The Persuasion Project

northangerpersuasiontitlepage

Original title page of Persuasion, published posthumously along with Northanger Abbey.

Happy bloggiversary to us! Well, actually, our two year anniversary is this coming Thursday, but we figure it’s best to celebrate now. Rather than do a recap of the past year as we did for our first bloggiversary, we’re using the occasion to launch a new series—a live reread of Jane Austen’s Persuasion.

So, why Persuasion? It not my favorite Jane Austen (that would be Emma) or J’s favorite (that would be Pride and Prejudice), but Persuasion has been on my mind a lot lately as it seems to keep popping up on my social media. Also, it’s a brilliant novel, which receives less love that the two mentioned above, and that’s just not right. Although, I have often found that the people who love this book, really love it.

Now, the idea of this live reread is that one of us will read a chapter (or two? we’ll see) of Persuasion and blog our reaction in as real time as it’s possible to do while reading. Or we’ll do all of our thoughts at the end of a chapter. Whatever strikes as us interesting at the moment. We’ll try not to neglect this reread and post a little something at least once a month, but we don’t want to neglect other topics, especially with NaNoWriMo just around the corner.

And here goes nothing. My thoughts on Chapter 1 of Persuasion.

 
Chapter 1

Sir Walter Elliot, of Kellynch Hall, in Somersetshire, was a man who, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage; there he found occupation for an idle hour, and consolation in a distressed one; there his faculties were roused into admiration and respect, by contemplating the limited remnant of the earliest patents; there any unwelcome sensations, arising from domestic affairs changed naturally into pity and contempt as he turned over the almost endless creations of the last century; and there, if every other leaf were powerless, he could read his own history with an interest which never failed.

Not what usually comes to mind when thinking about the first sentence of a Jane Austen novel. It doesn’t have the sly humor of Pride and Prejudice or tell us something apt and amusing about our heroine, a la Emma and Northanger Abbey. No, it’s setting up the family at the center of the story, much like Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park, Austen’s two least novels. Yet, it’s the right opening for this book. The tone of Persuasion is more subtle and somber than Austen’s others, and as much as the reader grows to adore Anne Elliot, opening with someone so modest and unassuming would feel exactly wrong.

For several paragraphs, Austen continues on with Sir Walter, and every word makes the reader like him less. It’s a bold way to open a book.

Following the introduction of Sir Walter, we hear about his deceased wife and her best friend, Lady Russell. Then Austen mentions Sir Walter’s oldest, and favorite daughter, Elizabeth, as well as the youngest daughter, Mary. Only then does the reader finally meet Anne. But why should we have met her sooner? “[S]he was only Anne.” If you haven’t read the novel before or know anything about it, you might not even realize this is the introduction to the novel’s heroine.

That is until the next paragraph. Austen makes the reader think highly of the dead mother, so that as soon as her best friend sees a likeness to the deceased in Anne, the reader knows this will be a character we care about. And yet, all we get here is this single paragraph, before Austen sets off on Elizabeth and the Mr. Elliot who shall inherit, since Sir Walter has no son.

The chapter ends with a discussion of the Elliot family’s financial problems, and the reader still learns no more about Anne. But why should we worry about her? She “had been a very pretty girl, but her bloom had vanished early; and as even in its height, her father had found little to admire in her, (so totally different were her delicate features and mild dark eyes from his own), there could be nothing in them, now that she was faded and thin, to excite his esteem.” Actually, how much more does this tell us about Sir Walter than Anne? Come to think of it, given how vain and unlikable he is, do we even believe him? Perhaps Anne has her own sort of loveliness. Whatever the answer, it’s a fascinating way to begin a novel, not even allowing the reader to be certain of what few “facts” we know about the heroine.

~S

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Founding a Dynasty

dynastypic

Just like this.

The big writing news today is that S just finished writing Fiat Justitia, the third Oleg Omdahl novel. We visited her mother today, and I drove so that she could get some writing done. She literally finished the last sentence as we were pulling into her mom’s garage. It’s very exciting. Maybe we’ll have gelato to celebrate later. And perhaps she’ll post something about it sometime soon.

