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Monday, June 14, 2010

Interview with Jane Greensmith, author of Intimations of Austen

Today for a nice middle of June postiness, we have an interview with Jane Greensmith, author of the fabulous little collection of Jane-inspired short storeis, Intimations of Austen.  If you haven't read the book, I would suggest you do, and that you come back and read this interview again when you're done; some of the things Jane says really reverberate, I think, with Jane Austen's work and what Jane Greensmith is doing with them in her stories.
So, to the interview:

Book Rat: Why Austen?  What is it about her characters and her stories that makes us constantly feel the need to expand on them and reinvent them?

Jane Greensmith:
I think one of the reasons that Austen is not only part of the literary canon but continues to gain new, ardent readers is that her stories and characters transcend the time and world in which she created them.   The stories are not fantastical but are slices of ordinary life depicting ordinary problems (embarrassing relatives, false friends, false hopes, family obligations, the longing for a home of one's own, etc.) in a funny, sympathetic way.  The stories end with a marriage, and we all know that marriages are beginnings not endings, so it's natural to ask "what happens next, ""how did that relationship work out," "can they get along for the long term."

BR: Where do your stories start?  Are they from thoughts that pop up while you're reading Austen, or life events, or do you sit and analyze the works and ask yourself questions that lead to your stories?
JG: I have been reading Austen since about age 12, or almost 40 years.  For most of that time, there were only a few movie versions and a few Austen-inspired stories.  All of my stories stem from questions I asked myself about the books whilst rereading them, or reflect a strongly held opinion about a character.  For example, in discussions about P&P, I often found myself defending Mrs. Bennet's matchmaking activities, and that tendency found expression in my story, "The Last Baby," which tells Mrs. Bennet's side of the story.  Likewise, I often defended Lady Russell's advice to Anne Eliott to not marry Frederick Wentworth when he first asked her.  That led to my story "The Three Sisters."  My story, "Bird of Paradise," came from my belief that the much-maligned Fanny Price is actually the most passionate and romantic of Austen's heroines but she was trapped in a situation that rendered her inarticulate to express that passion.

BR: Follow up: where did the idea come from to have Darcy have synesthesia?
JG: I have been a long-time visitor to the website The Republic of Pemberley, and on the Ramble board someone posted an article about synesthesia, and I read it and was fascinated by the condition.  I was then in a very productive story-writing stage, and immediately wondered how the world would look through the eyes of a synesthete, and so wrote "The Color of Love," in which Mr. Darcy has a condition like synesthesia. 

BR: I noticed a lot of your stories seem to have a darker tone than Austen, and the endings aren't always what one would call happy.  Is this intentional on your part to inject some realism into the rose-colored world, or was it just coincidental?
JG: I think that is a function of my living in modern times--I think my stories reflect me and how I react to the worlds Austen created more than they reflect Austen herself.  I love the short story genre, and it works best when there is a bit of a surprise at the end, an ironic twist that undercuts the direction the reader thinks the author is going.  My stories are short stories, and by that I mean that I was trying to do more than just tell an Austen-inspired story in a few words.  I tried to make them complete in and of themselves.  Austen's characters were a springboard, but ultimately my story reflects my own vision.

BR: Which was your favorite story to tell, and which Austen novel was your favorite to play with?

JG: My favorite story is "All I Do," which is a "what if" story that takes place 20 years after P&P.  In my alternate universe, Wickham's price for marrying Lydia is a promise from Mr. Darcy that he will not propose again to Elizabeth.  She pines for him for awhile, but marries Colonel Fitzwilliam and has a son.  The story opens after the colonel has died, and Elizabeth learns that Mr. Darcy has loved her for the past twenty years.  I wrote it when I was roughly the same age as Elizabeth is in the story, and it was fun to imagine Elizabeth as a 40-year old matron and Mr. Darcy as nearer 50, still a bachelor and still in love with her.  I wanted to write about a mature love that has withstood the test of time and circumstances, and I wanted to explore the notion of honor.  I think in the modern world, the notion of honor has taken a beating and I wanted to see how Mr. Darcy would react when his honor, his sense of self, was attacked. 

