Thursday, January 29, 2015

Edgar and Emma: an excerpt

As previously posted here in August, I’ve undertaken a new Austen project: turning Edgar & Emma—the hilarious four-page story Austen wrote in her teens—into a full-length novel in the mature Austen style (or at least my best approximation thereof).

Alas, I’ve only made incremental progress since announcing the project, because as a freelance writer I’ve had to set it aside whenever paying gigs have presented themselves. And they’ve presented themselves frequently lately…though without paying quiiiite enough to enable me to make any real commitment to Edgar and Emma.

So I’ve decided to mount a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to let me do just that. I’ll furnish the relevant details here, once the campaign is live; but as a precursor, I thought I’d give you all a glimpse at how Emma and Edgar has been progressing so far. Hence, the excerpt below.

But first, a few words about our dramatis personae:

Emma is the daughter of a baronet, Sir Godfrey Marlow, who has just moved his family back to Malhurst, the Sussex neighborhood of their early childhood. Emma has many fond memories of this place, particularly of a very intense young boy, Edgar Wilmott, who once, when they were both eight years old, rescued her from a confrontation with a very long (yet entirely harmless) snake.

In the interval, Edgar has gone on to study Classics at Oxford, and now desires nothing more than to pursue an academic career. His dream is to produce a new English translation of Plutarch’s Lives, which pairs biographies of great Greeks and Romans…and also to add a third chapter to each entry, focusing on a corresponding British statesman. But these scholarly ambitions are thwarted by his wealthy father, who has decreed that as the eldest son, Edgar must instead inherit and run the bulk of the Wilmott estate.

Edgar’s dashing younger brother Ralph, meanwhile, has set his sights on social advancement, and sees the nubile young daughter of a baronet as just the ticket for his first step up the ladder. Edgar knows of Ralph’s self-interested plans for Emma, but can’t bring himself to declare himself in his brother’s place; he’s too shy, and too uncertain of his own qualities.

In the meantime, Edgar himself is pursued by Alice Nesmith, the grasping young daughter of the local vicar. Alice scorns country life; she wants London, and she wants money. Edgar, the educated son of a very rich man, can furnish her with both.

The only other character to feature in this excerpt is Emma’s aunt, Mrs. Curtis—a comparatively young woman who at a tender age married a much older man, so that she’s never had a proper outlet for her girlish need to flirt and be coquettish. Now she funnels all this stored-up sexual energy into her niece. Mrs. Curtis’s chief aim is to see Emma married to handsome, debonair Ralph Wilmott.

In the excerpt that follows, Emma and Mrs. Curtis have come to Malhurst town to do some shopping. They’ve no sooner arrived than they bump into Alice Nesmith. The three women saunter up the high street together.



