Back in February, Karen Cox hosted a panel of Austen-inspired authors, who have written Persuasion-based tales. The panel included Laura Hile, author of the Mercy’s Embrace trilogy, So Rough a Course, So Lively a Chase, & The Lady Must Decide; Regina Jeffers, author of Captain Frederick Wentworth’s Persuasion; Susan Kaye author of the Frederick Wentworth, Captain books None But You and For You Alone; Melanie Stanford, author of Sway, and Shannon Winslow, author of The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen. If you are interested in the responses of my fellow authors, you may read Karen’s post to celebrate the 5-year anniversary of the release of her book, Find Wonder in All Things, HERE. The original panel discussion was posted to Goodreads.
That being said, below are Karen’s questions and my responses.
What do you love about Persuasion and why? Is it your favorite Jane Austen novel? If not, where would you rank it?
Needless to say, Persuasion offers the reader Austen’s most mature voice. Although we acknowledge her genius in earlier novels, in Persuasion, Austen has mastered character development, the providential incident to advance the plot, and the universal truths that mark all of humanity. We, the readers, view the world through the lens of an English landscape. In this novel, Austen perfected the art of showing the full gamut of emotions plaguing life in its simplest forms: The interesting things in life can happen at home.
I grew up in the turbulent 50s and 60s when there was a strong awareness of social change, and although they cannot control the “how” and the “why,” in Persuasion, the upwardly mobile naval officers symbolize this change. Anne Elliot faces a future with Wentworth with the fear of another war. Such fears and pride spoke to me. I came from a military family, and I lived through the Korean and Vietnam wars, with a front row seat to those who served. I knew people, such as Wentworth and Anne, whose marriage had a national, as well as a domestic, significance. Therefore, Persuasion remains one of my favorite Austen tales. I do not think I could exist without hearing Elizabeth Bennet’s declaration to Lady Catherine to marry Darcy and to celebrate the brilliance of their unequal marriage. Nor could I abandon the intelligent, masterful, ruthless, yet generous and considerate hero I discovered in Wentworth. It depends upon my mood, which one I tackle.
What made you want to write a variation of Jane Austen’s last novel?
Captain Wentworth’s Persuasion was my third novel for Ulysses Press, which had joined the Jane Austen Fan Fiction rage of the first decade of the 2000s. I had already written a retelling of Pride and Prejudice (Darcy’s Passions in 2008) and a sequel to Pride and Prejudice (Darcy’s Temptation in 2009). Because I adore Persuasion and always taught it when I was still in the classroom. I pitched it to Ulysses, and they accepted the story.
Also, at the time, I was in the midst of reading Debra White Smith’s Austen novels. Her Possibilities is a modern Christian-based version of Persuasion. It is set in Charlotte, where I live, and I thought it would be a good thing to write my own version, a retelling of Persuasion from Captain Wentworth’s point of view.
Do you think Jane Austen would consider Wentworth to be “gentlemanly”? Why or why not?
I am a big believer that happiness is a result of merit — of acting with humanity and grace — of performance with tenderness of manner. I first read Pride and Prejudice at the age of twelve, and I immediately fell in love with Fitzwilliam Darcy, for he loved a woman for her mind, as well as her comely countenance. Next, I met Mr. Knightley. Although I was quite taken with how tenderly he treated Emma, I must admit I was a bit put out by the age difference between the pair, for at the time I did not understand the reasons men chose younger wives during the era. Finally, I found Captain Wentworth. As I said above, I come from a military family. In fact, I am a naval brat, and so Wentworth became a steady favorite. In truth, some of his least “appealing” qualities — being headstrong and intractable — were qualities I admired in the strong-willed men with whom I interacted upon a daily basis. I witnessed the devotion of the sailors upon the naval base upon which we lived to their families and to our country. I knew admiration for the men they had become.
Wentworth is likely, by birth, the son of a clergyman (based on his brother being a curate), which in Austen’s society would provide him “gentleman” status and a gentleman’s education, but moreover, he performs as a gentleman. For instance, he patiently consoles Mrs. Musgrove and listens attentively to the woman’s remembrances of Richard Musgrove. Although he knows he does not affect the girl, Wentworth is willing to marry Louisa Musgrove, for he acted foolishly by flirting with her. He takes note of Anne’s fatigue upon the return walk from Winthrop and arranges for her to ride with his sister and Admiral Croft. I think Wentworth is Austen’s most perfect hero, for he lacks perfection. He transforms himself into the man Anne Elliot deserves.
