Today I’ve traded places with Jane Odiwe, a fellow author and Janeite friend. We’re both sharing moments from our most recent novel that took us–the authors–by surprise. I hope you enjoy her post about Searching for Captain Wentworth, and then come over to her blog and see what surprised me in Loving Miss Darcy.
Jane has also offered a paperback copy of Searching for Captain Wentworth to international readers. To enter, just answer her question at the end of the post. Giveaway ends next Monday night at midnight, and I’ll announce the winner no later than Thursday, May 2.
Thank you, Nancy, for hosting me on your blog today – I’m thrilled to be here!
Like you, when I’m writing I find keeping one’s characters in check and “on the plot in hand” is sometimes an impossible one, especially when they have strong personalities. More than any other of my novels, Searching for Captain Wentworth proved to be a case in point.
My favourite novel is Persuasion and I’d always wanted to write a book with this wonderfully emotional story as its inspiration. Whilst in Bath, I kept wondering about Jane Austen’s inspiration for her novel. Biographies usually say that Jane Austen was unhappy in Bath, though the evidence for this I feel is rather slim, based on a couple of remarks made in letters and the initial feelings of her heroine Anne, who associated the city with the passing of her mother. Yet, two of her novels have her heroines falling in love in Bath, and so, whatever Jane Austen might have felt on leaving, after she’d experienced the death of her father and her family’s financial decline, I came to the conclusion that Bath was probably a place of good memories as well as the disappointing.
Jane Austen’s hero, Captain Wentworth, is a naval officer and so were two of her brothers. It occurred to me that her brother Charles would have been a young lieutenant at the time Jane and her family was living in Sydney Place in Bath and that’s what set me thinking. Perhaps the story she wrote was inspired by events she witnessed in part. Everything I read about Charles Austen made me convinced that his sister had used him as a model for her Captain Wentworth. And then I thought how wonderful it would be to go back in time and “meet” the Austen family through the eyes of a modern heroine, Sophie. I’m sure you can see what’s coming – Sophie travels back in time and is drawn to the dashing sailor, Charles Austen. This was the crux of my novel and with another hero vying for her affections in the present day; I thought I’d got the story pretty sewn up.
I wrote my novel and was feeling quite happy with it but for someone who would not leave me alone – Jane Austen herself. Every time my heroine had a conversation with her, she kept dropping hints about her own story as if to say, ‘What about me? I want my share of the novel. It’s all very well to go making up stories about my brother, but I have one too.’
At the same time I was writing my novel, I met the owner of the Rice portrait of Jane Austen. I was invited to see the painting in Paris, and Anne Rice (the wife of Henry Rice who was descended from Edward Austen’s family line) related so many wonderful family stories that it got me thinking again. Jane’s years in Bath are a bit of a mystery, but we know she was inspired enough by the city to write both Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. Anyone who has read the former knows that Catherine Morland is the daughter of a clergyman and comes from a large family like Jane herself. The opening of the book describes Catherine and her habits and it’s impossible not to wonder if much of this is autobiographical. Catherine goes to Bath with Mr and Mrs Allen and that’s where she meets Henry Tilney. She is seventeen, a very young girl. What do we know about Jane Austen at 17? Not too much. Apart from knowing that she went to boarding school for a while between the ages of 10 and 11, 1785-86, we have little information before her letters begin, apart from the fact that we know she visited her Great Uncle Francis in Sevenoaks in 1788 and that he may have commissioned her portrait.
Could Jane have met someone when she was 17 – a very special someone? Might they have been separated at a later stage like Anne and Frederick? Perhaps they met again years after and their romance was re-kindled. Even though I had no evidence that any of this had happened, so many pieces of Jane’s novels seemed to be offering clues and it was fun to piece together a story of what might have happened using her novels and letters as inspiration.
Of course, we will never know the absolute truth, (unless someone unearths a missing diary) but I feel very strongly that Jane wanted us to know in Persuasion that she knew what it is to have loved and lost.
Here is an excerpt from Searching for Captain Wentworth – I hope you enjoy it! My heroine Sophie has gone back in time and is taking a walk in Sydney Gardens in Bath.
Several times I took a wrong turn at a hermit’s cottage or where a wooden pavilion signalled the end of a path and had to double back, but I soon found myself in the middle. There was Merlin’s swing, a huge wheel rising high in the air for those brave enough to try it, but there was no one suspended above the Labyrinth today to laugh at those who’d lost their way. A moss-covered grotto with a wooden sign declared an alternate way out through an underground passage. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go that way. It looked dark and gloomy so I turned back on myself, and following a butterfly that flew into my field of vision I entered another part of the Labyrinth.