“What do you think Emma has just been telling me of?” said Mrs. Curtis.
“I am sorry to say,” said Alice with perhaps too much satisfaction, “that I have not heard Miss Emma Marlow speak sufficiently often to guess at what she might say.”
“Why, she has only been telling me which of the Willmot brothers she finds the most handsome. I think you may surmise which she chose.”
“I beg your pardon, Aunt,” said Emma, feeling color come to her face. “I have said not one word on the subject. The discourse has been entirely your own.”
“But there are so many Willmots,” said Alice, ignoring Emma’s protest; “I don’t like to venture a guess as to which one you mean.” But her eyes—which she now turned on Emma—betrayed that she had indeed ventured a guess.
“Difficult creature,” said Mrs. Curtis, and she playfully tweaked Alice’s arm—a familiarity that made Emma feel quite faint. “Why will you never guess when I ask it of you?”
“I am sorry, but I am very stupid at it.”
“I will have to tell you, then,” said the older woman, and she drew Alice closer that she might lower her voice. “It is of course Ralph whom Emma favors.”
“Aunt,” Emma cried, “forgive me, but I never said such a thing! It was yourself who named him.”
“Ralph is very fair,” said Alice with a nod of approval. “Though I confess I prefer a darker complexion. No doubt Miss Emma Marlow and I do not share the same taste in men.”
Emma, who did not like to consider that she and Alice Nesmith might share the same taste in anything, stilled the protest that was poised to leap from her tongue; in which interval her aunt renewed her discourse on the male Willmots.
“That is the benefit, you see,” she said, taking Alice in one arm and Emma in the other and leading them up the high street, “of having so very many brothers in a single family. There is certain to be one for every fancy. Think of it, girls: Ralph is light, Edgar is dark; Richard is slender, David is burly; and Peter—well, Peter is too young yet to say what he will be. I suppose we must be content to wait.”
“I think he will be tall,” said Alice. “He is very high already, for just twelve years.”
“Then the Willmots must be persuaded to have another son,” quipped Mrs. Curtis, “that there may also be one who is short.”
“But what if he should instead be round? Then the Willmots must have two more sons: one who is short, and another who is gaunt.”
“Mrs. Willmot will not thank you for that, my dear,” said Mrs. Curtis, and the two laughed very wildly. Emma, whose elbow was securely interlocked with that of her aunt, could think of no greater mortification than to be seen with them behaving thusly, and indeed several heads turned in response to the noise they were making. But alas, she was to learn that greater mortification always awaits those helpless to defend against it.
“Why, bless me,” cried Aunt Curtis, “are those not two of the gentlemen we have only just named?”
Emma looked up, and to her horror saw that indeed Edgar and Ralph Willmot were a short distance ahead, very near to the milliner’s shop.
“Emma, my dear,” said Mrs. Curtis with telling deliberation, “was not our principle destination this morning the milliner’s?”
“No, indeed, Aunt,” said Emma, pretending not to take her meaning, “we have no business to transact there.”
Mrs. Curtis gave her arm a little shake. “Silly creature! You understand me, I am sure. I mean to say, what a chance this is to speak extemporaneously to your lover, Mr. Ralph Willmot!”
Emma felt her face burn again. “I have no such lover,” she insisted.
“Ah, but here is an opportunity to make it so!”
“The mere fact that an opportunity presents itself,” Emma said desperately, “does not mean it is advisable to take it.”
Mrs. Curtis cawed out a laugh. “How clever you are! Ever ready with a turn of phrase. I suppose you think that gentlemen find cleverness an attractive quality in a lady. They do not. You may trust me on this, my dear; I know it for a certainty.”
“I am sure no one knows it better,” snapped Emma; and as soon as she had said it, she regretted that provocation had rendered her pert.
Fortunately her aunt was oblivious to her meaning, and merrily pulled her in the direction of the milliner’s shop. Emma was chastened enough by her momentary rudeness to allow it.
“I declare,” said Mrs. Curtis when they came within hailing distance of the brothers, “here are friends of ours! Look, girls; it is the Misters Willmot.”
The brothers, who had been conferring together, lifted their heads at this, and a momentary look passed between Emma and Edgar—a look of such candid, unaffected interest that each was embarrassed by it, and turned their glances quickly away, and did not risk allowing their eyes to meet a second time.
