This series of mini-interviews features the authors who contributed to our Austen anthology A CERTAIN PERSUASION.
And then there’s (me! ahem) Julie Bozza, who wrote the story Elinor and Ada, which retells Sense and Sensibility with one crucial difference. Julie was also proud to act as editor for the volume.
Blurb: Elinor Dashwood has fallen in love with her sister-in-law’s cousin, Ada Ferrars, and dares to hope that Ada returns her feelings. But soon Elinor must move to Devonshire with her mother and sisters, in much reduced circumstances – and while there, she learns a devastating secret. How can Elinor pursue this rare chance of happiness, when even duty and honour are against her?
Q: How did you discover Jane Austen and her works? What was the initial appeal?
I was about 18 or 19 when the BBC’s 1980 mini-series of Pride and Prejudice was being screened in Australia, with Elizabeth Garvie as Elizabeth Bennet and David Rintoul as Mr Darcy. My Mum had it on of a Sunday (?) evening, and almost despite myself I was soon hooked. Once the series was over, I read the book – and that was it, I was in love. I remember that I once read it three times in row, just immersing myself in it for hours at a time.
We had never studied Austen at school, so now I had her work to discover for myself. To be honest, there were times when I found it daunting, as I’d never been the most self-directed intellectual as a student – but mostly the experience was intensely rewarding. The more I knew of her work, the more I loved and appreciated Austen.
Though the first time I read Emma, I really couldn’t stand the character – just as Austen intended! – and I put the book aside thinking I’d never bother with that one again. Eventually I did, though, and after a second and a third reading Emma started to grow on me. Now I love her as much as any of the main characters, and there’s really only one passage for which I find it hard to forgive her. And the ‘Badly done!’ scene always makes me weep with pain and remorse.
Q: Has she surprised you since then?
The big surprise for me was how perfectly crafted some (not all!) of her books are. It first struck me with Pride and Prejudice that it is utterly complete unto itself, without anything that doesn’t belong there and with no question that remains unanswered (if you can figure out where to look). And yet the story unfolds in what feels like a completely natural and organic way. How did she do that?
Emma is likewise perfectly crafted – and reading it with an eye to the three volumes in which it was originally published only reinforces the notion. In this story, Austen sets up mysteries around Jane Fairfax and around Frank Churchill that the point-of-view character remains oblivious to until the solution is finally broken to her. Yet when you go back and re-read the story, there are all the clues and facts, presented as plain as day – though I suspect that few first-time readers will have picked up on them any better than Emma herself.
And this was all done two centuries ago, when all Austen had to work with were pen and ink, paper and pins. I mean, I couldn’t perfectly craft a novel like that even with the benefits of word-processing. I can hardly even imagine doing so, without seeing the whole thing neat and tidy until the printer’s proofs are sent to you. The woman amazes me.
Q: Which Austen character do you like best? Which do you identify with most?
As with many of us, this all began with Pride and Prejudice, and identifying with Elizabeth and falling in love with Darcy. Not the David Rintoul incarnation of Darcy, though I remember him being very effective in the role, but my head-canon Darcy. My three main passions in my teens and early twenties were Darcy, King Arthur, and Aragorn – specifically, book-related head-canon versions of all three. Various TV and film versions came close, but none have yet matched the ones in my head.
Over the decades since then, each of the main novels has had its turn at being loved best. But working so thoroughly with Sense and Sensibility for this story brought home to me how very much I love and identify with Elinor Dashwood. So right now, and probably for a good while to come, she is my answer to both questions!
Q: Why do you think the Regency is such an appealing period to write and read about?
I love Austen’s work, but never bothered looking beyond it to the historical era, or to other ‘Regency’ fiction. It was only when I discovered the poet John Keats that I began exploring the ‘life and times’, and that led me into a love for the Enlightenment and Romantic eras. Which is a long way of saying that I never considered myself a fan of Regency per se, but instead a lover of Keats and the other Romantic poets, and of all the best and worst things of the world they lived in. Austen’s work, especially if you include the ‘Juvenilia’ and the unfinished work, draws on the ideas and values of both the Enlightenment and the Romantics, often searching for a liveable balance between the two (sense and sensibility!) – and I think that’s one of many reasons why her work has a depth to it that many don’t look to find there.
It was an exciting, dangerous and very creative time in which to live, which makes it appealing. And so many Romantic notions about creativity and creators are still considered as ‘self-evident truths’ today. I think we’ll be drawn to that era for a long long time yet.
Author bio: Julie Bozza is an English-Australian hybrid who is fuelled by espresso, calmed by knitting, unreasonably excited by photography, and madly in love with John Keats.