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Monday, August 2, 2021

Austen Plot Twists: A Janeite Roundtable Discussion

If you've been around these parts during Austen in August for any length of time, you'll know I like to have what are called "Janeite Conversations" or "Roundtables" -- basically, I round up a group of Austenesque authors or readers, ask them all the same questions, and then put their answers into a conversational post about each topic.  They're always a blast, and I love seeing both how similar and how different every Janeite is.

So welcome to the first of this year's Roundtables! We'll be adding to our vast catalog of Austen Opinions every Monday, so make sure to stop by and let us know your thoughts on the weeks' topics!

This week, I asked the authors to: 
Think back to your first time reading Austen's works: which sudden moment, plot twist, or character reveal shocked you most? (Maria and Henry, General Tilney kicking out Catherine, Wickham being Wickham, etc)

RIANA: When I first read Pride and Prejudice, I thought it was about Jane and Bingley, with Elizabeth as a major secondary character and Darcy as the villain. When Darcy proposed to Elizabeth I was shocked! Delighted, but shocked.

MISTY: I love this so much. I think part of me knew that Darcy was the One To Watch, but I do remember being pretty shocked and dismayed about Wickham's character. Also, there was a big part of me pulling for Colonel Fitzwilliam, even as the Darcy-butterflies started kicking up a fuss!

MARILYN: I was a high school freshman when I read my first Austen work -- Pride & Prejudice -- and I quite literally couldn't stop myself from reading chapter after chapter until I got to the end.  I was hooked very early on! I'd so outpaced the teacher's assigned nightly pages that I had to go back before each English class and reread sections I'd raced through so I wouldn't mess up the discussions by talking about scenes that hadn't yet happened. 

MISTY: I always used to do that! Only my teachers could always tell I had read ahead, and it used to drive my 8th grade teacher nuts. Haha! She finally just started assigning me my own books. 

MARILYN: Wickham's lies were stunning to me and, yet, not unbelievable. 

MISTY: They're not, and yet... Same with Willoughby, for that matter. Hurt my heart a little bit. Also, seriously made me distrust W-names.

MARILYN: Austen had supported the development of his character so well that I could understand why Elizabeth had been fooled. One of my favorite lines was her realization that, with Darcy and Wickham, "One has all the goodness and the other all the appearance of it."

MISTY: Yes!! So, so good. And a real lesson learned, there.

ALEXA:  My first Austen novel was Northanger Abbey, and I was maybe twelve years old. That was a long time ago, and I don’t recall any strong reactions to particular moments, just that I liked it enough to look for more Austen. 

MISTY: Same, but for me, it was Emma

ALEXA: The overall impression retained from that first read was that it was a comforting novel. I found it incredibly reassuring that common sense prevailed, while gothic horrors were thoroughly undermined. It played an important role in helping me shake off some of my more persistent childhood insecurities.

MISTY: I can see that. At the same time, though, it's a novel that really exposes you to the real dangers and evils lurking in the world, instead of Catherine's imagined ones. I mean, the Thorpes are categorically Not Great, obviously, but then, the General! 

CHRISTINA: When I realized the importance of the insult and danger to Miss Catherine Morland when General Tilney kicked her out of the Abbey at night, sending her home without escort... 

MISTY: I think Younger Misty reading that just thought it was a juicy and exciting piece of drama, but as Younger Misty got Older, and started to realize what that really meant for her, and how not only was it dangerous, physically, to turn this young girl out on her own in a world that really lacked the infrastructure we take for granted (it's not like she could just call home), and in a world that didn't prepare girls at all to fend for themselves...and then, that just the action of turning her out like that could have ruined her life, even if she'd made it home safely! And ruined her sibling's lives, for that matter! That one action had the potential for such far-reaching, catastrophic consequences, and for what?  Gah! What a tool. 

CHRISTINA: He really was an unfeeling, vile man.

