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From the desk of Shelley DeWees…An interview with Karen V. Wasylowski, author of Darcy and Fitzwilliam: A Tale of a Gentleman and an Officer

About the book: The first ever Jane Austen BROmance from debut author Karen V. Wasylowski, Darcy and Fitzwilliam: A Tale of a Gentleman and an Officer is a truly original look into the life of Mr. Darcy. Butch Cassidy has the Sundance Kid, Felix has Oscar. Darcy has…Fitzwilliam! Readers of Pride and Prejudice know that Darcy and Fitzwilliam are thick as thieves and each other’s most cherished counsel. But as strong as their bond is, the two are still polar opposites! Darcy is quiet and reserved, while the vivacious Colonel Fitzwilliam is a confirmed bachelor whose military feats have made him a hero. Cousins, best friends, and sparring partners, Darcy and Fitzwilliam have always been there for each other.

To read Shelley de Wees’s refreshing review of this debut novel, click on this link to Jane Austen Today.

1.The problems faced by the characters in Darcy and Fitzwilliam are not quaint trifles by any means. Rather than being consumed by dilemmas of fashion or gossip or health, they’re instead met with huge setbacks and major trials of spirit. They encounter serious issues of social expectations, the solutions of which require lots of thinking and personal toil. What inspired you to write this way, especially in a genre that’s usually overrun with fluffy worlds of happiness and harmony?

First of all, thank you so much for saying that because that was truly what I wanted, to portray these men as real people, not Darcy the perfect romance hero and Fitzwilliam the affable side kick, nor did I want the women to be just caricatures of femininity. Real life is a struggle, very often between men and women, and that is so much more interesting to me than ball gowns and Almacks. There is a saying that life is what happens while we are busy making other plans and that’s the truth. Love and family can bring ecstasy and make you crazy, and sometimes all at once.

2. I really admired the way Lady Catherine De Bourgh was portrayed. Witty and stubborn yet refreshingly aware of her surroundings, your representation of her was one of the more ambitious ones in Austenesque literature. What motivated you to develop her so fully?

I loved writing Lady Catherine. I could say outrageous things that made no sense. As head of the family she feels she has the right, no the obligation, to infuriate these two men and interfere in their lives because, in her eyes, they are still horrid boys. She means well, she really does, and she’s the voice of the older generation that never can quite come to terms with the younger one. In my head Judy Dench starred as Lady Catherine, looking outraged at Fitzwilliam’s filthy boots or explaining procreation to Lizzy. Judy Dench was brilliant in my head.

3. When you’re not writing or volunteering, how else do you spend your time? Do you have any other hobbies?

No, not really. We live in Florida and that’s a pretty laid back lifestyle. Eating out is a hobby here, sleeping late. I love writing but I’m not disciplined in the least and I don’t feel much confidence yet. At any moment I think I’ll never create another scene or another word and that is scary, but exhilarating.

4. Tell us about the process you engage in when you sit down to write. Do you need complete silence, or do you write in the bedroom while throwing wild parties in the livingroom? Do you stick to a schedule? Do you prefer to write barefoot? Any other weirdness you’d like to share for the sake of our fascination?

Most of the time I need silence; anything on the television in the family room will bother me and I sit at my desk and marvel at the amount of female screaming there is on television – very disturbing on many levels. Other times a car could backfire in the family room and I wouldn’t hear it. There is no rhyme or reason. I have no schedule at all, spend a great deal of time ‘getting ready’ which means I play computer chess, and solitaire, I check Facebook, answer e-mails, go into the chat rooms, read the fan fiction sites, see if anyone left a nice compliment for one of my stories there, etc. After about an hour of this I feel ready to start. And then the phone rings – I get angry, grumble that I’m being disturbed, and the whole process begins again. It’s amazing I finished a book at all.

5. Are you working on anything new? Any more beguiling tales of love and intrigue we should know about?

Well, to tell you the truth, I have two books started. One covers the time before Darcy and Fitzwilliam, centering on Lizzy and Darcy and how they coalesce into a single unit as it were. I imagine it was quite a process for him to really understand her family and for her to adjust to his status. Their differences were vast, and I don’t think we, two hundred years later, can truly appreciate how difficult their adjustment must have been. I also want to show the effects of the war on Fitzwilliam and how years of warfare had attacked his spirit, causing his slide into the sort of debauched lifestyle he was living at the beginning of Darcy and Fitzwilliam.

