This past summer, I read Jane Austen's First Love by Syrie James and really enjoyed reading about a young and daring Jane Austen. If you are looking for a holiday gift for the Jane Austen fan in your life, definitely check out her book.
I have author Syrie James on the blog today answering my many questions about Jane Austen as well her novel, Jane Austen's First Love. Welcome to the blog, Syrie!
1. Despite writing many years ago, Jane Austen has a huge following. What do you think makes her so popular today and her themes timeless? Why can so many women relate to Jane’s characters?
Here’s why I think Jane Austen’s novels are timeless and still so beloved today:2. I loved your version of young Jane in Jane Austen’s First Love. She was outspoken, precocious, and daring. She reminded me a bit of Elizabeth Bennet. Tell us how you came up with her personality.
-- Clever storylines and such perfect plotting that they’ve been endlessly imitated for over 200 years.
--Witty dialogue and beautiful prose.
--Heroes and heroines we sympathize with and relate to.
--Recognizable supporting characters who are often hilarious.
--Her characters wrestle with problems (money, family, relationships) similar to those we experience today.
--Through the choices of her characters, she subtly reminds how to be the best people we can be.
--They adapt well to film, and evoke a past era we view as romantic.
-- When reading an Austen novel, it’s easy to believe there’s a great love out there for us—and for everyone (if only we are wise and patient enough to know how and where to look.)
I mainly relied on Jane Austen’s letters as a source to her true personality, because there, she is writing completely unscripted and uncensored, straight from the heart. Austen’s letters reveal an incredibly smart, clever, witty, vibrant, vivacious, and sometimes snarky woman who is full of life. I knew that as a youth, Jane Austen was actively writing what is now known as her juvenilia (some pieces are truly hilarious) and was something of a tomboy who played outdoor games with the boys at her father’s school. I put all that together and came up with my teenaged Jane.
3. In Jane Austen’s First Love, Jane gets into some trouble with her “matchmaking.” I couldn’t help but smile at some of the situations she gets herself into as it reminded me a bit of one of my favorite characters, Emma Woodhouse. Was Jane really an avid matchmaker?
The idea of matchmaking clearly interested Jane Austen, since she devoted en entire novel to the subject. In her own family, she seems to have been the go-to aunt for relationship advice. For example, when her niece Fanny sought out Jane’s opinion concerning a particular young man she was courting, Jane replied on Nov. 18, 1814 with a detailed, wise, and thorough examination of the subject. Here’s a brief excerpt from Jane’s letter:
“His situation in life, family, friends, and, above all, his character, his uncommonly amiable mind, strict principles, just notions, good habits, all that you know so well how to value, all that is really of the first importance, everything of this nature pleads his cause most strongly….Mr. A. has advantages which do not often meet in one person. His only fault, indeed, seems modesty. If he were less modest he would be more agreeable, speak louder, and look impudenter; and is not it a fine character of which modesty is the only defect? …
And now, my dear Fanny, having written so much on one side of the question, I shall turn round and entreat you not to commit yourself farther, and not to think of accepting him unless you really do like him. Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without affection; and if his deficiences of manner, &c. &c., strike you more than all his good qualities, if you continue to think strongly of them, give him up at once.”4. I read that you came across some letters that reference Edward Taylor, Jane’s teenage love interest. After reading Jane Austen’s First Love, I can see why Jane would be interested in someone as worldly and charming as Edward. How did you come across these letters and can you tell us anything else about Edward that you learned from your research?
All of Jane Austen’s preserved correspondence is available in a handy volume entitled Jane Austen’s Letters, edited by Deirdre Le Faye. I learned far more about Edward Taylor than I could fit in my novel—but I did think it fascinating that he served in the army, and that he spent most of his later years living on the continent, where he continued to be close friends with people of the highest rank in society, including several kings and queens!
|Jane Austen's writing table at Jane Austen's House Museum|
Jane Austen was very particular regarding the choice of a life partner—as we all should be. At age 27 she accepted a proposal from a family friend, Harris Bigg-Wither, who offered her a life of comfort, wealth, and ease—but changed her mind the next morning, because she didn’t love him. Jane shared her belief in both her letters and her fiction that affection and respect were essential foundations to happiness in marriage, and that no one should marry without them, even if poverty was the alternative. Except for Mr. Ashford, of course, in The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen—perhaps she simply never met the right man.
For Jane Austen, take your pick from these talented beauties: Saoirse Ronan, Hailee Steinfeld, Hannah Murray, Skye Bennett, or Kaya Scodelario. For Edward Taylor I have a total crush on Douglas Booth, who played Romeo in Romeo and Juliet (2013.) Swoon!
It’s a tie between SENSE AND SENSIBILITY (1995) and PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (1995 mini-series.)8. Can you recommend any other Jane inspired books that we must read?
I love all the Jane Austen mystery novels by Stephanie Barron—and there are lots of wonderful books to choose from by the talented authors on Austen Variations.Thank you for answering my questions, Syrie! Thank you for the recommendations and Jane Austen's Letters sounds completely fascinating. I can't wait to get my hands on a copy. I also plan on reading your other novel, and The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, which also sounds like something I'd enjoy. Happy Holidays!