A Visit with the Austen Authors

Jane-Austen-black and whiteA few years ago, a group of writers with a strong admiration for the work of Jane Austen (one might go so far as to say “obsession,” at least in some of our cases, LOL) formed a blog devoted to sharing information about her writing, her life during the Regency and our own novels/short stories, since each of us had written at least one book that touched upon Jane or her characters in some way. The group — of which I have the pleasure of being a member — is called Austen Authors, and several of the writers are my special guests for today!

As many of you may already aware, this year marks the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice. On the AuAu site, we’ve done a number of things to celebrate, and one of them is to take part in a round-robin “Choose Your Own Adventure”-style writing activity using a variation of the novel’s famous plot, inventing a “Bennet Brother” character and getting input from readers after every scene, which changes the direction of the story each week. It’s called P&P: Reader’s Choice. (For those of you who read my MM post a few weeks back on how I was going to be writing a story segment set in the Regency for the first time, that P&P: RC scene just went live yesterday!)

In any case, all of this Jane love and P&P reimagining has left me wondering about how we all got SO hooked on her work. So, I asked my AuAu friends this question, “How did you first fall in love with Austen?” and here are their thoughtful responses:

“I was minding my own business – raising two sons and pursuing a very sensible career –a-darcys of pem when an ordinary trip to Costco ten years ago changed my life. That’s when a copy of the ’95 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice fairly leapt off the shelf and into my oversized shopping cart. After watching the mini-series, I was hopelessly hooked on the story, Colin Firth’s Darcy, and all things Jane Austen. Compulsive reading and late-night movie dates with Mr. Darcy and Mr. Knightley followed. Finally, my obsession inspired me to begin writing my own stories a la Austen.” ~ Shannon Winslow, The Darcys of Pemberley

a-man who loved“My mother was a voracious reader so was disappointed that I preferred tom boy activities. Mom hoped to interest me in reading by giving me an historical novel because I love history and the die was cast. Then an English teacher assigned Oliver Twist. Afraid that Dickens’ dark vision would diminish the interest I’d developed in reading she gave me Pride and Prejudice and so my love of Austen’s bright, lively and playful prose began which then turned to a fascination with the author herself, resulting in Yours Affectionately, Jane Austen; my tribute to Jane and Pride and Prejudice.” ~Sally Smith O’Rourke, The Man Who Loved Jane Austen

a-pulse“The oldest, meanest nun who ever lived introduced me to Austen. Unlike the other sisters at the school post-Vatican II, she still wore the traditional habit with a veil and wimple framing her shriveled face – like an old potato forgotten in the pantry. Of course I had heard of Pride and Prejudice; but being from the South, I stupidly thought it was about desegregation! Then the “holy terror” we despised assigned Emma. I fell madly in love with Mr. Knightley, a man who saw a deeply flawed woman yet loved her anyway. An enduring gift from the unlikeliest of sources.” ~Colette Saucier, Pulse and Prejudice

a-missing ms“I’d studied and admired Jane Austen’s novels in college, but I attribute my mad, passionate obsession with Jane to the movies. I saw Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth and Sense and Sensibility with Emma Thompson, and I fell in love. I immediately read or re-read all of Austen’s novels (and wished there were more). I devoured her letters and biographies. I couldn’t help myself; I had to write my own books about her. I gave her a romance of her own…and I wrote her missing manuscript. I am hooked for life!” ~Syrie James, The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen

1-becoming e“When did I first fall in love with Jane Austen? I was 17 in 1968, and we had to read Pride and Prejudice for English class. I loved it so much that I kept telling my fellow classmates it was the best book I had ever read. The response was underwhelming, but after all these years, it is still in my top five.” ~Mary Lydon Simonsen, Becoming Elizabeth Darcy

1-two shall become“To be honest, I fell in love with the 2005 version of Pride & Prejudice by Joe Wright first! My passionate adoration for Jane Austen arose in the aftermath of love for Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s romance as played on the screen. Needless to say, that was only the beginning.” ~Sharon Lathan, Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy: Two Shall Become One