The second book then is the period after Darcy and Fitzwilliam. It involves their children and all the blessings and madness that go with parenthood and getting older. Only heaven knows if either book will see the light of day but it is fun to be with my boys again. I told my husband, “You know it’s like I know what goes on in their heads.” He looked at me like I was crazy and said, “Karen, you are their heads.” I had forgotten. They are that real to me.

6. Finally, is there anything else you’d like to say?

I’d like to thank Deb Werksman and Sourcebooks Landmark for publishing Darcy and Fitzwilliam. No agent would even consider me – I wasn’t a famous name, nor a celebrity. So, I defied all logic and sent my manuscript directly into the publisher who gave me my chance. It proves that if you really love what you are doing and if you have faith in it, anything is possible. Never give up.

Karen Wasylowski

About the author Karen V. Wasylowski: Karen is a retired accountant and CPA. This is her first novel. She and her husband spend much of their free time volunteering with charitable organizations in their community. Karen and her husband live in Bradenton, Florida.

About the interviewer Shelley de Wees: This is Shelley de Wees’s first interview for this blog. She has written five reviews for me – three for Jane Austen’s World and two for my other blog, Jane Austen Today. Shelley also oversees her own blog, The Uprising, which features vegan recipes. Yum. She lives in the northern U.S. I shiver just thinking about the cold at this time of year.

Image of the author taken from My Jane Austen Book Club.

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Inquiring Readers: This is the second of four posts to Pride and Prejudice Without Zombies, Austenprose’s main event for June/July – or an in-depth reading of Pride and Prejudice. My first post discussed Dressing for the Netherfield Ball. This post discusses the dances and etiquette of balls in Jane Austen’s era. Warning: the film adaptations get many dance details wrong.

Dancers, Rowlandson, 1790's

So, he enquired who she was, and got introduced, and asked her for the two next. Then, the two third he danced with Miss King, and the two fourth with Maria Lucas, and the two fifth with Jane again, and the two sixth with Lizzy, and the Boulanger …” Mrs Bennet about Mr. Bingley at The Netherfield Ball.

The English ballroom and assembly room was the courting field upon which gentlemen and ladies on the marriage mart could finally touch one another and spend some time conversing during their long sets or ogle each other without seeming to be too forward or brash. Dancing was such an important social event during the Georgian and Regency eras that girls and boys practiced complicated dance steps with dancing masters and learned to memorize the rules of ballroom etiquette.

The Five Positions of Dancing, Wilson, 1811

Balls were regarded as social experiences, and gentlemen were tasked to dance with as many ladies as they could. This is one reason why Mr. Darcy’s behavior was considered rude at the Meryton Ball- there were several ladies, as Elizabeth pointed out to him and Colonel Fitzwilliam at Rosings, who had to sit out the dance.

“He danced only four dances, though gentlemen were scarce; and, to my certain knowledge, more than one young lady was sitting down in want of a partner.”

Mr. Bingley, on the other hand, danced every dance and thus behaved as a gentleman should.

Ladies had to wait passively for a partner to approach them and when they were, they were then obliged to accept the invitation. One reason why Elizabeth was so vexed when Mr. Collins, who had solicited her for the first two dances at the Netherfield Ball, was that she’d intended to reserve them for Mr. Wickham. Had she refused Mr. Collins, she would have been considered not only rude, but she would have forced to sit out the dances for the rest of the evening.

A Broad Hint of Not Meaning to Dance, Gillray, 1804

The only acceptable excuse in refusing a dance was when a lady had already promised the next set to another, or if she had grown tired and was sitting out the dance. Elizabeth could offer neither excuses at the start of the ball, and thus was forced to partner with Mr. Collins.

At a ball, a lady’s dress and deportment were designed to exhibit her best qualities:

As dancing is the accomplishment most calculated to display a fine form, elegant taste, and graceful carriage to advantage, so towards it our regards must be particularly turned: and we shall find that when Beauty in all her power is to be set forth, she cannot choose a more effective exhibition – The Mirror of Graces, 1811

Real Life in London

It was also extremely important for a gentleman to dance well, for such a talent reflected upon his character and abilities. Lizzie’s dances with Mr. Collins were causes of mortification and distress.

Mr. Collins slightly out of step

“Mr. Collins, awkward and solemn, apologising instead of attending, and often moving wrong without being aware of it, gave her all the shame and misery which a disagreeable partner for a couple of dances can give. The moment of her release from him was exstacy.”

