In just a couple of weeks (Sept. 29th), people from far and wide will begin gathering in Victoria, British Columbia, for the 2022 Jane Austen Society of North America Annual General Meeting (JASNA AGM). In other words, it’s a Jane Austen convention!
What could be better? Around 700 fully-vaccinated Austen addicts congregating to learn more about our favorite authoress, her literary works, and Regency culture. We’ll be taking time out of our busy lives to collectively celebrate our common passion for all things Jane!
How do I know it will be awesome enough to justify all the exclamation points I’m using? I’ve been to one before; that’s how!!!
In 2013, the AGM was held in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and I was there! It was my first, so I didn’t really know what to expect. But good stuff started happening immediately upon my arrival – while I was still in the airport, in fact. To see what I mean, and for a more complete account, I encourage you to read this post that I wrote about the experience: Having a Ball at the JASNA AGM.
The short version goes like this. We spent two and a half days learning more about Jane Austen and her writings, and participating in fun activities like bonnet making and dance classes. Then Saturday night, we all dressed up in Regency attire, unashamedly paraded around the streets (sidewalks, really) of Minneapolis together, came back to enjoy a wonderful banquet, and then topped it off with a Regency-style ball! Doesn’t that sound like a dream come true? It really was. I even got to participate in the Author Signing, meeting one of my favorite authors (Julie Klassen) and some of my own early fans!
I know I could have stayed at home – that time and this – and learned nearly as much from other sources. Virtual attendance is offered now too. But those options would never replace the primary advantage of being there: meeting fellow Janeites in person – many that I knew before but only from internet contact, and many new friends as well. That’s what it was really about for me: the people… that and the dancing!
There I go with the exclamation points again, but I can’t seem to help it. Reviewing that earlier experience has been getting me more and more excited about the one coming up! Each AGM features one of Jane Austen’s books or other works. This year, it’s Sense and Sensibility. And who happens to have a new S&S novel out? I do, I do! See Colonel Brandon in His Own Words.
So, will I see you in Victoria? If you’re going to the AGM this year, I’d love to meet you! Contact me (comment here, FB message, or email: shannon at shannonwinslow dot com), and we’ll set up a rendezvous. I won’t be participating in the Author Signing this time, but I’d be glad to sign one of my promotional postcards for you or a book you bring with you. Some of my books will be available at the on-site bookstore also.
If you can’t make it this time, I hope you will think about attending an AGM in the future. It’s not just for writers and scholars, you know. Anybody who loves Jane Austen can attend. Next year’s is in Denver. Here’s a link to the JASNA AGM page to get you thinking about that exciting possibility.
“My idea of good company, Mr. Elliot, is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation: that is what I call good company.” “You are mistaken,” said he gently, “that is not good company; that is the best…” (Persuasion, chapter 16)
Have you attended an AGM before? Which one, and what was your experience like? Would you like to attend one in the future. Do you have any questions for me? I’d love to hear your comments below. (PS – Next time, I’ll post something about my experience at the AGM and also news about my new writing project!)
“Where did the summer go!?!” Isn’t that what we always say when Labor Day approaches and kids prepare to go back to school? As we get older, those three short months fly by ever faster! (For a bit of philosophical silliness on this topic and more pretty pictures, see this post: It’s All Washed Away Except the Mouse Fur)
“I know the summer will pass happily away. I mean never to be later in rising than six, and from that time till dinner I shall divide every moment between music and reading. (Sense and Sensibility, chapter 46)
I did read quite a bit this summer, as Marianne vowed to do, although I rarely rose as early as six! Otherwise, my only major accomplishment was to launch a new book (Colonel Brandon in His Own Words) and take it on tour, virtually. That project occupied the largest part of June and July, which only left some free time in August. A trip to the family cabin on a lake near Kalispell, Montana, was the highlight of this month.
I had hoped to have my next novel started by now, or at least planned out, but I confess I do not. I’m still not sure what kind of book I want to write next (which means I’m still open to suggestions, btw!). About the only writing I’ve been doing this summer is a column for the local paper: an “Inspirational Message” that publishes every other Sunday, which I’ve been providing for the past year. If you follow me on Facebook, you may have read some of them already, since I’ve been posting them there (and on a couple of FB groups) since May, as The Wednesday Word.
But today, I decided to give you an advance look at the one that will roll off the presses in 2 weeks, on September 11th, actually. And as you will see, the publication date provided the inspiration for this piece:
Do You Remember?
Where were you when you heard about the terrorist attacks September 11th, 2001? Twenty-one years later, those of us who were adults at the time all remember. Without knowing what was going on, I went for a dental appointment that morning. When I got there, I was told I would have to reschedule, but nobody explained why. So still in the dark, I stopped by Fred Meyer, where a total stranger, with tears in her eyes, gave me the unthinkable news. I was home, glued to the TV by the time the second tower fell. What’s your story?
