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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Guest Post and Excerpt from Alexa Adams, author of First Impressions & Second Glances

The “What If?” Genre and Second Glances: A Tale of Less Pride and Prejudice Continues

Before I began writing First Impressions, I had already composed “My Apology”, which I ended up using as the introduction to the book. It was my attempt to both express what I feared was the audacity of the undertaking - completely rewriting one of the greatest novels ever produced in the English language - and explain to readers my intentions for the project, specifically, staying true to the original characters and Austen's sensibilities. Yet despite my explicit acknowledgment that, regardless of whatever boundaries I placed upon the endeavor, the very nature of the project would inevitably offend someone (or many people, as it turns out), I not only proceeded anyway, but am now completing a second novel, continuing the story I reinvented, which takes place in a world drastically altered from the one Austen created. I can make no apologies this time. There are no excuses for the arrogance of what I have done. It is in every way a self-indulgent act, and no attempted witticism can undo that fact.

So why are so many devoted Austen fans willing to do as I have and manipulate the outcomes of the stories we profess to love? Over the past three years there has been an explosion of Pride and Prejudice “What if?” scenarios flooding the market place, many of which follow, as mine did, the pattern established by those who founded this genre, particularly Abigail Reynolds, by altering a specific moment in the text and tracking the resulting changes, while others have been far more fantastic in their reimaginings, moving the tale to different time periods, settings, and even inserting horrific elements, like zombies, into the tale. While Pride and Prejudice has always supplied the bulk of the inspiration for those who wish to play with, continue, or elaborate on Austen's work, I do believe that there is something about this particular novel which causes fans to question “What if?”, irresistibly beckoning their minds to wander down the myriad of routes that imagination takes them. What if Darcy confronted Wickham in Meryton? What if Bingley followed his heart and never left Netherfield? What if Mrs. Bennet succeeded in convincing Elizabeth to marry Mr. Collins? So many moments in this story are pivotal, and just as in our real lives, each decision the characters make fundamentally effects their fates.

Having so completely altered the course of events in First Impressions, it is difficult to provide an excerpt, as Misty kindly suggested I do, from the books continuation, Second Glances, without exposing some of the outcomes from its predecessor. However, as I compose this post and consider the difficulties inherent in the “What if?” project, it seems fitting to share with you one particular scene, as it aptly demonstrates what a very different realm I am now functioning within without revealing more than I am comfortable sharing. The one big spoiler this excerpt contains regards the marital prospects of Miss Charlotte Lucas, who remained unattached at the end of First Impressions, and one Mr. Westover, the rector at Kympton. The setting is Pemberley during the Christmas season. Georgiana and Kitty have developed a very close friendship, and the latter, whose manners and demeanor have been greatly improved by a year of finishing school, has been invited to join the Darcys for a season in London that spring. The ladies walk the grounds in the early morning while musing about their futures and the gentlemen who may (or may not) define them. I hope you enjoy this glimpse into the story:

Though the often inclement weather kept them confined to those pathways closest to the house and most well-tended, no frost or snow impeded Georgiana and Kitty from escaping outdoors each morning before breakfast. This time alone provided the perfect opportunity to share their deepest confidences, excitements, concerns, and just those girlish trivialities that they wished to keep between themselves. It was on one such occasion that they spotted Mr. Westover walking towards the house with a determined step. It was Kitty who noticed him first.

Oh, Georgiana! Look! There is Mr. Westover. What could bring him here at such an early hour other than the intention of declaring himself to Charlotte?”

I think it very likely, and as nothing else could excuse such an untimely call other than a disaster requiring urgent attention, I heartily wish that it is so.”

Is it likely that something untoward has occurred?” asked Kitty with concern.

Not at all,” reassured Georgiana.”I remember when, several years ago, a few of the cottages caught fire in the night. The incident was dealt with promptly, and there was no lose of life, thank goodness, but the entire estate was in total chaos. Men were everywhere, running back and forth to the lake with buckets of water to quench the flames. If something similar had occurred, we would see more than Mr. Westover in action. Let's stay out of his line of sight so that we may cause no delay in his purpose!”

