Thursday, September 23, 2010

Interview with Jane Austen Author, C. Allyn Pierson

Today I interview C. Allyn Pierson, author of the Pride and Prejudice sequel, Mr. Darcy's Little Sister. Here I ask her to explain in more detail some of the background of the book's events.

Leave a comment for a chance to win one of the two copies of Mr. Darcy's Little Sister which Sourcebooks has generously provided. C. Allyn will select the winners. Check the comments to see who won, and how to contact me to claim your book. If I cannot contact the winners within a week of their selection, I will award the books to alternates. Note, Sourcebooks can mail to USA and Canada addresses only. Contest runs through September 30.

C. Allyn selected the winners Danielle Thorne and Susan. Congratulations! I've sent you both emails. If I do not hear from you by October 8, I will select alternates.

1. Mr. Darcy's Little Sister is a sequel to Pride and Prejudice. Why do you think people still love Pride and Prejudice?

Pride and Prejudice is one of the greatest love stories of all time, but I think the characters resonate particularly well with modern readers. I jokingly tell my friends “Of course women love Mr. Darcy—how could you not love a man who will actually admit he is wrong…and then change?!” We have all had the experience of misjudging someone and later finding that we were mistaken, but I think Elizabeth Bennet has a personality which modern women can recognize and relate to, as well, with her wit and humor and her common sense, as well as for her desire to marry for affection, not just for money, which was not the norm among the upper classes during the Regency. The film versions of Pride and Prejudice have also made the story accessible to more people by giving them a visual image of the characters, clothing, and lifestyle of the Regency Era. The 1995 BBC version with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle is particularly accurate to both the book and the time period. The other thing that makes Jane Austen accessible to modern readers is the intimacy of her portraits. Pride and Prejudice is not a story on an epic scale, but one which takes place in a small drawing room or in a private ballroom, which is the way people actually live their lives.

2. Georgiana Darcy comes of age in Mr. Darcy's Little Sister. Tell us about the society rituals required of a Regency lady making her debut.

The coming-out in society of a young woman of the peerage or gentry classes was the most important event of her life, determining the future course of her adult life. The London Season was a gigantic marriage mart where the young women tried to meet and capture the fancy of a gentleman of suitable fortune and become engaged to him. Most girls debuted at age 17 or eighteen, but there was not a strict rule on that. An eldest daughter might be debuted a bit early because her younger sisters were usually not admitted to adult society until the elder one or two daughters were engaged. Hence, Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s shock when Elizabeth Bennet told her that all the Bennet girls were “out” at one time. Before their debuts girls were seen but not heard and young men were expected to act as if they did not exist. When they made their “come-out” they began appearing at adult entertainments such as balls and were allowed to dance and talk to the gentlemen at public events.

One of the important rites of passage was to be presented at Court. The court presentation for girls was at what was called a Drawing Room, and she had to be sponsored by an older woman, not her mother, who had been presented and had good standing in society. A sponsor could not present two girls on the same day. The young woman would wear a court gown, predominantly white, which in the Regency Era was a fashion from about 50 years earlier- tight corseted bodice which was off the shoulders, and a skirt over the wide hoops such as are seen in paintings of Marie Antoinette. The gown was required to have a train 3 yards long, and she was required to wear a plume of ostrich feathers in the back of her hair. The girls were lined up to be presented in order from highest to lowest rank. When a young woman’s turn came her sponsor gave the debutante’s card to the lord-in-waiting and the girl was then admitted to the Presence Chamber, as the lord spread her train behind her. The debutante then walked up toward the throne and did a court curtsey (which was a very deep curtsey which brought her knee almost to the floor), rose gracefully, then backed out of the room without tripping over her train, never turning her back on the Queen, or whichever members of the royal family were present.

3. A large part of the story is Georgiana’s abduction. Tell us a little about the history of abduction of heiresses.

Because of the strictures of 19th Century society on the chaperonage of young women to ensure that their reputations were not damaged—she could not even ride in a closed carriage alone with a single man. In addition, under English law all of a woman’s property became her husband’s when they married, so there were a number of ways that unscrupulous men could take advantage of a woman.

