I am very pleased to welcome author Syrie James to Austenprose today to officially open her virtual book launch party and blog tour of Jane Austen’s First Love, published by Berkley Trade. This new Austenesque novel is a fascinating combination of fact and fiction, exploring the first romance of fifteen year-old Jane Austen with the handsome and sophisticated Edward Taylor.
Syrie has generously offered a guest blog sharing her inspiration to write her new book.
The inspiration for my novel Jane Austen’s First Love originated several years ago when I was re-reading Jane Austen’s letters. I was struck by three sweet and tender references Jane made to a young man she met as a teenager while visiting her brother Edward Austen in Kent.
Painting of Bifrons Park, near Patrixbourne, Kent, circa 1695
“We went by Bifrons, & I contemplated with a melancholy pleasure, the abode of Him, on whom I once fondly doated,” Jane wrote to her sister Cassandra in September 1796. The “him” she refers to is Edward Taylor, heir to Bifrons, a grand ancestral estate. Jane was twenty when she wrote that letter, and was looking back on a relationship that took place some years before. In two other letters, Jane joked affectionately about Edward Taylor’s inheritance, and, wistfully contemplating his possible marriage, hoped that another generation would be adorned by his “beautiful dark eyes.”
Who was this Edward Taylor, I wondered, upon whom a young Jane had “fondly doated ”? (“Doat” is a variant—now rare—spelling of “dote.”) The definition of “to dote” is “to express and demonstrate great love and fondness for somebody” or “to love to an excessive or foolish degree.” Great love and fondness! Excessive, foolish love! We know so little about Jane Austen’s romantic life, yet here was a solid clue, in her own words, about a young man with whom she was clearly besotted! I was stunned that no one had ever written about it before.
I quickly discovered why Jane’s relationship with Edward Taylor had thus far remained in the shadows: it seemed there was very little information available about him. He is mentioned only briefly in Austen biographies as Jane’s first crush, the earliest of her possible suitors. Determined to learn more about him, I spent many months combing through obscure files on the internet, searching for clues. Thankfully Edward Taylor was a member of the landed gentry. As such, I was able to gather valuable nuggets from a variety of sources regarding his ancestors, his ancestral estate, his parents, his siblings (he had four brothers and three sisters), and himself. I noted that he was a Member of Parliament; I learned the essential dates of his life: birth, marriage, death; I uncovered tantalizing facts about his education and time served in the army, which was puzzling—why had the eldest son and heir served in the army? It was a great start, but hardly enough—I wanted to know about Edward Taylor’s youth, who he was when Jane Austen met him.
Georgian remodel of Bifrons Park, in Kent circa 1900
One day, I struck gold. I discovered a priceless resource, The Taylor Papers, (1913), the candid memoirs and letters of Edward’s brother Lieutenant General Sir Herbert Taylor, compiled decades later by a descendant. These memoirs contain a detailed description of the Taylor children’s unusual and well-traveled childhood abroad and their many accomplishments. All were fluent in five languages, and each played a musical instrument so proficiently that the family gave concerts all over Europe. The Taylors were close friends with princes and princesses, dukes and duchesses, famous artists, and high-ranking religious, military, and government leaders in Europe. The more I read, the more awestruck I became. Edward Taylor was a remarkable young man who had led a fascinating life. No wonder Jane Austen fell in love with him! That he was a real person, and that I had in my possession so many little-known facts about him, was thrilling.
Meanwhile, I was intrigued by another Austen fact. In 1791, when Jane’s brother Edward Austen became engaged to Elizabeth Bridges of Goodnestone Park, two of Elizabeth’s sisters also became engaged. I thought it highly unusual that three sisters in the same family should marry almost simultaneously—and it couldn’t be a coincidence that Jane, at the same time, wrote her comedic short story The Three Sisters. I realized that Jane Austen was most likely introduced to Edward Taylor through his connection as both a cousin and neighbor of the Bridges family (Bifrons was only five miles from Goodnestone). It seemed likely to me that Jane visited Kent in the summer of 1791, where she not only met the young ladies who inspired that story, but also met and fell in love with Edward Taylor. And thus my novel was born. I hope that readers enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!
Syrie James, hailed by Los Angeles Magazine as “the queen of nineteenth century re-imaginings,” is the bestselling author of nine critically acclaimed novels including The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen (“A literary feast for Anglophiles”—Publisher’s weekly), The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen (named one of the best first novels of the year by Library Journal), and The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë (Audie Award, Romance 2011; Great Group Read, Women’s National Book Association). Syrie’s books have been translated into eighteen languages. She is a member of the Writer’s Guild of America and a life member of JASNA. Follow Syrie on twitter, visit her on facebook, and learn more about her and her books at syriejames.com.
Read an exclusive excerpt from Jane Austen’s First Love
Jane Austen’s First Love: A Novel, by Syrie James
Berkley Trade (August 5th, 2014), 400 pages
Trade paperback ISBN: 978-0425271353
Digital eBook ASIN: B00G3L7VES
Cover image courtesy of Berkley Trade © 2014; text Syrie James © 2014; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2014, Austenprose.com