Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Lady Catherine de Bourgh Pays Tribute to Jane Austen (eventually)

By Karen V. Wasylowski
Author of ‘Darcy and Fitzwilliam’ Please click on that title to see my April post about the book with Karen.

And now: Lady Catherine de Bourgh.

“Do I have everyone’s attention? I should very much appreciate all of you being seated straight away. Who is that vulgar, hairy, woman in the atrocious red cape…oh, it is you, bishop. La, I though you were Princess Esterhazy. Well my goodness, I was under the impression you were taller. I should have recognized you, of course, by that elegant beard, so unlikely an allurement to be possessed by a princess. Now, for a baroness if would have been, of course, excusable…yes,

thank you, please be seated your Eminence so that I may commence with my humble tribute.
It is wonderful to see so many old and dear friends here. Well, old at any rate (ahem). I should like to introduce my family to you, but, first I would thank our very thoughtful hostess, Miss (will someone hand me my spectacles – Darcy be a dear – thank you ) Ah, here it is…Miss Debra Brown – what a charming name. Would you please stand. Very nice. I am certain we need not worry overly. Miss Brown, I am sure, is certainly of the Devonshire Brown’s and not from those unpleasant American Brown’s. I should like to thank her, and her writing site, English Epochs, for giving us this opportunity. And she is an author as well, or so it says here. The title of her book is The Companion of Lady Holmeshire. I am certain that this novel shall be quite well received. Thank you, Miss Brown. Thank you. Miss Brown. That is quite enough bowing. Miss Brown. Oh do sit down, please!
Now a number of my relations are present and I should be very proud to introduce them to you all.
First, of course, is my handsome and very proficient daughter. Anne. Anne de Bourgh. Anne! Yes you, Anne, who else would it be, I’ve only one daughter. Stand up, gel! Oh bother. Someone find her vinaigrette please…there you are dear. Feeling better? Feeling quite the thing, are you? Excellent. Now stand up straight, Anne! Don’t slouch!
She’s lovely isn’t she? Ah, so very pale and wan. No hint of vibrancy. There is a reason for this, other than good breeding. It is not common knowledge, but I shall tell anyway. Anne has suffered her entire life from a series of peculiar and debilitating maladies - shortness of breath, palpitations, headaches, eye spasms, the occasional swoon. Uncontrollable crying. Yes. Oddly enough they usually crest whenever I walk into a room but then lessen when I leave. I know, how sad for her. And it apparently is common in other members of my family as well; I have found throughout the years that very many of my relations suffer from these anomalous symptoms. At least they do when I am in the vicinity. Oh well. ‘What wound did ever heal but by degrees.” That is Othello, you know. Of course if my willful, obdurate nephew, Fitzwilliam Darcy, had married Anne when I suggested all those many years ago my daughter’s illnesses would have, I am certain, vanished. The young today, they are so very selfish, don’t you find?
Darcy why are you muttering and stomping your boots? He angers so easily these days; come over here and let me introduce you. My word, you look positively grim. Turn to the people. Isn’t he handsome? Stand up straight! Fitzwilliam Darcy is my sister Anne’s son, my late sister Anne, and the pride of Derbyshire. See how elegantly he dresses, how gracefully he comports himself. He is the perfect romantic gentleman. Dark, brooding fine-looking, arrogant, haughty…rich…some call him proud but I do not. I feel he merely has an accurate measure of himself that is all. He is a tall sort of man also, is he not? Extremely vertical for his weight.
Darcy and I had quite a splendid relationship for many years; he always would attend me during Easter, along with his reprobate of a cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam. Fitzwilliam is my brother’s son - a second son. A soldier.
Apparently the clergy would not have him.
Now Darcy, who, as I have already pointed out, is a very handsome gentleman of great intellect and superior lineage has made an incredibly ill-fated misalliance with Miss Elizabeth Bennet. No need to stand Elizabeth, nor speak if possible. What? What have I said? Why is he angry with me now? The young today are such a trial, they can be so argumentative. To continue, Elizabeth’s father is a gentleman of no consequence so the less said about her, him, or their embarrassing family, the better. Her mother is a absolute horror of a woman, completely lacking in accomplishments, her sisters are plain, awkward, hoyden or timid. Take your pick.
Next to Darcy is his lovely sister Georgiana Darcy. Georgiana plays the pianoforte extremely well due to her constant practicing. Stand please, Georgiana. Posture, Georgiana, do not droop so! As you can see she is a tad too tall, and rather too womanly, frankly speaking, for her young age. Truly refined young girls of the aristocracy are small boned and thin and never speak. Not until they agree to the marriage of their father’s choosing, that is and then they merely say ‘yes’. A truly elegant woman never speaks until she has children. And then she never stops. Oh, for heaven’s sake, don’t pout, Georgiana, you will develop puffy eyes, making you appear even more unappealing. Whyever is she crying?
Now, on to my tribute to Miss Jane Austen. She was…witty and quite opinionated. There, I’ve said it. She was intelligent. I do not mean to insult her but there it is. To use the vulgar colloquialism of the day, she was a blue stocking. We did not rub along well together. I first met Miss Austen in 1796 during her stay at Goodnestone Park in Kent. She was visiting there with her brother Edward, a most pleasing young man and his good wife, a delightfully silent young woman…unlike her sharp tongued and clever sister-in-law. Darcy! I do not appreciate nor condone that raised eyebrow! It is most threatening. Please lower it immediately.
Where was I? Oh, yes. I came to discover that Miss Austen was writing a novel at the time, quite a useless ambition for a young woman, but, the young never listen to sense, do they? It was entitled First Impressions. I cautioned her most wisely regarding the capriciousness of the publishing industry and, due solely to my counsel, she wisely sold the copyright to her manuscript for 110 pounds. Quite a coup I believed, for a girl. She had asked Mr. Edgerton for 150 pounds but I convinced her that she was fortunate to receive any amount for that silly story, let along 110 pounds! Poor dear. I am certain no one ever heard of the book after that, although I did hear mention that Edgarton changed the name of the book.
But whoever heard of Pride and Prejudice?
For some reason Jane refuses to speak with me, even unto this day.
La, children they are so unappreciative, are they not?

