Thursday 30 May 2019

Dear Jane

It's my pleasure to welcome Allie Cresswell, who's visiting the salon to consider the matter of history in the works of Jane Austen.


Jane Austen’s novels are loved today, in part, for the sense of history they evoke; those elegant drawing rooms and the graceful life-style of Regency ladies within them - such a far cry from our stressed and utilitarian, tech-driven world. The courtly, restrained attentions of well-dressed gentlemen - the suppressed passion of a clasped waist or a kissed hand, or even the meaningful glance across a crowded ballroom, is so much more romantic than the sex-obsessed world of today.
The erudite conversation; wots nt 2 luv?  
And yet when Jane Austen wrote her novels they were not historical, they were contemporary. She described the times in which she lived; her comments - on behaviour, morals and manners - were on her own here and now.
In fact there is little actual history in any of her books. With one notable exception she makes no reference to politics, real-life figures or tangible events and so it is practically impossible to place her novels in any exact time frame. Persuasionis the exception. Captain Wentworth mentions the year in which he took his first captaincy and Admiral Croft brings the news of Napoleon’s escape from Elba. It is hard to know why she tended to avoid real-life references; perhaps she thought them irrelevant or thought she could not mention them without making comment which might alienate some readers. More likely, politics and world affairs were considered no business for women’s minds, a state of affairs upon which, we can be sure, Miss Austen would, privately, have had much to say.
There is no clue as to when the events in Emma take place but as I set about writing the stories of Mrs Bates, her daughtersand granddaughter in my Highbury Trilogy I felt I needed to place them accurately in time. Lieutenant - later Captain - Weston is active in the militia in the first two books of the trilogy; what conflicts at home and abroad might he have been embroiled in? Well, of course, it depends upon exactlywhen we’re talking about. Angus Fairfax (Jane’s father) enlists as a surgeon; where might he have been posted? It begs the same question. Placing the books in world and British history posed further questions - about social history, for instance; In Mrs Bates of Highbury Mrs Bates is widowed and finds herself penniless. How much - or, how little - money did a person need in 1780s England to survive? The answer, I discovered, was around £50. The Other Miss Batesis set in Brighton - what was it like there, in 1781? I found that it was in the very infancy of its popularity, the health-giving effects of sea-bathing (and seawater drinking) having only just been identified. It would be some years before the Prince Regent made the place into the hub of fashionable society that it would later become.  In Dear JaneFrank Churchill, denied university by his clinging aunt, sets out on a Grand Tour. But my timeline had brought me to around 1814 when the Napoleonic war was still being fought. Travel to Europe would have been impossible so poor Frank has to make do with the Scottish highlands and islands instead.
Jane Austen’s books do seem to take place in something of a bubble; the outside world barely impinges. The drawing rooms and shrubberies, card-parties and country dances are their own world, albeit imbued with exacting standards of behaviour and clearly-defined strata of social hierarchy. At the time at which she was writing their mores would have been well understood and perhaps needed no explanation. To us, however, two hundred years later, they need placing in some wider context and to me, it seemed important to get the details right. Not just because there will inevitably be readers who will be offended by historical inaccuracies and in a hurry to point them out to me, but for the integrity of the books themselves. Any jarring inaccuracies would spoil the illusion which fiction creates. At the same time I had to be true to Miss Austen’s world and to her characters; to tamper with them would have been out of the question. They, for me, provide history of equal importance to any real-world events which may have been taking place just off-stage and I was determined to reflect and incorporate them with the same faithfulness. How successful was I? Well, you, dear reader, must be the judge.
To be in with a chance of winning a copy of Dear Jane, simply click on the link below!
About the Author
Allie Cresswell was born in Stockport, UK and began writing fiction as soon as she could hold a pencil.

She did a BA in English Literature at Birmingham University and an MA at Queen Mary College, London.

She has been a print-buyer, a pub landlady, a book-keeper, run a B & B and a group of boutique holiday cottages. Nowadays Allie writes full time having retired from teaching literature to lifelong learners. Most recently she has been working on her Highbury trilogy, books inspired by Jane Austen’s Emma.

She has two grown-up children, two granddaughters and two grandsons, is married to Tim and lives in Cumbria, NW England.

You can contact her via her website at or find her on Facebook.

About the Book
The final instalment of the Highbury trilogy, Dear Jane narrates the history of Jane Fairfax, recounting the events hinted at but never actually described in Jane Austen’s Emma.

Orphaned Jane seems likely to be brought up in parochial Highbury until adoption by her papa’s old friend Colonel Campbell opens to her all the excitement and opportunities of London. The velvet path of her early years is finite, however and tarnished by the knowledge that she must earn her own independence one day.

Frank Weston is also transplanted from Highbury, adopted as heir to the wealthy Churchills and taken to their drear and inhospitable Yorkshire estate. The glimmer of the prize which will one day be his is all but obliterated by the stony path he must walk to claim it.

Their paths meet at Weymouth, and readers of Emma will be familiar with the finale of Jane and Frank’s story. Dear Jane pulls back the veil which Jane Austen drew over their early lives, their meeting in Weymouth and the agony of their secret engagement.


Allie Cresswell said...

Thank you for your hospitality in this charming salon, and for being part of the blog tour.

Michelle H said...

I tried to comment earlier but must've timed out when I was interrupted. I thanked you Catherine for hosting Ms. Cresswell's blog tour stop.

I absolutely loved reading this series, will reread it numerous times I'm sure, and I believe it deserves being considered one of the best, most beloved and enduring gifts to the JAFF genre.

I am in such awe of her writing, new character development and known character back history. The back history and new character both are so authentic to Austen's work. I cannot thank Ms. Cresswell enough for bringing us this amazing work.

I know she has said she does not intend to write more JAFF, but in my not-so-secret heart I hope she gets inspired again someday. All the best to Ms. Cresswell's writing career and blessings on her always. Thank you.