Posts Tagged ‘the jane austen project’

My guest today at Diary of an Eccentric is Kathleen A. Flynn, who is here to celebrate the release of her new novel, The Jane Austen Project, which went on sale today. As soon as I heard about this book, it went on my must-read list (stay tuned for my review!), and I was delighted that Kathleen was willing to share her inspiration with me and my readers.

Please give Kathleen a warm welcome:

Anna, thank you for inviting me to your blog!

In The Jane Austen Project, two time travelers go to 1815 in search of the famous author. New evidence has emerged that she finished The Watsons, a manuscript previously thought incomplete, so they’ve been sent to find it and bring it back to their own age. They are also tasked with getting hold of those many letters that Jane’s sister, Cassandra, destroyed before her own death, which would fill in many holes in Austen’s biography. Finally, they hope to learn more about the mysterious illness that killed Jane Austen in 1817.

But they can’t just show up like a SWAT team, guns blazing, and take what they want by force.  The travelers, Rachel Katzman and Liam Finucane, must finesse their way into 1815 life and the Austen family, with a plausible back story and proper period manners. In this they succeed, but they find the experience challenges them in ways they hadn’t expected.

Why Jane Austen and time travel?

I had long admired Jane Austen, author, with little curiosity about Jane Austen, person. But once I began wondering about her, I found it was hard to stop. What could it have been like to be her? An obscure spinster daughter of a country clergyman, an irrepressible genius stuck in a time and place with little use for brilliant, funny women.  And then, the cruel irony of how she’d finally gotten back to writing, after many dry years, only to fall ill and die at 41, her last novel incomplete.  Did she not seethe with rage at the injustice of it all? Did she never long for escape, for opportunities equal to her talents? How did she manage?

It tormented me that there was no way to know — short of building a time machine and going back for answers.  Since I couldn’t do that, I decided to write a story about people who do.

I was interested in the collision of the past with an age more like ours. What would amaze you if you suddenly found yourself in 1815 England? What would it look and sound and smell like? What did people eat for breakfast, what kind of underwear did they have? I needed to know so many things: about food and hygiene, agriculture and medicine; clothing and coach travel.

Trying to imagine myself into that world, for a long time I read only the novels Jane Austen could have read or historical novels set in her era. I went to London and Bath to walk on streets she did. (Also to Dublin, which has a lot of Georgian architecture, making it easier to picture 1815 London.) I visited Jane Austen’s last home in Chawton, and Winchester, where she died.

My research made me impatient with the romantic, sanitized image of Regency life so often found in Austen film adaptations, and with the place she often occupies in our culture as the icon of happily-ever-after. Her world was complicated: beautiful, but also squalid and unjust, and the horrors just off the pages of her novels were now apparent to me.

And her vision of love was complicated, too: along with the wit, and the happy endings, there’s a steely core of morality, lessons about sorting out false from true.  My novel ended up being more of a love story than I expected, because I realized that in writing about Jane Austen you can’t get away from that. The story is told through the eyes of Rachel, an adventurous physician more interested in sex than love — who is indeed a little afraid of love, and what it might require. Giving her her own “marriage plot” was one way of exploring what love means in an age when whom to marry is, fortunately, no longer a woman’s only option in life.


About The Jane Austen Project

London, 1815: Two travelers—Rachel Katzman and Liam Finucane—arrive in a field in rural England, disheveled and weighed down with hidden money. Turned away at a nearby inn, they are forced to travel by coach all night to London. They are not what they seem, but rather colleagues who have come back in time from a technologically advanced future, posing as wealthy West Indies planters—a doctor and his spinster sister. While Rachel and Liam aren’t the first team from the future to “go back,” their mission is by far the most audacious: meet, befriend, and steal from Jane Austen herself.

Carefully selected and rigorously trained by The Royal Institute for Special Topics in Physics, disaster-relief doctor Rachel and actor-turned-scholar Liam have little in common besides the extraordinary circumstances they find themselves in. Circumstances that call for Rachel to stifle her independent nature and let Liam take the lead as they infiltrate Austen’s circle via her favorite brother, Henry.

But diagnosing Jane’s fatal illness and obtaining an unpublished novel hinted at in her letters pose enough of a challenge without the continuous convolutions of living a lie. While her friendship with Jane deepens and her relationship with Liam grows complicated, Rachel fights to reconcile the woman she is with the proper lady nineteenth-century society expects her to be. As their portal to the future prepares to close, Rachel and Liam struggle with their directive to leave history intact and exactly as they found it…however heartbreaking that may prove.

Check out The Jane Austen Project on Goodreads | Amazon


About the Author

Kathleen A. Flynn (Photo Credit: Bryan Thomas)

Kathleen A. Flynn is an editor at the New York Times, where she works at “The Upshot.” She holds a B.A. from Barnard College and an M.A. from the University of North Carolina. She has taught English in Hong Kong, washed dishes on Nantucket, and is a life member of the Jane Austen Society of North America. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and their shy fox terrier, Olive.

Connect with Kathleen on Facebook | Twitter | Website



HarperCollins is generously offering a paperback copy of The Jane Austen Project to one of my readers, U.S. addresses only. To enter, please leave a comment with your email address and tell me what intrigues you most about the book. This giveaway will close on Friday, May 12, 2017. The winner will be chosen randomly and announced in the comments section of this post. Good luck!


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