Part comedy, part love story, part time-bending social commentary, RUDE AWAKENINGS OF A JANE AUSTEN ADDICT is the story of Jane Mansfield, a gentleman’s daughter from Regency England who inexplicably awakens in the body and life of twenty-first-century Los Angeleno Courtney Stone. Jane had long wished to escape the confines of a life where she could not live alone or travel alone, and where her only career options were marriage or maiden aunt. But leaving 1813 England behind and awakening in a high-tech, low-morality world is not what she had in mind. Nor is Courtney’s tiny urban box of an apartment in Echo Park, complete with bars on the windows and graffiti on the gate. Gone are the rolling lawns and hovering servants of Jane’s family estate. Nothing—not even her own face in the mirror—is the same. The only thing that is familiar, and the only thing she seems to have in common with the strange woman in whose life she has mysteriously landed, is a love of Jane Austen.
Not everything about the twenty-first century is disagreeable. Such as the delightful glass box in which tiny figures act out scenes from her favorite book, Pride and Prejudice. Or the machines that give light, play music, cool food, and even wash clothes. And Jane may have become a woman of no rank and little fortune, but she has her first taste of privacy, independence, even the chance to earn her own money. Granted, if she wants to leave the immediate neighborhood on her own she may have to learn to drive the roaring, horseless metal carriage. And oh what places she goes! Public assemblies that pulsate with pounding music. Unbound hair and unrestricted clothing. The freedom to say what she wants when she wants—even to men without a proper introduction.
There are, however, complications. Such as the job she has no idea how to do, a dwindling bank account, and a growing pile of bills. Then there are the confusing memories that are not her own. Most confusing are her feelings for Courtney’s friend Wes and ex-fiancé Frank, both of whom, she is told, have betrayed her. Although she finds herself falling for Wes, what is she to make of a world in which flirting and kissing and even the sexual act itself raise no matrimonial expectations?
With only the words of Jane Austen and a mysterious lady to guide her, Jane cannot help but wonder if she would be better off in her own time, where at least the rules are clear—if returning is even an option.
In my first novel, CONFESSIONS OF A JANE AUSTEN ADDICT, I dropped 21st-century Los Angeleno Courtney Stone into the social confines of Jane Austen’s England, where she awoke as nineteenth-century gentleman’s daughter Jane Mansfield (no relation to the 1950’s screen siren).
Although I considered including in that book the parallel story of that very same gentleman’s daughter taking over Courtney’s life in the 21st century, it felt right to
devote myself to Courtney’s journey as Jane in the first book, and to Jane’s journey as Courtney in a second book.
The two books are parallel stories. One doesn’t have to have read CONFESSIONS OF A JANE AUSTEN ADDICT in order to enjoy RUDE AWAKENINGS OF A JANE AUSTEN ADDICT, and vice versa.
The process of writing RUDE AWAKENINGS OF A JANE AUSTEN ADDICT was full of surprises for me. The biggest surprise was seeing my own world through the eyes of someone from a proto-industrial time, someone who never saw a computer, or a car, or a movie, or the Internet. What would she think of all these wondrous things that we take for granted in our daily lives? The opportunities for comedy were everywhere.
And what about our arcane set of rules and regulations about dating and relationships? How would a thirty-year-old virgin who had never done more than kiss a man and who still lived with her parents feel about finding herself in the body and life of a woman who had not only slept with the fiancé she then refused to marry, but also bedded who knows how many others? And how would inheriting that personal history affect her growing attachment to a young man of this strange future world? Especially when that young man had supposedly betrayed the lady in whose life Jane has inexplicably landed?
I had no idea, but I had a blast watching the story unfold.
A piercing sound, like a ship’s horn but higher, shriller, shakes my frame. I open one eye, then the other; the lids seem stuck together. From a gap in the curtains a tiny, knife-thin strip of light slices the darkness.
I clap my hands over my ears, but the sound is relentless. As is the pain. It feels as if an entire regiment of soldiers marches behind my eyes.
“Barnes?” My voice is a faint croak, too weak for Barnes to hear. No matter; she will of course be roused by the high-pitched horn. Only a corpse could sleep through such a cacophony.
Why hasn’t Barnes put a stop to that blasted noise? I fumble for the bell pull behind me, but my hand feels only bare wall. Odd. I shall have to get out of bed and find Barnes myself.
