This series of mini-interviews features the authors – and others! – who contributed to our Austen anthology A CERTAIN PERSUASION.
Last and certainly not the least of our interviewees is F.M. Parkinson, our diligent proof-reader for the anthology, who has gone above and beyond the call of duty, and thereby helped spare the editor and authors some blushes.
Q: How did you discover Jane Austen and her works? What was the initial appeal? Has she surprised you since then?
Ever since I can remember, we’ve had a five-volume set of Jane Austen’s six main novels, as they were part of my grandfather’s library. They are a Clarendon Press edition, with ‘notes, indexes, and illustrations from contemporary sources’, and printed on thick paper in a decent-sized font. I didn’t start reading them till I was well into my twenties and had seen various adaptations of the novels on television.
I suppose the initial attraction was a clever story with a romantic element, and set in a time that interested me. Since then I’ve come to see that the books are great romances and should be enjoyed as such, but the reality for many of the women portrayed in the stories was not a pleasant one if they didn’t marry or had little or no money, and so they had little option but to try and secure a husband. I now grind my teeth over the attitudes displayed by some of the characters, while realising that’s just how Jane Austen probably wanted me to feel.
Q: Which Austen character do you like best? Which do you identify with most?
The character I really like is Anne Elliot in Persuasion. I’ve always had great sympathy for her and her situation. The first time I read the book I can remember being in a state of anxiety as to whether Captain Wentworth and she would find happiness the second time round, after she had spurned his offer eight years previously because of her father’s views and the advice of Lady Russell. Thinking about the story today, I’m aware that she was incredibly fortunate that Wentworth was still interested in her, but that also her family was going to view in a very different light someone who was now a rich man and not a penniless naval officer.
I don’t identify with any of the characters; I just enjoy (for the most part) what they say and do and I enjoy reading about the Regency period. The clothes, the houses, the furnishings are all fascinating. But of course that was for a tiny proportion of the population. For many, life was terrible, and while I can enjoy Jane Austen’s world, I have no illusions about the dreadful conditions in which most people lived, the lack of sanitation, the illnesses that killed people, and how women were regarded in society. I think about what faced Jane Austen’s heroines once they were married: the very real dangers associated with pregnancy and childbirth, and the fact that infant mortality was so prevalent. My escapism is just that. The reality of that world is not something I hanker after.
Author bio: F.M. Parkinson lives in the West Country of England and has had a career in Cataloguing, dealing with many different types of items including archaeological aerial photographs, books and journals, archival documents and museum artefacts.
Writing for pleasure and sharing stories with friends has been a fascinating pastime for some thirty years. Other interests vary from a lifelong passion for philately, to on-going genealogical research, and attempts to keep one – and latterly two – large gardens looking interesting.
Favourite reads include the detective novels of Margery Allingham and D.L. Sayers, the mediaeval whodunnits of Ellis Peters and the Cold War espionage thrillers of Anthony Price.