In other news, I’m continuing with various reference projects in the Myrcia ‘verse. At the moment, I’m inventing the various noble dynasties that took part in a long-ago civil war. This is a somewhat mindless task that’s easy to do in the evenings while we’re watching TV or something. I’m going through and giving names and dates of birth, marriage, and death for each generation. Like so:

Bob, Duke of Earl
(b. 420, d. 482 of consumption, duke from 440)
Married: Susan, daughter of the Earl of Warren (b. 423, m. 445, d. 460, of ague)
Children:
Fred (b. 446; m. Joan, daughter of Baron LeChrysler, 469; d. 508 of ennui)
Stacy (b. 448, m. Frank, son of Sir Loin of Beef, 470; d. 473 of intense mortification)

Then I do a similar entry for Fred, and then one for his heir, and so on. I don’t worry about Stacy’s kids (if she had any). And I’m not really worried at this point about their personalities or physical characteristics, or anything at all about them other than the bare fact of their existence.

The reason I’m doing this is that I’m planning to write some novels that take place during this time, and I want to know who the main political figures of the era will be. Someday soon, perhaps next year during Camp NaNoWriMo, I might be looking for story ideas to write about. I can look over this list and say, “H’m…. It would be fascinating to know why exactly Stacy died of intense mortification in 473.” So at that point, I can do actual character sheets for her and for her husband, Frank.

Or suppose I decide to write one novel set in 435, and another in 450. I can look at this sheet and know immediately that if Bob shows up in the first one, he’ll be a 15 year-old boy. In the second one, he’ll be a 30 year-old married man with three kids. I don’t have to waste my time planning all this out, because it’ll already be done, and I’ll just have to look it up.

Plus, because all this information will be in a single file (backed up and saved in the cloud, as always), I know right where to find it. If I decide to write a third novel, set in 470, I don’t have to go frantically searching all the way through the previous two, wondering, “Wait a minute, did I ever name his daughter? And is she even still alive at this point?” I just have to open up this one file, and I can see that her name is Stacy, and that 470 is the year she marries Frank.

Ah ha! Maybe the wedding takes place during the novel!

And just like that, I’ve got ideas for a subplot in my novel, just based on a couple lines and a few quick dates that I made up randomly while sitting in my comfy chair and watching an old episode of Community. This is why I like doing background reference work like this in my spare time. It saves so much trouble and effort later on, when I’m actually trying to be creative.

J

Let Me Draw You a Picture

hovedby-detail

Giant dry erase board–most important tool in my process.

I’m finally close to finishing Oleg Omdahl 3, Fiat Justitia, and I, in fact, wrote most of the climactic showdown last night. (Although I went to bed before I had to write a character death. I was tired and it was past midnight, and the character deserves my full attention.) Once I finish up that chapter, there are just two chapters of denouement, and draft one of the book will be written.

But before I started the showdown, J helped me draw a map of the area where it would be taking place. There’s some fighting and wizard spells flying around and all that good stuff, so I figured it was finally time to get an exact picture of the area and stop settling for, “Well, you see, there’s this alley, and the building is somewhere in these few blocks.”

This was helpful so I understood the space and also so I could have references to help the reader know where the action was taking place. Also, since we needed to fill the area, it finally gave us the opportunity to place the offices of a company we’ve been writing about since J invented them about 5 years ago, and we’ve both now mentioned multiple times.

Yes, maps take time, and they can be a distraction, but I’ve never failed to find some important detail that makes my story better when drawing or looking at them. In fact, the entire plot of the second Oleg novel, The Science of Fire, came from me looking at the original map J and I made when we first created the Myrcia ‘verse. Until I really looked at the map, I’d never noticed a little quirk in the border of two countries, but once I saw it, well, it changed everything.

Now, the real question is how much trouble could I get into if I start learning 3D imaging like I keep threatening?

~S

The CW of the 19th Century

 

Pearl Maiden Sculpture

Our hero, Marcus, admires the the Pearl-Maiden’s bust.

Um…let me rephrase that….

Today is Labor Day, and S and I are celebrating labor in the traditional way: by doing as little as possible.  Actually, that’s not true.  S is doing laundry, and I did some dishes.  And who knows?  If the weather isn’t too hot, we might go outside and move some more rocks for our landscaping project.

But we aren’t at work, and that means we have time to write.  S is nearing the end of Fiat Justitia, the third Oleg novel, and I’m working on some revisions.  There’s a wizard character who appears in five books that I’ve written so far, and I’m checking to make sure that she’s written consistently.  I want her to seem as if she’s the same person, but has changed in believable ways over the years.

In other news, I’ve started listening to audiobooks from Librivox.  It’s just something to do while I’m exercising.  All the recordings are done by volunteers, so it would be mean spirited to critique the quality of the reading.  As long as I can follow what’s going on, I suppose the reading is good enough.

