Author Interview

A Conversation with Elizabeth Aston


Q: Mr. Darcy’s Dream begins with heartbreak: Sir Giles Hawkins forbids Phoebe to marry Arthur Stanhope. Why did you begin the novel in the middle of Phoebe and Stanhope’s love story: after they fall in love at first sight, and at the beginning of their separation and misunderstanding?
AS: Because this is a very dramatic point in their love story, and because the story is about how they come to know and understand each other better, so that, in contrast to some of the other marriages we see in the story, they can build a relationship which should make for a strong and lasting marriage.

Q: The climax of Mr. Darcy’s Dream takes place in the glasshouse that Mr. Darcy dreamed of and Hugh Drummond designed. What inspired you to feature a glasshouse in the novel? What does it symbolize to you?
AS: I found a picture of an extraordinary glasshouse that was built at about this time in England. It was an amazing structure of curves and lightness and elegance – in fact you would think it was modern. It was the new iron technology that allowed people at this time to erect a glasshouse like that one. Glasshouses are about growth and light, just as the pineapples which grew in them are symbols of prosperity.

Q: One could argue that Mr. Darcy’s Dream – with its cat-and-mouse love story and rampant misunderstanding between the two lovers – is the most similar of your books to Pride and Prejudice. What do you think?
AS: I don’t think I would agree with that. The misunderstanding in Pride and Prejudice comes from exactly that, Darcy’s pride and Elizabeth’s prejudice. The misunderstanding in Mr. Darcy’s Dream comes from Phoebe’s mistaken belief that Mr. Stanhope is a rake. She is inclined to jump to this conclusion, without finding out if it is true or not, because of her experience of infidelity in her own family, and her knowledge of the amorality of the Whig families such as the Stanhopes.

Q: Servants play a substantial role in the novel, especially the two maids, Miniver and Betsy. Why are they given such a strong voice in the novel?
AS: I wanted servants to have a voice in this novel because so much of it is set at Pemberley, a great house, and these households were very much a community, with the servants in their way as important to the well-being and well-running of the house as their masters and mistresses.

Q. Relations between England and France are highlighted in the plot, from Stanhope’s memories of the Battle of Waterloo to Hélène Verney’s spying for France. Do you see this political and military background as a departure from Jane Austen? Why did you include this historical context in Mr. Darcy’s Dream?
AS: Jane Austen famously makes few references to the war with France that went on for most of her lifetime, even though several members of her family were caught up in the aftermath of the French Revolution and in the Napoleonic Wars. I’m not attempting to write a new Jane Austen novel, nor a sequel, and for me the historical and political context adds an extra dimension to the story.

Q. George Warren resurfaces in Mr. Darcy’s Dream as a villain; readers will remember his scheming ways from previous books in your series. Why did you revisit this conniving character?
AS: George Warren has been the villain of all the previous books in this series, and so of course, I had to include him in Mr. Darcy’s Dream and show him getting his final come-uppance!

Q. A reader could easily enjoy Mr. Darcy’s Dream without having read the earlier books in your series. Do you purposely craft each novel as a stand-alone experience? Do you recommend that new readers start at the beginning of the series?
AS: It’s always fun to follow a series through from its beginning, but since each book in this series has its own heroine and a stand-alone story, although with some characters from the other books playing a part or being mentioned, I don’t think it much matters which book you begin with – as long as you enjoy it.

Q: From architecture to evening dress, the details of nineteenth-century England truly come alive in Mr. Darcy’s Dream. What is your most reliable resource for researching this historical period?
AS: There’s no single reliable resource that I use for research. It’s partly knowledge and awareness of the period accumulated over many years, and partly having access to a good collection of books about the period and of that time.

Q. Mr. Darcy’s short speech about Phoebe’s happiness closes the novel. Why does Darcy get the last word?
AS: Mr. Darcy is only an unspeaking ‘presence’ in the previous five books, as I deliberately decided not to use Jane Austen’s main characters as characters in my stories. But I felt that he should have the last word in Mr. Darcy’s Dream.
A Conversation with Elizabeth Aston, author of Mr. Darcy's Dream


Mr. Darcy’s Dream begins with heartbreak: Sir Giles Hawkins forbids Phoebe to marry Arthur Stanhope. Why did you begin the novel in the middle of Phoebe and Stanhope’s love story: after they fall in love at first sight, and at the beginning of their separation and misunderstanding?


Because this is a very dramatic point in their love story, and because the story is about how they come to know and understand each other better, so that, in contrast to some of the other marriages we see in the story, they can build a relationship which should make for a strong and lasting marriage.

The climax of Mr. Darcy’s Dream takes place in the glasshouse that Mr. Darcy dreamed of and Hugh Drummond designed. What inspired you to feature a glasshouse in the novel? What does it symbolize to you?

I found a picture of an extraordinary glasshouse that was built at about this time in England. It was an amazing structure of curves and lightness and elegance – in fact you would think it was modern. It was the new iron technology that allowed people at this time to erect a glasshouse like that one. Glasshouses are about growth and light, just as the pineapples which grew in them are symbols of prosperity.

One could argue that Mr. Darcy’s Dream – with its cat-and-mouse love story and rampant misunderstanding between the two lovers – is the most similar of your books to Pride and Prejudice. What do you think?