I swing my legs over the side of the bed; they hit the floor instead of dangling a few inches above it. Could a headache make one’s bed seem lower than it is? The worst of my headaches have been heralded by broken rainbows of light before my eyes, but never have I experienced such a lowering sensation. Lowering indeed. I can almost laugh at my facility with words this morning, despite the sorry state of my head. And my ears. How harsh and insistent is that sound.
My feet touch bare wood floor instead of the woven rug in its customary place. And my bed shoes? Not there. I fumble in the dark and crash my right hip into a great lump of wood; blast it all to—I clench my teeth in an effort not to scream. This is enough punishment to put even the punster in me to rest. Barnes must be rearranging furniture again. Except—
There are numbers, glowing red, on top of the offending lump of wood. 8 0 8. What is this wondrous thing? The numbers are in some sort of a box, the front of it smooth and cold beneath my fingertips; the top of it scored and bumpy. I run my fingers over the bumps, and the shrill sound stops. Oh, thank heaven.
Blessed silence. I move toward the thin strip of light to open the curtains wide; surely the sun’s rays shall reveal the source of this odd geographic puzzle that has become my room. But instead of the thick velvet nap of the curtains that have hung on my windows these five years at least, my hands grasp what feels like coarse burlap. Perhaps Barnes slipped in early and exchanged them so that she could beat the dust from the velvet ones. First the rearrangement of furniture, then this. I have never known her to engage in such haphazard housekeeping.
I grasp the edges of the burlap curtains—why are my hands shaking? I pull them open.
There are iron bars on my window.
I hear myself gasp. This is not, cannot, be my window. Indeed, as I wheel around to take in the space behind me, I see that this is not my room. Head pounding, I survey the tall, unornamented chest of drawers; the wide, low bed devoid of hangings; the box with the glowing numbers atop the chest. There is no pink marble fireplace, no armoire, no dressing table. There is, however, a low table bearing a large, rectangular box made mostly of glass and a shiny-smooth, gray material that I have never seen before.
My knees shake, almost buckling under me. I must move to the bed; just a minute of sitting down will be a restorative.
I sink down atop a tangle of bedclothes, and the glass box roars to life.
I jump back, clutching the covers. There are small figures talking and dancing inside the glass box. Who are they? Is this some sort of window? The figures are small, so they must be some distance away. Yet I can distinguish their words and their features as clearly as if they were right in the room with me. How can this be?
“I remember hearing you once say,” says the beautiful lady in the window to the gentleman dancing with her, “that you hardly ever forgave. That your resentment, once created, was implacable. You are very careful, are you not, in allowing your resentment to be created?”
The gentleman dancing with her says, “I am.”
“And never allow yourself to be blinded by prejudice?” asks the lady.
“I hope not,” says the gentleman. May I ask to what these questions tend?”
“Merely to the illustration of your character,” says she. “I’m trying to make it out.”
I know these words—I have read them! It is the Netherfield Ball from my favorite book, Pride and Prejudice, and the gentleman and lady are Mr. Darcy and Miss Elizabeth Bennet. To think that Elizabeth and Darcy are real people, and that I am watching them, right now, through a window! This is something I cannot explain, nor can I make sense of the fact that they are apparently far away yet completely distinguishable.
I shall call out to the lady and see if she can solve the mystery. “I beg your pardon, Miss Bennet. We have not been introduced, but I seem to be your neighbor, and I am lost. Can you hear me?”
But the brightly lit figures in the window make no sign of having heard me, though I continue to hear their conversation as clearly as if they were right here in the room with me.
I reach out my hand to the glass box and touch its hard, shiny surface. I tap on the glass to see if I can get the attention of the figures inside; no luck. I move my face closer to the glass to see if I can get a better look, but indeed the figures look flatter and less real somehow the closer I am to the window. How very curious.
But that is not the worst of it. Odder still is the sound of my own voice, which is, as a matter of fact, not my voice at all.
“Hello? Miss Bennet?” I say, marveling at the tone and accent of what issues from my own mouth, and not at this point expecting Miss Bennet to hear me. The voice is not my own, the accent having hints of something almost of Bristol and perhaps a bit like Captain Stevens sounded when he was imitating people who lived in the Americas. How incensed my mother would be if she could hear me speak like a barbaric American. Delightful thought.
