Although the man seemed oblivious to her presence, she asked, ‘Do you have a partner for the next dance?’
For a moment he said nothing, and had Cassie been more timid, she would have be cowed by the look he gave her. ‘I’m not planning to dance, thank you.’ His lips barely moved when he spoke.
She was suddenly conscious she was still wearing her lab clothes and no makeup. But she hadn’t gotten where she was by giving in to her insecurities. ‘If you’ve never tried it before, it’s easy to pick up. Everyone here was a beginner once.’
‘I don’t think so.’ He scanned the hall as if looking for someone.
His refusal stung, leaving her with the unpleasantly familiar feeling of having been judged and found wanting, even if he was the one violating the unspoken rules of the contra dance by refusing her. She hadn’t done anything wrong. She was tempted to make a response as curt and rude as his had been, but she had higher standards for her behavior. ‘Never mind, then.’
(from Pemberley by the Sea, pages 4-5)
Abigail Reynolds’ modern-day retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Pemberley by the Sea, brings the tale of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy from England to Woods Hole on Cape Cod. In this contemporary version, Elizabeth is replaced with Cassie Boulton, a marine biologist and college professor who spends her summers at a research lab on the Cape and the rest of the year teaching at a small college in Pennsylvania. Darcy’s replacement is Calder Westing, a writer and the son of a well-known U.S. senator who meets Cassie in Woods Hole as a guest in the summer home of his friend Scott (Mr. Bingley), a biotech executive dating Cassie’s vulnerable friend and lab partner, Erin (Jane Bennet).
Like Elizabeth, Cassie is intelligent, strong, and stubborn. Like Mr. Darcy, Calder is rich, brooding, and arrogant (at least at first). Unlike Pemberley by the Sea, we don’t have to wait until the end of the book for Cassie and Calder to act on their intense attraction (which is a good thing because Pemberley by the Sea spans 426 pages, though it is a quick read). But the summer ends and Cassie and Calder must part ways–not sure if they’ll ever see each other again and uncertain how they truly feel about one another. Not surprisingly, the two encounter one another at various times over the next year or so, and in true romance fashion, numerous obstacles work to keep them apart, namely Calder’s ruthless father and a secret about her family that Cassie refuses to share with anyone.
For a romance novel and a Jane Austen retelling, Pemberley by the Sea is impressive. It was easy to forget that the story parallels Pride and Prejudice, as the characters and their challenges could stand on their own without any reference to Austen’s beloved novel. Reynolds does a brilliant job getting readers to feel the passion and tension between Cassie and Calder. There are several steamy, descriptive sex scenes in the book, but they weren’t distracting. Knowing the characters and the storyline, the sex scenes made sense. While Cassie’s stubbornness and inner turmoil were annoying at times, I still liked the characters. Pemberley by the Sea is a light read, something to pick up to escape the stresses of the day. I sped through the book in just a few days of commuter reading, and I’m looking forward to the rest of The Woods Hole Quartet series.
I had the wonderful opportunity to interview Abigail Reynolds about Pemberley by the Sea, Jane Austen, and her writing. I wish to thank her for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer my questions.
Where did you get the idea to write a modern-day Pride and Prejudice set on Cape Cod with a marine biologist and a politician’s son?
It all started with wondering about what kind of people Darcy and Elizabeth might be in the modern world. Jane Austen’s Darcy isn’t a social creature, but it’s important to his character that he’s socially prominent and powerful in society. He constantly gives offense and is very private, so I couldn’t see Calder/Darcy as a CEO, socialite, or voluntarily taking on a public role. So I started to look for something that would make him famous, but not of his own volition. I also wanted something that would make Cassie/Elizabeth take an immediate and serious dislike to him, which would take more than just an insult. The animosity between scientists and right-wing politicians seemed like a good setup.
There’s a pitfall of a writing about a politician’s son, though. Politics change! When I wrote Calder’s speech at the end, it was a year after 9/11, Republicans were powerful, and issues like health care were on the back burner, so his speech was really quite radical. But in 2008, he’s saying the same thing many people are saying, and his father the Republican senator wouldn’t have anything like the clout I imagined in 2002. Calder’s speech was supposed to be an extreme position against a very powerful father, and it’s turned into a middle-of-the-road position against a father in the minority party.
Cassie’s role was much easier–there are lots of ways to present a smart, witty, strong-minded woman in today’s world. I love marine biology, so it was easy to see her as someone passionate about it, and I know just enough about it not to sound like a complete idiot when talking about the science part. It also gave me the excuse to set the book in one of my favorite places, Woods Hole, a coastal town on Cape Cod dominated by marine scientists of all sorts. Woods Hole has its own peculiar culture which added flavor (and squid!) to the book.
Did you find any parts of the book hard to write? Pemberley by the Sea is among the few romance books I’ve read where I actually can feel the intensity and passion between the lead characters. You did a brilliant job, and I’m just curious if it was difficult to capture these emotions on paper.
Thank you! The book practically wrote itself the first time, for which I give credit to Jane Austen for her fabulous characters and Woods Hole as a vibrant setting. Then I spent several years putting it through one revision after another based on various critiques I’d gotten. Finally I realized that the changes I was making might make the book more marketable, but it was also destroying my voice and vision. So then I had to undo a lot of the damage I’d done.
The scenes that I think are the most vibrant–the squid scene and the bioluminescent scene, for example–are all from that first draft, and flowed naturally from the characters and settings. I wish I’d listened to myself more at that stage.
