Author Maya Slater has joined us today to chat about her book The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy which has just been released in the US. First published in the UK as Mr. Darcy’s Diary, the novel is a mirror to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and told from Mr. Darcy’s perspective. This slant is certainly not new, as many other authors have given us their take on his story. Slater’s interpretation of Darcy is in turns intriguing and surprising, stirring up a bit of controversy between Austen’s fans. Everyone has their impression of who Mr. Darcy is and how Jane Austen’s characters should be interpreted in sequels. I found myself experiencing the story of Pride and Prejudice from entirely new vantage, and enjoyed her version thoroughly.
When did you first discover Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice, and what were your first impressions?
As a tiny child I remember my mother and grandmother quoting Mr Darcy to each other: ‘In vain have I struggled. It will not do…’. The book was a much-loved family friend before I was old enough to read into the night by the light of an illicit torch. I can’t recall a time when I didn’t know of it, or remember when, not content with appreciating it vicariously, I read it for myself.
Pride and Prejudice is one the classics of world literature. As an academic, you are trained to analyze and evaluate literature. Why do you think that Pride and Prejudice is still so valued by modern readers?
What modern novelist would ever write such a happy book? Jane Austen gives us the joy of a fairytale ending, and yet her characters remain brilliantly real and alive. They pushed themselves into my book from time to time, forcing me to quote them verbatim: Miss Bingley with her malicious character assassinations, Mrs Bennet with her strident materialism, and, above all, Elizabeth with her sparkling wit. Pride and Prejudice is written with exquisite elegance, and yet it is utterly gripping from start to finish. It is modern and also old-fashioned – and the fact that it sometimes reflects long outdated values just enhances its charm. I could go on and on.
Jane Austen chose to reveal the narrative of Pride and Prejudice through her heroine Elizabeth Bennet. What was your inspiration to write a retelling of the story from the hero Mr. Darcy’s point of view?
It happened in answer to a kind of challenge, though I didn’t realise it at first. A friend asked: ‘What book would you most love to read, if only it had been written?’ I found myself answering, without hesitation, ‘Oh, Mr. Darcy’s diary.’ I had no idea that my casual reply would stay with me for months, till I finally had to give in to the idea and start writing.
From the beginning I wanted to stick to exactly the same time frame as Jane Austen, so I started straight in with the first meeting between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth. I had never noticed how little time the two of them spend together till, shortly after they met, I found myself alone in London with Mr. Darcy, without Jane Austen to guide me through.
In The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy the reader experiences Pride and Prejudice wholly from a male perspective. How did you put yourself in his ‘boots’ and imagine his world?
Writing as a young man didn’t bother me at all – I’ve no idea why. What did perplex me was how to find a convincing inner voice for a character who has already been so superbly portrayed from outside. I felt it important to be faithful to Jane Austen’s portrayal, and I didn’t imagine there would be too many problems. But as soon as I sat down at my laptop, I realized that I was in difficulties. From the very start Mr. Darcy’s behaviour is strange and enigmatic. Why is he so frigid, haughty and downright rude the first time Elizabeth sees him at the Meryton Assembly? I felt he must be disturbed or angry about something. So after much thought I began my novel with a mysterious letter, just received, which greatly perturbs Mr. Darcy: in this mood the last thing he wants is to ‘gambol’ with unknown young women at a provincial ball.
By the time I had reached the second or third day of his diary, I was already so involved that I didn’t need to ask myself what Mr. Darcy’s motives were – I found that I understood them. He’d taken over.
Your Mr. Darcy is not the saint that some readers may have elevated him to be, partaking in Regency era activities that a man of his station would have experienced such as gambling, drinking and womanizing. His diary does reveal all his inner feeling, struggles and indiscretions, good and bad. This may surprise some readers. Could you elaborate on your choice of direction for the novel, and who your Mr. Darcy is and why?
If I had a conscious aim, it was to be absolutely true to how a man of Mr. Darcy’s age, class and education would have lived in Georgian or Regency times. And his diary was to be an honest, unexpurgated account of his most intimate moments – he had promised as much to his mother before she died. So as my research progressed – and I did do a lot of research for my novel – I found that in his private diary he was revealing a secret life. Being a young man about town, his interests, his pursuits and the company he keeps are not what the young ladies of Longbourn would expect. Furthermore, being a man and writing for himself alone, he is not bound by the proprieties that had to be observed by Jane Austen as a lady novelist. He goes his own way – and as none of his acquaintance sees his diary, nobody will be shocked.