1-austensibly“I first fell in love with Jane in high school British Lit. I’d taken American Literature the previous year and endured a series of novels that read like required reading. I knew they were books I should read (and I did!), but I wasn’t at all excited about any of them. And then, suddenly, Jane swept into my life. Pride and Prejudice read like a good gossip session–or a romance novel–it was witty and sharp, tender and oh-so-wonderful. Suddenly Jane was a new friend that felt like an old one. A true classic.” ~Alyssa Goodnight, Austensibly Ordinary

1-mysterious“My mother introduced me to Austen and Pride and Prejudice when I was 12. Among the pages, I discovered elegant balls and magnificent estates, but also the passion of pride. As a Catholic, I knew the evils of pride, but with Austen’s eloquent touch, the passion of pride brought about the transformation of both a good man, turning him into a better one, as well as an opinionated girl, who became a wise, forgiving woman. I was hooked!” ~Regina Jeffers, The Mysterious Death of Mr. Darcy: A Pride and Prejudice Mystery

a-maria grace“Somehow, I missed Jane Austen in my high school reading list. I discovered her when my husband and I took a much needed weekend away from our two (at the time) little boys. We saw Emma Thompson’s ‘Sense and Sensibility’ and I was utterly hooked. I could not believe I had missed an author like Austen for so long and quickly got to work making up for lost time. I acquired every one of her works and devoured them whole.” ~Maria Grace, All the Appearance of Goodness

1-mr d's prop“My love affair with Jane Austen almost didn’t happen! I’m embarrassed to admit that when I read Pride and Prejudice in the eighth grade, I didn’t even like it. That all changed when I watched the BBC version of P&P with Colin Firth in 1995. After that, I gave Austen another chance, read all her books, and fell in deeply in love. In order to spend more time with my favorite characters, I wrote my own P&P “what if” story called Mr. Darcy’s Proposal.” ~Susan Mason-Milks, Mr. Darcy’s Proposal

1-mr d's sis“I really fell in love with Jane Austen (actually, let’s face it, Mr. Darcy) when I had an English au pair living with me—my children were grade school age and I had read Austen before, but somehow it just didn’t click. This au pair introduced me to Jane and, best of all, to the 1995 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice and I suddenly “got it.” Instead of thinking “Boy this Darcy guy is a jerk…why does she fall in love with him?” I understood the redemptive quality of their relationship for both of them and the subtle beauty of Austen’s prose. I was hooked!” ~C. Allyn Pierson, Mr. Darcy’s Little Sister

1-searching“I remember watching the old black and white movie of Pride and Prejudice (starring Sir Lawrence Olivier and Greer Garson) with my parents and I loved it so much that my Mum bought me a copy of the book home from the library. Later, I enjoyed all the television adaptations of Jane’s novels, but it was the 1995 series that made me want to re-read the books and find out more about the author herself. The scarcity of portraits of Austen inspired my first book, Effusions of Fancy, and led me to fulfill a lifelong dream of writing novels myself.” ~Jane Odiwe, Searching for Captain Wentworth

1-3 colonels“After graduation from graduate school in 1981 (back in the Stone Age), I realized I had not read much of classic literature. At the same time, PBS’ Masterpiece Theatre was broadcasting’s the BBC’s “Pride & Prejudice” mini-series. I enjoyed the heck out of it, and as my wont, I decided to read Austen. So I bought The Collected Works of Jane Austen and read it cover to cover. The rest is history.” ~Jack Caldwell, The Three Colonels

1-compulsively“To quote Mr. Darcy, ‘I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot…I was in the middle of it before I knew I had begun.’ I honestly can’t recall when I first fell in love with Austen’s works. I do know that after I read anything depressing, be it fiction or non-fiction, I would reach for one of her novels to cleanse and sooth me. The tabloids, Archie Comics, and Jane Austen novels—in that order—are my comfort readings.”  ~Nina Benneton, Compulsively Mr. Darcy

a-perfect m“Like my heroine in my debut novel, According to Jane, I was assigned Pride and Prejudice in high-school English class. It was not a selection that was met with much enthusiasm at first…until I started reading it. Within a few chapters, I was completely hooked by Austen’s wit and insightfulness. I finished the story way ahead of the reading schedule and went on to devour everything else by the author that I could find! I’ve been under the spell of Jane Austen ever since, and I doubt there could be a better literary idol for me.” ~Marilyn Brant, Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Match

So…that’s the story of how many of us fell in love with the novels of our favorite author. What about you? Who is one of your literary favorites? How did you first fall under the spell of that special writer? We’d love to know!

