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Happy Labor Day, everyone!

IMG_0146In Virginia, Labor Day is, by law, the day before school starts, so it seems fitting for me to discuss education, specifically the education of a Regency young lady.

Our heroes all have attended Eton or Harrow and on to Oxford or Cambridge, but what of our heroines? There really wasn’t parallel educational paths for women during the Regency. Daughters of the aristocracy were typically educated at home by governesses, like Jane Austen’s Emma, supplemented by music masters, drawing masters and dance masters, of course.

There were boarding schools, many of them in Bath. The better ones catered to the daughters of the ton, but daughters of gentry might attend such schools as well. Not all of these schools gave what we would consider a quality education. Later than the Regency (1840), Dorothea Beale  describes:

…what miserable teaching we had in many subjects; history was learned by committing to memory little manuals; rules of arithmetic were taught, but the principles were never explained. Instead of reading and learning the masterpieces of literature, we repeated week by week the ‘Lamentations of King Hezekiah’, the pretty but somewhat weak ‘Mother’s Picture’.

Being truly educated, a bluestocking, was not a desirable condition for a lady, though. Young ladies were expected to be accomplished, not educated. In Pride and Prejudice, Caroline Bingley gives us a list (Austen’s) of what this means:

A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word. Mr. Darcy adds, To all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.

They leave out needlework, both decorative and practical, another important component of a young lady’s education, as was letter-writing. Young ladies also learned French and Italian. In an ironic way, a young lady’s education could be more varied than a Regency gentleman’s. A Regency boy was expected to learn Latin and Greek and was confined to a Classical education. A young lady could read and study anything she liked. Jane Austen had the run of her father’s library. She never mentions Classical Literature in her books.

Has school started in your area yet? What are you doing for Labor Day?

Last Saturday one of my favorite events occurred. The Washington Romance Writers meeting when Kathy Gilles Seidel, A WRW member, RITA winner and Austen scholar, speaks about one of Austen’s books and the movies made from it.

This year it was Emma, comparing the book and four movie versions: The Gwyneth Paltrow version, the Kate Beckinsale version, the recent BBC mini-series, and Clueless.

The very first WRW meeting I ever attended (back in 1995), Kathy spoke on Austen’s use of the celebration in her endings. Being so very new to romance writing and still under the influence of the popular disparaging viewpoint of romance being “less than” real books, I was thrilled beyond words to hear this intelligent discussion. Since then I’ve heard Kathy speak several times on Austen and on other romance-writing topics and she never disappoints.

Kathy usually speaks at our January meeting, cancelled this year due to snow and rescheduled to June. We had a smaller group than usual, probably because it was a beautiful day and a busy time of year. It worked out marvelously, though, because the talk became a discussion, casual enough for everyone to feel comfortable speaking up, light enough for plenty of joking and fun.

Here are a few random points made throughout the day-long workshop.

1. Emma is not a romance, but a “woman’s journey”story and essentially a book about power. As a story about power, the movie that comes closest is Clueless.

2. In Clueless the heroine, Cher, is constantly underestimated; in Austen’s book, Emma is constantly overestimated. She is seen as doing no wrong, but, in reality, she gets everything wrong.

3. As a story about power, Austen shows how the power is shifting in the society of her day. The book shows the rising power of the middle class and the decreasing power of the landed gentry. Emma starts the book with lots of social power in her community, but her power is challenged by the Coles, representing the rising middle class, who almost do not invite her to their party, and, towards the end, by Jane Fairfax, who refuses her visit.

3. Within Emma, there are lots of secrets characters keep from each other, but in the book Austen gives subtle hints as to what is really going on. Sometimes the hints are only a few words in a long paragraph. It takes an alert reader and many readings to catch these subtleties. Because of this (and for many other reasons), the book is a classic where you discover new things with each reading.

4. Jennifer Enderlin, editor-in-chief, St. Martin’s Press, and Kathy’s editor, says that, in the first chapter of a book, the writer should give the reader someone to love and someone to hate. But Austen sets herself a great challenge in that she gives the reader many reasons to dislike Emma in the first chapter, and few reasons to like her. The reader must learn to like Emma as the book progresses.

5. We watched clips of the beginnings of the four movies. The moviemakers, though, tried to give viewers clear reasons to like the Emma character. In Clueless, we can forgive Cher her self-centeredness, because she is a teenager. Paltrow’s and Beckinsale’s Emmas are very sweet, especially to their fathers. The BBC version goes back in time and shows Emma’s mother’s death and really pulls on the viewers’ heartstrings.

There was so much more in this stimulating discussion, plus both lunch and dinner with writing friends. What could be better?

What’s your favorite sort of day among like-minded people?
Did you read Emma or see any of the movies? What’s your take?

Don’t forget the Harlequin Historical Authors Summer Beach Bag Giveaway. Today starts week two with plenty more prizes and more chances to win a Kindle Fire!

