• Avon, an imprint of
  • HarperCollinsPublishers
  • ISBN: 978-0061341427

THE LOST MEMOIRS OF JANE AUSTEN

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

(Click on the question to reveal the answer)

Q: Jane Austen has a large male readership. Would that have surprised her?

A: Not at all. Sir Walter Scott loved her work, and the Prince of Wales was one of her biggest fans; he even asked her to dedicate a book to him (which she did: Emma.) I think Jane knew she was writing books that would please readers of both genders. She had a gift for portraying the feelings of what women and men are like, and what they'd like each other to be. (To read some great quotes by famous men who loved Jane Austen, go to the "Fun Stuff" Page.)

Q: What inspired you to write The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen?

A: I have long been a Jane Austen fan. One of my all-time favorite books is Pride and Prejudice. There are few novels which can match it for pure brilliance of plot, characterization and dialog. I adore the A&E mini-series starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, and the films Sense and Sensibility and Shakespeare in Love. One day, I thought: what about a love story for Jane Austen?

Although Jane Austen's biographers portray her basically as a spinster with a great imagination, I refused to believe that! We know that Jane had a brief flirtation with an Irishman named Tom Lefroy when she was twenty, but his family rapidly sent him away because she had no money.

I was more intrigued, however, by the story that Jane's sister Cassandra confided to her niece: that the only man Jane ever truly loved, was an unnamed gentleman she once met at an unspecified seaside resort. This tantalizing anecdote is known as the mysterious "seaside romance." Everyone wonders: who was that man? What happened to him? I decided to invent him.

Q: Your story takes place in the two years preceding the publication of Jane's first novel, Sense and Sensibility. How and why did you choose to write about that period of her life?

On re-reading Jane Austen's letters, I noticed a gap from January 1809 through April 1811. At the time, Jane was in her early thirties and had already written the first drafts of three complete novels, but was stalled in her writing career. I couldn't help but wonder: what happened during those missing years?

It is well known that Cassandra, before she died, burned most of Jane's letters, and cut out portions of those she saved. What was she trying to hide? It struck me that it was entirely possible that Jane had a love affair during those two years—a meaningful and passionate relationship which Cassandra conspired to keep secret.

Q: Is Jane's love interest, Frederick Ashford, based on any of the characters in Austen's novels?

A: No. I strove to create a man who I believed was Jane's equal in intellect and temperament ... a man with whom she could believably fall in love ... a man who could influence her life and her return to writing, without taking away from her genius and her fiercely independent spirit. At the same time, I knew I had to create a legitimate reason as to why they could not marry, and why the world never knew about him. Similar to Shakespeare in Love, I interwove the story with the writing of one of Austen's most famous works, to showcase her inspiration and her struggle, both because of and in spite of that relationship.

Q: You blend fact and fiction so seamlessly in The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen. How did you do your research?

A: I read countless biographies and scholarly works, re-read Jane Austen's six novels, her unfinished works, and much of her juvenilia, and studied every one of her surviving letters. I went back to England and walked in Jane's footsteps. I researched Jane Austen's era extensively and obsessively watched all her movies, not only the films but also the A&E and BBC versions, to familiarize myself with the customs, daily practices and lifestyle of Jane's England.

I felt a great responsibility to remain true to Jane Austen's known history, and to accurately represent not only her, but her real-life friends and family members. It was a challenge to interweave my love story with the known dates, times, places and facts of Jane Austen's life. When I was finished, I hoped it would be difficult for even the most discerning Jane Austen scholar to determine where fact ended and fiction began.

Q: Your descriptions are so vivid. Did you spend much time in Jane Austen country?

A: Yes. I have traveled throughout England many times. I've toured a multitude of fine English country manor homes, including the magnificent Chatsworth House, thought by many to be the model for Jane Austen's Pemberley.

To research "The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen," I took a wonderful, self-guided "Jane Austen Tour." I visited Jane Austen's house at Chawton, which is now a museum. I climbed the ancient city walls at Southampton, and found the exact spot at Castle Square where it's thought that Jane once lived. I strolled through the ruins of Netley Abbey, and walked the Cobb at Lyme Regis. I had dinner and stayed the night at the Royal Lion Inn (where Jane dined with Mr. Ashford), and spent three days in Bath. I made a pilgrimage to Winchester Cathedral, where Jane Austen is buried. I was even granted a rare opportunity to visit Godmersham Park (one of the grand manor homes belonging to Jane's older brother Edward), where she often stayed. It was a glorious experience, never to be forgotten.

Q: What about the kiss? Jane Austen's lovers never kiss in any of her novels. Since the "Lost Memoirs" are ostensibly written by Jane Austen herself, how did you justify that choice?

A: Jane Austen's biting social commentary and masterful use of irony have made her one of the most influential and revered novelists in history. But as you point out, her romantic endings are generally brief and written in the third person narrative, which always left me unsatisfied. (Luckily for us, Jane Austen did write a rather romantic ending to Persuasion, her last book.) I wanted my lovers to express their feelings and their physical affection. I wanted that kiss!

I believe Jane avoided writing those scenes because in that era, a depiction of passion on the page might imply an authorial experience of a personal nature, which would be deemed inappropriate for a single woman. In her private memoirs, however (as in her letters) Jane could express herself more freely.

Q: Why do you think Jane Austen continues to be so popular with modern readers?

A: Readers are drawn in by her sense of realism, her superb narrative technique, her brilliant understanding of character, her wonderful sense of humor, and the topicality of her subject matter. Her characters all wrestle with social and emotional problems we can recognize, and still confront on a daily basis.

Reading Jane Austen's novels makes us feel we are in communion with a rarely gifted, wise and subtle mind. Her books are witty and ironic, and, at a time when people worry that the past is being lost, they provide a pleasurable way of connecting to it. But ultimately, what attracts us to Austen now is probably what's been attracting people to her for two centuries: anyone, at any time, can relate to falling in love.

Q: If you met Jane Austen today, what would you say to her?

A: I'd advise her to retain a really good solicitor, and collect her royalties for the past two hundred years. Then I'd ask her who the mysterious "seaside gentleman" really was.