About Marilyn Brant

Marilyn Brant is a chocolate addict, a music junkie and the USA TODAY bestselling author of ACCORDING TO JANE (2009), FRIDAY MORNINGS AT NINE (2010) and A SUMMER IN EUROPE (2011), all from Kensington Books, as well as a number of light romantic comedies, including THE SWEET TEMPTATIONS COLLECTION (2013) and PRIDE, PREJUDICE AND THE PERFECT MATCH (2013). Her latest novel -- a coming-of-age romantic mystery called THE ROAD TO YOU -- was just released in October 2013!
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22 Responses to A Visit with the Austen Authors

  1. Edie Ramer says:

    I always enjoy a ‘how I fell in love’ story, especially when it’s about books I enjoy so much. I’ve always been a reader, reading everything that sounded interesting. I was a teenager when I read Pride & Prejudice. After that, I read all of Jane’s books. (I feel as if she’s an old friend, and I can call her by her first name.)

    Pride & Prejudice is my favorite, but Jane had great insights and great wit, and even the flawed characters seemed to be written with affection.

    • Edie,
      I know you’ve always been a Jane fan, too (and I’m sure that, even with her British sense of propriety, she’d let us call her by her first name 🙂 ). I absolutely agree with you on admiring her insights and wit, and I loved what you said about the flawed characters being written with affection. You’re right. Although she seemed to see the world very clearly, her compassion for human frailty was also high. I always got the sense that she really *knew* other people — and herself — very well.
      Marilyn Brant`s last blog was …Happy “Pi” Day!

  2. Misty Evans says:

    Lovely post, Marilyn. One of the first authors I fell in love with was Laura Ingalls. Read all her books multiple times growing up.

    I was and still am a Bronte fan. Even the stories about their real lives fascinate me. Don’t shoot me, but I never *got* Jane Austin the way I did Charlotte Bronte.

    I’ve admired and read many authors over the years and from decade to decade my favorites can change. Right now, I’m not reading anything – which is sad – because I don’t have time!

    • Misty,
      I wish I didn’t know what you meant about not having time to read…sigh. I thought there would never come a day when life would be so demanding that it would take me a month or more to finish a book, but that’s happened all too often in recent years.
      And LOL about not getting Austen! Don’t worry, I won’t pelt scones at you :). It’s funny, actually, but I don’t know many people (even among readers and writers) who love Austen and Bronte equally. Usually, there’s a clear preference — like the way travelers to Italy tend to strongly prefer either Florence or Venice, but not both with the same passion. And, as I recall, the Bronte sisters weren’t all that fond of Jane’s writing — they didn’t think it was emotional enough, right? I know Mark Twain (my husband’s favorite) *hated* her writing!!
      Marilyn Brant`s last blog was …Happy “Pi” Day!

      • Good analogy, Marilyn. Although I’m solidly in the Venice/Austen camp, I did find myself falling under Charlotte Bronte’s influence when my most recent novel (Return to Longbourn) took a decidedly Jane Eyre turn! 😉

        • Venice for me, too, Shannon (although, I’ve always enjoyed Florence). There’s just something about all of those canals and bridges that makes me wistfully long to be there… And I’m excited to hear about the Bronte twist in your new book! Ever since I saw Toby Stephens as Rochester, my appreciation for “Jane Eyre” skyrocketed, LOL! 🙂
          Marilyn Brant`s last blog was …Happy “Pi” Day!

  3. Marilyn, this was such a fun post to read. Despite how much time we spend interacting on the Austen Author blog, I doubt many of truly know what brought each of us to our love of all things Austen.

    BTW, to Misty (above), I have a strong obsession for Charlotte Bronte, but not so much for her sisters. I suppose it is the English teacher part of me.

    • Regina,
      I know!! Isn’t it interesting how we all came to be so attached to Jane’s work but took many different paths to get there? In some cases it was film that reeled us in (LOL, pun intended!), in others the novels…and at varying ages and stages in life. 😉
      Marilyn Brant`s last blog was …Happy “Pi” Day!