We were all deeply shaken that day that such a terrible thing could happen on US soil, that nearly 3000 lives could be snuffed out in a single act of hatred. We suddenly felt much more vulnerable, knowing that this country’s great wealth, military might, and sophisticated intelligence community had not been able to protect us.
There were some positive side effects, though. A wave of patriotism swept the country. Flags flew everywhere. We were united by a common heartbreak and a common cause. Also, with fresh evidence that the future was uncertain and we were not in control, people in record numbers turned to God for help. They hit their knees in prayer, churches were filled, and “God Bless America” was sung at every ball game.
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.(2 Chron. 7:14)
Unfortunately, our memories are short. The threat doesn’t seem so near anymore, does it? And a new generation has since grown up having never experienced the horror of that day. We’ve resumed ‘business as usual.’ We’ve grown divided over a multitude of issues, and we’ve forgotten our need for God. I certainly don’t wish for another 9/11 style tragedy. What I do wish is that this anniversary would remind us of lessons learned the hard way that day, so that we will not be required to repeat them. I pray we would recapture the positive side effects rather than inviting a new disaster.
This country, though never perfect, was founded on godly principles and called by His name: …one nation under God. May we be humble enough to accept that we are not in charge; He is. Let us, as individuals and as a nation, turn from our errant ways and seek His face – His will, not anybody’s political agenda. Only then can we hope that God will heal the divisions in our land, making America healthy, whole, and strong.
So, what’s your September 11th story? Did the experience change you? Do you think that humanity learned anything from what happened that day?
If you want to read more of my “Inspirational Messages,” watch for them every Wednesday on my Facebook page. Scroll back to find any you’ve missed – ones I’ve already shared there since May (look for this graphic). I also wrote a Jane Austen Devotional that might interest you.
Any further thoughts on what you’d like to see me write next? See previous post, What’s For the Encore?, for my ideas. Or just suggest one of your own. I love hearing from readers. Really!
Phew! It’s been a fun but busy month, launching Colonel Brandon in His Own Words and then taking him on a whirlwind book tour – originally planned as eight stops in three weeks, but it turned into ten. The only event that remains on the calendar is the day the audiobook goes live (which should be within a week, I hope). In case you missed out on any of the festivities along the way, though, here is the full list of tour stops with links below:
Before moving on, I want to thank an army of friends who helped me along the way – friends too numerous to name, (but you know who you are). I couldn’t have done it without you! I’m talking about trusty beta readers, proof readers, ARC recipients, blog tour hosts, and everyone who took the time to share my news or post an early review. Wow! That’s a lot of people, not to mention the scores of others who have shown their support by purchasing the book. THANK YOU ALL! I really do appreciate your extraordinary kindness.
Elizabeth was glad to be taken to her immediately; and Jane…was delighted at her entrance. She was not equal, however, to much conversation, and… could attempt little besides expressions of gratitude for the extraordinary kindness she was treated with.
Pride and Prejudice, chapter 7
But now that Colonel Brandon is successfully launched and the party’s wrapping up, it’s time to look ahead. What do I do for an encore? What’s the next book going to be (because, of course, there will be a next book!)? I’ve got a few ideas rolling around in my head, but I haven’t decided yet which to work on first.
Idea #1: I plan to write an Emma book at some point; that’s the only one of Jane Austen’s six novels I’ve haven’t done anything with yet. Mr. Knightley in His Own Words? -or- The Gentlemen of Highbury perhaps, after the fashion of The Ladies of Rosings Park. What do you think?
Idea #2: But I may do another P&P book first. I’ve had a prequel, featuring the courtship of Mr. & Mrs. Gardiner alongside the courtship of Mr. & Mrs. Bennet, in mind for a long time. I even dashed off a potential prologue a few years ago. (I love prologues, btw). Here it is for your amusement:
Kneeling before a woman, even a decidedly pretty one, is a damned uncomfortable position to find oneself in. That was the undeniable fact of the matter. Not that Thomas Montgomery Bennet had any doubt of his reception being favorable. One’s proposal of marriage was generally accepted, he understood, and, judging from the eager look in Miss Fanny Gardiner’s eye, this would be no exceptional case. Still, someone might have warned him.
This was only one of the myriad of thoughts coursing through young Mr. Bennet’s brain at that critical moment, for his mind was quick enough to encompass a good deal at once, when he took the trouble of exerting himself. And what occasion could possibly justify – no, demand – his absolute attention more than this one, on which so much depended?
So now, when he perhaps ought to have been, to the exclusion of all else, anticipating his joy at soon being accepted, he was also anticipating his simultaneous relief at being allowed to return to a more upright, dignified posture. When he ought to have been fully engaged in celebrating Miss Gardiner’s considerable beauty and charming amiability – soon to be his and his alone in marriage – different, rather distracting ideas intruded.
“She has no money to speak of,” his friend Edward, the fair Miss Gardiner’s elder brother, had told him plainly enough. And his own father’s advice on the subject had carried an even stronger word of caution. “God willing, you will be married a very long time. Therefore, take care you do not choose your partner in life unwisely.”