The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy is, in turns intriguing, insightful and romantic. Since Pride and Prejudice is one of the greatest love stories ever written, how did you face the challenge to mirror the plot that some say is perfection? Is your Mr. Darcy truly the romantic icon that we all want him to be?
For the plot, my instinct was to be as faithful as possible to Pride and Prejudice. But during Mr. Darcy’s long absences from Jane Austen’s novel, he was free, without interfering with her marvellous plot, to take me to unexpected places – to Lord Byron’s half-ruined gothick country house, Newstead Abbey; to Watier’s gentleman’s club to watch the Prince Regent at cards;to seedy pawnbrokers’ in unsavoury districts of London – and to other places that no respectable woman would have known about, let alone visited. And of course, during these episodes, unexpected and sometimes shocking events occurred.
When the time came for Mr. Darcy to rejoin the pages of Pride and Prejudice, he had to have good reasons for getting there – to Rosings in the spring, to Pemberley in the summer, back to Netherfield in the autumn. This process turned out to be far from straightforward. For example, his visit to Rosings just when Elizabeth was staying at the nearby Parsonage was deliberately engineered – read my novel and you will see how.
His meetings with Elizabeth were kept as close as possible to Jane Austen’s account – though of course he saw these occasions from quite a different viewpoint. Occasionally, Jane Austen gave me a clue as to his movements during his absences, and I followed her lead, during his search for Lydia in London, or when Lady Catherine visited him to try to prevent his marrying Elizabeth.
I never thought it would be possible for my Mr. Darcy to be truly a romantic icon. An icon has to be admired from the outside, not explored from the inside. I don’t think a true icon can be vulnerable and fallible either: he has to seem faultless – and, at least in part, enigmatic. So by getting under the skin of my character I have ended up finding him less of an ideal hero than before, but I do feel that I understand and like him better.
The novel is also available as an audio book read by the velvet voiced David Rintoul who portrayed Mr. Darcy in the 1979 BBC/PBC miniseries of Pride and Prejudice! What a stroke of marketing genius. What are your impressions of his performance?
I confess that I was apprehensive before I heard the CD for myself, but I have nothing but praise for David Rintoul. His tone was exactly right – a well-bred exterior, only partly concealing the powerful emotions smouldering underneath. He read my Georgian English so simply and clearly it was a pleasure to listen to him.
In conclusion, you have written other scholarly works, but this was your first venture into fiction. Can we anticipate any other novels in the future?
I’ve discovered that writing fiction is an addiction. It’s difficult, toilsome and discouraging, but creating a novel is such an extraordinary experience that I can’t stop. I’m working on another book now – set some 200 years after The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy.
I’ve really enjoyed answering your questions, Laurel Ann – they made me think about my novel in new ways. I’ll be happy to answer any queries your readers may care to make.
Thank you for joining us Maya and sharing your insights on Jane Austen and your experience writing your first novel.
Giveaway Contest: Enter a chance to win one of two copies of The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy by leaving a question for the author here, or at my co-blog, Jane Austen Today before June 24th. Winners announced Thursday, June 25th at Jane Austen Today.
Maya Slater was raised in Kensington, London in an enormous Victorian house that her father, an Egyptologist, and her mother a fashion-artist picked up for a song after the war and filled with a motley assortment of lodgers. In the summer they would decamp to the South of France sparking her interest to read French at Oxford and pursue a career as an academic, lecturing on French literature at London University. Along with her other academic publications, she is the author of a verse translation of six Molière plays, Le Misanthrope, Tartuffe and Other Plays, published by Oxford World’s Classics. She lives in a Victorian villa in Islington, North London, and farmhouse in France with her husband, a retired doctor. She retired from academic life to write her first novel, The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy, and also writes theatre and book reviews mainly for the Times Literary Supplement. She and her husband are currently collaborating on a book a translation of Boris Pasternak’s correspondence with his family to be published in 2010 by the Hoover Press at Stanford University.
The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy is available for purchase online and at your local bookstore from W. W. Norton & Co. The audio book edition read by David Rintoul is available for download at Audible.com, where you can also listen to a preview. I highly recommend it.
* Photograph: Monica Garnsey