A gentleman could not ask a lady to dance if they had not been introduced. This point was well made in Northanger Abbey, when Catherine Morland had to sit out the dances in the Upper Rooms in Bath, for Mrs. Allen and she did not know a single soul. Mrs Allen kept sighing throughout the evening, “I wish you could dance, my dear, — I wish you could get a partner.” Mr. Tilney was introduced by Mr. King, the Master of Ceremonies in the Lower Rooms, to Catherine, who could then dance with him. At Rosings, when Mr. Darcy explained to Lizzie that he danced only four dances at the Meryton Assembly ball because he knew only the ladies in his own party, she scoffed and retorted: “True; and nobody can ever be introduced in a ball room.”

Because a ball was considered a social experience, a couple could (at the most) dance only two sets (each set consisted of two dances), which generally lasted from 20-30 minutes per dance. Thus, a couple in love had an opportunity of spending as much as an hour together for each set.

A gentleman, whether single or married, was expected to approach the ladies who wished to dance. Given the etiquette of the day, Mr. Elton’s refusal to dance with poor Harriet at the Crown Ball in Emma was rude in the extreme, but Mr. Knightley performed his gentlemanly duty by asking that young lady to dance (and winning her heart in the process).

A lively dance at Almack's

Regency dances were extremely lively. The dancers were young, generally from 18-30 years of age, and they did NOT slide or glide sedately, as some recent film adaptations seem to suggest. They performed agile dance steps and exerted themselves in vigorous movements which included hopping, jumping, skipping, and clapping hands.

Depending on the dance formation and steps, a gentleman was allowed to touch a lady and hold her hand (and vice versa, as shown in the example of Mansfield Park 1999 above and in the image below).

Allemande

The couple had many opportunities to converse or catch their breaths when they waited for others to finish working their way down a dance progression.  The ability to carry out a conversation was considered very important, as Lizzie pointedly reminded Mr. Darcy:

“Elizabeth … took her place in the set, amazed at the dignity to which she was arrived in being allowed to stand opposite to Mr. Darcy, and reading in her neighbours’ looks their equal amazement in beholding it. They stood for some time without speaking a word; and she began to imagine that their silence was to last through the two dances, and at first was resolved not to break it; till suddenly fancying that it would be the greater punishment to her partner to oblige him to talk, she made some slight observation on the dance. He replied, and was again silent. After a pause of some minutes, she addressed him a second time with:

“It is your turn to say something now, Mr. Darcy.—I talked about the dance, and you ought to make some kind of remark on the size of the room, or the number of couples.”

He smiled, and assured her that whatever she wished him to say should be said.

“Very well.—That reply will do for the present.—Perhaps by and by I may observe that private balls are much pleasanter than public ones.—But now we may be silent.”

“Do you talk by rule then, while you are dancing?”

“Sometimes. One must speak a little, you know. It would look odd to be entirely silent for half an hour together, and yet for the advantage of some, conversation ought to be so arranged as that they may have the trouble of saying as little as as possible.”

The dances that would have been danced at the Nethefield Ball were:

The English Country Dance

The characteristic of an English country dance is that of gay simplicity. The steps should be few and easy, and the corresponding motion of the arms and body unaffected, modest , and graceful. – The Mirror of Graces, 1811

Country dances consisted of long lines of dances in which the couples performed figures as they progressed down the line.

When a dancer was too tired to do steps, she would have been considered no longer dancing at all, as with Fanny in Chapter 28 of Mansfield Park:

“Sir Thomas, having seen her walk rather than dance down the shortening set, breathless, and with her hand at her side, gave his orders for her sitting down entirely.”

Rather than everyone starting at once, dances would have called and led off by a single couple at the top; as that couple progressed down the set other couples would begin to dance, then lead off in turn as they reached the top, until all the dancers were moving. Jane Austen occasionally got to lead a dance, as she mentioned in a letter of November 20, 1800, to her sister Cassandra:

“My partners were the two St. Johns, Hooper, Holder, and very prodigious Mr. Mathew, with whom I called the last, and whom I liked the best of my little stock.”

This could lead to very long dances indeed (half an hour to an hour) if there were many couples in a set” – What Did Jane Austen Dance?

The Cotillion


The cotillion was based on the 18th-century French contradanse and was popular through the first two decades of the 19th century. It was performed in a square formation by eight dancers, who performed the figure of the dance alternately with ten changes.