If a man could hold a woman in confinement overnight, it would be assumed that she was no longer a virgin and she would be shunned by society. In this circumstance her family might agree to allow the man to marry her, if the girl would agree, or pay him off to get him to keep quiet about the event since her only other option was to live the rest of her life in seclusion. The young woman’s parents would be socially damaged for not protecting their daughter from being abducted and this would also damage the other children in the family. Voluntary elopement was considered disgraceful because an unsanctioned marriage was disapproved of when dowries and inheritances were involved, but even more disgraceful would be eloping and not reappearing married, such as could have happened with Lydia Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. The social consequences were the same whether the young woman was voluntarily eloping or was abducted. In either case, she was “ruined.”

Another possibility for a man who wanted a young woman’s fortune was a forced marriage. The marriage laws of England made it virtually impossible to do this because, unless they had an expensive “special license,” the couple was required to have the banns read in their parish church three Sundays in a row before the ceremony took place and be married by a minister of the Church of England. However, the laws of Scotland were very different, even though both countries were united under the same ruler. In Scotland the couple merely had to stand up together and acknowledge that they were married—they did not even need a minister. For this reason, a man could take an unwilling bride to Gretna Green, the nearest Scottish town to the main trunk road from London, and marry her, often by the accommodating local blacksmith. The term “over the anvil” was a slang expression for this type of marriage. Once the couple was married the girl’s family could have the marriage annulled if she was underage, but, again, her reputation would be ruined and she would be “damaged goods” and no other man would want to marry her. Thus the family often decided to let the marriage stand, no matter how unsavory the groom was. A limiting factor for this type of marriage was that it was about a three day trip by coach to the border, making it quite expensive.

I took advantage of these circumstances in Mr. Darcy’s Little Sister. An important part of her abduction, one which added confusion for her relatives, was that Georgiana’s companion was also abducted; giving her a chaperone for the entire time she was gone. This circumstance eventually helped them untangle the plot, since a highwayman or other robber would not care about her reputation, but a manipulative man who wished for Georgiana to be able to rejoin society with him as her husband would care.

4. Col. Fitzwilliam plays a major part in Georgiana’s story. Why did you pick him?

I always found the colonel an interesting character in Pride and Prejudice. We really don’t know much about him except that he is very gentlemanly and easy to talk to, and that he is the younger son of an earl, and so did not have much money. He makes it clear that he finds Elizabeth very attractive, but that he must marry a woman of good fortune since he could not support a wife in any elegant style on his pay as an officer. He is both perfectly amiable and quite pragmatic about matrimony, as many people were at the time. I was always intrigued by the question of why the colonel was Georgiana’s guardian with Darcy, rather than his elder brother, who would be the future head of the Fitzwilliam family when he inherited the estate —it seemed that the colonel’s brother would be a natural choice as Georgiana’s guardian. I wanted to explore what the colonel’s character really was and why his brother was not her other guardian.

5. Mr. Darcy's Little Sister has the familiar Pride and Prejudice characters doing unexpected things. Without giving too much away, tell us about both Col. Fitzwilliam’s new occupation and Mr. Darcy’s role.

As part of my interest in the colonel, I decided that there was much more depth to his personality than had been revealed in Pride and Prejudice. I put him into the Horse Guards, which is one of the most desirable of the cavalry units, and which also had an important role in protecting the royal family. This gave the colonel access to the highest levels of the government and allowed him to have contact with both the Prince Regent and his ministers.

I felt that once Elizabeth married Darcy that her perspectives would change because she would be exposed to a much wider society than that of Hertfordshire. She would have contact with some of those in the peerage and be more aware of issues of national importance, and she would learn that her husband, although he would not pander to the dissipated elements of Society, would be well known among the haute ton. It would not be surprising if Darcy’s reserved personality and upright morals would give him a reputation for trustworthiness with the Prince Regent.

