An Interview with Maya Slater, Author of The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy

The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy (2009)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 It is modern and also old-fashioned – and the fact that it sometimes reflects long outdated values just enhances its charm.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.   

Author Maya SlaterMaya 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 

The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy, A Novel by Maya Slater – A Review

The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy (2009)If Jane Austen thought that her novel Pride and Prejudice was too light, bright, and sparkling and wanted shade, then author Maya Slater has made up for any deficit by crossing over to the ‘dark side’ in writing her re-telling of the story entitled The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy. Not only are we privy to Fitzwilliam Darcy’s most intimate and revealing secrets, we see the story of Pride and Prejudice told wholly from the male perspective, and gentle readers, be prepared. It’s a man’s world in Regency England, and dare I say, Fitzy is no saint. 

And so it was with a heavy heart that I cracked open yet another Darcy discourse ready to rip it to shreds like Lydia Bennet’s famous bonnet. The first few entries of the diary were pleasant enough. The language and style was respectful to Austen’s, the story line consistent with Darcy’s view, and the characters well thought out. A good beginning. My interest builds as I realize that I am reliving Pride and Prejudice from a new perspective, and told by an author who understands the novel, is well researched in Regency history and can turn a phrase quite neatly. Better and better. Whoa! Darcy has just admired a housemaid’s ‘pleasing embonpoint’, removed her starched white apron and tumbled her on his bed! The hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention. This is not the Darcy that we know from Elizabeth Bennet’s perspective, and the author has just made her point. 

Uncertain if I could get past this bit, I trudge on. We follow Darcy to London with his faithful valet Peebles in tow. Their Jeeves and Wooster relationship is amusing. I smile. Darcy unknowingly crumples up his leather gloves in a coat pocket, scuffs his boots, and wants to wear the wrong clothes for the wrong occasion. It is of little consequence to this wealthy and overly confident man, but Peebles is beside himself. I laugh. In addition to Charles Bingley, we are introduced to Darcy’s friend, George Byron. Yes, the poet and notorious, mad, bad, and dangerous to know Byron. He lives up to his reputation and influences Darcy into dubious deeds that most Regency men of his position in society amuse themselves with like cards, drunken debacles, and escapades with women. At this point we are experiencing Darcy from a totally male point-of-view, but the transition into events that Austen would never have included in her heroine Elizabeth Bennet’s female world, are more acceptable because this author’s skill at making Darcy’s diary so believable and amusing is effortless. By the midway point in the diary, it has become a page turner, and I am totally captivated. 

So how did author Maya Slater woo a Janeite who openly admits contempt for renovators who sex up or steal Austen’s good name? She actually did not have to. Once I abandoned my expectations of reading another sequel bent on ripping off Jane Austen’s stories or characters, I realized that this was not Elizabeth Bennet’s Pride and Prejudice, but Mr. Darcy’s, and Maya Slater was not renovating Jane or sexing up Lizzy but telling a man’s story. It made me laugh-out-loud repeatedly and revel in a love story that I read as freshly and intensely as the first time this writer experienced the original many years ago. That, gentle Austen readers, is quite an achievement. Even Mr. Darcy might consider Maya Slater worthy of inclusion in the “half a dozen women in the whole range of (his) acquaintance that are truly accomplished.”

5 out of 5 Regency Stars 

The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy, A Novel by Maya Slater
W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., New York (2009)
Trade paperback, (320) pages
ISBN: 978-0393336368 

Please join us on Wednesday for interview of author Maya Slater, as she discusses her inspiration Jane Austen, and her  novel The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy.

(Previously published in the UK in 2007 as Mr. Darcy’s Diary)

Austen Book Sleuth: New Books in the Queue for June

Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict, by Laurie Viera Rigler (2009)The Jane Austen book sleuth is happy to inform Janeites that many Austen inspired books are heading our way in June, so keep your eyes open for these new titles.

Fiction (prequels, sequels, retellings, variations, or Regency inspired)

Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict, by Laurie Viera Rigler

Twenty two days and counting to the highly anticipated parallel story of author Laurie Viera Rigler’s best selling Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict. This time around it is Regency era Jane Mansfield who is transported into the body of 21stcentury Courtney Stone, and confronted head on with the modern world, resplendent with iPods, television and modern mores! (Publisher’s description) While Confessions took twenty-first-century free spirit Courtney Stone into the social confines of Jane Austen’s era, Rude Awakenings tells the parallel story of Jane Mansfield, a gentleman’s daughter from Regency England who inexplicably awakens in Courtney’s overly wired and morally confused L.A. life. Jane relishes the privacy, independence, even the power to earn her own money. But how is she to fathom her employer’s incomprehensible dictates about “syncing a BlackBerry” and “rolling a call”? How can she navigate a world in which entire publications are devoted to brides but flirting and kissing and even the sexual act itself raise no matrimonial expectations? Even more bewildering are the memories that are not her own. And the friend named Wes, who is as attractive and confusing to Jane as the man who broke her heart back home. It’s enough to make her wonder if she would be better off in her own time, where at least the rules are clear—that is, if returning is even an option. Dutton Adult, ISBN: 978-0525950769

