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First Page: Untitled Jane Austen Retelling

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January, 1814

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."

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

11 Comments

  1. Just Thinking
    Nov 06, 2010 @ 08:27:16

    The style of writing doesn’t put me in a Regency frame of mind. The only clue I have is 1814 and the names Jane Fairfax and Frank. But I am curious about where the tale is heading. Jane always seemed so uber proper in spite of the secret engagement that I wonder what she’s got going on in the upper works. The second paragraph, with what reads to me like 2 odd sentence fragments, needs a bit of reworking. Any time I have to stop and reread sentences so early in a story is problematic for me.

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  2. Lynne Connolly
    Nov 06, 2010 @ 08:46:38

    This doesn’t sound like Jane Fairfax (from “Emma,” the book where “nothing happens”). It sounds like a modern retelling. There are numerous instances where the wording is modern. Your contractions are modern (they did use contractions, but in a different way) and the phrasing is modern, too. So is the informality. In an age where Mrs. Bennett never referred to her husband, even to his face, by his first name.
    None of this would matter if you were writing in the third person. It wouldn’t matter too much if you were writing about characters you’d invented yourself.
    But you’re borrowing characters from literature, characters other readers will know well, so you need to carry the style and the characters through. Jane had a touch of spitefulness about her that made her so not a heroine, and was a coward, too, when she let Frank Churchill use her as he did. Frank was almost unspeakable, the way he flirted in front of Jane. So I wasn’t predisposed to like them in the first place.
    If you write a “straight” romance about these two characters, expect a lot of Janeites to take a look.

    The scene itself? Nothing grabs me and hauls me in. The mention of the names doesn’t do it. And they are sniggering about people who should have been their friends. Nothing actually happens here. The “history” – no, just no.

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  3. okbut
    Nov 06, 2010 @ 08:47:51

    I dont think they used the word ‘foolscap’ for paper in 1814. In fact writing paper was a valuable commodity then, was it not?

    Having a couple staying together at a country inn also does not sound like proper behavior unless you are a harlot, and then you would not know how to write. Propriety was of the utmost importance, and tongues wagged with relish…

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  4. NancyB
    Nov 06, 2010 @ 08:51:23

    I agree with the previous commenter that this needs some reworking. The incomplete sentences and phrases like “studiedly careless,” are awkward, and it should be “I’d sworn to myself” not “I’d swore…” But overall, my biggest problem with it is that I am so over Jane Austen re-tellings! I do think this excerpt sets a good Regency tone, though, and if it weren’t an Austen re-telling, I’d probably be interested in reading farther.

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  5. Maura
    Nov 06, 2010 @ 08:56:47

    I think foolscap is a size of paper, not a type, and it dates back to the Renaissance, so that word choice should be okay.

    That said, I agree strongly with the second commenter– this isn’t the voice of a Regency woman. The dialogue is on the edge of being okay– it’s much too informal, but that’s fixable– but everything in between just plain sounds modern. If you want to write in third person, you might be able to get away with that, but not as it’s presented here.

    (And sadly I confess to being “over” Jane Austen retellings, sequels, etc. myself.)

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  6. anonymous
    Nov 06, 2010 @ 09:57:05

    Well done. There are very clear intentions of what this book is about–the artifice of storytelling, the erotic charge between Jane and Frank, and the promise of naughty revelations.

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  7. Marianne McA
    Nov 06, 2010 @ 11:29:17

    I don’t read much erotica, so I’m not the target audience, but if I read it, I don’t think I’d worry too much about period detail. The Jane Fairfax of Emma isn’t going to write her erotic adventures, so I’d think of this as a light-hearted read, and wouldn’t look for huge amounts of period accuracy. A quasi-Regency approach to the story would work for me.

    Having said that,’shivered most idiotically’ and ‘studiedly careless’ struck me as really clunky phrases, and that would put me off reading further.

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  8. Miss Moppet
    Nov 06, 2010 @ 17:05:07

    Pride and Promiscuity: The Lost Sex Scenes of Jane Austen did a marvellous job of pastiching the sex scenes Austen never wrote. I think a Jane/Frank story along those lines could work very well. I agree with Marianne about accuracy but I also agree that Jane sounds a little too modern. If you want to work on the tone, you could read Regency novels written in the first person – two I can think of are Mary Brunton’s Discipline (1814), available here:
    http://labrocca.com/marybrunton/d/
    and Eaton Stannard Barrett’s The Heroine (1813), which is a parody of popular novels and absolutely hilarious. Available here:
    http://openlibrary.org/books/OL7077882M/The_heroine
    I like the chemistry of the scene and I like Jane’s comment about orphans and privations. My problem is more that nothing much is happening – it seems more like a prelude to the story than the story itself. Unless this scene is absolutely crucial, I’d rather Jane jumped in where the story begins and started telling us about her first romp with Frank, or whatever.
    This book sounds like it could be great fun – good luck with it!

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  9. sao
    Nov 07, 2010 @ 06:44:32

    This sounded so unlike Jane Austen that I was immediately turned off. I might have been more interested in the same story about, say, Janet and Fred with no Austen pretensions.

    I agree with other commenters that Frank of Emma didn’t seem very heroic. He marries Jane, but doesn’t proudly announce it to the world and all over money. Blechh!

    Jane Fairfax was placed in a really awkward position.

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  10. author
    Nov 07, 2010 @ 12:53:51

    Thanks to all who commented. It’s helpful to see what didn’t make it. And to those who said it wasn’t Jane Austen’s Frank and Jane — well, it wasn’t the Frank and Jane that Emma saw, but then, can we really trust what Emma saw?

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  11. Lynne Connolly
    Nov 07, 2010 @ 17:08:09

    What we’re saying, for the most part, is that it doesn’t sound like Jane and Frank. It sounds like a modern person speaking. I said that I didn’t like Frank and Jane, and I wouldn’t be interested in reading a story about them.
    Besides, “Emma” isn’t in the first person, it is, for the most part, an omniscient narrative, and Jane Austen isn’t an unreliable narrator.
    The voice is so different, it doesn’t work. But it might make an interesting story if you gave your characters different names, or even narrated in third, which would account for the vastly different voice.

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