And now, back to Karen:
The short story I just publishd is on Kindle and Nook only, sells for $.99. It is Georgiana's Story.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Interview: Barbara Kyle
Author of the Thornleigh Series

*Welcome Barbara!*

First, Debra, let me say it’s a pleasure do this interview for you. Your readers might be interested to know that we met via Twitter, where you very kindly gave me, a Twitter novice, some helpful advice when I needed to change my username. So thank you for that, and for inviting me to your blog.

*I'm glad to have you! I have read that you began your career by studying drama and going into acting. Could you tell us which productions you were involved in and whether you still take on acting work?*

I loved being an actor, a career I enjoyed for twenty years. I did everything from Shakespeare and Moliere on stage, to musicals, to starring in a TV soap opera called “High Hopes.” Several years ago I traded my acting career for one as a novelist, so it’s been a long time since I was in front of a camera or “on the boards” (the stage). I had a very pleasant “swan song,” though: the last role I played was in a made-for-TV film about the US hostage crisis in Iran when Jimmy Carter was president. George Grizzard played the president, and I played his wife, Rosalynn Carter. That was an honor, because she’s a person I admire. I must say that acting was a terrific background for writing fiction. All those years of reading scripts drilled a sense of dramatic structure right into my bones.

*Please tell us a little about the Thornleigh series and the Thornleigh family.*
My Thornleigh series follows a rising, middle-class family through the tumultuous reigns of three Tudor monarchs: Henry VIII, Mary I, and Elizabeth I. So far, there are four books in the series, and I’ve just signed a contract with my publisher, Kensington Books, for three more, so I’m now at work on the fifth. The Thornleigh family characters – Honor, Richard, Adam, and Isabel – are fictional, but each of them becomes dramatically enmeshed in the lives and loves, crises and adventures of real people of the day, such as the headstrong monarchs I mentioned above, and movers and shakers like Thomas Cromwell and Sir Thomas More, and revolutionaries like Thomas Wyatt and John Knox.