“How do you do, ladies,” Ralph said as he and Edgar tipped their hats.
“Very well, thank you,” said Mrs. Curtis. “We are just come to visit the milliner’s. And what,” she added with unconcealed glee, “do you think we have all been talking about?”
Emma, whose skin was so recently reddened by shame, now felt it go pale with anxiety. “Aunt, no,” she whispered.
“You must not ask us to guess,” said Ralph. “For we might inadvertently scandalize you by deducing quite wrongly.”
“Mrs. Curtis is fond of guessing,” said Alice, who seemed to direct the observation directly at Edgar. He gave her a grateful smile, but said nothing in reply.
“Then I will have to tell you,” said Aunt Curtis, and as Emma felt herself begin to sink into the ground, she declared: “We have been singing the praises of this lovely springtime weather.”
“Indeed it is very clement,” murmured Edgar, whose gaze remained downcast, as though in search of coins from Roman Britain that might be easily unearthed by the toe of his shoe.
“Such a wonderful moistness in the air,” said Mrs. Curtis with a quick glance at Emma; and the spark in her eye revealed how much she enjoyed causing her niece trepidation, then relieving it at the last possible moment. “So beneficial for the skin. Does not Emma’s face have a particular glow this morning, Mr. Willmot?”
“Indeed it does,” said Ralph, at whom she had quite pointedly directed the question; for Edgar seemed to drift ever further to the outskirts of the group. “And yet she looks no less fine than Miss Nesmith—or dare I say it, yourself, ma’am.”
Mrs. Curtis laughed wildly again. “You must not say such things to me, Mr. Willmot! I am an old married lady.”
He flashed her a dazzling grin. “Then this moist air is more efficacious than any I have yet known; for you look no less a maiden than your two companions.”
Again she shrieked with laughter; up and down the street heads turned in curiosity at such stridency, and Emma longed to be gone. But she knew she was fixed in place for the time being. It was unlike her aunt to hurry away from a place where compliments were aplenty.
“To be sure,” Mrs. Curtis said, “there is but a difference of seven years between my niece and myself. My brother Marlow is fully a dozen years my senior, you know; so that I was but a child myself when Emma was born.”
“That explains it,” said Ralph with another bow. “I congratulate your husband, ma’am, on his good fortune in winning so young and comely a bride.”
“As well you might,” she said with a little smirk of pride. “For Horatio was nearly forty when I married him and might have done much worse, as I often tell him. But I daresay I have made him happy. He will not say so; but as he has not got rid of me in all these years, I must conclude he is not unsatisfied.”
“He is the happiest of men, I am certain,” said Ralph.
She crowed again. “Oh! if Horatio is the happiest of men, then what dour creatures all the rest of your sex must be!” She turned again to Emma. “I shall wish better for my niece, sir; that I shall. For her, I shall wish a husband who is always gallant, always gay, always ready with a compliment.” She took another quick look at Ralph, as if requiring further inspiration, then added, “A well-looking fellow, who is always attentive and smiling. That is my ideal. That is what I wish for Emma.”
“Such a paragon of positivity!” said Ralph, shaking his head and feigning a dubious look. “I wonder whether he exists in the world.”
“I am certain he does, and in quantity. In fact, you may be sure there is one to be found wherever you go.” She gave him a very sly look, as if daring him to take her meaning.
“Aunt,” Emma whispered frantically; “you grow too bold.”
“And Miss Nesmith,” Ralph said, nodding his head at Alice; “is she not included in your marital good wishes?”
“Oh, I shouldn’t like a cheerful husband,” protested Alice. “I should be much more contented with a sober-minded man—a scholarly man of great, mindful silences.” She did not look at Edgar as she said this; but Emma saw Edgar color and turn further away, as though he felt Alice’s eyes on him all the same.
“Then at least,” said Ralph, “you ladies will never be rivals for the same suitor. I congratulate you on the safety of your friendship.” He turned his head, as if to say something to Edgar, then appeared momentarily confounded at finding him so far off. “It appears my brother is impatient to depart,” he said, “and indeed we have lingered here longer than we had ought. But with such company as this, none would dare to blame us.”