  4. It was fun to read about how some of authors fell in love with Jane. All different but with much in common, too. Thanks for hosting this piece, Marilyn.

  5. Jane Odiwe says:

    Loved reading everyone’s stories! Colin Firth has a lot to answer for, it would seem…

  6. It was such fun reading through these! Nina’s cracked me up!
    Thanks for putting this together, Marilyn! 🙂

  7. TessQ says:

    From my mother, I developed an early love of reading – A Wrinkle in Time was always a favorite. And when I was thirteen, a teacher (who thankfully was not a shriveled potato-faced nun, LOL) who knew I devoured books in and out of school recommended Pride and Prejudice to me. At that age, I didn’t understand the novel in all its levels of nuance, but I sure did love it. It opened up the world of British writers to me and I never looked back. My favorites have always been Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy; I reread their works regularly. It wasn’t for many years, though, that I started to write Austen-based stories — that began after the 2005 film version came out and I was blessed to fall in with an online group of Austen lovers. My good fortune!–I gained a very rewarding avocation and some great, true friends, all at once!

    • Tess,
      Thank you so much for sharing your story of falling in love with A Wrinkle in Time and those British writers, particularly Jane. 😉 I really didn’t know anything at all about online Austen groups until I’d sold my debut novel (According to Jane) and a new friend mentioned that there were *thousands* of people who wrote Austen-inspired fiction. I was stunned!! So, I know what you mean about feeling fortunate to get to do something you love and, also, getting to meet some wonderful friends as a result :).
      Marilyn Brant`s last blog was …Happy “Pi” Day!

  8. Marilyn! This turned out so well! I loved reading the short snippets of Austen introduction and love. We are a marvelous group at Austen Authors, all because of a shared devotion to an author from 200 years ago. Quite amazing, when you think of it.

    Special thanks to your blog-mates for sharing their blog with all of us. 🙂

    Long live Jane Austen! 😆

    • Sharon,
      You’re most welcome!
      It was a treat to learn about everyone’s journey to finding our wonderful Jane, especially knowing all of the fabulous Austen-inspired fiction that would later result from that discovery ;).
      Marilyn Brant`s last blog was …Happy “Pi” Day!

  9. Dani says:

    I read P&P from the high school library because I’d heard Austen was all that (along with Heyer).

    The first time I read it, I didn’t fall head over heels, but the scene where she rejects his proposal was imprinted on my memory for all time.

    Some years ago, I watched Colin Firth take that rejection and I was hooked. I visit him and Pemberly two or three times a year now and have reread the book a few times.

    • Dani,
      You are SO not alone in appreciating that particular Colin Firth performance!! I’m sure he’s glad he won an Oscar for another part and played a range of characters from the very dramatic to the very lighthearted, but I really think he brought something special to the role of Mr. Darcy! It’s been several months since I watched P&P…I think it’s about time I saw it again :).

  10. Sorry, coming in late after a weekend away camping, fishing and dune boarding. 🙂

    I can’t remember when I read my first Austen, I think high school, but I have loved her ever since and have reread all her works at least three times. I don’t know which one I love the most. I’m not that much of a Bronte fan. I didn’t mind Wuthering Heights, but I’m not wild about it. I think the difference is I like to like the characters I’m reading about, or at least some of them. The Brontes don’t really give me that.

    Wonderful post, ladies, thanks for visiting, and to Marilyn for organizing this!
    Michelle Diener`s last blog was …Virtual Book Tour for Daughter of the Sky

    • Dune boarding!!!!
      Oh, Michelle! I remember getting to do that once when I was in Australia, and I had the BEST time!! I’d forgotten about it until you’d mentioned it… Hope you and your family had a wonderful weekend enjoying the outdoors ;).
      As for the Austen/Bronte character differences, I tended to have the same reaction as you. I liked Jane Eyre a bit more than W.Heights, but I didn’t fall in love with the Brontes’ heroes the way I did with the Austen ones — Mr. Darcy, Mr. Knightly, Capt. Wentworth…*swoon*!!
      Marilyn Brant`s last blog was …Happy “Pi” Day!

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