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Conversations w/ Famous Writers

Imagine waking up one day and finding that you are not in the year 2007. You can’t go to the bathroom because there is no toilet. You have a maid to help you empty your chamber pot, get you dressed and brush your hair. Perhaps you would like to visit the next town but you can’t do it alone because that’s not allowed even though you are thirty years old. A hot shower? Doesn’t exist. You know what, I’d never last. I need my showeres and all the modern conveniences not to mention good face cream and mascara. I do love the romance of the era though. So perhaps I could spend a day in Jane Austen’s England.

In the fabulous novel Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, Courtney Stone is a hip, modern girl from the twenty-first century. She’s been nursing a break-up with her boyfriend and self medicating with Jane Austen novels. Courtney wakes up to find she has been hurled into the middle of what looks like a Jane Austen book. I love the premise of this, a fish-out-of-water story with a twist. This is a fun and quick read. I’m sure author Laurie Viera Rigler had a blast writing this book.

Jane Austen is all the rage but when did Jane ever go out of style, really? Becoming Jane is in theaters now and soon to heat up the big screen is The Jane Austen Book Club. I want to lose myself in these films!

I’ve never read a Jane Austen book. What’s your favorite novel and which should I start with?

My favorites alternate between “Pride and Prejudice” and “Persuasion.” I would suggest “Pride and Prejudice” for you as a starting point, because its heroine is the most popular of all Austen heroines.

I think I would go crazy without the modern day accoutrements like blow dryers and makeup. If you went back to 1813, what would you miss?

I would definitely miss hot showers every day, a toilet that flushes, my MacBook Pro, and mascara and lipstick. Please stop me, because I could go on for pages.

You mention lack of deodorant and personal hygiene…umm, yuck! Didn’t they like to keep clean back then?

Sure they did, but plumbing was fairly primitive. If I had to fetch my water from a well or from a tap on the ground floor with an intermittent, thin stream of water, haul the buckets, and heat up each one over a fire, I might rethink the concept of daily bathing. For the poor, water was much less readily available. And there was a tax on soap, which made it a luxury many could not afford.

What is your favorite Jane Austen inspired movie? What do you think of Anne Hathaway portraying Jane in the movie that’s coming out soon?

My favorite Austen-inspired movie—that’s a tough question! There are four I love best: the Ang Lee-directed “Sense and Sensibility,” Douglas McGrath’s “Emma,” Gurinder Chadha’s “Bride and Prejudice,” and Amy Heckerling’s “Clueless.”

As for Anne Hathaway, I thought her performance in “Becoming Jane” was stellar. By the way, I blogged about “Becoming Jane” here. It’s my July 27, 2007 post.

What is it about Jane Austen that you identify with so strongly?

Every time I re-read one of her novels, I recognize myself and the people around me in her characters–different characters at different times. Austen is the keenest and funniest observer of human nature of any author I’ve read. Although her books are set in Regency England, they are timeless, because human nature hasn’t changed a bit since Austen’s day.

Clearly you like the era or else you wouldn’t have written about it in such fine detail. Are there any other times in history that capture your interest?

I’m also fascinated by medieval and Renaissance Europe, but I’m pretty much hooked on Regency England, because it’s the era of Jane Austen’s novels.

I can’t believe that a grown woman of thirty would need a chaperone as you mention in the book. What are some practices from that time period that are ridiculous to you?

You’d have to be engaged to your boyfriend in order to write him a letter or receive one from him; that is, if your parents approved of the engagement. As an unmarried woman, you could not live on your own; you’d have to live with your parents, other relatives, or a suitable companion.

If you were a gentlewoman with insufficient financial means, your only respectable career option other than wife was to be a governess or a paid companion.

I know from your website that you like to travel- at least to England. Where have you been and where do you want to go?

I’d love to see much more of England, especially places where Jane Austen lived or spent time, including Chawton, Steventon, and Winchester. I’d love to spend more time in Bath, too; I absolutely fell in love with that city. And though I’ve been to Italy and France, I have not yet visited Paris or Rome and would love to do so. I visit Austria every couple of years with my husband, who is from Graz, and I look forward to my next visit there. One of the usual stops on our journey is a lovely town in Southern Germany, Burghausen, which is just across the border from Austria, and where we have friends. And I’d love to see the Himalayas.

Will you continue to write about Jane Austen in your future books?

If my next book is any indication, then yes. I am working on the sequel/parallel story to “Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict,” which follows the adventures of Jane, the nineteenth-century woman who is taking over Courtney’s twenty-first-century, L.A. life. Talk about culture shock!(Laurie, that book sounds awesome! I can’t wait to read it!)

What are five things that people would be surprised to learn about you?

I read a lot of contemporary fiction when I’m not reading Jane Austen.I own an iPhone.I do not own an embroidery frame.I spent a year doing advocacy work for battered women.Courtney could drink me under the table.

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