The Queen’s Lady begins the series. It’s Honor’s story as a young lady-in-waiting to Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first wife, the wife he threw over for Anne Boleyn. My story features Honor’s conflicted relationship with her guardian, Sir Thomas More, who was Henry’s chancellor, and the missions she ran to rescue the men he persecuted. It also begins her exciting love affair with Richard Thornleigh, a seafaring wool merchant.

The King’s Daughter features their daughter Isabel’s adventures with mercenary soldier Carlos Valverde during the Wyatt Rebellion early in the reign of Queen Mary. Isabel is pledged to help Wyatt’s rebellion, but first she must rescue her father from prison, all while being hunted by her father’s old enemy.

The Queen’s Captive interweaves two stories. One is Honor’s mission to advise and protect the headstrong twenty-year-old Princess Elizabeth, who was in peril of being killed by her half-sister Queen Mary, and then turning her into a queen. The second is the story of Adam Thornleigh’s love affair with Elizabeth. Both stories culminate, the second one rather poignantly, in Elizabeth’s accession to the throne.

The Queen’s Gamble, which will be out in August, brings Isabel back from the New World to undertake a mission for Elizabeth, who, after less than a year on the throne, was facing the first international crisis of her reign: the threat of invasion by France via Scotland. Isabel smuggles money from Elizabeth to Scottish rebels, but Elizabeth keeps Isabel’s young son as a hostage to ensure her loyalty. Then, Isabel’s troubles worsen when Carlos, her Spanish husband, is engaged as a military advisor to the French, putting the couple on opposite sides in this deadly cold war.

*How do you feel when writing a book and nobody else knows these characters that you are so intimately connected with? Do you wish someone else was able to discuss them with you?*

Actually, I discuss the characters with my husband almost every day. He’s my totally reliable sounding board. He used to be a film editor, and has a marvelous editor’s eye. Also, he’s a great go-to guy for checking about how my male characters would really feel and act. That quest for authenticity has brought us a few smiles. In The Queen’s Lady I wrote a scene set during May Day night revelry in which I had a drunk walking through the crowd while pissing. Then I wondered: can a man actually do that – walk and piss? I asked my husband, and he went outside (luckily we lived in the country then, no neighbors around) and he came back in and said, “Yup.”

No doubt you have spent countless hours researching the real characters, such as Queen Mary and Princess Elizabeth, and times that you write about. Do you feel that your portrayal of these persons in your book matches their real life personas?

That’s an excellent question. I take great pains in all my books to keep the historical facts accurate as far as who did what, and when, where, and how. But within that historically true framework I take literary license to create characters who are emotionally true. The historical record gives us dead personages, but fiction brings them to life as flesh-and-blood people with all the passions, longings, hates, and fears that are the human condition. I love marrying these two elements – history and humanity – to make these people “live” again.

For example, Queen Mary was a religious zealot who burned hundreds of people at the stake during her brief reign; her people in her own time called her “Bloody Mary.” That’s a historical fact, and it makes us view her as cruel. But she was also a woman who suffered in her personal life, hopelessly in love with her husband, Philip of Spain, who coldly fulfilled his conjugal duty with her and then promptly deserted her for his mistress back home. Mary believed she was pregnant, joyfully so, and kept on believing it right into her tenth month, by which time it was clear to all that her pregnancy was a phantom one, and she became the laughing stock of Europe. It’s hard not to pity such a sadly self-deluded woman, and I hope I’ve conveyed that pity in The Queen’s Captive. By the way, some modern scholars believe that her condition was a tumor caused by uterine cancer.

*Do you feel that your Thornleigh family fits the general description of any real family of that time? Or that there is a good possibility of such a family's existence?*

Definitely. The Tudor and Elizabethan period was a boom time for the middle class, who were happily making money and growing very prosperous, especially during Elizabeth’s long and peaceful reign. I based Richard Thornleigh’s success as a wool merchant on much research about the wool trade; that trade with Europe was England’s mercantile life blood. Of course, real wealth was in land. High status and riches came from the monarch’s gift of titles which brought land. In my Thornleigh saga, Elizabeth rewards Honor and Richard for their loyalty by ennobling Richard; she makes him a baron. Their son Adam, too, after carving out a life as a sea captain, is knighted for his service to Elizabeth. This was a common route to riches.