Amanda mentioned in her post about JASNA that one of the highlights was Andrew Davies’ presentation in which he talked about his Austen screenplays. He’s such a good speaker that I found myself writing notes–oh my gosh, I must tell the Riskies about this!–and so I thought I’d share what he said about his various screenplays, and also about the cast and crew comments that prompted changes and rewrites (as well as the inside jokes). First, he has a huge oeuvre–minds out of the gutter ladies, although he’d probably appreciate it–check it out. He’s got a lot of projects on the boil including a novel based on his childhood as well as other screenplays. I asked him if he’d tackle Mansfield Park because I think he could do amazing things with it and he said he was asked that fairly often. (I also told him I was chaperoning Amanda and not to squeeze her too tightly when we were photographed together.)

Talking of photos, mine were abysmal, so I borrowed this one from Austenprose (thanks, Laurel Ann!). This was taken on the grand parade in Sundance Square. Now I do have to admit that some things about the conference were a bit weird, like running into people who wore their regency stuff all the time even outside the hotel. But on Sunday night when we were all dressed up we had an official parade outside where people took our pics and seemed entertained/bemused. Mr. Davies, as guest of honor, was escorted by two lovely tall blonde Texans who were dressed up in their western gear (and honest, in Texas you do get dressed up in a stetson and cowboy boots. It can look very chic). You can’t see it in the pic but their Stetsons featured flashing jewels and they claimed to be the Blingley Sisters.

The conference was about Sense & Sensibility and Mr. Davies explained that he started his screenplay with Willoughby seducing Eliza because this–not the Dashwood deaths with which the book begins–for him is the real start of the story. It was very much an anti-Willoughby interpretation–he described him as “a glamorous shit”–but like many of us he had problems with this novel. It’s too much “about girls filling in their time waiting by the phone for unsatisfactory men who don’t respond in the right way.”

And then there’s Edward–how do you explain a hero who’s too scared to break off an engagement to a woman he no longer loves, and lies to and deceives both her and the woman he really does love? So he inserted a scene in which Edward pours out his heart to Elinor about his family’s expectations and how he wants to be a simple country parson–heck, they virtually do each others’ nails–which naturally led the women involved in the production to complain that now he wasn’t butch enough. Hence the woodchopping scene (ooh, wet shirt), inspired by a woodcutting scene in Davies’ favorite movie, Shane. Incidentally, if you are familiar with English slang you’ll appreciate the hilarity of the cast when Fanny[‘s] hair was mentioned.

I also loved what he had to say about Emma, which was the underappreciated version starring Kate Beckinsale. There’s a very long and funny story about the scene with Emma, Knightley and the baby which I won’t relate here, but he had these extremely perceptive comments about the novel:

She’s a fearful snob with no insight whatsoever who treats other people as though they were dolls or toys. Either she’s very young and a slow developer, or she’s an artist, a creator, a novelist who’s too lazy to write… Austen always has a girl or two who are disadvantaged and succeed despite the efforts of a rich bitch…

in this case the rich bitch is our heroine Emma and the disadvantaged girl Jane Fairfax:

Jane Fairfax is possessed of a deep and passionate nature. She’s had the misfortune to fall in love with a handsome psychopath; she’s sexually in thrall to a man she has little respect for.

He believes Frank did seduce her in Weymouth and he also mused on Mr. Knightley visiting the Woodhouses every day for years. Why? Not to visit Mr. Woodhouse, surely. He proposed a Tennessee Williams-like scenario in which the young Mr. Knightley visited Mrs. Woodhouse and then transferred his affections to her daughter (hopefully after Emma was 16 or so). Yikes.

And, oh yes, P&P, wet shirt and all, and the title of this post is what Davies saw as the governing idea behind the book–sex, money, and physicality. It explains why he saw the beginning of the story, not with the famous quote, but with Bingley leasing Netherfield, hence masculine guys galloping around on big horses (with Elizabeth being “strangely excited” when she sees them from a distance).

After that it was a question of finding as many opportunities as possible for undressing. The film crew referred to his frequent scenes where Lizzy and Jane exchange confidences in their nightgowns as “hair and shoulders shots.”

He decided to bring Georgianna much more into the story, originally to show “Darcy being tender with girls.” As he pointed out, until Georgianna shows up we’re not even sure Darcy likes women. But I was surprised to learn that his favorite scene is with Georgianna, Elizabeth, Darcy and the Bingleys and as it opens Elizabeth sings an aria from The Marriage of Figaro. As Georgianna plays next, Miss Bingley makes snide comments about the regiment moving to Brighton and brings up Wickham’s name. Georgianna stumbles on a note at the piano and Elizabeth moves in to protect her, apologizing that she should have realized the music was too difficult to play without someone to turn the pages. She and Darcy exchange one of those long, significant glances (ooh).

What’s your favorite Davies’ screenplay? And do you agree or disagree with what he said about the novels?

Alert! Last day to enter the contest on my website (yes I know it says October 26 but it’s still up so go for it) and you have a chance to win a copy of Jane Austen: Blood Persuasion at My Jane Austen Book Club.

Where do you get your story ideas?