BR: Are there any stories you wish you would have told us?

JG: I haven't yet written a satisfactory S&S story.  I have always felt that Marianne settled for Colonel Brandon and lost her heart and the ability to love passionately when Willoughby deserted her.  The problem is this story requires a longer format than the short story genre that I am most comfortable in, so I've made a few attempts but nothing I really like has emerged yet.  The closest I've gotten to this is in my story about Jane Bennet, "Heaven Can Wait," in which Marianne Brandon has a bit part.

I also would love to tell Lucy Steele's side of the story--that will probably be my next Austen-inspired project.

BR: Are there any Austen characters from different books that you think should meet?

JG: I generally have a hard time with cross-over stories because the novel worlds are distinct in and of themselves and not really compatible with each other.  Although I did envision a scenario in which the dancing master who was Jane Bennet's first love was in the employ of the widowed Marianne Brandon in London.

BR: Any plans to ever write a full-length Austen-inspired novel?

JG: I have written a modern Emma novel, "No Runs, No Hits, No Errors," that is on my website.  I have two versions of this story, one with a traditional chick-lit happy ending and one with a tragic ending.  Most people prefer the happy ending, but I prefer the sad ending.  I also have a modern P&P novel, "Ruffling Feathers," which is also on my website.  I actually love this story and may work on it and see about getting it published.  It has my favorite modern Elizabeth--she's an eco-journalist who fights eco-bad guy Will Darcy who wants to destroy pristine wilderness with a dam project.

BR: Note to the reader: you can read Jane's full length works on her website.
And now it's time for some silly...
Who is your favorite JA character? 

JG: Has to be Elizabeth Bennet.

BR: Favorite side-character?

JG: I'm quite partial to John Knightley, and love the relationship between the brothers Knightley.

BR: Character you most want to shake?

JG: Without a doubt, Mrs. Norris.

BR: If you could visit any one location in one of Jane's novels -- besides Pemberley! -- what would it be and why?

JG: I love the homey feel of the Musgrove's home in Persuasion.  Not pretentious, just a lot of love, good living (it's a farm, after all), comfortable, and welcoming.

BR: Picture yourself as Charlotte (Lucas) Collins -- now, swallow back the horror of that and give us a brief idea of your day-to-day...How do you keep your sanity?

JG: I think Charlotte was brilliant in how she arranged her house so that she was as able to see as little as possible of Mr. Collins.  Once she has children, then her problems are over.  She can devote herself to raising them, and then once they're married, she has places to visit.

BR: Would you rather spend the day with Lady Catherine or Mrs. Bennet?

JG: Mrs. Bennet--Lady Catherine would really get on my nerves. 

BR: Which "bad boy" would you rather end up with: Wickham or Willoughby?

JG: I never liked Wickham, even before I found out what a liar he was.  Willoughby  was misguided, indulged, and selfish, but I've always believed he really loved Marianne.  Wickham was just bad and I don't think ever loved anyone.  He's a sneak.

Thanks, Jane!
Make sure you check out my review of Jane's book, Intimations of Austen, as well as her generous giveaway of 2 signed copies!


  1. Wow! Great interview! Kudos to Misty and Jane, too, for this interesting conversation. Good luck to all of you who will enter the giveaway. Jane's short stories are just precious little jewels to be added to a careful Janeite's collection! I recommend any Janeite not to miss this chance!

  2. Great Interview! I would probably choose Lady Catherine because I can handle mean a whole lot more than I can handle air-headedness :)

  3. Lovely interview. I would too choose to go with Mrs. Bennet. It would be just like another day with certain members of my family.

  4. Wonderful interview! I adored Intimations of Austen and really hope Jane follows through with a Lucy Steele story. What a fabulous idea!a

  5. Thank you for the fantstic interview ladies! What a pleasure it is to learn more about Jane and her writing! I would love to read one of her other novels, a modern Emma sounds wonderful! (But I'll take the happy ending please!)

  6. good interview misty! loved the questions you posed and loved reading the answers. and yes, jane please do a lucy steele story. i wanna know, what's up with her?


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