Is that what he had done? Well, if so, it was clearly too late to reconsider; the question had been asked and now answered. Fanny had wasted no time in saying yes and then launching into long, rather noisy effusions of delight.
For better or for worse, young Mr. Bennet’s fate was sealed. Meanwhile, Edward Gardiner’s future remained uncertain, his lady love’s heart as yet unplighted. Who was to say which one would be happier in the end?
Poor Mr. Bennet. We know that his friend (and new brother-in-law) has chosen better. And yet we must be glad for the Bennets’ marriage, for without it there would be no Elizabeth Bennet to fall in love with Mr. Darcy. Right?
Idea #3. I think a P&P / Romeo and Juliet mashup would be a lot of fun. Tell me what YOU think I should write next – one of these or something else altogether?
It’s launch day, and I’m so excited to introduce you to my brand new book! Colonel Brandon has arrived and is now ready to tell his story in His Own Words.
“I was just going to tell you of our agreeable surprize in seeing him arrive…” (Jane Austen, Emma)
What kind of book is it? I’d say it’s a retelling of Sense and Sensibility from Colonel Brandon’s point of view, except it’s so much more! The story agrees with but is not at all limited to the scope of the original novel. It fills in blanks and adds on all over the place – before, during, and after. Everything you’ve always wanted to know and Jane Austen didn’t tell us.
Want to see how the duel between Willoughby and Colonel Brandon went down? Check. How about his failed elopement with Eliza? What went wrong there? Covered. A taste of his experiences in India? Yes! Do you craving details of how Colonel Brandon proposed to Marianne and what their newlywed relationship is like. You got it!
Colonel Brandon in His Own Words is available in paperback and Kindle, with audio coming soon). So here’s the book blurb followed by the Prologue:
Colonel Brandon is the consummate gentleman: honorable, kind almost to a fault, ever loyal and chivalrous. He’s also silent and grave, though. So, what events in his troubled past left him downcast, and how does he finally find the path to a brighter future? In Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen gives us glimpses, but not the complete picture.
Now Colonel Brandon tells us his full story in His Own Words. He relates the truth about his early family life and his dear Eliza – his devotion to her and the devastating way she was lost to him forever. He shares with us a poignant tale from his military days in India – about a woman named Rashmi and how she likewise left a permanent mark on his soul. And of course Marianne. What did Brandon think and feel when he first saw her? How did his hopes for her subsequently rise, plummet, and then eventually climb upwards again. After Willoughby’s desertion, what finally caused Marianne to see Colonel Brandon in a different light?
This is not a variation but a supplement to the original story, chronicled in Brandon’s point of view. It’s a behind-the-scenes look at the things Jane Austen didn’t tell us about a true hero – the very best of men.
It is happening again, and I suddenly feel very old. Although I survived it once before – just – I have the gravest doubts that I can do so again. Some days, I do not even wish to.
The current circumstances are quite different, it is true. But the pain is the same – the sudden wrenching in my gut each time I think of it, which I do nearly every minute of every day; the repeated jolt of panic in my brain, which tells me that I must do something to stop it; the hollow ache in my heart and the certain knowledge of my own pathetic powerlessness. It is all too familiar, for once again the hand of the woman I love more than life itself is being given irrevocably to another, and there is absolutely nothing I can do about it.
It is no doubt weak and self-indulgent, as I have repeatedly told myself, but my mind will persist in entertaining questions of morbid curiosity. I cannot seem to help asking if, overall, it is better or worse this time. Is my disappointment more or less profound, the circumstances more or less regrettable? Will the resulting pain last as long as before and leave scars as deep?
Perhaps it is only the proximity, but the current event appears worse – at least for myself personally – for I shall not only have the pain that she is lost to me forever, but the additional mortification of knowing she does not care for me. In truth, she thinks nothing of me at all. So, God willing, I shall be the only one to suffer, which was not the case before.
I would not wish her fate on Marianne Dashwood, not for the world. In fact, that must be my chief consolation: knowing that Marianne is happy, even if it must be in the arms of another man. I would willingly sacrifice my own happiness and more if it would secure a lasting one for her. And yet who can say that her present bliss will endure, dependent as it is upon a man of whom I have every reason to think ill? And so my mind can by no means be easy.
I have been to her sister in Berkeley Street to have my worst fears confirmed, and now I know I should put Marianne from my mind and retire to Delaford to lick my wounds. And so I have made ready to do more than once. Still, as long as she is in London, I feel compelled to stand by – for what purpose, I cannot even conceive – at least until she is well and truly married. After that, it will be nobody’s right except her husband’s to be concerned for her welfare.
Until then, however, I will wait. Perhaps there may yet be some small service I can render. If I am needed, I swear I will not fail her. Whatever the cost, I must do better by Marianne than I did by Eliza… or by Rashmi.
