I am very pleased to welcome author Shannon Winslow to Austenprose today to officially open her virtual book launch party and blog tour of The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen, published today by Heather Ridge Arts.
This new Austenesque novel is a fascinating combination of fact and fiction, exploring Jane Austen’s unknown personal journal— revealing her secret romance with a Royal Navy officer, Captain Devereaux, who was the inspiration for her final novel, Persuasion.
Shannon has generously offered a guest blog sharing her inspiration to write her new novel.
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: The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen, by Shannon Winslow.
What if the tale Jane Austen told in her last, most poignant novel was inspired by momentous events in her own life? Did she in fact intend Persuasion to stand forever in homage to her one true love? While creating Persuasion, Jane Austen also kept a private journal in which she recorded the story behind the story, her real-life romance with a navy captain of her own. The parallel could only go so far, however. As author of her characters’ lives, but not her own, Jane Austen made sure to fashion a second chance and happy ending for Anne and Captain Wentworth. Then, with her novel complete and her health failing, she prepared her simple will and resigned herself to never seeing the love of her life again. Yet fate, it seems, wasn’t quite finished with her. Nor was Captain Devereaux. The official record says that Jane Austen died at 41, having never been married. But what if that’s only what she wanted people to believe? It’s time she, through her own private journal, revealed the rest of her story.
What inspired me to write The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen?
I can’t quite put my finger on when the concept for this book first occurred to me. It was more of a slowly germinating seed rather than a bolt out of the blue, something that needed to ruminate in my brain a while before emerging onto the page. But this will give you an idea how my thoughts about the book evolved.
First, I am no different than any other fan. Which of us hasn’t at some point wished Jane Austen had met with a better fate? She, who has given pleasure to countless thousands through her novels, surely deserved to have experienced the same romance and happy ending she carefully crafted for each of her heroines. That’s what motivated me.
But perhaps there was more to her story than is generally known, I considered. Since most authors draw heavily from people and situations in their own lives, it didn’t seem unreasonable to me that Jane Austen had more real-life experience in the field of romance than the official record suggests—obviously, not a married-her-sweetheart-at-twenty-and-lived-happily-ever-after kind of affair. But what about a bitter-sweet romance marked by grand passion, misfortune, and long separation? That would be a better fit. Perhaps, something on the order of her novel Persuasion.
Ah, Persuasion—her last and most poignant novel. Yes, that was the model! A young couple falls rapidly and deeply in love. They are soon cruelly parted again, however – so soon that few people, even in their own families, ever know about it. When fate brings the two together again, years later, it should be their second chance at happiness. But pride and resentment get in the way, keeping them estranged. Only surprising, near-miraculous events serve to reunite them in the end.
So, Persuasion became the basis for my novel about Jane Austen’s secret romance.
No. It’s the other way round, really, for it’s my contention that Jane’s secret romance with a navy captain of her own actually inspired her to write Persuasion in the first place. Doing so allowed her to pay public homage to the man who was the love of her life, whilst at the same time keeping their true story strictly private in a journal she wrote alongside the novel. The two run parallel, the events of one reflected in the other, and together forming a fuller picture then either one alone… which reminds me of a passage in The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen. Jane, having just completed the novel and her journal, writes:
These two now lie alongside one another before me. Their pages are written in the same hand. Their stories merge as almost to form one body. Indeed, they are so fiercely intertwined as to be impossible to cleanly divide. When one is wounded, does not the other bleed?
But why the secrecy, you ask? If Jane Austen truly lived and loved more largely than we’ve been led to believe, why did she and her family keep the story so tightly under wraps? That was the difficult puzzle I had to solve before I could even begin. Then it all became clear. But it’s Jane’s secret, and I’d best leave it for her to explain in her own way and her own time. She begins her personal journal by writing…
What people may hereafter say about my life, I cannot control. My biographers, if any, must do the best they can with the sources available to them. It is necessary that this, my own account, shall remain for some time to come concealed from their eyes. For now, the story belongs to me alone – to me and to that one other.
And so it has remained for nearly two hundred years, until there is no longer any need for concealment. This new novel represents Jane Austen’s account of her life-long romance with a gentleman by the name of Captain Devereaux.
Captain Peter Parker (1785-1814), by John Hoppner
So what makes this different from other books, delightful novels that have portrayed augmentations to the famous authoress’ love life before? I took it one audacious step further. I wasn’t content with Jane finding romance. I desperately wanted it all for her, including the happy ending. I didn’t know if it would be possible, but that was my goal at the outset—to find a plausible and more pleasing alternative outcome for her, something that would fit within the framework of what we know (or think we know) about her life.
You can decide for yourself if I have succeeded, but I shall be satisfied thinking Jane Austen might have approved—of my motives at the very least. Borrowing a phrase from the end of the novel Atonement by Ian McEwan, I mean it as a final act of kindness to her, in partial repayment for all she has done for me.
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. Learn more at Shannon’s website/blog (www.shannonwinslow.com). Follow her on Twitter (as JaneAustenSays) and on Facebook.
Read an exclusive excerpt of The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen
The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen: A Novel, by Shannon Winslow
Heather Ridge Arts (2014)
Trade paperback (266) pages
Cover image courtesy of Heather Ridge Arts © 2014; text Shannon Winslow © 2014, Austenprose.com