The butterfly almost seemed to be waiting for me to catch it up. As I ran to keep it in view, I watched the beautiful creature dancing in the sunlight, its fragile wings hovering above the ground before soaring to the top of the hedge to alight on a leaf. Brown velvet wings fluttered to make a display of its white lace, and it was then I realized that we were not alone. I heard a whispered exchange, hushed voices that held such nostalgic sounds of recognition, I instantly felt I was intruding. Before I’d taken many more steps I knew that I’d stumbled upon a lover’s meeting and though I really didn’t want to spy, I found myself unable to stop staring.
Concealed within a bower of arched trees, with blossoms tumbling in white curtains like confetti to the ground, a handsome fair-haired gentleman sat holding the hand of his girl who was hidden from my view.
‘I have never been inconstant,’ he said. ‘Your heart must understand the truth of all I say. Tell me not that such precious feelings will diminish, that you will cease to love me. I love none but you. Accuse me of self-interest, I cannot deny it. I am guilty of being selfish, I know, but the happiest hours of my life have been those spent with you. Do not blame me for wishing to snatch a few more.’
‘I do not blame you, but with everything settled as we know it to be, as things can only be resolved, we will do more harm than good if we do not accept what is beyond our control.’
‘If I were a knave, I would plead with you to change your mind.’
‘And we both know there lies a path to unhappiness and folly. This encounter is insanity itself, I cannot think how you persuaded me to meet you today.’
‘Yet, you came.’
Silence descended. Oblivious to everything around them, I saw two heads bend towards the other and the young man plant a tender kiss upon his lover’s hand. I was rooted to the spot, even though I knew I should leave. If I moved they would hear or see me and know that I’d found them out. That they had no wish to be discovered was painfully obvious. Although the young man seemed to be less furtive, I sensed their anxiety as I caught a glimpse of the girl leaning forward to whisper in his ear. Dressed in a blue gown, which fluttered back in the breeze, I saw her bonnet strings were untied.
The young man spoke again. ‘Can we not pretend just for today, that we are as free to love one another as we were all those years ago when we first met?’
‘The past seems so long ago, a time in another world. You and I are both changed in every way,’ she said.
‘But not in essentials, I believe. True, our circumstances have changed and we’ve had to follow another course to the one we should have desired, but our souls will be forever entwined.’
I heard the girl laugh. ‘You are the most amusing gentleman of my acquaintance. Tell me, just how many of the romantic poets are you imbibing these days? Too much poetry can never be safe!’
‘I only speak from my heart and if you examine yours, you will know that I speak the truth. I need no poet’s sonnet to inspire or declare my feelings. You of all people could never accuse me of disguising my intentions.’
‘No, you always were a most forthright fellow!’
Do you remember that first night when we both realized that we loved one another?’
‘How could I forget a warm summer’s eve, a night sky filled with stars and the beauty of the Kentish countryside all around us?’
‘Riding on Queen Mab in the moonlight, we flew like midsummer fairies over the fields and hedgerows.’
‘You stole me away from the house like a wicked bandit.’
He laughed. ‘I do not recall your protest. Indeed, I seem to remember it was you who urged me to share the horse. No doubt, so I should have to hold you against me.’
‘Which you did with no hesitation, sir.’
‘And then we found a spot to your liking.’
‘I have no recollection of being consulted about the stone temple, dark and enclosed.’
‘I took you in my arms and you did not resist.’
‘I did not.’
‘You did not recoil from the kiss I planted.’
‘Is it etched in your mind, as it is in mine? Are you able to recall all that we were to one another? I can bring forth every feeling, every sound and smell of that sweet night. The scent of your skin, the soft caress of your lips, and the sounds of a burbling stream making its way to the river are all married as one.’
There was another silence and it seemed to me that the girl whose few words had been so filled with emotion could not speak many more.
‘Jane, you pledged your heart to me that night.’
‘And it will forever be yours. I shall not break my promise.’
I would love to know your thoughts. Do you think Jane Austen’s Persuasion was written from her own experiences, from her imagination, or perhaps a mixture of the two? Please leave a comment below to be entered into a draw for a giveaway of a signed paperback copy of Searching for Captain Wentworth.
Finally, I would just like to add that if you go to this wonderful resource: http://www.pemberley.com/etext/index.html and put in a search for the word “seventeen” in the “Search all six novels” box, I think you’ll find some of the 13 results most interesting!
You can find Jane Odiwe at www.austeneffusions.com, http://www.janeaustensequels.blogspot.co.uk, http://austenauthors.net, http://historicalromanceuk.blogspot.co.uk https://twitter.com/JaneOdiwe https://www.facebook.com/JaneOdiwe