The hardest part to write was the section where Cassie is reading Calder’s book. I had to compress segments from his book as much as possible to try to keep up the pace, but I still had to show important moments. Trying to show Cassie’s pain and astonishment at what she’s reading while not interrupting the flow of his story was a major challenge. Also, Calder had to write in a different style than I do, and it had to be consistent. It was hard to learn to speak with another writer’s voice!
How do you think Jane Austen would feel about all the Pride and Prejudice sequels and spin-offs?
Jane Austen had a gift for finding life amusing, and like Mr. Bennet, she seemed to enjoy making sport of her neighbors. She had an incisive and cutting wit, but at the same time, she was rarely negative about people. Looking at Pride and Prejudice, there are characters who are rude, or are fools, or are petty gossips, but I never get the feeling that Austen dislikes them, more that she looks on them with tolerant amusement for human foibles. I think she’d be very amused by all the sequels, and she might say some biting things about them in private, but I don’t think she’d be angry about them. I think it took a lot to shock Jane Austen. If you read her letters, you see a very different side to her than you might with a modern reading of her novels.
I’m often told that Jane Austen would be spinning in her grave if she read any of my Pemberley Variations books because of the intimate scenes. I don’t believe that, because I’ve learned enough about the regency period to understand that Jane Austen wasn’t a prude by any means, but that many modern readers miss this. In Pride and Prejudice, she tells us flat-out that Mr. Bennet didn’t have affairs because he was too lazy, and in his speech to Lizzy at the end of the book, he tells her that she won’t remain “respectable” (meaning faithful to her husband) if she doesn’t esteem her husband as a superior. Having a father tell his daughter that isn’t exactly pure!
How many times have you read Pride and Prejudice? What’s your favorite screen adaptation?
I can’t even count! I’ve probably read it dozens of times cover to cover, and I’m always picking it up to read a scene here or there. I can pick it up and open it to any page and be right in the middle of it. Lines from it pop into my head out of the blue, which is why they keep appearing in my Pemberley Variations. Every time I read it, I discover new levels and gain new insights. That’s what I love about it.
My favorite adaptation is the 1995 BBC production because it comes closest to my vision of the story. There are some things I disagree with in it, but I love the way Jane Austen’s original dialogue is woven in.
How long did it take to write Pemberley by the Sea? Do you have a particular writing routine?
I wrote the first version in about 8 months, then revised it for several years, then unrevised lots of it! I must have written over a hundred versions of the opening scene. My writing routine is a non-routine. I have kids and a part-time job, so writing happens whenever I can squeeze it in. I carried a notebook with me everywhere and wrote during my kids’ swimming lessons, sitting on a bus, between meetings at work, and everywhere else. My son was in a serious accident while I was writing Pemberley by the Sea, and a lot of it was written in his hospital room at 3 in the morning and in the waiting room of the Rehabilitation Clinic during his constant physical therapy appointments. Sometimes I think I should have included his PT in the acknowledgments!
Which Austen heroine are you most like?
I’d love to say that I’m like Elizabeth Bennet since she’s my favorite, but I’m not at all. I’m boringly sensible, reserved, and responsible Elinor Dashwood. If I were a character from Pride and Prejudice, I’d be Darcy rather than Elizabeth, standing off in a corner at parties and listening to other people’s conversations.
Besides Austen, what other authors do you read?
I’m pretty eclectic in my reading. I’m fond of Gillian Bradshaw’s historical books, Kate Elliot’s fantasy novels (especially Jaran, which really is a covert Pride and Prejudice retelling–she even mentions Jane Austen in the acknowledgements), Kristin Hannah, and Sharon Shinn. I read across genres, and the common denominator is that the books I like generally have strong female characters. I’ve never been able to get into chick lit, but I love women’s fiction. I read Mary Oliver’s poetry and I enjoy non-fiction about places I love. Tim Traver’s book of essays, Sippewissett, all about the salt marsh that Cassie loves so much in Pemberley by the Sea is a natural favorite.
Of the Jane Austen-related novels, I particularly like Kara Louise’s Assumed Engagement and Judith Brocklehurst’s A Letter to Lady Catherine. I also read a lot of non-fiction about Austen and the Regency. Tea with Jane Austen by Kim Wilson, So Odd a Mixture by Phyllis Ferguson Bottomer, and Emily Auerbach’s Searching for Jane Austen are particular favorites. I’m currently reading In the Garden with Jane Austen, also by Kim Wilson.
Are you working on another novel? Do you have any plans to write something not related to Pride and Prejudice?
I’m working on several other projects, including a sequel to Pemberley by the Sea called Morning Light. You can read the first chapter on my website. It was originally intended to be loosely based on Persuasion, but once the characters were done changing all my plot plans, the only resemblance that’s left is that the heroine’s name is Annie and that she and the hero are separated for years. There’s a lot more about Cassie, Calder, and their families in it. I’m planning two other books in the series which don’t have any connection to Jane Austen (at least not any conscious ones!), but who knows where the characters will take me?
I’m also putting finishing touches on another Pemberley Variation called Bounds of Decorum, which shows some sides of Regency society that are less familiar to modern readers. What’s next? Who knows! It depends on what character grabs me in the middle of the night and demands to have their story told.
Thanks, Abigail! What a great interview! I wish you much success, and I’ll definitely be reading more of your work!
Would you like to read Pemberley by the Sea? Sourcebooks is offering a copy to one lucky reader!! Just leave a comment on this post by 11:59 pm EST on Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2008. This giveaway is open those with U.S. and Canada addresses only, as the the book will be shipped directly by the publisher. Make sure to include your email address if you want your entry to count. I need a way to contact you if you win! Good luck!
**Please note that this giveaway is now closed**
Disclosure: I received Pemberley By the Sea from Sourcebooks for review.
© 2008 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.