TO BE CONTINUED.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Wishing you a Bitchin' New Year

Welcome to 2015, everybody! I'll be in touch a little more regularly, beginning soon (he said cryptically). Meantime, to start the year with a laugh, here's a great sketch from the wonderful comic Jane Horrocks (best knock as Bubble in Absolutely Fabulous), which in my humble opinion is only a little bit wilder than the juvenile Jane Austen. Well...okay, maybe a lot wilder. But closer to her anarchic spirit than Merchant & Ivory, in my humble opinion. Anyway, enjoy!


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Bitch for the Holidays, Part 2

And if by chance you've already bestowed Volume 1 on all your nearest and dearest, let me just note that Volume 2 is the perfect way to show them you still love them. In case you need reminding, here are a few excerpts:

"Emma is literary champagne; but of the very driest variety. In it, we find Austen at the height of her narrative powers, and clearly aware of it; she indulges herself—in fact, a bit too much so for my taste. She doesn’t make light of the world she creates, but she doesn’t exactly make heft of it, either. It’s a frolic—a gambol; a sunny roundelay. We love Emma, but we never feel any kind of anxiety for her, as we did for the Dashwood sisters, and for Lizzy Bennet. We never feel anxiety for anyone in the cast of characters. It’s as though Austen has invented such a group of darlings, she can’t bear to afflict them with any real tribulations. There is—as there always is, in Austen—a rival and a cad; but the rival is never seriously a rival, and the cad only intermittently caddish. The book’s only two villains are married off to each other and pushed to the margins so that their hideousness can only delight, never threaten. In a way, Emma is Jane Austen writing her own Jane Austen fan fiction."

"Northanger Abbey is probably the least regarded of Austen’s novels—not in the sense that it’s the least liked (Mansfield Park takes that prize), but in the sense that it’s the least often read, the least often discussed, the least often considered. There’s just too much in it that throws your average dingbat Austen fan into confusion: an unexceptional heroine who never rises to anything beyond a certain baseline competency, a foppish hero whose motives are never entirely understandable, and a one-sided love affair whose only triumph is that the diffident party is eventually flattered into signing on. But it’s my own favorite in the canon, after (of course) Pride and Prejudice. Because its first draft was written early in Austen’s career, it retains much of the swagger of the joyfully anarchic fiction she wrote in such quantity during her adolescence. And this is balanced by the psychologically nuanced character portrayals we associate with Austen in her full maturity. To me, it’s the most representative of her works, twining the brash irreverence of her juvenile period with the sagacity and reflection of her mastery."

"Persuasion is the last novel Jane Austen prepared for publication before she died, and it was released posthumously. For that reason, many people have come to regard it as valedictory; and this illusion is aided by its heroine, Anne Elliot, who, as a lifelong spinster disdained by her family, appears on the surface to be a stand-in for Austen herself. In granting Anne Elliot a second chance at love, and with the man she’d foolishly rejected in her youth, some readers—stupid readers, I think; sentimental and sloppy ones—view Persuasion as Austen’s attempt to live vicariously through a fictionalized version of herself; to bring her own story to a happy resolution before death claimed her. Like Prospero in The Tempest, Anne Elliot becomes the author taking her leave of her readers, by way of a dramatic stand-in.
You only have to take a look at the novel Austen was working on when she died to realize that Persuasion is no such thing. Sanditon clearly shows Austen back in biting social-satire mode, and even extending her palette to include sharp satiric jabs at commerce and industry. At the end of her life she was expanding her focus, not narrowing it."

"[Austen] began as a rollicking farceuse; developed into a relentlessly funny social satirist; and matured into a brilliant ironist. There’s no telling where she might have gone from there, had she not died so terribly, almost criminally young. But one thing seems certain: she would never have become a sentimentalist…never a romantic…never a safe little scribbler of mawkish, soft-core valentines. And if there is a literary heaven? Those writers are the souls who flee the fastest when she enters a room."

What better stocking stuffer for the culture maven, Janeite, or bitch (bonneted or otherwise) on your list? 

Finally: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of you, and thanks again for supporting me in this project and for being such wonderful sounding boards, critics...and friends. I wish you the best of everything.


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Bitch for the Holidays (volume 1)

Just a reminder that the ideal holiday present for every discriminating palate on your gift list does in fact exist. And you can get it by overnight delivery, so I don't even feel bad about taking this long to remind you.