The two young ladies sheltered behind a massive tree where, even if he had been paying attention, the rector would have been highly unlikely to spot them. They giggled at their mutual attempts to silence the other, just in case the gentleman should happen to hear them. Once he had passed them by they crept along behind the grove, watching him all the way into the house.

Kitty sighed, “It is so romantic! Who would have thought that Charlotte Lucas, at her age, would finally find love?”

I think it a very good argument for waiting until the right gentleman comes along before committing oneself. Apparently, it is never too late for true love to bloom.”

But Georgiana! Only think if one should not be so lucky! To end up and old maid would be dreadful, and I am sure both Charlotte, like all her family when they learn of it, will be thoroughly relieved that she will be provided for and not a burden to her brothers and sister in her old age.”

Kitty! Was it not you who said you would prefer nothing better than for the two of us to remain single together, living in Bath and summering in Brighton? I distinctly remember you suggesting such a thing in one of your letters.”

Kitty blushed consciously, “Yes, I do recall spouting some such nonsense, but it really would not do, would it? It is one thing for you to lead such a life, with you fortune, but for myself marriage is really the only option other than wasting my days away with my parents, and then, when they die, in servitude to the Collinses. I cannot imagine how I could tolerate living with my cousin, let alone being dependent upon him!”

Oh, it will not come to that! I am sure if Miss Lucas can find love, than you, dear Kitty, with your pretty face and manners, will be equally successful. And should marriage not be your fate, you will always have a home with me.”

Kitty hugged her friend, “Thank you, Georgiana. You are my dearest friend!”

All I meant in what I said before is that we should not rush into marriage, just in order to be secure of a husband. We are both circumstanced in such a manner that only true love can justify such a union, and should we not find it immediately, I am sure we will discover it in the end, just like Miss Lucas.”

As long as my mother doesn't discover it if I am ever called upon to reject an eligible suitor! I should never hear the end of it.”

She need never know. When the widowed lord, thirty years your senior, with a brood of spoiled children and a sallow complexion, seeks your hand in London, as I have no doubt that there are several such searching for a pleasant wife to raise his brats, neither Fitzwilliam, Elizabeth, nor I will breath a word to your family of his abject disappointment.”

Kitty laughed, “And what of you? Surely there must be an impecunious young man seeking to restore his family's mortgaged estate with a handsome dowry. Will you be able to resist his protruding tooth and bulbous nose?”

Georgiana stared at Kitty in forced seriousness, “I shall somehow have to contrive to withstand such charms.”

Both girls laughed and began to head back towards the house, eager to confirm their suspicions regarding the highly interesting conversation they had no doubts was transpiring between Charlotte Lucas and the Rector of Kympton.

As I write this, I am not only 37 weeks pregnant with my first child, but I also think I might be experiencing the first signs of labor. Never before has the question of “What if?” loomed so prominently in my mind. I need not elaborate on the many scenarios that are swarming` through my head, as any parent knows all too well the many worries and concerns that beset a pregnant woman, and those who have never have a child can easily conceive what these might be, but this circumstances does lead me to hastily conclude with the thought that the “What if?” question is one inherent to humanity. By asking what might have happened had the course of action differed in Austen novels, we Austenites are reaffirming her relevance to our human experience. And on that note, I think I'm going to go lay down and decide whether or not it is time to call the doctor ...     

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  1. I think the sheer number of these "what if" books proves how important Austen is in the world of literature. Congrats on the baby!

  2. Can't wait to read Second Glances! I'm a big fan of the what-if genre, I think I like them more than sequels. I think one reason many authors write what-ifs is because Jane Austen wrote so many coincidences in P&P. If you think about it there is most definitely more than one or two coincidental meetings in that book!

  3. I love Abigail Reynolds' what if stories. I haven't started your novel yet though I won your book last year but I'll read it when I'm free.

    Congrats on your first child, you'll be fine.


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