I don’t think I would agree with that. The misunderstanding in Pride and Prejudice comes from exactly that, Darcy’s pride and Elizabeth’s prejudice. The misunderstanding in Mr. Darcy’s Dream comes from Phoebe’s mistaken belief that Mr. Stanhope is a rake. She is inclined to jump to this conclusion, without finding out if it is true or not, because of her experience of infidelity in her own family, and her knowledge of the amorality of the Whig families such as the Stanhopes.

Servants play a substantial role in the novel, especially the two maids, Miniver and Betsy. Why are they given such a strong voice in the novel?

I wanted servants to have a voice in this novel because so much of it is set at Pemberley, a great house, and these households were very much a community, with the servants in their way as important to the well-being and well-running of the house as their masters and mistresses.

Relations between England and France are highlighted in the plot, from Stanhope’s memories of the Battle of Waterloo to Hélène Verney’s spying for France. Do you see this political and military background as a departure from Jane Austen? Why did you include this historical context in Mr. Darcy’s Dream?

Jane Austen famously makes few references to the war with France that went on for most of her lifetime, even though several members of her family were caught up in the aftermath of the French Revolution and in the Napoleonic Wars. I’m not attempting to write a new Jane Austen novel, nor a sequel, and for me the historical and political context adds an extra dimension to the story.

George Warren resurfaces in Mr. Darcy’s Dream as a villain; readers will remember his scheming ways from previous books in your series. Why did you revisit this conniving character?

George Warren has been the villain of all the previous books in this series, and so of course, I had to include him in Mr. Darcy’s Dream and show him getting his final come-uppance!

A reader could easily enjoy Mr. Darcy’s Dream without having read the earlier books in your series. Do you purposely craft each novel as a stand-alone experience? Do you recommend that new readers start at the beginning of the series?

It’s always fun to follow a series through from its beginning, but since each book in this series has its own heroine and a stand-alone story, although with some characters from the other books playing a part or being mentioned, I don’t think it much matters which book you begin with – as long as you enjoy it.

From architecture to evening dress, the details of nineteenth-century England truly come alive in Mr. Darcy’s Dream. What is your most reliable resource for researching this historical period?

There’s no single reliable resource that I use for research. It’s partly knowledge and awareness of the period accumulated over many years, and partly having access to a good collection of books about the period and of that time.

Mr. Darcy’s short speech about Phoebe’s happiness closes the novel. Why does Darcy get the last word?

Mr. Darcy is only an unspeaking ‘presence’ in the previous five books, as I deliberately decided not to use Jane Austen’s main characters as characters in my stories. But I felt that he should have the last word in Mr. Darcy’s Dream.
A Conversation with Elizabeth Aston, Author of Writing Jane Austen

You’ve written many Austen-themed novels, including Mr. Darcy’s Dream and Mr. Darcy’s Daughters. What made you want to write a contemporary story? How is it different from writing a period novel?

The great delight of Jane Austen’s novels is that they’re as fresh today as when they were written, and in some ways, we read her as though she were a contemporary novelist writing historical novels. But of course, she was a contemporary novelist, writing about her times and mores. I’m a twenty-first-century novelist, whether I write historicals or contemporary fiction, and I thought it would be fun to write a novel set in the present day, but with Jane Austen books as a central theme.

The secret of good novels is the same across time and genre: characters that jump off the page, whether they’re likeable or not, and a lively plot which keeps the reader guessing. With historical there has to be a strongly researched background and a linguistic style which echoes the language of the period, whereas contemporaries need to capture life and language of today.

Your previous books about Jane Austen have been very successful. Why do you think Jane Austen has such appeal? How is she relatable in the modern-day world?

Jane Austen’s appeal is the same as that of Mozart—she was a genius, whose writing speaks to the soul while it enchants and delights. Her characters spring from the page, and have an integrity and reality that make them our friends (and foes—think of Mrs. Norris in Mansfield Park!). Because of her deep understanding of human nature, and her portrayal of the comédie humaine, she transcends the gap of two centuries between then and now.

You studied Jane Austen at Oxford, including with her biographer Lord David Cecil. How has that helped you in writing your novels?

The rigour of those studies of the novels, the language and the background, have been tremendously useful. As has the study of Jane Austen’s contemporaries and the familiarity with the cultural, intellectual and social milieu of her life.

Could you relate to Georgina’s desperation over attempting such a daunting task? Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?

Writing any book in that kind of time frame is difficult. It’s possible when it’s the culmination of months or years of brooding over characters and plot, but from scratch? Very hard! And in another writer’s style is even harder.

Like many writers, I procrastinate. I might call it writer’s block to gain sympathy from friends and family, but they don’t believe a word of it!



How long does it take you to complete a novel from start to finish? How much research do you do for each book?

Some books have been rattling round in my head for years, others a few months. At any time I have about six ideas on the go. Getting words down on the page for a first draft is something I like to do at speed, and that takes weeks, not months. Then comes the hard work of revising and rewriting and editing. With a historical set in the early nineteenth century, I have years of general research and knowledge behind me, so I write the book first and then research all the extra facts and details and background I need.

Which Austen novel is your personal favorite?

Whichever one I read most recently! But I have a special affection for Pride and Prejudice.

Would you ever accept the task that Georgina has been charged with, and finish a Jane Austen novel?

No!

Apart from Jane Austen, what other writers do you read and admire?

That’s a very long list indeed, as I’m a voracious reader in all kinds of genres, fiction and non-fiction. As a writer and reader and Jane Austen enthusiast, I’m a huge fan of the historical novelist Patrick O’Brian—and Jane Austen was the author he most admired.

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