Meanwhile, I have nothing to do but think of the past. Although there have been enough joys and compensations over the years, the regrets and failures continue to haunt me. I am in a dangerous state of mind.
Can’t wait to read more? Get Colonel Brandon in His Own Words now in paperback and Kindle (audio coming soon). And please follow the blog tour for more excerpts, interviews, topical posts, and other good stuff! Check back here for live links as the tour goes along.
I hope you agree with me that Colonel Brandon is a very worthy hero, and it’s about time he had his day in the sun! If you’re not already a fan, I trust you will be after reading Colonel Brandon in His Own Words.
I now have a publication date for Colonel Brandon in His Own Words. It’s June 28th! But next to the debut of the book itself, the cover reveal is the most exciting. Don’t you agree? That’s scheduled for June 1st at Austen Variations. For my own subscribers, however, I have a teaser today. Strip by strip, I’ll be peeling away layers of the onion, exposing Colonel Brandon, the man, along with his cover!
Colonel Brandon is such an intriguing character. Rather mysterious, in part because there’s a lot Jane Austen doesn’t tell us about him. I’m glad, though, because that left so much scope for my imagination as I wrote this book! I wanted to get to know him better and flesh out his story, to fill in all the blanks in his character, his past, and his courtship of Marianne. Still, especially since I wasn’t planning on changing any of the given facts of the original story, I started by gleaning every morsel of information I could about the colonel from Sense and Sensibility.
Colonel Brandon… was silent and grave. His appearance however was not unpleasing, in spite of his being in the opinion of Marianne and Margaret an absolute old bachelor, for he was on the wrong side of five and thirty; but though his face was not handsome his countenance was sensible, and his address was particularly gentlemanlike. – Sense and Sensibility
This is most of what Jane Austen tells us when we first meet Colonel Brandon. And we know by how he behaves that he’s an honorable man. He appreciates music, too, and he has a sad history. We eventually find out that he loved a girl named Eliza once – a distant cousin and his father’s ward. However, she was forced to marry his brother instead and she later died. And we know that Colonel Brandon has now finally found another young lady that interests him – Marianne Dashwood – but the outlook there isn’t good either, because she prefers the younger livelier Mr. Willoughby.
The missing information? Well, for one thing, nowhere in the entire book is his first name ever mentioned! He’s just “Colonel Brandon,” “the colonel,” or occasionally “Brandon.” That worked fine in S&S, but it wouldn’t do for an entire book where he’s telling his own life’s story. So as I now reveal this first part of the cover – the main title – I will also reveal how I addressed that issue. Removing strip number one!
In the very popular 1995 film adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, he’s called “Christopher” Brandon. Since that given name is not from the book, I could have rejected it, called him something else, and not been technically wrong. But it would have sounded wrong anyway, because so many have grown accustomed to thinking of him as Christopher. So why fight it? Christopher it is!
Next, if clothes make the man, what does Christopher Brandon’s wardrobe say about him? Let’s take a look. Removing strip number two!
Although we see him here in a casual moment, with coat off, these are definitely the clothes of a gentleman. Colonel Brandon was born into a family of landed gentry – a younger son. He had an older brother, and, as I have it, two older sisters. He’s the baby of the family, in other words, with no expectation of inheriting Delaford, the Brandon family estate.
So, after losing Eliza, he took a commission in the army to establish a life for himself. But was it really his choice or was he somehow forced? And why the military rather than the other standard option for a second son: the church? And why India? What he did and saw and experience during those five years away from England, profoundly changed him. But how? Removing strip number three!
Never fear! Colonel Brandon will answer all our questions in his own words, as the rest of the title reveals. Here the official book blurb:
Colonel Brandon is the consummate gentleman: honorable, kind almost to a fault, ever loyal and chivalrous. He’s also silent and grave, though. So what events in his troubled past left him downcast, and how does he finally find the path to a brighter future? In Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen gives us glimpses, but not the complete picture.
Now Colonel Brandon tells us his full story in His Own Words. He relates the truth about his early family life and his dear Eliza – his devotion to her and the devastating way she was lost to him forever. He shares with us a poignant tale from his military days in India – about a woman named Rashmi and how she likewise left a permanent mark on his soul. And of course Marianne. What did Brandon think and feel when he first saw her? How did his hopes for her subsequently rise, plummet, and then eventually climb upwards again? After Willoughby’s desertion, what finally caused Marianne to see Colonel Brandon in a different light?
This is not a variation but a supplement to the original story, chronicled in Brandon’s point of view. It’s a behind-the-scenes look at the things Jane Austen didn’t tell us about a true hero – the very best of men.
Now I suppose you’d like to see the last two strips removed and the full cover exposed. I did tell you, though, that this post was a teaser, didn’t I? A lot has been revealed (about the book as well as the cover), but a little something has to be left to the imagination. You will have to wait a few more days to see the rest. Visit Austen Variations June 1st, or return here that same day, when I will replace this big, fat question mark with the final cover – stripped bare, no more teasing! And here it is:
UPDATE: Colonel Brandon in His Own Words is now available for pre-order here!