The rapid changes of the cotillion are admirably calculated for the display of elegant gayety, and I hope that their animated evolvements will long continue a favourite accomplishment and amusement with our youthful fair. – The Mirror of Graces

The minuet.

The Devonshire Minuet

This dance had grown almost out of fashion by the time A Lady of Distinction wrote The Mirror of Graces, and it is conjectured that Jane Austen must have danced it in her lifetime.

Boulanger

Boulangers, or circular dances, were performed at the end of the evening, when the couples were tired. Jane Austen danced the boulanger, which she mentioned in a letter to Cassandra in 1796: “We dined at Goodnestone, and in the evening danced two country-dances and the Boulangeries.”

Quadrille

Note: the Quadrille and the waltz would not have been danced at the Netherfield Ball. Jane did mention the quadrille in a letter to Fanny Knight, which was dated 1816. And the waltz would not have been regarded an acceptable dance in 1813. It is doubted that Jane ever waltzed. The reel might have been danced at the Meryton Assembly, or at a private dance given by Colonel Foster and his wife, for instance, but it would probably not have been featured at the Netherfield Ball at the same time as a country dance.

Second Note: The movies have it all wrong. According to the author of this post on Capering and Kickery, “Real Regency Dancers Are Au Courant

Along with the peculiar notion that dance figures from the 17th century are useful for the early 19th century comes the even more peculiar notion that entire dances of that era are appropriate. Regency-era dancers were not interested in doing the dances of their great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandparents, any more than today’s teenagers are. Dances like “Hole in the Wall” and “Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot” were written in the late 17th century. Their music is completely inappropriate for the Regency era. Their style is inappropriate. Their steps are inappropriate. There is no sense in which these dances belong in the Regency era. Loving obsessions with these dances make me want to cry at the sheer ignorance being promulgated by the people who keep putting these dances in movies.”

More on the Topic

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Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma, which SourceBooks is now republishing for international distribution, takes place in an age of change, just as Queen Victoria is coming to the throne in 1837. Mr. and Mrs. Darcy, they of Pride and Prejudice fame, are now middle-aged. He is balding, she is an anxious mother, but they are still a charming, witty and fortunate couple, who know their happiness – until they make the mistake of inviting the two daughters of Mrs. Darcy’s profligate sister Lydia to visit at Pemberley…and trouble begins. The Darcys’ sons are far too interested in the young ladies; the younger, Cloe, is a faultlessly modest creature, but the elder, Bettina, is another pair of gloves entirely, and her flamboyant career includes a shocking turn on the London stage…Diana Birchall, Author

As I finished reading this satisfying and entertaining novel by Diana Birchall, I knew that all was right with Jane Austen’s world again. Mr. and Mrs. Darcy are still deeply in love; their children will find some measure of happiness; and the rest of Jane Austen’s characters are living out their lives much as we suspect they would.

Elizabeth was too wise to take either her husband’s love or his wealth for granted, and she never forgot to exult in all her manifold sources of happiness. It is impossible for human nature to be altogether without worry or pain, however, and Elizabeth’s anxieties were all reserved for her children.

At the start of the novel, Elizabeth Darcy, a matron in her forties and mother to Fitzwilliam, Henry, and Jane, receives a letter from her sister, Lydia Wickham. In reaction to the hardships Lydia describes, the Darcies invite the two oldest Wickham girls, Bettina and Cloe, for a protracted visit to Pemberley. This action sets the plot in motion. Before the generous-hearted Darcies realize what has happened, their eldest son Fitzwilliam, whose preference for horses far outweighs his common sense, has run off to London with the brazen Bettina. Shades of Wickham’s and Lydia’s ill considered elopement! Everyone is appalled when they do not marry, except for Lydia who doesn’t see why a 10-minute ceremony “should signify.”

Meanwhile, Henry, the second and more sensible son, has fallen for sweet and proper Cloe. He proposes to her, but deeply mortified by her sister’s actions, the penniless Cloe seeks a position as a governess.

As these events unfold, we meet Pride and Prejudice’s familiar cast of characters. Mr. Collins is as intolerable as ever. Due to the unfortunate circumstance of Mr. Bennet’s long and healthy life – and his desire not to shuffle off his mortal coil too soon – both the Collinses have become fractious from waiting. Charlotte has grown increasingly irritated with Mr. Collins in their tiny cottage crammed with furniture and their half dozen children.

