My Dearest Miss Fairfax by Jeanette Watts
GENRE: Austenesque/Historical Fiction
How much would you gamble for true love? Jane Fairfax dreaded her future as a governess. But genteel solitude seemed her fate. Then handsome, charming, rich Frank Churchill asked to marry her – IF his rich aunt agreed. If their secret engagement was discovered, Jane would be ruined. Frank seemed worth the risk; but the stakes got higher when the aunt refused her consent!
Mr Churchill caught the end of one of the long ribbons from her bonnet, which were flying madly in the strong breeze. He toyed with it for a long while, then looked up into her eyes. “Do you believe in love at first sight?” he asked.
“No, I don’t suppose I do,” Jane answered. Her heart started beating harder. That was a lie. Maybe her breath was catching in her throat because she was lying: she fell in love with him the moment she saw him, rescuing the poor store clerk. Or maybe it was because he was standing so close to her, just on the other end of her bonnet ribbon. She felt her cheeks growing warm, and tried to talk herself out of blushing. He was not standing any closer to her than when they danced together, or sat on the same bench at the pianoforte. Why should it fluster her that he was wrapping the end of her bonnet ribbon around his fingers like that?
“Neither did I.” He tied a knot into the very end of the ribbon, then caught the other flying ribbon, and did the same to its end. “I thought love requires mutual respect and understanding, and complementary temperaments that can only be discovered with a judicious application of time and conversation.”
Jane hid her trembling hands inside her muff. She wished there was a way to hide the fact that she was trembling all over. “I understood you from the first moment I saw you,” she admitted, her voice little more than a whisper.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Jeanette Watts has written three Jane Austen-inpsired novels, two other works of historical fiction, stage melodramas, television commercials, and humorous essays for Kindle Vella.
When she is not writing, she is either dancing, sewing, or walking around in costume at a Renaissance festival talking in a funny accent and offering to find new ladies’ maids for everyone she finds in fashionably-ripped jeans.
Why did you decide to write a book from one of Jane Austen’s finest stories?
THANK YOU for calling “Emma” one of Jane Austen’s finest stories! Most people love Pride and Prejudice, and they adore Darcy and Lizzy, and that’s that. But now that I have written a novel about all of Austen’s works, and done a chapter-by-chapter modern translation of “Persuasion,” and now my new book has deconstructed “Emma,” I have a fresh respect for Jane Austen’s growth as a writer with each successive book. She deserves a special reverence for the skill involved in telling this story.
It is completely possible to read/make a movie adaption/write a play which only sees the surface story: girl plays wingman, tries to help her friend get married above her station in life. It’s possible to read the subtle snarkiness in Jane Austen’s frequently ironic text: spoiled rich girl tries to ruin people’s lives with meddling. The story is layered like an onion.
The layer I chose to focus on is the story of Jane Fairfax and her secret engagement to Frank Churchill. That in itself contained a surprising amount of richness! Emma did not figure it out until Mrs. Weston told her about it – but the clues were scattered all over the story like a trail of breadcrumbs.
So, Emma Woodhouse is like the investigator in a Who-dun-it, but she fails to solve the crime! In this case, of course, the crime is an engagement, not a murder.
Who was your favorite author when you were a child?
Dr Seuss of course! I can still remember how thrilling it was to be able to get those pesky adults out of my way, and read things for myself. (Although my very earliest memory of reading, I’d found a Peanuts book in my dad’s desk drawer. I was able to read the cartoons all by myself! I was soooo excited. I wasn’t reading just a KID’S book. I could read one of my DAD’s books!)
It’s kind of scary to think if Dr Suess had been starting out as a writer in the last 15-20 years, he never would have been published! Nowadays we have an exploding self-publishing industry, so once again it’s possible to be both writer and illustrator for a children’s book. But when the book market was controlled by the big publishing houses, you DID NOT write and illustrate your own book. You want to write children’s books? An illustrator will be assigned to you.
This hurts my brain.
What type of research did you do for this book?
There were three different kinds of research that had to be done for this novel.
One was the deconstruction of “Emma.” In order to find every last clue to Jane Fairfax’s story, I bought a copy at the used book store, and a fresh highlighter. Pink. And as I re-read the book, I highlighted absolutely every single line that had ANYTHING to do with Jane Fairfax or Frank Churchill. Everyone else’s gossip about Jane, every time Jane is in the room, everything she says, everything that is said to her. There’s a LOT there. For a quiet person who doesn’t say much, there is a lot to work with. And when you pull apart Miss Bates’ conversations, you can learn a great deal about what’s going on inside of Jane’s head.
The second kind of research was figuring out how I was going to fill the gaps in the story. Once I took all of the highlighted material and filled in the events, I was astounded at how complete a picture I had. There were also some conclusions I was forced to draw that I never in a million years would have believed if it wasn’t there right in front of me! I won’t say anything more, for fear of spoilers. But if I were to have sat down and written an outline of how this book was going to go, that was not it.
But once that material was in place, I still had some gaping holes I was going to have to fill. We have almost no information on the Campbells. Where did Jane’s father die? What were the Campbells like? What was Mr Dixon, Miss Campbells new husband at the beginning of the book, like? My favorite example of the kinds of gaps I needed to create answers to: what was Miss Campbell/Mrs Dixon’s first name? Jane grew up with her. They would be on a first-name basis. And Austen does not tell us.
That gives me a great segway into the third kind of research: historical. Let’s tackle the problem of Miss Campbell’s name. Jane Austen novels – and the British population – was full of Georges, Elizabeths, Henrys, and Janes. These are all the names of British kings and queens. Well, since there are only so many queen’s names, I took a look at all the children of King George III and Queen Charlotte. And, that’s how I settled upon the name Sophia!
I got to do a lot of research to fill in the very large gap around the question of how Frank and Jane got engaged. All we know is that they met at Weymouth. The Weymouth historical society was MOST helpful! Besides pointing me at some very helpful books, they also scanned and sent me the street directory for Weymouth for 1816! Talk about feeling like a kid in a candy shop! And that’s why I have the bit in there about shopping for bonnets, and hitting so many millinery shops. It’s because all those stores were listed in the directory.
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