By the way, I’m running a contest on my website to name the Thornleighs’ newly built grand house. The winner will get an autographed copy of The Queen‘s Gamble, plus I’ll use the winning name in the book I’m now writing, and thank the winner in the book’s acknowledgements. So this is an invitation to your readers: If you have a name suggestion, send it in!

*I know you have a new title coming out soon. Could you give us the name of the book and the release date?*

Gladly. The book is The Queen’s Gamble and it will be released by Kensington Books on August 31. Your readers can pre-order it now from any bookstore or online supplier, and they’ll receive it even before it hits the stores.

*Do you have a story taking form in your mind for another book?*

I’m actually hard at work on it. I’ve got a three-book deal with my wonderful publisher, Kensington, to continue my Thornleigh series. The book I’m working on introduces a new Thornleigh heroine, and also introduces Mary Queen of Scots and the crisis that she created for Elizabeth when she escaped captivity in Scotland, fled to England, and threw herself on the mercy of Elizabeth, who was her cousin. The crisis for Elizabeth was that Mary was infamous throughout Europe for having connived at the murder of her husband and then marrying the murderer. In the over four hundred years since then, people have been taking sides about whether Mary was a murdering adulteress or a saintly innocent. Stay tuned to read my take on her!

*The time period surrounding Henry VIII was a period of religious turmoil and violence. Do your stories bring out a lot of that?*

They do, yes. You’re right: religion was the huge issue of the period, and I find it a fascinating parallel to the religious tensions in our own time, of Christian vs. Muslim. 15th century England was a cauldron of religious hatred and fear, of Catholic vs. Protestant. At the beginning of Henry VIII’s reign, when Protestantism first jumped across the Chanel from Germany, it was illegal to own a Bible in English; only the Catholic church’s Latin version was approved, and the English authorities burned people who refused to recant their “heresy”. Queen Mary, a fierce Catholic, burned hundreds of Protestants at the stake.

*Do you remember any favorite reader's comments on the series that you care to share with us?*

Ah, many! I treasure that connection with readers. Here’s one email that really made my day: “Your book, ‘The King's Daughter,’ is absolutely the best yet. In fact, if there were something equivalent to the Academy Awards in the Best Historical Novelist category, Barbara Kyle would be under spot lights every year. You are that good.”

The note I found most moving was from a gentleman in Tennessee who wrote me to say that after his wife died he went into a deep depression, then found comfort in reading everything he could get his hands on about the Tudors, and my books, he said, were the best. That really touched me.

And here’s a line from a reader’s email that I cherish: “I had to write you even though it is so late in the evening. I just finished Chapter 11 of The Queen Captive! You had me in tears …” I won’t tell you why this caring reader was in tears, because that would spoil the story for your readers, but I will say that she went on to add how happy she was when the character she’d been weeping about survived.

I’d love to hear from your readers, too. They can email me at

*On your website, I see that you also have become a writing teacher. How did this part of your life develop?*

I began giving workshops about eight years ago, and found that I really enjoy helping emerging writers. My “Fiction Writer’s Boot Camp” became quite popular. This became the basis of a series of video workshops I made called “Writing Fiction That Sells. “The series is available online through my website – over ten hours of instruction and inspiration, tips and techniques. I’ve had tremendous feedback on it from writers, which is very gratifying. Then the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies, which offers excellent courses for writers, led by many successful novelists, asked me to create a course for them. Most of their courses were geared for writers of literary fiction, and I thought popular fiction was being overlooked, so I developed a course called “Writing the Popular Novel.”

Now, I offer my “Master Class: Your Novel in Workshop” a couple of times a year in Toronto. It’s an intensive weekend in which we workshop the beginning section of each person’s novel – the class is limited to ten people. As I tell the writers who attend, it’s crucial to get the opening of one’s book in top shape before submitting it to an agent or editor, because if the first twenty or thirty pages don’t grab them, they simply won’t read on.

Also, when my own writing schedule allows, I also do manuscript evaluations. Several of the writers I’ve helped have gone on to get published. That, for me, is most satisfying.