No dramatic developments on the writing front this month.Colonel Brandon in His Own Words continues to steadily progress through the post-production phase, with a summer launch date in view. So basically this post is my excuse to share some pretty pictures and a tidbit of personal news with you.
Spring is my favorite season. Yesterday was sunny and 70, and I think the threat of snow is finally past. I know snow is beautiful, and I love taking pictures of snow-covered scenery. But it’s also cold and really inconvenient, especially when it shows up unexpectedly. So by the end of March, I’d definitely had enough and was ready for it to be over.
Winter didn’t give up without a fight this year, however. I thought we were in the clear a couple of weeks ago. After all, the calendar said “April,” the days had grown dramatically longer, and it was almost Easter! Out in the garden, some of my early-bloomers were already in full flower. Even my magnolia was budded and ready to open.
Then on April 13th, “Surprise!” The temperature dropped and so did a layer of gravelly snow, which the weather folks on TV informed us was called “graupel.” Who knew?
The wintery conditions didn’t stick around long, just long enough to blight most of the magnolia buds with a brown tinge. Most, but fortunately not all. And there are lots more spring flowers coming!
Oh, I do have one more recent little “surprise” to report – the bit of “personal” news I mentioned. Something I wasn’t expecting at all!
After being SO careful for SO long… After my husband and I had taken all the proper preventive measures for months and now years, apparently we slipped up somewhere. You know, had a little “accident.” I had my suspicions that something was up, and so I took a test.
Then came the hard part; I had to break the news to my husband. I was afraid he wouldn’t take it very well, but he had a right to know. After all, we were in this together.
“I don’t know how to tell you this, Honey,” I began, showing him the plastic stick, “but the test is positive. Surprise.”
He looked mystified. “What does that mean?”
“Well, either we’re pregnant or I have Covid.”
But, there really was no suspense or question about it. Since he knew that one of the options was an impossibility at this point in our lives, it had to be the other. Yes, I had Covid, which meant he probably did too. Surprise.
Although this true story (only slightly embellished) is told with a little humor to soften the blow, everybody knows Covid-19 is no laughing matter. I’m just very grateful we didn’t catch it at the beginning, when it was a lot more dangerous.
So after we thought the threat had pretty much passed. Surprise. We’re back in isolation. Not the end of the world, just very unpleasant and very inconvenient – you know, kind of like one of those unexpected late snowfalls. Well, maybe more like a blizzard. I think we’ve rounded the corner, though (yes, I did say “we” because my DH has it too). We’re over the worst of it and on the mend. The upside? I guess we don’t have to worry about catching Covid anymore, at least not until the next variant comes along.
I hope you are staying well and enjoying all the beauties of spring… with only AGREEABLE surprises!
Yesterday I had the agreeable surprise of finding several scarlet strawberries quite ripe… There are more gooseberries and fewer currants than I thought at first. We must buy currants for our wine.
I’m at that awkward, in-between point. Colonel Brandon in His Own Words is basically finished, and it’s out to a few trusted beta readers. Until I have their feedback, I can’t do much more with the manuscript itself. So I’ve been thinking ahead to the cover and even the audiobook.
As many of you know, I have a strong interest in art as well as writing. And so I particularly enjoy the cover design process, which combines the two. I always take a very active role, but I have to leave the technical stuff to my graphic designer. I simply don’t have that kind of expertise.
That’s still true, at least as to the final product. But I did discover a free online design program that has allowed me to play around, indulging my imagination and creating some possible prototypes. It’s pretty addictive, in fact. Once I got started, I was having so much fun I couldn’t stop!
Before I knew it, I had a dozen designs, made, as you will recognize, using images borrowed from the 1995 adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. These are just for inspiration, you understand. I don’t have permission to use the movie stills in the final product.
However an “artist’s rendition” might achieve something with a very similar look and feel (as I did with Fitzwilliam Darcy in His Own Words). So I thought it would be fun to show some to you and take a poll – to see which design you prefer, and if you have any further suggestions! Here are 4 contenders for your consideration.
What do you think? Do you have a favorite? What would you do to improve on it? Which elements do you think are most effective? A new combination to propose? Or is it back to the drawing board?
The Colonel, though disclaiming all pretensions of connoisseurship, warmly admired the screens, as he would have done anything painted by Miss Dashwood… and after they had received gratifying testimony of Lady Middletons’s approbation, Fanny presented them to her mother… “Hum” said Mrs. Ferrars, “very pretty,” without regarding them at all. (Sense and Sensibility, chapter 34)
My big news is that the first draft of Colonel Brandon in His Own Words is finished! I don’t say “rough draft” because it’s already pretty refined, at least I think so. Soon, I will send it out to a few beta readers for their feedback, and then we shall see.