The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy: A Novel, by Maya Slater

The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy (2009)Previously published in the UK as Mr. Darcy’s Diary, Maya Slater’s clever, funny and insightful novel was my favorite Jane Austen inspired book of 2007.  Now, this controversial look at Pride and Prejudice from Darcy’s perspective has been transported across the pond, renamed, and will be storming the American colonies on June 15th. This look at Mr. Darcy’s private diary may be a shock to Austen purist, but in my humble opinion, he is the Darcy you should get to know. (Publisher’s description) Literature’s most famous romantic hero opens his diary: it’s intimate, dramatic, deeply passionate, and sometimes downright shocking. Have you ever wondered what Mr. Darcy was really thinking? Find out his secrets in this captivating novel of love, pride, passion, and, of course, prejudice. Mr. Darcy’s intimate diary reveals his entanglements with women, his dangerous friendship with Lord Byron, his daily life in Georgian London, his mercurial mood swings calmed only by fisticuffs at Jackson’s—and, most importantly, his vain struggle to conquer his longing for Elizabeth Bennet. W.W. Norton & Co, ISBN: 978-0393336368

Prada & Prejudice, Mandy Hubbard (2009)Prada and Prejudice, by Mandy Hubbard

Not an Austen knockoff per se, but close. This young adult novel appeals to this not so young adult too! (Publisher’s description) To impress the popular girls on a high school trip to London, klutzy Callie buys real Prada heels. But trying them on, she trips…conks her head…and wakes up in the year 1815! There Callie meets Emily, who takes her in, mistaking her for a long-lost friend. As she spends time with Emily’s family, Callie warms to them—particularly to Emily’s cousin Alex, a hottie and a duke, if a tad arrogant. But can Callie save Emily from a dire engagement, and win Alex’s heart, before her time in the past is up? More Cabot than Ibbotson, Prada and Prejudice is a high-concept romantic comedy about finding friendship and love in the past in order to have happiness in the present. Razorbill, ISBN: 978-1595142603

Miss Bennet & Mr. Bingley, by Fenella Miller (2009)Miss Bennet & Mr. Bingley, by Fenella J Miller

I like to support emerging authors and this first effort gives us a new perspective on two characters from Pride and Prejudice that have not been over done, yet! The cover art by Jane Odiwe (Lydia Bennet’s Story) is enchanting. (Publisher’s description) In Miss Bennet & Mr. Bingley, Fenella J Miller returns to Jane Austen’s best loved novel, Pride and Prejudice, giving an insight into both Charles and Jane’s private thoughts through that difficult year. We discover what Jane did in London and how Charles filled the days until he was able to return to Netherfield. This book takes us past the wedding – when Kitty Bennet becomes the heroine of the hour. “Jane Bennet is in the spotlight in Fenella-Jane Miller’s delightful novel. We see Jane’s growing love for Bingley as well as her view of Elizabeth and Darcy’s unfolding relationship, and we find out what happened to her in London when she thought all was lost. Humorous, engaging and true to Jane Austen’s world, this is a charming read for Austen fans.” Amanda Grange is the bestselling author of Mr. Darcy’s Diary. Park Publishing, ISBN: 978-0956153104

The Other Mr. Darcy, by Monica Fairview (2009) UK editionThe Other Mr. Darcy, by Monica Fairview

For UK readers, watch for this creative new novel focusing on Caroline Bingley and Mr. Darcy’s American cousin! US readers will be happy to know that Sourcebooks has picked up the paperback rights and The Other Mr. Darcy will be available with a beautiful new cover and a longer title starting in October. (Publisher’s description) When Caroline Bingley, for the first time in her life, collapses to the floor and sobs at Mr. Darcy’s wedding, she does not think anyone is watching. Imagine her humiliation when she discovers that a stranger has witnessed her emotional display. Miss Bingley, understandably, resents this unknown gentleman very much, even if he is Mr. Darcy’s American cousin. And a year later, when she is forced to travel to Pemberley with him, she still has not forgiven him. But her attempts to snub him fail completely, and, as the Bennet’s descend upon them, she finds herself spending more and more time in his company, with her rigid standards of behaviour slipping slowly away…Is there more to the infamous Miss Bingley than meets the eye? And can this other Mr. Darcy break through her reserve? Robert Hale Ltd, London, ISBN: 978-0709088110

