In today's guest post, Syrie James, a longtime fan of British literature and the author of many historical novels set in the 19th century, reflects on an imaginary dinner conversation with three of her favorite authors. There's a Jane Austen-themed giveaway, too, open internationally to anyone who leaves a comment. See details at the end.
Dinner with Jane, Charlotte, and Will
By Syrie James
I was having lunch with a friend the other day and she asked me, totally out of the blue, “If you could dine with any three authors in history, who would you choose?” It isn’t the kind of question you expect to be asked while chatting about life and family and books in the courtyard of a really cute café over ahi tuna salads, and I promptly replied, “You mean I can only pick three? Out of all the literary greats in history? That’s harsh.” But I was game. I gave it a go.
“I guess I’d love to sit down for a bite and a chat with Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, and William Shakespeare,” I told her. Now, this was a really good friend who had read (mostly) all of my books, so she didn’t have to ask “Why Jane and Charlotte?”—I mean, she knew. She knew how much I admire them both. She knew I’d studied them for years, have read everything they’ve ever written (including their juvenilia and poetry, which in Charlotte’s case is a lot), and have written novels about them from their points of view. She knew how excited I’d been to go to their homes in England, as well as many of the places they’d visited (and in Charlotte’s case, one of her schools.) So what my friend said (and this endeared me to her even more) was:
“Great choices. How awesome would it be if we had a time machine and could transport them all to your house for dinner tonight! If we did, what would you say to them?”
“Well, after I recovered from the shock of seeing them in person,” I said, “I’d thank them for the wonderful books and plays they wrote, which have so enriched my life and the lives of others. Then I’d fill them in on how incredibly popular and famous they’ve become over the past two hundred years. I’m sure they’d be astonished—and proud.”
“I hope so.” I went briefly quiet. “It was so important to me to get that right—to emulate Jane’s and Charlotte’s voices as closely as possible in my novels, and to honor their spirit, their courage, and their accomplishments. I hope they’d feel that I portrayed them accurately.”
“I’m sure they would,” my friend said, smiling.
“It’s so much fun to climb into their heads, view the world from their perspective, and bring them to life on the page,” I replied with enthusiasm. “But to see them in person! I have so many questions. I’d love to ask Jane about her mysterious seaside romance. I’d love to learn more about Edward Taylor, the remarkable young man who she adored in her youth, and who I wrote about in my new novel Jane Austen’s First Love.”
“What would you ask Charlotte Brontë?”
“Where do I start? I’d ask her about Mr. Nicholls, who loved her for eons before he had the nerve to propose. I’d love to chat about her brilliant sisters, Emily and Anne. It astonishes me that these three sisters who lived in the wilds of Yorkshire and didn’t have a single connection in the literary world, managed to get published at the same time, and wrote Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, two of the most beloved novels in the English language. That journey is what inspired me to write The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë.”
“One of my favorite books,” my friend said. Suddenly she added: “Wait, would it be a problem to put Jane and Charlotte in the same room together? Didn’t Charlotte make several unflattering remarks about Austen’s work?”
I laughed. “Yes, she did. She also said a few nice things, but nobody remembers that. Still, there’s a good chance that sparks would fly—like in the play I did.” (I’ve had the honor of playing Jane Austen in a theater piece written by Diana Birchall. You can watch a video highlights reel here.)
“But let’s not forget Shakespeare,” I added. “He would round out the conversation at this dinner table, and could mediate those sparks. Let’s face it: he was the greatest literary genius of all time.”
“Unless, of course, he didn’t actually write those plays himself,” my friend pointed out.
“I’d love to pick his brain and learn the truth, once and for all!” I replied, as I finished my iced tea. “What fun it would be to tell all three of these incredibly talented writers about their legacies. What a fascinating evening of conversation it would make. Just think: I’d get enough material to keep me busy writing books for a lifetime!”
Readers, what famous people from the past would you like to have dinner with, and why?
In the summer of 1791, fifteen-year-old Miss Jane Austen is determined to accomplish three things: to do something useful, write something worthy, and fall madly in love. While visiting at Goodnestone Park in Kent for a month of festivities in honor of her brother's engagement to Miss Elizabeth Bridges, Jane meets the boy-next-door—the wealthy, worldly, and devilishly handsome Edward Taylor, heir to Bifrons Park, and hopefully her heart! Like many of Jane’s future heroes and heroines, she soon realizes that there are obstacles—social, financial, and otherwise—blocking her path to love and marriage, one of them personified by her beautiful and sweet tempered rival, Charlotte Payler.
Unsure of her own budding romance, but confident in her powers of observation, Jane distracts herself by attempting to maneuver the affections of three other young couples. But when her well-intentioned matchmaking efforts turn into blundering misalliance, Jane must choose between following her own happily-ever-after, or repairing those relationships which, based on erroneous first impressions, she has misaligned.
syriejames.com, Facebook or say hello on Twitter @SyrieJames.
Win One of Five Fabulous Jane Austen-inspired Prize Packages
To celebrate the holidays and the release of Jane Austen's First Love, Syrie is giving away five prize packages filled with an amazing selection of Jane Austen-inspired gifts and books!
To enter the giveaway contest, simply leave a comment on any of the blog stops on the Jane Austen's First Love Holiday Blog Tour.
Increase your chances of winning by visiting multiple stops along the tour! Syrie's unique guest posts will be featured on a variety of subjects, along with fun interviews, spotlights, excerpts, and reviews of the novel. Contest closes at 11:59pm PT, December 21, 2014. Five lucky winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments on the tour, and announced on Syrie’s website on December 22, 2014. The giveaway contest is open to everyone, including international residents. Good luck to all!