Do you think Wentworth never got over Anne? Or do you think he fell in love with her again when he returned eight years later?
I always felt that Wentworth achieved his exalted position — his acclaim — because he wished to prove Sir Walter and Lady Russell had erred. His success was a matter of pride. Although Sir Walter did not withhold his consent to Anne and Wentworth’s marriage, he “[gave] it all the negative of great astonishment, great coldness, great silence, and a professed resolution of doing nothing for his daughter.” (Persuasion 28) Lady Russell spoke to Anne of Wentworth’s “spending freely, what had come freely” and the fact he had nothing of consequence to show for his previous prize money act at his motivation. This was Wentworth’s wake-up call. Wentworth was insulted to be judged as a “failure” by his betters.
As to whether Wentworth falls in love with Anne again, I am of a mind to think there is a thin line between love and hate. Upon his return to the area, Wentworth thought to despise Anne, but slowly Providence, or Fate, or whatever one wishes to call it, chips away at his resolve. He notices that other men recognize Anne’s goodness and her blossoming attractiveness — specifically Mr. Elliot. He is “obliged to acknowledge that only at Uppercross had he learned to do her justice, and only at Lyme had he begun to understand himself.” (262)
What was the biggest challenge you faced as you wrote your Persuasion-inspired story?
I think Persuasion possesses an overtone of “sexuality” not found in other Austen’s novels. At the concert venue, Wentworth says, “The day has produced some effects, however; has had some consequence, which must be considered as the very reverse of frightful,” and we view the captain’s emotional rollercoaster. He embraces the unexpected turn of events. He begins to realize the consequences of desires and malleability. Wentworth fears displaying his jealousy. His feelings for Anne frighten him. Nothing in his experience has lessened his affection for Anne.
That being said, finding a proper balance between strong emotions and an “Austenesque” approach was the most difficult part of writing this variation. In truth, I toned down some of the scenes when I re-released the story. Captain Wentworth’s Persuasion is currently out of print from Ulysses Press, but my contract with Ulysses permits me to self publish the book. Captain Frederick Wentworth’s Persuasion is available from all book sources.
Let’s face it, most Austen-inspired fiction is based on Pride and Prejudice. What would you tell a reader to convince her to cast her reading eye from Mr. Darcy to Captain Wentworth?
Despite those who idealize the relationships found in Austen’s novels, especially the one between Darcy and Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice, I am of the opinion that Austen’s works do not provide us with paragons of suitable male and female roles. Therefore, Wentworth is as noble and as flawed as Mr. Darcy, Austen’s most popular hero, but Wentworth also possesses the ill-considered nature of George Wickham. In Persuasion, the codes and values of the Napoleonic era are changing. The novel addresses not only self-realization for women, but also for men. Anne and Wentworth prove to be models of emotional stability. Julia Prewitt Brown in “Jane Austen’s England” says, “Anne and Wentworth inherit the England of Persuasion, if only because they see it, and will experience it, as if really is: fragmented and uncertain. For the first time in Jane Austen, the future is not linked with the land.”
Captain Frederick Wentworth’s Persuasion: Austen’s Classic Retold Through His Eyes
The love affair behind Jane Austen’s classic, Persuasion, rests at the heart of this retelling from Captain Frederick Wentworth’s point of view.
He loved her from the moment their eyes met some eight years prior, but Frederick Wentworth is determined to prove to Anne Elliot that she made a mistake by refusing him. Persuaded by her family and friends of his lack of a future, Anne sent him away, but now he is back with a fortune earned in the war, and it is Anne, whose circumstances have brought her low. Frederick means to name another to replace her, but whenever he looks upon Anne’s perfect countenance, his resolve wavers, and he finds himself lost once again to his desire for her. Return to the Regency and Austen’s most compelling and mature love story. Jeffers turns the tale upon its head while maintaining Jane Austen’s tale of love and devotion.
Captain Wentworth plays a key role in my Austen-inspired mystery, The Prosecution of Mr. Darcy’s Cousin, where we see him team up with Colonel Fitzwilliam in post war England. A novel involving the two is in the works.
Also, a new release in 2017 involves Anne and Wentworth, but is set in colonial America. Last year, I did the same with Darcy and Elizabeth when I created Darius and Eliza in The Road to Understanding, set upon the Great Valley Road between Virginia and eastern Tennessee.