I glance around the strange room again, and at the glass window with the people from Pride and Prejudice conversing with one another as if I were not here trying to get their attention, and all at once I understand: Of course. I am having a dream. Nothing like the other dreams I have had in which I also knew I was dreaming, but a dream nevertheless. What a relief to know that I do not have to ascertain where I am or find my way back to my own room; all I have to do is wake up.
In the meantime, I shall divert myself by finding out if Barnes is here, and, if so, where; surely she would delight as much as I in the wondrous sight and sound of Lizzy and Darcy dancing in the glass rectangle.
I shall put on my dressing gown and explore. Where might the gowns be kept? I open a door, revealing at least two yards of hanging garments, none of which look like my own clothes. I pull out a long, filmy, sashed thing; it might do. If only there were a looking-glass.
Ah, there it is; on the other side of the door to this vast repository of garments. I pull open the door and see a petite, pale-haired young woman in the glass. She and I gasp in unison. I wheel around, for the woman must be behind me, but there is only the empty room. Except for Miss Bennet and Mr. Darcy, that is.
I turn back to the mirror and the truth literally stares me in the face: I am looking at my own reflection.
An Airing: 21st-Century Style
[Author’s Note: Imagine that you have just arrived in today’s Los Angeles from 1813 England, and you are having your very first ride in a curious horseless equipage called a “car”:]
It is as fast as a fast-moving carriage, and without horses! But then it is much faster than a carriage, and the street is full of other cars in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors, all moving faster and faster until ours speeds onto a vast stretch of road divided by painted lines into equally spaced sections full of these strange machines, all racing as if the devil were in pursuit, and I realize that I have grabbed on to Wes’s arm with one hand and am gripping a handle protruding from my door with another.
“Wait—no—too fast, I—”
“Are you all right?” Wes says.
“Please—do slow down.” I can barely get the words out. I am beginning to gasp for breath—all these cars speeding down this endless road, racing one another, emitting blasts like a ship’s horn, a large black squarish monster of a machine roars past Paula’s car and slips in front of her, and we nearly crash into its rear—this is hell, this is hell, I know this is hell, how did I end up in hell—cannot get enough air—cannot breathe.
“She’s hyperventilating,” says Wes.
Paula meets my eyes via a mirror that is above the inside wheel. “You want me to pull over, darling? Are you going to be sick?”
“Courtney?” Wes says.
I cannot answer just yet; I force myself to slow my breathing until I am able to take in a long, deep breath. “Of course I am not going to be sick. I may be frightened out of my senses, but I am not one of those fainting misses who needs to be physicked every minute.”
Anna turns round and leans over the back of her seat. “You’re perfectly safe, sweetheart. I promise you.” She looks sharply at Paula. “Would you stop with the Indy 500 lane changes? And a little less pressure on the gas pedal, okay?”
Paula bridles. “For God’s sake, I’m only doing forty-five. I couldn’t do more in this traffic if I wanted to.”
Wes simply pats my hand and gives me a reassuring nod. Behind him I get a glimpse of a white car that is next to ours; inside it is a party of young children. They see me watching them and wave and smile. One of them, a boy of about six, pulls his mouth into a grotesque grin with both hands while a younger boy of perhaps four years jostles him and giggles.
I feel my own mouth lift in a smile, and I realize that I have relaxed my grip on both Wes’s arm and the door handle. The sensation in my stomach is no longer a sickening lurch—the cars on either side of us and the trees and houses become a blur—and I surrender to the speed, the colors, the refreshing wind on my face, for somehow the glass next to me has lowered partway. If this is heaven, then I am traveling with the angels, and what indeed is there to fear?
“Car”—what an apt name for such a mythical equipage! “Car,” a word which summons Shakespeare and Spenser and verses on Phoebus’s “fiery carre.”
An Assembly Such As This
[Author’s Note: Imagine that as a gentlewoman from 1813 England, your only idea of a dance is a formal assembly with gloved women in long gowns and men in coats with tails and knee breeches. And then your new friend takes you to what she calls a club:]
We arrive at a place that must indeed be the public assembly where the dance is to be held; there are young people clustered in groups outside the building, men and women talking, laughing, and smoking thin white tubes of tobacco—the women smoking as well as the men. Shocking indeed, yet the smell of the smoke is almost intoxicating. I find myself slowing down to take in the scent and even imagining myself smoking. Except that I would never do such a thing. How very odd.