As you know from previous posts (here and here), this will be Colonel Brandon telling his own story, including, but not limited to, his perspective on the territory covered in the original novel. And as with my other books so far, it will supplement what Jane Austen has already told us, not change it. The rest comes from my imagination. Well, except that I admit that certain parts of this book may be inspired by glimpses we get from the movie adaptations.
A case in point: the picture above. Nowhere in the book does it say that Colonel Brandon reads to Marianne during her recovery. And yet it’s not incompatible with the facts we are given either. So, since I particularly like this image from the ’95 movie, I ended up incorporating the idea into my novel – not Brandon reading to her, but instead telling her, by installments, a story from his military years in India. It becomes part of their slow, tender courtship.
As I have been making another pass through the book, I came across the section below and decided to share it with you – partly for what it shows of their courtship, but also for what it says about the author/reader partnership in creating the enjoyment received from reading a good novel. We both have important roles to play!
About four days after Edward’s arrival, Colonel Brandon appeared, to complete Mrs. Dashwood’s satisfaction, and to give her the dignity of having for the first time since her living at Barton, more company with her than the house would hold. (Sense and Sensibility, chapter 49)
In this excerpt, Colonel Brandon is enjoying his first visit to Barton Cottage since Mrs. Dashwood, Elinor, and Marianne returned from Cleveland, where Marianne suffered her life-threatening illness. Here’s Colonel Brandon, telling this bit of the story in His Own Words… (PS – do imagine hearing it in Alan Rickman’s voice!)
I was in no hurry to go, having now the fresh reminder of the difference between my cold, solitary existence at Delaford and a home with the benevolent warmth of human companionship.
God had said it in the beginning, right there in Genesis. It is not good that the man should be alone.I will make him an help meet for him.
After Eliza, I had all but given up the idea that God had made another helper suitable for me. Now, however, gazing across the room at Marianne as the others chattered on excitedly about [Edward and Elinor’s] wedding plans, my heart dared to hope again. I prayed once more, perhaps for the thousandth time, that I and the vibrant, responsive beauty sitting by the window would someday be joined.
Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and cleave unto his wife; and they shall be one flesh…
Marianne’s eyes darted my way, as if she had sensed I was looking at her. I was caught, but at least she could not read what my thoughts had been at that moment. In any case, I hoped not.
She smiled, though, and moved to sit nearer to me. “Thank you for your letter, Colonel,” she said. “Mama shared it with me and then asked me to read out to her what you had written of India.”
“I hope it did not bore you, Miss Marianne. Some people find such descriptions tedious.”
“Not at all! To be transported to a place I have never been and never will be… What could be more glorious than that?”
“My words had that effect?” I questioned, never having considered they could do so much.
“Oh, yes, at least for me. Mama said it must be partly my imagination too, for she could not so easily picture the scenes you described, and feel what it must have been like to be there.”
I pondered this a moment. “Yes, I think your mother is correct in saying so. That is the way with all kinds of storytelling, I believe. The teller can only do so much; part of the responsibility for success rests with the listener. Your cooperation in being a willing participant was vital to your own enjoyment of what I wrote, Miss Marianne. In a way, you created your own amusement.”
“I never thought of it in exactly those term, Colonel. Do you mean to say that even Shakespeare would not be brilliant without my help?”
Seeing mischief in her eye, I half smiled. “Perhaps that is taking it too far. I only meant that what I wrote was certainly not a work of genius; it was your interpretation that may have made it seem so.”
“Teamwork, then. That is the key – teamwork between reader and writer, listener and storyteller.”
“Then when shall we team up again? When shall I have the next installment of your story, Colonel Brandon?”
“Of Colonel Dunston’s story.”
“Yes, of course. That is what I meant, and yet you are doing your part.”
“We shall make time for it whilst I am here, I trust, for there is still much more to tell.”
What do you think? Do you like this interchange between them? Does it seem like something that could have occurred during the year before they finally married? Is Colonel Brandon just flattering Marianne, or is there something to his philosophy that teamwork between storyteller and listener is required? Is the relationship 50/50 or something else? What are your thoughts? As a reader, how much does your active participation count towards creating your own amusement?
I have movies on my mind today, but first a quick update on my work-in-progress: Colonel Brandon in His Own Words. The book is about 3/4 done and it’s all starting to come together! I hope to have it out before the end of the summer. (Read more about it here and here.)
I have a fairly small movie collection – DVDs I have judiciously selected over the years. I normally watch the movie first (in the theater, rented, borrowed, streamed) before purchasing, so that I don’t waste my money on an unknown. I don’t need to own mediocre movies I will only watch once; I want to own movies that are so good I’ll watch them again and again.
That’s the theory anyway. But it doesn’t always work out that way in practice.
Here’s what happens. When I feel like watching a movie, I go to my collection and scan through the titles for something I haven’t seen in a while. But there are some that remain on the shelf. I consistently pass over them, again and again, even though they are really good (or else I wouldn’t have bought them, right?).