The first one I listened to was Pearl-Maiden: A Tale of the Fall of Jerusalem, by H. Rider Haggard.  (The title of this post notwithstanding, Haggard actually published it in 1903.)  This was a book I didn’t even know existed until I saw it in the Librivox catalog.  I’ve read Haggard’s most famous works, King Solomon’s Mines and She, of course, and I liked them, so I decided to give it a try.

It was pretty good, but of course as an amateur author, I naturally have to see if I can learn something from it that I can apply to my own writing.  And the main thing I noticed as I was reading (or rather, listening) was just how fast the plot moves.

Let me give you an example.  And it should go without saying that there are spoilers here (insofar as anyone can spoil a book that’s 113 years old).  Bear with me here.

Our hero, Marcus the Roman, is imprisoned because he foiled the scheme of Prince Domitian, the evil second son of Emperor Vespasian, to buy the Christian girl Miriam (our heroine, and the “Pearl-Maiden” of the title) as a slave.  Marcus and Miriam are in love, but she can’t marry him because he’s a pagan.  Miriam, bought by Marcus and freed, is living among the Christians of Rome and earning her keep by making clay lamps.  (She’s an exceptionally talented sculptor.)  While she’s there, her childhood friend Caleb (the antagonist) discovers her whereabouts by accident, when he recognizes a scene from their childhood adventures depicted on one of her lamps, and convinces a guileless shop worker to tell him where the maker of the lamp lives.

Caleb confronts Miriam and threatens to reveal her location to Domitian if she doesn’t agree to marry him.  Miriam refuses, and she’s so good and decent that Caleb becomes ashamed of himself.  He has a change of heart and swears he will help and protect her, even if he can’t ever marry her.  Miriam, realizing that she’s not safe in Rome anymore, escapes and sails off for the east with the help of Cyril, the Bishop of Rome.

Meanwhile, Marcus gets a second trial, this time with Prince Titus, the good elder son of Vespasian, and his former commander in the army, as his judge.  Titus realizes that Domitian is a jerk, and can see that Marcus was falsely accused, but for political reasons, he can’t just overrule his younger brother publicly.  So he commutes Marcus’s sentence to three years’ banishment, instead of death.

(Again, bear with me here.  I promise there’s a point at the end of this.)

News comes back that the ship Miriam was sailing in has sunk, and everyone on it is dead.  Marcus, who is still in prison, waiting to leave Rome, learns of this and wants to kill himself.  But Cyril, the Bishop of Rome, talks him out of committing suicide and discusses heaven with him.  Marcus decides to become a Christian and is baptized.

Caleb forms a plan, with the help of Domitian’s chamberlain, to waylay Marcus and kill him.  But at the last moment, Caleb, remembering that he had promised to help Miriam, has a change of heart, and dresses up like Marcus so the assassins kill him, instead.  Marcus and Bishop Cyril find Caleb’s body, and Cyril tells Marcus he should pity Caleb, instead of hating him.

Marcus and Cyril sail for the east, and they arrive in the harbor at Alexandria, Egypt, just in time to hear people singing hymns on a nearby ship.  They go over to join the church service, and who should be leading the choir but Miriam.  It turns out that reports of her death were greatly exaggerated, and her ship didn’t sink, after all.  Marcus tells Miriam he’s a Christian now, and they get married immediately.

Okay, did you get all that?  Good.

Here’s the thing—that’s not the plot of the whole novel.  That’s just what happens in the last two chapters.  And the 27 chapters before that are just the same.  The story burns through plot at an absolutely furious pace.  In S’s words, H. Rider Haggard is “the CW of the 19th century,” referring to the way in which shows on the CW network, like Vampire Diaries and The 100 race breathlessly from plot point to plot point.

I certainly wouldn’t suggest that all stories move along at that kind of pace, and S and I have found recently that we appreciate shows, like AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire, or SyFy’s The Expanse, that take their time.  But it’s important, as authors, to remember that readers want things to happen.  Haggard could easily have made five or six or ten chapters out of the events I’ve mentioned above.  Marcus’s contemplation of suicide could have been its own chapter.  His conversion could have taken up another chapter.  Caleb’s confrontation with Miriam could have had a chapter to itself, too.  And if I’d been writing that story, I almost certainly would have given an entire chapter to Caleb deciding to sacrifice himself for his hated rival, Marcus.  That’s a big moment for the character, and I wouldn’t want to rush it.

But as a reader (or rather, listener), I have to say I didn’t really miss all that contemplation, internal monologue, and navel-gazing.  I rather appreciated that the story got to the point and kept going.  And that’s something to keep in mind as I write my own novels.

J