None of the ladies or gentlemen is dressed for a ball, which I half expected to be the situation when Deepa insisted that my own attire was not improper. Nevertheless, it is shocking indeed to imagine a ball where women are in trousers or tiny skirts, bare-legged and most with wholly bare arms, and where the men are still without coats and neckcloths. The only indication that this is an evening party is in the abundance of spangled and glittery trimmings on many of the women’s bodices; indeed, some of them are fashioned wholly of shiny or glittery stuff. And there is an abundance of sparkling jewelry.
That this assembly will certainly be like no other I have had the honor of attending is further reinforced by the pulsating, pounding rhythm—I cannot even venture to call it music—which can be heard before we even open the doors, or, shall I say, before the two solicitous men who preside at the entrance, and who greet Deepa and me as if we are royalty, open the thick black double doors for us.
We enter the assembly rooms to a crush of people and a deafening, rhythmic roar which penetrates my skin and vibrates my very bones. My fingers tingle; my chest and stomach quiver. Though my understanding tells me I should be frightened by such a cacophony, in truth it is strangely enticing and makes me want to dance in a way I have never even thought of dancing, though when we advance farther into the vast room and near the area where people are turning and gyrating in a manner that I imagine must approximate dancing, a cold stone of fear settles in my chest at the very thought of being so audacious as to stand up in this crush and attempt to move in such a manner. I am in no way equal to it.
The Price of One’s Menu Plaisirs
[Author’s Note: For Jane, one of the best things of the 21st-century world is the fact that there are not only four more novels by the author of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice (the only Austen novels published by 1813), but there are also curious machines called DVD players in which actors perform a sort of play of the novels. As Jane discovers, however, one must pay something called an electrical bill on time in order to enjoy the delights of Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle:]
I am become so adept at mastering the manifold devices of this world (indeed, my fingers seem to know what to do more than my mind does) that it is but the work of a minute before the disk is in place, the movie beginning, and I snuggled atop the coverlet, cool drink in my hand. This is surely a most agreeable way to spend the rest of the day.
…”You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love—” Suddenly Mr. Darcy disappears into blackness, and I am awakened from my hours-long/days-long/what-is-time-in-such-a-state Pride and Prejudice reverie. I work the remote control to no avail; the screen is still and silent. What can this mean? Indeed, the room itself is now silent—and as dim as a nighttime room in this city can be with the curtains open and the streetlamp outside enabling me to pick out its major features without bumping into furniture. Even the computer screen is dark. I fumble around attempting to turn on the lights, the air conditioner, the movie. All in vain.
And then I remember the shutoff notice. But how can that be possible? The letter stated clearly that there were ten days to pay before the electricity would terminate.
I fumble in the darkened kitchen for candles; finally, I find a few in a drawer and light two with the flame from the stove. I carry one of them over to the pile of mail on the kitchen table and peruse the letter from the electric company, dripping wax on the pages until I find the part that says ten days. There, it must be a mistake, for I only just received the letter the day before. So how can it be that—I examine the letter more closely, and I see that the date at the top of the first page is eleven days ago. How can that be when I just received the letter yesterday? Ah, yes; the mail had been in a pile, Wes said, and this is my fourth day here, and who knows how long Courtney let the mail sit unopened, and besides, who knows how long it takes for a letter to reach its destination and…oh, none of that is of any consequence when I am sitting here in the dark.
Why did I have to inherit such a disordered life? Here is a woman who cannot make prudent choices, neither in matters of the heart nor in matters of economy. Well, well. Listen to me. It is all well and good when I look into the mirror and am thankful for this shapely form and this delicate complexion. Or look round this modest apartment and want to fall upon my knees with gratitude that it is a place I can wholly call my own, without dependence on any person’s whims or pleasures. Is it not right that if I am to enjoy the benefits of my new person and situation, with all the attendant helpful friends, clever devices, and splendid book collection, I should take responsibility for the disadvantages as well? For how can I lay claim to one and not the other?
In any case, it is fruitless to repine when the most pressing question is how shall I get the lights back on and is that even possible and when shall I see the end of this movie and…I have to laugh at myself now, for truly I am become a lady of the twenty-first century who feels herself ill-used indeed when deprived of electricity for a whole five minutes. I, who knew nothing more than candlelight just four days ago. Four days and 194 years.