Writing passionately comes easily to Regina Jeffers. A master teacher, for thirty-nine years, she passionately taught thousands of students English in the public schools of West Virginia, Ohio, and North Carolina. Yet, “teacher” does not define her as a person. Ask any of her students or her family, and they will tell you Regina is passionate about so many things: her son, children in need, truth, responsibility, the value of a good education, words, music, dance, the theatre, pro football, classic movies, the BBC, track and field, books, books, and more books. Holding multiple degrees, Jeffers often serves as a Language Arts or Media Literacy consultant to surrounding school districts and has served on several state and national educational commissions.
Could I miss a Talking Jane Austen session with such an extraordinary Janeite? Being a teacher myself and loving many of the things she loves, I invited Regina Jeffers and she accepted!!!
NOTE!! The Phantom of Pemberley was awarded 3rd place in Romantic Suspense in the 5th Annual Dixie Kane Memorial Contest, sponsored by the Southern Louisiana Romance Writers of America.
I’m always so glad when I find a great fan of Jane Austen and her works. Then, if she happens to be a teacher of English, as well as a period drama lover, I become very curious about her. We share so much that I have to discover more than this first evident affinity between us. So, my first question is linked to my job, which is also your former one. Have you taught Jane Austen and what do you think young people can learn from her?
I taught Jane Austen’s Persuasion or Pride and Prejudice at least once each semester for the past seven years. Before that I was in a middle school classroom for fifteen years. I spent forty years in the public schools of three different states.
Obviously, Austen’s novels serve as a transition between the 18th and19th centuries and between neoclassicism and romanticism and should be taught for that reason. In a modern classroom, we must emphasize the fact that England during Austen’s time had not embraced the Industrial Revolution. No railroads, few newspapers, no mass communications. What about the Napoleonic War? It had existed for twenty years, and the news of its progression was slow to permeate the country homes in which the populace lived. Quite simply, Austen wrote of what she knew. Austen’s novels reflect her rural and Anglican upbringing. Daniel Cottam in his “The Civilized Imagination: A Study of Ann Radcliffe, Jane Austen, and Sir Walter Scott” says that Austen subordinates the idea of marriage’s significance between individuals – rather emphasizing its significance between families. However, to convince a student in 2010 to read Austen is not easy. He has no experience – no knowledge – of Austen’s time. As she could not conceive modern ways, our youth lack a “speaking knowledge” of Austen’s time, so that is where I always began my lessons. Students must recognize the “connective tissues” between their current lifestyles and the past. It is not simply a nostalgic look at a “quieter time.” Students must comprehend their relations to the past and to a rapidly changing present.
I always taught my students the nuances of courtship, the lack of women’s rights, the business of marriage, a gentleman’s responsibilities, the social strata, an emphasis on morality, the significance of letter writing, the importance of dancing, the definition of an “accomplished” woman, primogeniture, etc., before we read the novels. We examined the characters’ inner lives through chosen passages, but, more importantly, we looked at themes. For example, look at the repetition of “first impressions” as a theme in Pride and Prejudice. Where do we, as readers, first see Elizabeth? What is our first impression of our heroine? Of Darcy? Of Wickham? Do these first impressions hold true, or are they somehow inconsistent? It is Austen’s intrinsic structure, which holds the story together.
Great, Regina! Thanks a lot! What precious suggestions! Now the most difficult task . I’ve asked this same question to other Janeites. Are there any tricks to convince boys to read Jane Austen’s novels? Not such an easy task to me with my male students.
I preferred a practical way to include what the students had learned by correlating that knowledge with modern cross-marketing tie-ins. I provided examples of the industry, which has developed around the social phenomenon known as Jane Austen: film/TV adaptations of Austen’s novels, house remodeling to capture a Regency style, action figures, “sequels” or “variation” novels, tourism to Austen-related places, music by which to read Jane Austen, sound tracks, Websites, tea houses, etc. Then in small groups the students develop their own creative tie-ins. Young men need to move beyond the concept that Jane Austen is a spinster who wrote simple love stories. Trying to come up with a “sales” plan forces them to see what has made Austen unique in the literary world.
