Thursday, October 28, 2010

Guest Post ~ Lauren Willig

Over the past few years, I’ve written several books set in the early nineteenth century. I’ve shamelessly pressed Bonaparte, George III, Robert Emmett, and various other real folks into service in my books. But there was one person I carefully stared clear of: Jane Austen. You don’t mess with the Jane.

Last year, I had some ideas for a Christmas romp set in Bath in 1803, ideas that were, I admit, tangentially inspired by Jane Austen’s unfinished novel, The Watsons. It was one thing to use Jane Austen’s ideas, but Jane herself? I found myself checking—just out of curiosity, of course—where Austen had been in the winter of 1803.

Austen was in Bath in the winter of 1803.

The Mischief of the Mistletoe: A Pink Carnation ChristmasI bowed to the inevitable. In The Mischief of the Mistletoe, Jane Austen is an old family friend of my heroine, Arabella Dempsey and The Watsons is inspired by Arabella’s situation. (Whereas in real life, Arabella was inspired by The Watsons—oooh, circular!) Literary scholars have argued for years over why Austen failed to finish The Watsons. In The Mischief of the Mistletoe, I offer my own rather, ahem, unique explanation.
Even so, even after weeks poring over Austen’s letters, her juvenilia, and all the biographies I could get my hands on, I was still nervous about incorporating Austen into the narrative. So I decided to include an explanatory epistle, a mock introduction to a collection of “recently discovered” letters between Austen and Arabella Dempsey. Just so people would be clued in to the fact that this was make-believe and all in good fun.

There was one problem—well, two problems. One was space. The other was that there was some concern that people might think the intro was, well, real.

Here, for your amusement, is the original, unabridged introduction to The Mischief of the Mistletoe….

From the Introduction to the Oxford Addendum to the Cambridge Companion of the Collected Letters of Jane Austen:

“… the Dempsey Collection, as it is called, was for some time denied a place in the Austenian epistolary canon. Due to the destruction of the bulk of Austen’s correspondence by her siblings after her death, for some time there were believed to be only one hundred and sixty letters extent. The discovery of a cache of correspondence, preserved in an old trunk in an attic in Norfolk, underneath a series of shockingly gaudy waistcoats embroidered in a carnation print, tucked inside an early nineteenth century recipe book concerned entirely with Christmas puddings, was thought for some time by the Fellows of the Royal College of Austen Studies to be nothing more than a malicious act of sabotage on the part of unscrupulous members of the rival Dickens Society, who had turned to thuggery as the inevitable result of immoderate consumption of late Victorian serial fiction. Although the Dickens Society denied the charge, relations between the two groups remained frosty, culminating in the great Tea Incident of 1983, which scandalized Oxbridge and caused a rift whose reverberations are felt to this day. As footnote clashed against footnote, and members of warring factions refused to pass the port at High Table, the Dempsey Collection was relegated for some time to the academic abyss, discarded as nothing more than Austenian apocrypha.
“After two decades of painstaking scrutiny, including chemical testing, textual analysis, and the consultation of several Magic 8 balls, the scholarly community has tentatively accepted the Dempsey collection as genuine, with some reservations. Although the dates of the letters and the identity of the author have, indeed, been authenticated, there are serious doubts as to the veracity of the contents. While Jane Austen writes in her own name, addressing the letters to a supposedly “real” young lady of her acquaintance, the events narrated within them are of such a sensational and fantastical nature as to defy all belief.
“The more serious members of the academic establishment adhere to the theory that Austen was, in fact, engaged in an epistolary novel, a style she employed for both the unfinished Lady Susan and the original draft of Elinor and Marianne, the novel that was to become Sense and Sensibility. There is some argument that the letters comprise a failed early draft of her incomplete novel, The Watsons. As in that work, the Dempsey collection features a heroine who, having been disappointed in her hopes of an inheritance from a wealthy aunt upon the elderly aunt’s imprudent second marriage to a handsome young captain in the army, returns to the somewhat straitened bosom of her family. Many of the names Austen uses in the Watsons appear in the Dempsey collection, although somewhat altered.
“There, however, all resemblance ends….
“That the letters and their contents were, in fact, the product of a contemporary correspondence conducted with an actual acquaintance in reaction to authentic events is a possibility entertained only by the most radical fringe of Austen scholars. This view is generally discredited…
“What Englishman, one may ask, would answer to the name of Turnip?”

