A new "Talking Jane Austen with ..." session. My guest today is David Wilkin, author of "Colonel Fitzwilliam's Correspondence" and "Jane Austen and Ghosts". Enjoy our Austen chat!
Welcome at My Jane Austen Book Club, David, and thanks for accepting to talk Jane Austen with me. First of all , do you mind telling us something about yourself?
An evaluation in high school suggested I should either be a businessman or a dancer. So I am a businessman, having spent two decades in the woodworking industry and opening a company that does the wood interiors of restaurants.
The dancing part resulted in my mastering the dances from the mid fifteenth century to modern times, and teaching them. I have run several different regular dance practices, and entire dance weekends of these historic dances.
The fondness for the past does not just extend to the pleasantry of dance, but to the study of the conflicts from which History predominates. War gets a lot written about it. That was perhaps my earliest exposure, army men, leading wargaming, and role-playing games. Or just gaming in general. I was around when the first Computer Gaming magazine debuted. I not only have an extensive library of books, but also games, and play many, not more on computers rather than across the table from an opponent over a board, or with miniatures representing our armies.
The extensive library of books, the vast reading that I have indulged in has also had me turn my hand to writing. Starting with simple sketches while in high school and college to completing novels after graduating. I continue to hone this craft.
What is your opinion? Do you think Jane Austen is very angry for what is happening to her works? Vampires and all kind of monsters have invaded her world!
I think Jane would be very angry at what is happening to her works. From her writing I find that she looked at her society and used her stories to not only comment on society, but t ogive hope to the lives of the woman of her society. She was confined to a certain life based on her birth and that England was a very stratified place to live at the time. Her tales were to give women of the Regency a belief that they could be smart, intelligent and destined for a happy marriage. She wrote before the time of Shelley’s Frankenstein and Stoker’s Dracula. But as I understand it, the heroine portrayed here in these new adaptations far exceed anything Lizzy Bennet or Emma Woodhouse ever did
However, it seems our world has gone vampire/monsters crazy. Have you got your own interpretation of this phenomenon? Why is our world so attracted by this kind of supernatural characters?
I can’t really comment on the attraction of the pheonomena. I really do not like watching flicks that scare me. I like Aliens better than Alien because the Marines attack back. I’ve read Dracula twice and I can see that it is a literary masterpiece. I have not read much else, Anne Rice, or others, though what I have read in the genre was never as strong as Bram Stoker. My interpretation is based on ghosts of course as the title of my book suggests. For it, I hope I have grasped another romantic influence, Rex Harrison as the Ghost, in the Ghost and Mrs. Muir.
The story in your book is set in the world of moviemaking. Of course, any work by Jane Austen made into a movie is a bankable project, but don’t you think that sometimes the screen adaptations might distort the real tone of the novels ?
I live out here in Southern California. For a brief time I worked in “Hollywood” doing a night shift for Dick Clark Productions. I taped every American Bandstand and other productions of the company to send to the copyright office. I made my 15 minute pitch to a producer at the end of my gig, but that didn’t fly. So on to other career choices.
For Jane’s work, it is very bankable and I think there is an appeal for all regencies that if produced with the right budget, could make a profit amongst those of us who love this era. Of the productions of the work, I think the only fail I can recall is the 1999 Mansfield Park. (Which was one of Cheryl and my first dates) The other that you might call a fail is the 1940 Pride and Prejudice by Huxley and with Olivier and Garson. That however is one of my favorites and why I came to the love the regency era. Edna May Oliver as Lady Catherine is a hoot…
But aside from my favorites and those I don’t like your question is if the movies drift from the tone of the novels. We look at the supporting characters I think in Jane’s work as caricatures of people and stereotypes so that they enrich the story with humor and pathos. We see the leads as those characters we aspire to be and to have lives as. I think the adaptations in film for the most part hit the mark admirably.
Jane’s world is so down-to-earth, all sense and balance do you think fan fiction mostly respect those features?