Why do you think mash-ups of JA’s world and others have been so successful: JA and vampires, monsters or murder mysteries have started a new popular trend. What is you opinion on this matter?
When I first became aware of the term “mashup,” I automatically thought of the music industry with its remixes and creative imaginings of oldies and the classics. By definition, a “mashup” is creating a new entity from two or more unrelated sources. Although some believe this subgenre has hit its peak, mashups still garner a mysterious chunk of the market. That fact probably lies in the reality that a reader of paranormal would find mixing a Jane Austen classic with vampires intriguing. Many authors are finding a new market, whether they write science fiction, fantasy, paranormal, mystery, or humor. Recently, we have seen mixes of William Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Leo Tolstoy, and Louisa May Alcott. It is not just Jane Austen. There is a crossover appeal, very much like the steampunk genre. Think about Hemingway or Flaubert or F. Scott Fitzgerald; there are endless possibilities because the past is always in the process of being reinvented.
Is Jane Austen spinning in her grave because of all the sequels, variations, and mashups? Perhaps, because I write the genre, I do not believe so. Austen wrote in an era when women could not openly express their imaginations without censure. We must not forget that Austen loved stories of all kinds, as well as a bit of gossip and scandal (so noted in her letters), and she possessed a “twisted” sense of humor. In the movie Becoming Jane, Anne Hathaway refers to it as “ironical.”
Vampire stories welcome anachronism. They are striking examples of the juxtaposition of past and present. Vampire stories of old were sources of terror, but contemporary vampirism is seen as desire. They are female-centered narratives, containing a powerful love that transcends the limits placed upon it. In a world after the World Trade Center disaster, we are less likely to make heroes out of those who hide their thoughts and feelings; so recent vampires must become infinitely more human. I mean, let’s face it, unless one is a vampire, there are no longer impediments to marriage. Today, Las Vegas is our Gretna Greene. Vampires who are sympathetic to humans, but whose goal is a relationship and respect are all the rage. As the majority of the readers of vampire literature are women, some believe it is a post-feminist way of taking on power: Women standing up and demanding respect. There is an allure of the forbidden, and the virtue of the individual prevails as a major theme. Now, look back at each of the Italicized phrases. Are they not part of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice?
Jane Austen’s works lend themselves easily to a “cozy” mystery because a cozy’s setting is generally a country house or a small town, and the characters simply wish to return to their former peaceful lives. A domestic crime is normally the basis of the story, and a clever amateur “detective” usually solves it. It was Colonel Mustard in the library with the candlestick! A cozy focuses on the mental aspects of solving the crime. It is a well-developed puzzle with all the pieces fitting together at the end.
So, why is Austen so easy to adapt to these subgenres? I would say because her works allow modern authors to insert their ideas into Austen’s point of view. Jane Austen was a forward-looking writer, who wrote thematic masterpieces. Although she writes intriguing characters, Austen’s strength lies in how the theme permeates every word. And is it fair to parody Austen? We must remember that the Lady wrote her own parody of Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho.
I love period drama and it seems you are going to post regularly about Austen adaptations on www.Austenauthors.com Any favorite ones among the Austen adaptations? What about period drama in general?
Period dramas allow the viewer to explore what we were, what we are, and what we what to be. They are life stories. Jane Austen’s works are readily adapted to the screen because the subject matter/themes are universal: marriage and social pressure. Austen proves ordinary life is interesting.
Among the Austen offerings, I have spent more time analyzing the modern adaptations. In fact, on October 20, I shall be discussing “The Making of Darcy” in the 1995 BBC series on the AustenAuthors website. I taught media literacy for many years, and I love to look at the less obvious in the filming. In teaching Pride and Prejudice, I used both the 1995 Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle version, as well as the 2005 Matthew Macfadyen/Keira Knightley adaptation. For Persuasion, I have used both the 1995 and 2007 films. Realizing each director has his own agenda, I refused to compare and contrast the films, but instead taught my students to look at how the story is told visually. For example, in the 2005 Pride and Prejudice film, we join Elizabeth in a bit of voyeurism. We are always “looking in” on the family – through windows and partially closed doors and through the camera’s lens.