6. What do you have coming up next?

I have at least a couple more P&P sequels I would like to write, exploring the Darcys’ marriage beyond the first year, and also telling the story of Anne de Bourgh. I would also like to write a modern suspense series which I have outlined. The main problem is finding the time! One of the advantages of living in the Midwest is that the winters are so cold and snowy that you don’t want to go out- a great situation for a writer!


Pride and Prejudice continues...
Georgiana Darcy grows up and goes in pursuit of happiness and true love, much to her big brother's consternation

A whole new side of Mr. Darcy...

He's the best big brother, generous to a fault. Protective, never teases. But over his dead body is any rogue or fortune hunter going to get near his little sister! (Unfortunately, any gentleman who wants to court Georgiana is going to have the same problem...)

So how's a girl ever going to meet the gentleman of her dreams?

About the Author
C. Allyn Pierson is the nom-de-plume of a physician, who has combined her many years of interest in the works of Jane Austen and the history of Regency England into this sequel to Pride and Prejudice. She lives with her family and three dogs in Fort Dodge, Iowa.


Linda Banche said...

Hi C. Allyn. I love your description of Mr. Darcy. Yup, my kind of man!

Anonymous said...

Love the details about court presentation. Sounds like a huge pain in the neck! The expense involved often figures in Georgette Heyer books so it's nice to read the details of what was involved :)

catslady said...

arggh the blogger ate my post. Hope this works.

It all seems very fascinating and I love reading about it but I'm really glad we don't have to go through all that today. It seems like most of it was to keep the classes separated and the power of it all. Also, the young girls had such little say although I can see the purpose of some of it (sans birth control lol).

It reminds me of my grandmother from the old country who use to sit between us when my boyfriend came to visit lol. (It must have worked since I married him properly with the banns read over 3 weeks and my white veil lol).

Maeve said...

I've ALWAYS adored Pride and Prejudice both written and in film. It's delightful peeping into Darcy's society and the unusual mind sets of that age.

Tracie said...

I remember all the grumbling and whining when P&P was a required read in high school and how painful it seemed at the time. With age comes wisdom and the realization of what a wonderful and prolific read it truly is. Sounds like another wonderful read.
Good luck and happy writing!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Babyblue22 said...

What a great Idea continuing the story with Mr. Darcy's Little Sister. I always wanted there to be more from other characters of P&P!
It sounds like a great read!


Marie Higgins said...

What a very interesting blog! When I first watched P&P many years ago, I was just beginning to write, and I could see all the characters in this story were very well rounded and should have their own story. It's great to find writers now who are doing that! And you're right - what woman wouldn't love Darcy? lol Of course, I prefer him looking like Colin Firth, myself... lol

~Marie~ mariehiggins84302 (at)

Tonya Callihan said...

I think this is a great idea. You always wonder about the other characters who might have played a small role in one of Jane Austen's books. Mr. Darcy is so charming and I can't wait to see what will come of his little sister.

tonyacallihan AT hotmail DOT com

Margay said...

I love the idea of seeing Mr. Darcy in the role of protective brother.


Danielle Thorne said...

I love P&P sequels and your research and information are captivating. It's a wonderful premise and I love the fact you dug deeper into secondary characters. It sounds like a wonderful read!

danithorne at yahoo dot com

Marli Trotter said...

Georgina and the Colonel were two favourite secondary characters. I confess I'd like to know more about them, and how they coped with the Grande Dame of Rosings. Looking forward to reading your novel.

SiNn said...

sounds well awesome deff a book i want to read congrats on getting it published!

I agree pride and Prejudice set teh stage for all future romance

jean hart stewart said...

So glad to have discoveed your books. Adore the idea of knowing more about these wonderful people. Have been a Janeite for years. Jean

Joselyn Vaughn said...

Great Interview! Pride and Prejudice is one of my favorite books. Can't wait to read a story about Georgianna!

susan said...

Love this type of book and would love to be entered in the contest. I would not want to live in the era but sure do like to read about it. susan L.

susan said...

oops forgot my susan L

susan said...

so glad to win this books. thanks so much. susan L.