What I will remind you of are some representative passages from its pages:

"Here are a few things you won’t find in Sense and Sensibility: a passionate kiss or a violent embrace...a kiss or embrace of any kind, for that matter...any portrayal of a marriage proposal...any depiction of a wedding ceremony...anyone speaking the words 'I love you.' Here are a few things you WILL find in Sense and Sensibility: ruthlessness...venality...arrogance...avarice...fecklessness... snobbishness...shamelessness... two or three of the most unbridled talkers in all of western literature...and an authorial voice that merrily mocks them all into immortality."

"Every time I read Pride and Prejudice, I laugh. It’s the laughter of philosophy; the clear, cold laughter of those who reside in the abyss but are untouched by its sweat-soaked, writhing tumult. We laugh, because Austen lifts us above the fray and nimbly escorts us to a farther shore, where there are kindred spirits waiting. We can’t stay there long; but we can return whenever we like...again, and again, and again, and again."

"I’ve conjectured long and hard about why Austen wrote Mansfield Park; but whatever the reason, the good news is, she learned from the endeavor...and she shows as much in her next novel, which is basically Mansfield Park turned on its head. Its heroine, Emma Woodhouse, is a revisionist Mary Crawford—a sly, feline charmer who’s quick to judgment and carelessly glib, and who is made to pay for it; but this time, crucially, she’s forgiven. Her rival, Jane Fairfax, is a new incarnation of Fanny Price—chilly, impenetrable, aloof; and like Fanny, her imperturbable stillness wins her her man in the end. But in this case it’s exactly the right man for her: Frank Churchill, a second Henry Crawford, whose wily roguishness will force her to enlarge her own capacity for understanding; as her quiet determination will galvanize his. Because of this ingenious inversion, Emma scintillates where Mansfield Park stalls out; Emma delights where Mansfield Park frustrates; and Emma is beloved, where Mansfield Park, despite its many brilliant facets and enduring moments, seems fated to remain only tolerated."

Go on then...share the love. You'll be glad you did.



Friday, November 21, 2014

Dang, but the holidays are difficult.


I mean, where do you find the perfect present for every highly intelligent, supremely cultured tastemaker on your gift list? It's so very, very vexing. But don't give up...keep looking...surely something will occur to you...


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

More home news: Volume 2 ebook, and NEW Austen project

Two news items today:

First, BITCH IN A BONNET Vol. 2 is finally, at long last available as an eBook. Your choice: Kindle or NookOther platforms will be added in due course. Thanks for your patience, enjoy!

Second: I've begun a new Austen project. I'll be adapting EDGAR AND EMMA—taking the rollicking three-page story Austen wrote in her teens, and fleshing it out into a full-length novel. And, I'm sure, having the time of my life while doing it. Aiming to have it finished and available in early 2015; I'll keep you apprised of my progress. Meantime, enjoy what's left of summer!



Sunday, April 20, 2014

Home news: Volume 2 now on sale, and more

The second volume of Bitch In a Bonnet—collecting my gregarious gallop through Emma, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion—is now available as a trade paperback from both Amazon and Barnes and Noble; other retailers will be added in the coming months. (And an e-book edition will debut in a few weeks, as well.)

If you pick up a copy, let me appeal to your generous natures and ask that you also leave a review on the Amazon or B&N listing page. It's absolutely gobsmacking how much of a difference those little blurbs from readers make in deciding which books go mega, and which go meh.


If you're a gambling kinda guy or gal, you can also enter for a chance to win a free copy courtesy of the fine folks at Goodreads; we're giving away ten, and you have till May 31st to throw your name into the hat. 

Thanks again for all your support over the past five years. I'm thinking of continuing the blog in some less structured manner; now that my survey of the official canon is concluded, I may dip into the unofficial one—the juvenilia and fragments, the works Austen either never prepared for publication or even finished. Or possibly turning my fiery gaze on some of the Austen TV and film adaptations. We'll see.

But in the meantime, I'll be taking a bit of time off, because yowza, am I ever tired.