Excerpt reproduced courtesy of the author, Perpetua Fotherington-Smythe, M. Phil., D. Phil, R. Phil, F.R.C.A.S.*, S.o.S.A.S.S.I..**, GAE (MEOAE).***

* Fellow of the Royal College of Austen Studies
** Symposium of the Society of Austen and Similarly Superior Interlocutors
*** Dame Grand Cross of the Most Excellent Order of the Austenian Epistle

About the author ~ 

A native of New York City, Lauren Willig has been writing romances ever since she got her hands on her first romance novel at the age of six. Three years later, she sent her first novel off to a publishing house—all three hundred hand-written pages. They sent it back. Undaunted, Lauren has continued to generate large piles of paper and walk in front of taxis while thinking about plot ideas.

After thirteen years at an all girls school (explains the romance novels, doesn’t it?), Lauren set off for Yale and co-education, where she read lots of Shakespeare, wrote sonnet sequences when she was supposed to be doing her science requirement, and lived in a Gothic fortress complete with leaded windows and gargoyles. After college, she decided she really hadn’t had enough school yet, and headed off to that crimson place in Cambridge, Massachusetts for a degree in English history. Like her modern heroine, she spent a year doing dissertation research in London, tramping back and forth between the British Library and the Public Records Office, reading lots of British chick lit, and eating far too many Sainsbury’s frozen dinners.

By a strange quirk of fate, Lauren signed her first book contract during her first month of law school. She finished writing "Pink Carnation" during her 1L year, scribbled "Black Tulip" her 2L year, and struggled through "Emerald Ring" as a weary and jaded 3L. After three years of taking useful and practical classes like “Law in Ancient Athens” and “The Globalization of the Modern Legal Consciousness”, Lauren received her J.D. magna cum laude from Harvard Law School. For a year and a half, she practiced as a litigation associate at a large New York law firm. But having attained the lofty heights of second year associate, she decided that book deadlines and doc review didn't mix and departed the law for a new adventure in full time writerdom.

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Her latest book ~ 

The Mischief of the Mistletoe: A Pink Carnation Christmas

Arabella Dempsey’s dear friend Jane Austen warned her against teaching. But Miss Climpson’s Select Seminary for Young Ladies seems the perfect place for Arabella to claim her independence while keeping an eye on her younger sisters nearby. Just before Christmas, she accepts a position at the quiet girls’ school in Bath, expecting to face nothing more exciting than conducting the annual Christmas recital. She hardly imagines coming face to face with French aristocrats and international spies…

Reginald “Turnip” Fitzhugh—often mistaken for the elusive spy known as the Pink Carnation—has blundered into danger before. But when he blunders into Miss Arabella Dempsey, it never occurs to him that she might be trouble.  When Turnip and Arabella stumble upon a beautifully wrapped Christmas pudding with a cryptic message written in French, “Meet me at Farley Castle”, the unlikely vehicle for intrigue launches the pair on a Yuletide adventure that ranges from the Austens’ modest drawing room to the awe-inspiring estate of the Dukes of Dovedale, where the Dowager Duchess is hosting the most anticipated event of the year: an elaborate 12-day Christmas celebration. Will they find poinsettias or peril, dancing or danger? And is it possible that the fate of the British Empire rests in Arabella and Turnip’s hands, in the form of a festive Christmas pudding?

Click HERE to enter my contest for The Mischief of the Mistletoe. Thanks to the publishers I'm giving away 2 copies of the books and 2 ornaments. The contents ends tonight, so hurry up and enter.

Other books by Lauren ~