For period drama, in general, the recent films The Young Victoria, Mrs. Pettigrew Lives for a Day, and Brideshead Revisited spring to mind. Others I watch regularly include Atonement, Vanity Fair, Von Ryan’s Express, Enchanted April, The Golden Bowl, Amazing Grace, The Ideal Husband, The House of Mirth, Jane Eyre, The Duchess, and Little Dorrit. The list could go on forever.
Oh! I love all of them! I’ve got a huge DVD collection, you know. But we have to stick to our main concern here at Talking Jane Austen. When did you discover Jane’s world ? Has your approach to her work changed in time?
I first met Jane Austen when I was twelve. My mother, a voracious reader, encouraged me to read the classics, and Pride and Prejudice was my first Austen novel. In it, I discovered a balm for all that beset a too tall, too skinny, and too smart pre-teen. I found Mr. Darcy, who set aside his flawed impressions of Elizabeth Bennet to know true love, a heady idea for a hormonally-challenged girl with a “Cinderella” complex. Needles to say, I was hooked for life. For years, I have studied Jane Austen in meticulous detail for my own enjoyment and in order to teach my students. Jane has been my most faithful companion for as long as I can remember. Her works taught me the value of courtesy and of manners and of intelligence, with an ironic take on society that is delivered in a supportive sisterly voice.
When did you start writing? How did it come about?
My journey as an author has been of short duration. In 2007, a student in my Advanced Placement English Language and Composition class challenged me. He said, “If you know all this, why do you not do it yourself?” For the next three months, I frantically wrote Pride and Prejudice from Mr. Darcy’s point of view. With the help of a friend, I self-published Darcy’s Passions. I held no expectations for it beyond it being a “gift” to my class, a way of saying I met your challenge, now you must meet mine. I even had one of the students draw the cover. However, it rose quickly on the Amazon sales list, and Ulysses Press contacted me about publishing the book. The rest is history. I recently released my ninth book, The Phantom of Pemberley.
What books do you usually read? What is there on your nightstand at the moment?
I am a very eclectic reader. On my nightstand, one might find books such as Ken Follet’s Pillars of the Earth, Tom Stoppard’s The Coast of Utopia, Matthew Pearl’s The Dante Club, Jim Fergus’s One Thousand White Women, Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey, and many, many historical romances.
As for Mr. Darcy in your latest work, fill in the blank: In the “The Phantom of Pemberley,” Darcy is………
Darcy is complicated. He still remains the powerful charismatic Master of Pemberley, but with Elizabeth, he has achieved contentment in his life.
And what about your Elizabeth?
Elizabeth is relatable, with her own quirks and flaws. She fulfills the archetypal role, while establishing her independence.
Are you more Elizabeth or more Anne Elliot?
Whenever I take one of those popular quizzes on the various Jane Austen websites, I am always Elizabeth Bennet. I suspect it is because of my biting wit, a streak of independence, and an above average intelligence, and we have already established my love of reading. However, my life is more like Anne Elliot. I have yet to find my “Mr. Darcy,” although for some time I thought a former love might be my “Captain Wentworth.” But it was not the right time. “All the privilege I claim for my own sex . . . is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone.” (Vol. 2, Chapter 11, Persuasion)
Jane Austen’s fame has grown so much since her death and being part of a huge community of Janeites on line, I was wondering, do you haven any idea of the reasons for such a growing, long-lasting popularity?
Austen writes romance with biting humor, and let’s face it: Readers admire a well-written love story because it speaks to our potential and validates our existence. With delving insights, Austen expertly creates plot-driven fiction, which branches out like a broccoli stem; and although she writes truly memorable characters, Austen’s stories are built around a central truism, and as readers, we honor such universal truths.
Which one of your books do you imagine perfect for a screen version? Why? Any ideas for the casting?
This is the most difficult question for me. I minored in theatre in college and have trained students in theatre and dance. When I write, the manuscript plays in my head like a film. I stop and rewind a scene, not going as it should, making edits before I ever put pen to paper. Therefore, I have always felt each of the books could be easily adapted to a screenplay.
