Austen in August: A Virtual Roundtable

I recently had the pleasure of participating in the Book Rat’s annual Austen in August event, joining fellow Austen-y authors Maria Grace, Cecilia Gray, Margaret C. Sullivan, and Laurie Viera Rigler in a lively roundtable of virtual conversation. We were given some fun questions to mull over, too; here they are, along with my answers.

Unforgivable Austen: What one thing about any of Austen’s works unsettles you, irritates you, irks you to no end? (Certain character, irritating incident, the way something is presented, etc.)

It bothers me in Sense and Sensibility that Marianne Dashwood seems to be to Colonel Brandon pretty much a doppelganger of his lost love Eliza. Nobody wants to be just a stand-in: why not have the colonel fall in love with the beautiful, gifted Marianne without the clunky backstory?

By the way, I can forgive Austen for what seems like a significant plot flaw because she was, after all, only in her 20s when she wrote S&S. (I’m also taking the high road because my first novel, written when I was 24, is being reissued next year, and I hope it will be received with just such a tolerant eye.)

Dream-casting Austen: Though there has never been (and probably will never be) a perfect cast in any Austen adaptation (there’s always someone that falls flat, or that just does not suit the character), which one character do you think has been perfectly casted? And which one character would you perfectly cast (and with whom)?

I thought Donald Sutherland’s portrayal of Mr. Bennet in the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice was brilliant: we see an intelligent, handsome, affectionate man whose key flaw is a kind of destructive laziness.

Dream-casting: In an alternate universe, I’d love to see a young Meryl Streep play Elizabeth Bennet. (And with her real hair, not wearing a ghastly immobile wig like the one Jennifer Ehle sported in the A&E P&P.)

Wise Austen: Best piece of advice or words to live by, from Austen’s works (or letters)? 

“We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.” —from Mansfield Park

Austen scandal: There are plenty of fabulous scandals in Austen — what’s your favorite and what makes it so delicious? 

For me the most intriguing scandal takes place in Persuasion. Mrs. Clay looks to be well on the way toward snagging Sir Walter — and quite a coup that would have been for her! — when she throws it all aside and allows herself to become the mistress of Mr. Elliot. A complete flouting of the “bird in hand” principle and a masterstroke on Austen’s part. It tells us a lot about human nature in general and, most particularly, the formidable attractions of the sleazy Mr. Elliot.

My thanks to the Book Rat for kindly allowing me to post “my share of the conversation” here.