First Page: Untitled Jane Austen Retelling
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A country inn, in Surrey
A shadow moved over the sheet of foolscap on the table in front of me, causing me to shiver most idiotically.
Though I was perfectly warm, the inn room having a good fire in the grate. And though I knew the shadow was only Frank, who'd been leaning over my shoulder to read along.
We both laughed.
"You've made a pretty thing of your tale," he said.
"My history," I corrected him.
"If you like. Your True and Most Arousing History of Illicit Carnality in an English Country Village, by Miss Jane Fairfax."
I hadn't written it with the intent of arousing anyone. But seeing it in black and white-‘the naked truth, if you will, on the sheets of paper before us-‘was proving quite another matter.
Frank's voice was studiedly careless; his shadow shrugged its excellent, wide shoulders. "Well, I'm no great reader. But true or not, Jane, should a lady write such things for the perusal of decent people?"
I didn't have to look up to know that that his mouth was twitching at its corner. And in any case, I'd swore to myself I wouldn't take my eyes off the page I'd written. An orphan learns to make pleasure out of privation, you see, or at any rate this orphan has. Frank's voice in my ear, his breath against my neck-‘I'd limit my pleasures to those, I told myself, until I felt myself unable to live another moment without his smile.
"If I intended it for publication," I said, "I'd take out those parts. And change the names. And imagine a happy ending."
The shadow vibrated, with what I supposed was a suppressed chuckle.
"I began it-‘" my voice took on a pedantic, governess-y sort of tone-‘ "as an exercise. To try my hand at a story, about the village I come from and its people. I wondered what shape it would take on paper."
All of which was true enough, if not the whole truth.
Did he suspect? I spoke more quickly, to distract his attention.
"Don't laugh," I said. "Some ladies do earn a little by writing novels. But as you see I have no gift for polite fiction, and find myself most thoroughly engaged by the indecent parts."