My latest story idea came from my friend Julie. She recently returned a manuscript of mine that she’d had at her house and with it was a chapter I had written about a governess and a marquess. I had forgotten all about this story! But once jogged, I remembered it very well.
It is a governess story and I can hardly wait to start writing it.
Ever since reading Jane Eyre, I’ve loved the fantasy of the governess winding up with the lord. It was one of my favorite themes in traditional regencies and one of my favorite variations on the Cinderella story.
In Emma, Jane Austen gives us a good idea of a governess’s fate, both in a positive way–her own beloved governess, Miss Taylor, who was treated as a beloved family member and who married well–and a negative way–Jane Fairfax, who looks upon the prospect of becoming a governess with as a fate akin to death. Charlotte Bronte’s later depiction of a governess is similarly bleak, and includes the gothic elements that Victoria Holt (another of my favorites) popularized in later years in The Mistress of Mellyn, or another classic, Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart.
Here’s a long list of traditional regencies with governess heroines.
I think governesses are perfect for Cinderella plots, because their status and situation set them apart from the society in which they live. Often they are depicted as well-born young ladies fallen on hard times who must toil for long hours for little pay. They neither fit in with the servant class nor the class of their employers. (But they might befriend some darling mice and pretty little birds–and have a fairy godmother)
Do you like governess stories, or are you (gasp) sick of them? If you like them, do you have a favorite?
Our guest for next Sunday has written a governess story. Christine Merrill will join us to talk about her latest release, Dangerous Lord, Innocent Governess.
Hurry up and comment on yesterday’s interview with Lavinia Klein if you want a chance to win a download of Kathryn the Kitten or a Real Duchesses of London T-shirt. I’m picking the winners at midnight.

… these multitalented authors cleverly twist the classics into delightful, scary, funny and original paranormal romances that only original, witty and wise authors could pull off. Romantic Times Book Reviews

…a superb Emma retelling with a wonderful paranormal twist. And She Reads

For more, visit

Welcome to my big fat Regency paranormal celebration weekend. Today I’m talking about BESPELLING JANE AUSTEN which hit the shelves just a few days ago and giving away two copies. Tomorrow I’ll be back to talk about JANE AND THE DAMNED, also with copies as prizes.

I loved writing this novella, Little To Hex Her, and I was very lucky that Susan Krinard and I share the same agent, which is how I was invited to join the anthology. I also love that this cover gives me an automatic boost up the publishing ladder by defining me, along with the others who are the genuine article, as a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author. Talk about a field promotion ….

This book represents a lot of firsts for me. First novella, first paranormal, first contemporary, first public appearance as someone doing terrible things to poor Jane Austen. Mary’s is Victorian set, Colleen’s is a Gardella-inspired Regency, and Susan and I wrote contemporaries to balance things out. I was really hoping that no one else would want to base theirs on Emma, which has long been my favorite Austen, although I’ve been having a fling with Mansfield Park which I blogged about a couple of years ago.

What do I love about Emma? Certainly neither its heroine nor hero; Knightley gets my worst in bed Austen hero award; and Emma herself is clueless and as terrified of the world outside her safe little provincial circle as her father is. Because Austen is so brilliant she can enchant you with a book where she admitted herself that the heroine is someone not many will like. But it’s the details, the delineations of class and village life, the interwoven relationships, the minor characters, that fascinate me: who knows what and when, how Austen carefully drops clues and hints. Pam Rosenthal, with whom I’ve had many conversations about Emma (no, really, this is what writers do) pointed out that the book works as a mystery as well as being full of mysteries in its own right.

So it was a real joy to slice and dice and translate Austen. I decided to set the story in Washington, DC because I live near there and I decided Emma should live in the classic art deco Kennedy-Warren Apartments. Emma runs a paranormal dating agency; matchmaking is her job, even if it’s one she doesn’t feel completely at home with.

As well as inheriting my sister’s job for a year, I’d also inherited her apartment in a gem of an art deco building a stone’s throw from the zoo at Woodley Park. At first I’d thought the strange whooping sounds that woke me at dawn were the gargoyles, until I realized they were the gibbons greeting the new day. I loved the apartment with its huge windows and elegant parquet floors.

I loved the marble and mosaics and gilding of the lobby, the wrought iron splendor of the dignified slow elevator. I even loved the gargoyles, particularly after I’d drawn the blinds.

There was only one problem with the place, and here he was ambling across the lobby, sporting a toolbelt and carrying a toilet plunger.

“Yo, Woodhouse,” said George I-hate-my-first-name Knightley. Despite his disguise as a janitor, he was the owner of the building. He enjoyed the occasional spot of maintenance as relaxation from the world of high finance—”it keeps me humble.”

Humble! As though any member of that renowned and ancient family of wizards even knew the meaning of the word.

“Hi George,” I returned, and had the pleasure of seeing him scowl.

The Kennedy-Warren doesn’t have any gargoyles, but the Cathedral, in the same neighborhood, certainly does.

Since the building where Emma lives is so important to the story, let’s talk about buildings! I’ll pick two winners who respond to the following question:

Which buildings do you love or are inspired by?

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