*Can people benefit from your writing instruction in some way, either through a book or online?*

Definitely. Anyone interested should check out my series of online video workshops “Writing Fiction That Sells,” available through my website. They can watch a free clip on my website. And, if they live in or near Toronto, my next “Master Class: Your Novel in Workshop” weekend is August 13-14. All the details are on my website:

Thanks, Debra. It’s been fun!

*Thank you! It has been a pleasure.*

Please comment to enter a giveaway for an ARC of The Queen's Gamble or a copy of any of Barbara's previously published books! Enter by July 5th, 2011.

Barbara Kyle previously won acclaim for her contemporary novels under pen name ‘Stephen Kyle’, including Beyond Recall (a Literary Guild Selection), After Shock and The Experiment. Over 400,000 copies of her books have been sold.

Barbara has taught courses for writers at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies and the Haliburton School of the Arts, and is known for her dynamic workshops for many writers’ organizations, garnering praise such as this from internationally acclaimed author Wayson Choy: “Barbara, I am amazed at your professional energy and dedication to teaching the craft. You're an inspiration!" Barbara also enjoys helping emerging writers through her manuscript evaluation service.


What Do You Do to Indulge Your Inner Aristocrat?

I have become so pathetic. I used to hate the ringlets over the ears, hair parted down the middle look of the 1840s, but I nearly decided to try it myself the other day! A few times I did my writing on a clipboard, sipping tea with a decanter full of tulips at my side instead of at the computer. I get lost in large picture books and read histories and related fiction.
What do you do to indulge your inner aristocrat?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Development of Victorian Morality

