannon Winslow will be available from Heather Ridge Arts on August 11, 2014 in trade paperback and digital eBook.
Author Shannon Winslow specializes in fiction for fans of Jane Austen. Her popular debut novel, The Darcys of Pemberley, immediately established her place in the genre, being particularly praised for the author’s authentic Austenesque style and faithfulness to the original characters. For Myself Alone (a stand-alone Austen-inspired story) followed. Then last year Return to Longbourn wrapped up Winslow’s Pride and Prejudice saga, forming a trilogy when added to the original novel and her previous sequel. Now she has given us a “what if” story starring Jane Austen herself. In The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen, that famous author tells her own tale of lost love, second chances, and finding her happy ending.
Her two sons grown, Ms. Winslow lives with her husband in the log home they built in the countryside south of Seattle, where she writes and paints in her studio facing Mt. Rainier.
Cover image courtesy of Heather Ridge Arts © 2014; excerpt Shannon Winslow © 2014; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2014, Austenprose.com