I have to say, that I have not read much fan fiction based on Jane. I have read the Stephanie Barron mysteries which I love for the footnotes. I have read a few sequels, and then I have my own, Colonel Fitzwilliam’s Correspondence. I spent a great deal of time thinking about Colonel Fitzwilliam and the war. The war that Jane ignores a great deal in her writing. Even in Persuasion it is off camera. I don’t think you could have lived in England with the war occuring and not have had it touch you in a much greater way than Jane’s characters seem to be effected. For my sequel I did my best to convey the drama that the war could have upon a family, and in this case the Bennets and the Darcys.
Without spending time with a great many other authors in the genre of writing fan fiction based on Jane’s work, it would be unfair of me to speak about that. I do know that were one to want to elevate their writing, you need to respect what Jane did with her characters, and you also need to provide characters to have some fun with, as Jane did as well.
What is the appeal of Jane Austen and her world to nowadays readers? What’s the secret of her huge global success ?
Jane has always had an appeal. She gives us a Regency world that is clean and bountiful. All of her heroines are part of the lower upper class, or for Fanny Price, quickly sent to an upper class house. How many of us want to be part of the richest wrung of society? Then Jane has kept the underside, the part of the world that does not appeal away. Including the war as I have mentioned.
The Regency may not have been as pretty as the picture Jane has painted, but she did paint it so nicely that it is a canvas that those of us who write Regencies have been able to use ourselves in our endeavors to leave the world as an ideal and not as the reality that it was.
If Jane had lived nowadays what kind of novels would she have written?
I think she would have written literature for women. Strong heroines, and here, instead of class boundaries that kept a women thinking they would have only one avenue in life to pursue, she would have placed them in a dead-end job, or having chosen the wrong career. Something that they would realize and begin to transform themselves, not with the aid of a hero character such as Darcy. The man would be something they would pick up and drag along as they evolved and completed their transformation.
What is it that you best love in her world and in her work?
I love the sense that things do come out for our heroes and heroines. Happy endings may not be how we are going to be rewarded in life, but in fiction, it is a reward I like a great deal.
What is your favourite Austen novel, hero and heroine?
Persuasion is my favorite tale, while I have to say that Elizabeth Bennet is the ultimate heroine. I love Captain Wentworth, but then to have the wealth of Darcy and to be so exceedingly correct and right is something I wish I could live as. Captain Wentworth and his emotions however seem to be more the lot in life for those of us not born to the highest wealth in the land.
As a lover of the Regency and a Janeite what are you next projects to spread more Austen passion?
I’ve been thinking of perhaps doing something with Margaret Dashwood. Where Colonel Fitzwilliam and history, as well as the last few paragraphs of Pride and Prejudice lent me some firm ideas, Margaret seems a very open character and I do not want to write something that would go to far afield. In the meantime I will release two more, at least, regencies that don’t touch on Jane’s characters this year. One a classic play on a rich heiress and penniless lord. The other about identical twins whose characters are different even should they look exactly alike. That of course is where the drama, trouble and humor will stem from. I have completed the first drafts of both of these novels and am beginning the second draft.
Could you please tell us something more about your new novel: Jane Austen and Ghosts?
As I mentioned, I spent some time in Hollywood, and then my cousin does exactly what our hero of JAnG does. He reads everything he can to see if the studio could make a good movie from it. I thought of that and the various Zombie, Vampire and Sea Monster books and it came to me that Jane isn’t very happy about these works. That they find some way to twist her tales away from the core values.
I then thought that the tale of making these works into a movie, one where as they are doing so, Jane might come back and have a thing or two to say would be humorous. Playing upon that ,the story reflecting a key Jane storyline as well seemed to add to the writing. In the end I have a nicely received short piece that entertains one and all.
Thanks for the interview, I hope that your readers have found this interesting and I am open to answering follow-up questions!
Thanks a lot, David, for being my guest today. Good luck with all your incredible activities and passions!
You'll find David Wilkin at his site, his blog, on twitter as @DWWilkin, at The Regency Assembly Press .