MISTY: I just wanna take him and the vain Sir Elliot and just shake them. HARD. But you know, the realism of the characters Austen created really help readers to know themselves. Because they're totally believable! And thinking about these characters and their actions makes me realize just how vengeful I am, because man... I really want karma to get ahold of them!


There you have it! There are some of our thoughts on twists and revelations in Austen, but honestly? I feel like we barely scratched the surface! Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

BIG THANKS to this year's roundtable of contributors:
Alexa Adams, author of The Tales of Less Pride and Prejudice series, et al
Christina Boyd, editor of  The Quill Collective anthology series
Marilyn Brant, author of Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Match, et al.
Riana Everly, author of the Miss Mary Investigates series, et al.

Jane Austen, Austen in August, blog event, Jane Austen fan fiction, JAFF, The Book Rat, BookRatMisty
Click here to return to the master list of Austen in August posts!


  1. What excellent company! I loved this, as always. Misty, I agree totally, but at twelve I was still more caught up on romantic horrors than the more likely and mundane ones. Like you, it took some maturity and better knowledge of the era to recognize how dangerous the situation the General puts Catherine into is. I now find it probably the most harrowing moment in all of Austen's novels, and the older I get, the more disturbed I am by it. There is this notion in her books that if they behave correctly, ladies are protected from such danger. Those that find themselves alone and unprotected have all made a decision that defied social dictates, and wrong or right, they took some agency in their predicaments. Not Catherine. She is a completely innocent victim and most fortunate to weather her ride back to Fullerton unmolested.

  2. Yes, karma. That’s why I adore JAFF—sometimes karma does get them.

  3. This was a great group! I love hearing what others saw in these books we adore so much.
    Now I'm starting to wonder if General Tilney really is the worst villain of them all. To do that to a young girl - the same age as my daughter, come to think of it - really puts him up there in the rankings, doesn't it?
    (Okay, maybe what Willoughby did to Eliza was worse... and Wickham with Lydia.... Wow. JA really saw a lot of danger out there for 15- to 17-year-old girls, didn't she?)

  4. LOL, Misty, about not trusting Austen characters with "W" names!! 🤣 Thankfully, we have Wentworth as one of the good guys, but if it weren't for him...

    Lovely being here among such wonderful company! Happy Austen in August, everyone 🤩.

  5. Whenever I read posts like this I wonder what a horrible suspicious nature I have because even as an innocent teen, the very first time I read Pride & Prejudice when I read Wickham's assertations about Darcy I literally didn't believe him! 'That is what YOU say' I thought, and I had zero surprise when it turned out he was a big liar.

    I think my biggest surprise might have been when Catherine was turned out of NA. That was such a dreadful thing to do. Or it could have been when Maria eloped with Henry Crawford. I wasn't expecting Austen to write such scandal. :)

  6. Now, that was an entertaining discussion! I read P&P first and my first and I was eight. I do remember thinking Mrs. Bennet really talked a lot and she hurt my head just reading her dialogue. :) But, I never hated her and she made me laugh.

  7. Ooof yes, Northanger Abbey has some truly lovely characters (Henry Tilney- and his sis!) and truly terrible ones (General Tilney, the Thorpes). Y'all read Austen a lot younger than I did...how did all that social commentary not fly over your head? I think I would've entirely missed it.

    1. Oh, I'm sure I missed 90% of it when I was a teenager. It wasn't till I reread the novels as an adult that the details began to creep out. :-)

    2. Any Austen I read before college was absolutely lost on me. And it wasn’t until the last decade that I truly appreciated the subtle and not so subtle nuance to her characters and how their actions or inactions impacted the story. Especially in MP and NA.

  8. Love these roundtables. I remember being shocked when I first read P&P discovering that it was so different from the movie I had seen starring Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson. Especially the end as I expected all the sisters to be married.

  9. This is a fruitful discussion, Misty. I don't remember my first impression of P&P since I was very young and I skimmed through the story to read through the end. If I were to venture a guess, I think I was surprised that Wickham turned out to be a liar and a scoundrel. Up to that point, like Elizabeth I believe he is a good person.


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