The Corinthian, by Georgette Heyer (2009)The Corinthian, by Georgette Heyer

The next installment by Sourcebooks of Regency romance queen Georgette Heyer’s classic novels is the reissue of The Corinthian which was originally published during war torn Britain in 1940. It is as welcome to readers today as it was sixty-nine years ago. (Publisher’s description) Georgette Heyer presents her sparkling wit with a Shakespearean twist. Walking home at dawn, quite drunk, Sir Richard Wyndham encounters heiress Penelope Creed climbing out her window. She is running away from a dreaded marriage to her fish-lipped cousin, while Sir Richard himself is contemplating a loveless marriage with a woman his friends have compared to a cold poultice. Sir Richard can’t allow her to careen about the countryside unchaperoned, even in the guise of a boy, so he pretends to be her tutor and takes her on a fine adventure. When their stagecoach overturns, they find themselves embroiled with thieves, at the center of a murder investigation, and finally, in love. Sourcebooks, Casablanca, ISBN: 978-1402217692

Nonfiction 

Jane Austen and Enlightenment, by Peter Knox-Shaw (2009)Jane Austen and the Enlightenment, by Peter Knox-Shaw

This scholarly treatise is now available for the first time in paperback for those, like me, without deep pockets. It amazes how Austen’s prose style is dissected and compared to everyone and anything. Scholars can not agree when the age of Enlightenment started and ended, but its principles of self actualization certainly apply to Austen characters and plots. (Publisher’s description) It is now widely understood that Jane Austen’s writing and thought derived directly from her late eighteenth-century childhood, but astonishingly this is the first study of the influence on Jane Austen of the Enlightenment. In drawing out the Enlightenment principles and ideas which lie behind much of Austen’s writing, Peter Knox-Shaw brings a whole new perspective to the study of Austen’s novels. Jane Austen and the Enlightement is essential reading for all those interested in Austen and her writing. Cambridge University Press, ISBN: 978-0521759977

Relocating Shakespeare and Austen on Screen, by Lisa Hopkins (2009)Relocating Shakespeare and Austen on Screen, by Lisa Hopkins

Professor Lisa Hopkins, a Shakespearean expert, chats about Austen film adaptations and reinterpretations: Bridget Jones’ Diary, Bride and Prejudice, Becoming Jane, Pride and Prejudice (2005) and two of the 2007 adaptations: Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey. Not much room left for Shakespeare, but Janeites won’t mind. (Publisher’s description) Lisa Hopkins analyzes eight film adaptations which have taken either Shakespeare or Jane Austen – icons of Englishness – out of their original geographical or cultural context and transposed them to a new location, allowing for a powerful interrogation both of what these texts mean in the modern world, and of Englishness itself. Palgrave Macmillan, ISBN: 978-0230579552

Austen’s Contemporaries

Castle Rackrent (Oxford World's Classics), by Maria Edgeworth (2009)Castle Rackrent (Oxford World’s Classics), by Maria Edgeworth

From Maria Edgeworth’s perspective, it is easy to see why she disliked Jane Austen’s novel Emma, claiming “there’s no story in it.” I respectfully disagree with her opinion, and so do many, but she preferred instead to write about a larger sphere than “two or three families in a country village” and delved into areas where Austen never chose to tread: politics, religion and social unrest. Sir Walter Scott thought both writers were brilliant, so that evens the score. (Publisher’s description) With her satire on Anglo-Irish landlords in Castle Rackrent (1800), Maria Edgeworth pioneered the regional novel and inspired Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley (1814). Politically risky, stylistically innovative, and wonderfully entertaining, the novel changes the focus of conflict in Ireland from religion to class, and boldly predicts the rise of the Irish Catholic bourgeoisie. Set in Ireland prior to its achieving legislative independence from Britain in 1782, Castle Rackrent tells the story of three generations of an estate-owning family as seen through the eyes — and as told in the voice — of their longtime servant, Thady Quirk, recorded and commented on by an anonymous Editor. This edition of Maria Edgeworth’s first novel is based on the 1832 edition, the last revised by her, and includes Susan Kubica Howard’s foot-of-the-page notes on the text of the memoir as well as on the notes and glosses the Editor offers “for the information of the ignorant English reader.” Howard’s Introduction situates the novel in its political and historical context and suggests a reading of the novel as Edgeworth’s contribution to the discussion of the controversial Act of Union between Ireland and Britain that went into effect immediately after the novel’s publication in London in 1800. The second edition now includes new notes informed by the latest scholarship. Oxford University Press, USA, ISBN: 978-0199537556

Until next month, happy reading!

Laurel Ann