Lady Catherine de Bourgh is still overbearing, and the early death of her only daughter Anne has not diminished her dislike of Elizabeth. Lydia seems not to have grown wiser at all, despite having raised a family in poverty and her disappointment with Mr. Wickham, a dissipated wastrel. Mary is a widow who has taken care of the aging Mr. Bennet since Mrs. Bennet’s death. Kitty as Mrs. Clarke, a minister’s wife, has turned into a sour childless woman. Having taken second place to Lydia in her younger years, she now feels inferior to Elizabeth and Jane, who married well. The book’s subplots echo many of Jane’s other novels, and one feels a comfortable familiarity with these characters as the novel progresses.

Ms. Birchall does not disappoint her readers. The plot is fast paced, and the story believable. “My primary interest in writing Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma, which I did years before the booming proliferation of romantic sequels,” she says, “was in employing something as similar to Jane Austen’s original language as might be possible for an American writing two hundred years later. In other words: not possible at all! However, I have steeped myself in her prose, reading the novels not tens, not hundreds, but thousands of times over a thirty year period, and among many other things, Jane Austen proved to be the best writing teacher any author could have.”

My only (minor) quibble with the book is that it is not long enough. I would love to have read more scenes with Mr. Darcy and his wife in them. Diana is also known for her humor, and her wit was in too short supply. Had the book been longer, I believe we might have been treated to more sparkling and scintillating dialog. I have one final quibble: Diana describes our fabulous fifty-something Mr. Darcy as balding. I beg to differ, Ms. Birchall. Please take a look at this photo of a lovely man at 48, in which not a single follicle seems to be challenged. Could Mr. Darcy not have had a similar set of hair?

More about Diana Birchall:

Her Jane Austen-related novels, Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma and Mrs. Elton in America, were both published by Egerton Press, a small English company, in 2004, and her pastiche/satire In Defense of Mrs. Elton was published by the Jane Austen Society in the US, UK and Australia in 2000. Her “day job” is as the literary story analyst at Warner Bros Studios in California, reading novels to see if they would make movies. She is also a ballet dancer and has taken classes most of her life.

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Oh what a fun site this is! Its creator has assembled a host of interesting facts about P&P ’95, some of which are highlighted below:

        • Jane Austen figured largely in the BAFTA television award ceremony 1996. Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth’s perfomances as Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy, and Benjamin Whitrow’s portrayal of long-suffering Mr Bennet, earned them Best Actress and Best Actor nominations. In the end, Jennifer Ehle was the only one to receive an award for best actress.
        • Colin Firth: “When Pride and Prejudice was offered I just thought, without even having read it ‘Oh, that old warhorse’ and I unwrapped the huge envelope with great trepidation. I think I was only about five pages in when I was hooked. It was remarkable. I don’t think any script has fired me up quite as much, just in the most basic, romantic-story terms”
        • Colin Firth in The Times while still filming P&P: “There’ll be people who will object strongly simply because it’s my face instead of the one they have in their mind. Everyone believes he is dark, though I don’t believe Jane Austen ever described him as such. So they’ve dyed me dark. You have to be very careful not to make him either too idiosyncratic or too bland, and the danger is that you don’t dare to do anything at all. So you have to take over and say, ‘To hell with it, he’s mine now. I own this character and he has to be me’.”
        • In a Blog Critics interview, Jennifer Ehle says: “The relationship between Mr. Bennet and Lizzie was always my favorite part of the book. It was, for me growing up, the love story in the book; and I would weep whenever I reread it and would get to the bit where Lizzie tells Mr. Bennet that Darcy is the best man she has ever known. It is such an important part of the whole female fantasy of the story — the favorite daughter who idolizes her father above all men and then, when he fails to protect Lydia from herself, is exposed as a mere human being.” Update: Find her answers to a hundred questions in a PDF document at Jennifer Ehle Fan Blog.

        • Although she often believed to be British, [Jennifer] actually was born and raised in North Carolina. Both her parents are well-known. Her father, John Ehle, is a novelist while her mother, Rosemary Harris (above with Jennifer in a recent photo) is an acclaimed actress.
        • Jennifer Ehle played George Clooney’s girlfriend in Michael Clayton, although no one will see her performance. In Entertainment Weekly, George weakly explains the reason why her role was cut: “We shot it with Jennifer Ehle — she gave a wonderful performance,” George Clooney told Entertainment Weekly. “And the more we did it, we realized you have to isolate this character more. And having a girlfriend, he’s not in as much trouble.” George then wrote Jennifer a note to apologise for being cut. “I didn’t cut it, but I still felt bad about it.”

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