I can be okay with an ambiguous ending if there’s a good reason for it, which makes me a little more broadminded that some. (My sister, for example, who pretty much insists that I pre-watch any unknown commodity before I play it for her on one of our “movie days,” to be sure the ending is acceptable = unequivocally happy.) To me, on the other hand, it’s possible for an ending to be satisfying without being classically “happy.” Here are some examples from my collection:
With Atonement (I skip over all the grueling war stuff, btw), we’re given a better alternative ending to believe if we choose (which I do). Before We Go and Before Sunrise leave it to our own imaginations to decide how things workout, so it’s up to you. 500 Days of Summer doesn’t end the way you expect, but you’re left with the understanding that all will be well. Similarly, with Becoming Jane, we don’t get the outcome we may have been rooting for, but we understand that Jane and Tom made the right choice and were not left miserable because of it. A higher good was served.
These are exceptions, but in general, I’m all about the happy ending. That’s what I want and expect after I’ve invested my time and money. And I often feel annoyed (or worse) if I don’t get it – be it book or movie.
I know tragedies can be beautiful and moving too, and that’s where I get into trouble. I watch one and think, “Oh, that was such a good movie!” And so I buy it for my collection. But then, now knowing how it ends, I can’t bear to put myself through the anguish of such a heart-wrenchingly sad story. I say, “Not tonight. I’m in the mood for something light and happy.” Problem is, I’m basically always in the mood for light and happy.
So these wonderful films – City of Angels, Romeo and Juliet, Tristan + Isolde, Sommersby, First Knight – sit neglected on the shelf, month after month, year after year. Some of them I have literally never seen a second time and I can barely remember. I just know they’re very sad. And so, they have become the best movies I own but never watch.
Do you have this issue too? Thoughts on any of the movies named here or others you would add to the list? As for movies I do watch more than once, here’s a related post: My Movie Picks. It’s several years old now, and there are probably a few things I would update. But it’s still pretty accurate. And speaking of happy endings…
Colonel Brandon was now as happy as all those who best loved him believed he deserved to be. In Marianne he was consoled for every past affliction; her regard and her society restored his mind to animation, and his spirits to cheerfullness… (Sense and Sensibility, chapter 50)
I’m pretty dedicated to my morning walks – about 2 1/2 miles with significant elevation gain, over the roads and trails of our rural neighborhood. It’s something I started on my own years ago, after I quit my “day job,” and which I now continue with my husband since he retired. We go rain or shine, or even in 8-10″ of snow like this morning! I draw the line at high winds, though, since we’re surrounded by large trees that have a way of blowing over from time to time.
It’s my main form of exercise – good for body and mind alike. Writing is a very sedentary occupation. But I inevitably find that getting the blood moving enables the words to flow more freely too, and a brisk turn out of doors is the best cure for writer’s block I’ve yet discovered. So, 5-6 days a week, we put on our hiking boots and set out from home on one of a variety or routes.
“I do not wish to avoid the walk. The distance is nothing when one has a motive; only three miles. I shall be back by dinner.” (Pride and Prejudice, chapter 7)
I think Jane Austen would approve. In her stories, she uses a person’s activity level as one subtle clue to his/her character. Her favorites, like Elizabeth Bennet, tend to be, if not truly athletic, at least lively and energetic, with a fondness for walking and dancing. Meanwhile, those less favored often demonstrate more indolent habits (think Mr. Hurst, Lady Bertram, and even Mr. Bennet). The fact that Austen expected her heroines, as well as her heroes, to be physically active, puts her ahead of her time since fine ladies of her day were not generally encouraged to much exert themselves. As you remember, Elizabeth’s walk to Netherfield surprises her family and positively shocks Mr. Bingley’s sisters:
That she should have walked three miles so early in the day, in such dirty weather, and by herself, was almost incredible to Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley; and Elizabeth was convinced that they held her in contempt for it. …Mr. Darcy was divided between admiration of the brilliancy which exercise had given to her complexion, and doubt as to the occasion’s justifying her coming so far alone.
I’ve carried on Jane Austen’s custom in this as well as many other things – sending my heroes and heroines on long walks as often as possible, not only for their benefit (often giving them a better chance for private conversation with each other) but also for mine! There’s nothing more tedious (for the reader or writer) than having nothing for your characters to do except sit around a drawing room day after day.
In Return to Longbourn, for example, I sent Mary Bennet on an important walk with the new heir, Tristan Collins, which ended with their dashing back to the house together, thoroughly drenched by the rain. Come to think of it, Mary got drenched again later in the book, this time on a ride instead of a walk, and with a different man altogether! (Hmm. Must be that whole wet-shirt fascination thing.)
And it’s the same for my other novels. I’m sure you will find significant long walks in most if not all of them. But there’s one walk that stands out in my mind at the moment, and so I thought I’d share it with you today. This scene is from The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen and represents what happened in Austen’s own life that inspired what she wrote in Persuasion – specifically the proposal Jane received from one Captain Philippe Devereaux (whose fictional counterparts are Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth):
Then Philippe rode over that fateful morning from his temporary lodgings to propose one more walk to Ashe before the breakup of the party.