Captain Wentworth’s Persuasion and Darcy’s Temptation contain several action scenes, which could be translated to the screen. Vampire Darcy’s Desire contains a wonderful fight scene at the book’s end, and I have numerous fans, who would encourage me to choose this one. They are praying for a sequel. The Phantom of Pemberley would be more challenging for the filmmaker to not betray the secret until the ending.
In reality, Darcy’s Temptation is my favorite because I took Austen’s original concept and gave it a “good shaking.” Darcy loses his memory through a freak accident, and because Elizabeth is his wife, he must learn to love her again. Georgiana also claims love in this one, but her adventure is set against the backdrop of the Abolitionist movement. The novel was a finalist for The Booksellers’ Best Award.
For casting of the male roles of Darcy, Colonel Fitzwilliam, Chadwick Harrison, and Clayton Ashford, I would settle for Matthew Goode, Hugh Dancy, Henry Cavill, Alex O’Loughlin, Eddie Redmayne, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, or James McAvoy. I am not a greedy person. Any of these will do quite well.
For the main female roles of Elizabeth, Kitty, and Georgiana, I might suggest Hayley Atwell, Reese Witherspoon, Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, and Amanda Seyfried.
So far and so often, the final task for your fellow writers has been to convince our readers to read their latest publication. Do you mind doing the same for your The Phantom at Pemberley, you’ve got to use less than 50 words?
Happily married, the Darcys never expect tragedy, but a snowstorm strands a strange guest mix at Pemberley. When accidents and deaths plague the manor, everyone suspects a Shadow Man, a mysterious phantom. With a house full of possible culprits, the Darcys must unravel the murderer’s identity before it’s too late.
Did you change the fate of any P & P character in your book?
The Phantom of Pemberley changes Anne de Bourgh’s fate. I had addressed her previously in Darcy’s Temptation, but I despised the character rather than feeling sympathy for her. After all, Anne is well on the shelf by Regency standards. She has spent her life believing Lady Catherine’s mandate that Anne is to marry Darcy, but when Darcy marries Elizabeth instead, where does that leave Anne? She has never had a suitor, never experienced a Season, and has never had a friend. Anne has lived her life under her mother’s censure. I decided Anne would attempt a break from Lady Catherine and would “look for love in all the wrong places.” For the first time since Lady Catherine’s scalding condemnation of Darcy’s marriage, Anne’s impetuous decision brings Lady Catherine and her daughter to Pemberley, where true love waits in the most unsuspecting form.
How different is the beloved couple from the original Austen characters?
As far as Darcy and Elizabeth are concerned in The Phantom of Pemberley, they are more committed to each other than ever before. They have built a trusting and complementary relationship. But, they have been married a year, and I allowed them some sexual desire. I do not write torrid love scenes, but an heir for Pemberley would be expected, and I am of a romantic nature and would think Darcy would share Elizabeth’s bed rather than to sleep in the master’s bedroom. My love scenes are more like the ones we saw in older films, where the door closes and the viewer knows what comes next. However, a so-called “Purist” might criticize the rendering, although I see nothing untoward about a man and a woman expressing their love for each other.
What is there next? After The Phantom of Pemberley, I mean.
In the spring of 2011, Ulysses Press will release my first Regency romance entitled The Scandal of Lady Eleanor. It is designed to be the first in a 5-part series about a covert group known as the Realm. Books 2 and 3 in the series are finished and are awaiting editing. I am honored that Ulysses is taking a chance on me. It is the first time they have ventured into the romance genre.
We have also discussed another Austen mystery. My readers would like a sequel to Captain Wentworth’s Persuasion and to Vampire Darcy’s Desire. Both were left open for a continuation of the story line. I am also hoping for a collection of novellas, which continue the stories of some of the minor characters in my novels. “His Irish Eve” resolves the story of Adam Lawrence from The Phantom of Pemberley, and “His American Heartsong” tells of Lawrence Lowery from the Realm series. A third novella will address a female character, and the collection will be entitled His and Hers.
Thank you, Regina, for taking the time to answer my questions! Good luck with your The Phantom of Pemberley !