While people today think the Victorians to have been prudish, they were, like people of any epoch, progressive for their time. Indeed, the debauchery of the preceding era was being rejected by society as a whole, with a strong pull toward decency. However, only a few decades before Victoria ascended the throne, for example, waltzing was considered by most as immorality in the ballroom. Victorians and the Queen herself waltzed unhindered while their Regency era forebears were yet alive and even present! Shocking! Quite progressive, were they not?
Indeed, many of the things done then were for the sake of being progressive. Take, for example, the sign found at various offices- “You Are Requested to Speak of Business Only”. Today such a sign would be considered irritating, restrictive and perhaps even unconstitutional in the US. At the time, though, it was meant to promote a dutiful work ethic, which was an important thing to society in general. This was a change. While in the past the idle life of an aristocrat was thought of as right and something to wish one could attain to, or hope to marry upward into, during the Victorian era the lower classes began to pride themselves on work well done, on rising from poverty into self sufficiency and on doing their duty to the community. People were eager to be found Respectable, and there was no respect for those who deluded others or cut corners. Dishonest individuals would find that they did not fit well enough into society to receive invitations into the homes of most. People also worked long hard hours to keep their jobs, as there was no real job security or unemployment compensation. The result of these social and fiduciary pressures resulted in England’s skilled workers becoming well known around the world for their dedication and expertise. The sense of self-worth of the working classes began to be bolstered by their newly popular contempt for the idle rich, which likely contributed to their productivity and a higher living standard. Aristocrats began to feel guilty when idle and to find ways to busy themselves usefully, such as charity and public service, in order to not be deeply disdained. They had taken notice, too, of the French Revolution and its treatment of the nobility and preferred to avoid such an outcome.
Respectability was determined in other areas of life as well. A family should be living in a clean, tidy home, wearing clean clothing and displaying good manners. One would not call attention to themselves with loud ways or flashy clothing. It was far more respectable to do without than to go into debt. Thrift was encouraged. In a true emergency, a respectable person could rely on his or her neighbors because he himself, or she, had been helpful in the past and deserved it. Troubles should be born without complaint, it was thought, and so personal and family problems were often unknown outside the family. Neighbors kept their distance. In the middle class, there was some suspicion of a man who earned enough money for their children to inherit. Sons were to be taught a good trade and become self-sufficient. Earlier in the century, fathers would make great sacrifices to provide for a daughter who might not ever be married, but later, women began to become more independent.
There was great importance to being earnest, as you may have heard. Earnesty meant that recreation was for refreshment and health, but not for self indulgence. Drinking and indulgence were, after all, the causes of disease! Moderation, bath and exercise, along with cleanliness of the home, were the cure. Respectability involved punctuality, rising early, orderliness, self-denial, self-control, initiative, good use of leisure time and prudent marriage. Such traits were widely promoted in lectures, sermons, publications and worker's self-help societies.
I cannot personally see any problem with these standards! While there was quite a bit of unnecessary oversight of certain social rules, by neighbors and other busybodies, and a person could be shunned for being less than Respectable, the principles themselves contributed to health and prosperity.
It was quite important, also, to be a gentleman and chivalrous. In the early nineteenth century, a gentleman was only someone from the landed class or a barrister, clergyman, military officer or Member of Parliament. However, England was progressive, and as time went on, gentlemanly conduct became an obligation. Mistresses and illegitimate children were no longer openly acceptable, which did hopefully contribute to family happiness. Parliament could dismiss a member found to be living in such a way. The term "gentleman" began to apply to men who lived up to socially acceptable behavior. "Gentlemanly behavior was governed by a strict unwritten code of what was 'done' and 'not done.' It was clearly 'not done' to cheat at cards or question the honesty of another gentleman." He was "courteous, considerate, and socially at ease. He paid his gambling debts and kept his word- a verbal promise was more important than a handshake, and a written contract seemed faintly disreputable, as if it suggested that a gentleman's word could not be trusted." He was "honorable, dependable, and ethical. He did what was required without supervision- he didn't become a clock-watcher, but neither did he work excessively long hours just to make more money... A gentleman exhibited stoic self-control. He did not call attention to his own cleverness, or visibly work harder than others, or show too much enthusiasm.... loyalty, team spirit, courage, and fair play... he was motivated by an enormous fear of... visibly failing to live up to his standards and responsibilities." He behaved honorably toward all women, accepting their chaperones on every outing. A gentleman would not turn his back on a lady to whom he was speaking without first excusing himself, hat in hand, and at least giving a hint of a bow. No wonder we women today.... well, enough daydreaming here. It's just not going to happen.
Early in the century, women were taught young to become a wife and mother. Her duty in life was to rule the house under her husband's oversight. She was responsible to turn out healthy, self-sufficient sons and well trained daughters who could do the same. She was to keep the house and laundry clean (mind you, a great many women had servants, at least for the heavy work, but there was a lot of heavy work), oversee the children's education, preserve high moral values, guard her husband's conscience (men obviously being unable to do so for themselves?) and build society up by her daily Christian duties. If she were to do so properly, it was assumed that her husband and sons would have no cause to leave home for an evening's morally suspect entertainment. Girls were taught that as women, they would be more responsible for the "success or failure, happiness or misery, learning or ignorance, than kings, statesmen, philosophers, philanthropists, and clergymen." Women were legally subordinate, economically dependent, taught to be obedient to their husbands, and yet entirely responsible for the comfort, beauty morality and happiness of the family. She was trained to please and to suppress her own desires. In turn, she was to be protected from the shocks and dangers of the world, her purity and refinement safeguarded; she was to be safe at home. It was important for her to marry wisely, because her "marriage established her rank, role, duties, social status, place of residence, economic circumstances and way of life. It determined her comfort, her physical safety, her children's health, and ultimately- perhaps- even her spiritual well-being." Unfortunately, in earlier times, girls were not to hear of sex until their husbands taught them on the wedding night. I can't imagine that that was healthy in any way. I know a woman, now in her 80s, who had that same experience, so I believe that thinking carried through into the 20th century, as did many other ideas. To some degree, however, a lighter version of Victorian sexual mores was healthy. Where the standards were applied in fact, girls were, in general, safer, children were more often born in a two parent home with parents who took their responsibilities seriously.
In later decades, especially toward the end of the century, the "New Woman", or feminist, appeared. Girls began to grow up educated and took on work as a professional. They no longer had to have a chaperone every time they left the house, traveled by bicycle or public transportation and even lived in a flat with friends. You see? The Victorian Era was totally progressive. What is your view?
All quotes and some of the information was taken from Daily Life in Victorian England by Sally Mitchell.