“An excellent notion,” said Henry, in response to the Captain’s suggestion. “Do not you agree, my dear Eliza? It will serve as our take-leave visit.”
“Yes, to be sure, although it pains me to think that we must go away tomorrow. Jane, you will walk with us.”
Looking up from the book I pretended to read, I saw her wink at me. “Certainly, if you wish it,” said I, as if it were all one to me.
“I would not lose your company for one hour,” continued Eliza, “even to gain that of the Lefroys.”
With no one else available to join in, we four set off for Ashe parsonage, walking at a brisk rate to match the bracing chill in the air. Once out of sight of the house, the Captain and I slackened our pace, steadily dropping behind the others, as we had so often done before. Words were not necessary to orchestrate this alteration, or the fact that our parallel paths soon drifted a little closer, to the point where the sleeve of his coat might happen to brush mine occasionally. I could then at least imagine I felt his warmth bridging the gap between us, though we never touched.
“I believe I owe you an apology, Miss Austen,” he began at length as we went along.
I looked sideways up at him. “Truly? Whatever for? And please, do call me by my Christian name whenever we are alone.” I longed to hear myself addressed so. And, coming from his lips, I expected that one syllable would sound as sweet as the most elegant sonnet.
He paused and looked at me. “Very well, Jane.”
A wave of pleasure washed over me at his caressing tone, and time seemed suspended for a moment while the exquisite sound hung in the air.
Then he remembered himself, resumed our walk, and continued with his thought. “I owe you an apology, or at least an explanation, for my behaviour to you in London. You must have wondered why I ended our conversation so abruptly, especially when we had been doing so well together.”
“You did give me an explanation,” said I, determined now to make light of the circumstance that had hitherto given me so much anxiety. “You said you feared detaining me from my friends overly long. Still, I thought I must have said or done something to displease you.”
“Not at all. Quite the opposite, I assure you. Perhaps you did not suspect it, but I knew within minutes of our first meeting that I could care for you, that an attachment was indeed already beginning, on my side at least. The longer we were together, the more difficult it would be to break away. And, not being in a strong position to make any commitments, I believed I owed it to us both to part before any real harm was done.”
“Yet you followed me to Hampshire anyway.” I stopped and turned to my companion, and he did likewise.
“Yes,” he said almost breathlessly. “I suppose I changed my mind.”
Perhaps it would have been more correct to demure, but I simply said, “I am so glad you did, Philippe.”
This seemed to decide him. Rewarding me with a gratified smile, he took both my gloved hands in his and hurried on. “The world would tell us that it is imprudent to contemplate marrying on so little. I have some money saved, otherwise there will be barely anything above my pay to live on. But I love you too passionately for delay, Jane, and I am asking you to believe in me. I am resourceful, hard working, determined, and, despite my history, I count myself a lucky sort of person. With you by my side, I cannot fail of achieving great things, both in my career and as regards to fortune. There is plenty of prize money to be made in the war, and I still hope to recover at least a portion of my family’s property as well. Dearest Jane…” Here he dropped to one knee. “…will you trust me? I may have no right to ask, but will you marry me now, while I am undeserving? If you agree, you will never regret it, I promise.”
Dear God! How long ago that scene played out! And still, I have yet to forget one detail of it – the stray lock of dark hair forming a flawless curl on the captain’s forehead; the small puffs of fog created when his warm breath merged with the frigid air as he spoke; the call of a distant rook punctuating the brief silence after he finished. These and other precious remembrances compose a sharply drawn picture in my mind, undiminished and unmarred by the passage of time. The words spoken on that wooded pathway remain so perfectly preserved that I have no difficulty recalling them even now, more than seventeen years later, recalling them and ascribing the substance of my captain’s sentiments over to his fictional counterpart. I take my pen and write:
Captain Wentworth had no fortune… But he was confident that he should soon be rich; full of life and ardour, he knew that he should soon have a ship, and soon be on a station that would lead to every thing he wanted. He had always been lucky; he knew he should be so still. Such confidence, powerful in its own warmth, and bewitching in the wit which often expressed it, must have been enough for Anne.
Likewise, it had been enough for me as well. I agreed to marry Captain Devereaux that day, and it would be impossible to say which of us was the happiest – I, in receiving his declaration of love, or he in having his proposal accepted. We laughed and kissed by turns, forgetting to make much progress towards our destination. I smiled so much that by the time we finally did reach Ashe, my cheeks ached for it. If only that initial happiness, that boundless, unlimited joy, had been stout enough to withstand the storm to come.
Well, what did you think? Was this a walk worth taking, even beyond the beneficial exercise? It’s hard to imagine one that had a more significant bearing on those involved. And the proposal just wouldn’t have been the same if it had taken place in a drawing room! Don’t you agree?