Take a Dash of Pride & Prejudice, Sprinkle with Dr. Who & Fold in a Touch of C. S. Lewis
An Interview with Don Jacobson
by Barbara Tiller Cole
BTCole: I am very happy to have Don Jacobsen visiting us today at Darcyholic Diversions. I have really enjoyed getting a chance to meet Don, and have a chance to read the first two in his series highly creative Austenesque series! I look forward to reading more down the road! I don't know if I would have read them if I hadn't been asked to be a part of this blog tour and what a waste that would have been! His love of history and reading shines through in this very creative Jane Austen inspired series! Be sure to read to the end to find out about give aways!
And with that I would like to turn to Don and get this interview started...
BTCole: Don, tell us a little bit about how and when you first discovered any of Jane Austen's works.
Don: Can I plead that the mists of time obscure my hindsight? Actually, I have followed Austen since at least the early 90s and am a huge fan of the video adaptations! I think it was ‘The Jane Austen Book Club’ that really caught my attention. It was at this pint that I realized that the books had layers of meaning. Then I went out and purchased a copy of ‘Mansfield Park.’ It was and still remains my favorite…particularly because of the social commentary that floats just beneath the surface.
BTCole: I am always so excited when I discover another male writer of Jane Austen inspired literature. Was it Austen love at first site? Or did you read one of the novels and come back to it at some point?
Don: This is sort of an interesting question. It does seem that male writers of JAFF are a rare breed…just as there are not female writers of Napoleonic sea sagas.
I do not think I had ever read romance novels. I may have picked up on of my mom’s Jacqueline Susan paperbacks when I had nothing else to read (one of her favorite stories was about the time she discovered an eight-year-old me reading the dictionary because ‘I read all the books I brought home from the library.’).
However, as I have been teaching history and research writing for over 15 years, I came across one of the most important pieces of writing of the 20th Century (after watching ‘The Hours”). That was Virginia Woolf’s ‘Mrs. Dalloway’…probably the best novel of the 20th Century. That led me to a work I now assign to both my writing classes as well as my Western Civ II classes—‘A Room of One’s Own’—likewise by Woolf.
I step past the discussion of women writing fiction. I focus on another point of hers—Colridge’s ‘androgynous mind’—which she uses to explore how writing man-womanly or woman-manly allows the author to express human emotion in a non-gendered manner. A brilliant and powerful assertion.
Consider my opening point in this response…why should there not be a hundred women writing Napoleonic sea sagas…or spy novels? Why should there not be a hundred men writing Jane Austen Fan Fiction? Oddly enough, while novels were seen as not ‘serious’ writing in the Regency, we need to recall that one of Ms Austen’s biggest fans was the most important man in the kingdom!
If the writing is honest and does not reflect either the male ego or the female ego in its structure, can it not transcend biases and reach an even broader audience? I found Austen’s original stories to resonate as truthful examinations of human behavior. It was her truthfulness that spurred me forward to try to offer my own variations on her efforts.
BTCole: Was it one of Jane Austen's novels or one of the Austen movie adaptations that really began your love affair? (If your answer is just for instance 'Pride and Prejudice' you can skip this question. This question is primarily for those authors who have an interesting story about how they found this genre.)
Don: It was my daughter gifting me a Kindle in 2010 that got me going. I have always been a bookhound. Learning that Kindle Unlimited (the modern model of the Regency subscription library) could keep me reading for $10 a month, I was lost! I had always been a classic science fiction reader, but the modern writers offered little fulfillment. But, Kindle offered me the entire Canon for 99 cents. I figured…why not?
And that led me to ‘The Watsons.’ Somehow I found Ann Mychal’s ‘Emma and Elizabeth,’ and the rest is history. Suddenly my popular search term was “pride and prejudice variations.” I had honestly never realized that anyone would write a story about another author’s characters.
BTCole: I can tell by reading your latest novel that you are a lover of history. How did your love for history begin?
Don: I had fallen into science fiction in about fifth grade. There I was exposed to two large arc authors/collections…Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy which told a future/past history analog to the Roman Empire…but with the inclusion of psychohistory…and Robert A. Heinlein’s stories which examined a 6,000 year arc of history centered around the Wilson family (folks who were genetically predisposed to very long life).
The fact that there was an entire mythology and backstory running in the background of these stories hooked me. Then, of course, my next stop was J.R.R. Tolkein, an inventive writer who was a full-blown academic and turned that ability into the creation of an utterly logical world (Middle Earth) with a complete history (Silmarillion).
I found that human history was really nothing more than (or less than) the record of the greatest saga. So, I went to university and earned a degree in History…and followed it up with a Master’s in Modern European history. Using the tools I learned in the discipline have, I believe, made me a stronger writer.
BTCole: I was intrigued by the influence of C. S. Lewis and Dr. Who on your writing. Can you tell us about their influence in your life?
Don: A lot of folks have keyed upon the Bennet Wardrobe and have said “Ah-hah. He is using a Wardrobe…” True. And it is true that C.S. Lewis used a Wardrobe. However, these two pieces of furniture differ utterly in function.
Lewis’ Wardrobe sent the children to another world…with no reference to time. It is clear that the deep need for these youngsters to escape from the horrors of their time, to find a solution to relieve their powerlessness in the face of the Blitz, led them to Narnia. The Narnia Wardrobe seems to have little power beyond its role as a portal between worlds.
The Bennet Wardrobe, built by the natural philosopher and renowned Restoration cabinet-maker Grinling Gibbons, is a very active force in the transport of those of the Bennet bloodline. The Wardrobe is deeply connected with the currents of the universe reaching beyond the traditional three dimensions and delving into not only the realms of time, but also of Original Intent. The Bennet Wardrobe sends Bennets to the where/when that will offer them the best opportunity to learn that which they need to realize their destinies.
Same holds for the TARDIS. Dr. Who (in whichever incarnation you prefer) controls exactly where and when the trip goes—past, present or future.
The Bennet Wardrobe can only transport those of the Bennet genome to a future iteration of the Wardrobe. No travel to the past—except for that Bennet to return to the immediate present.
BTCole: How did the inspiration come to you to do this mash-up all three?
Don: Not necessarily a mash-up…but, I did seek to place the Bennet Wardrobe within the context of many forms of British magical transport. And, I decided to treat them as real.
You see, I subscribe to the idea that the act of imagining characters brings them into reality. I follow Robert A. Heinlein who believed in…”World as Myth" — the idea that universes are created by the act of imagining them, so that all fictional worlds are in fact real and all real worlds are figments of fictional figures' fancy…”[i] For instance, in Chapter XXIII of ‘The Exile,’ Holmes (himself being treated as real within the Bennet Wardrobe universe) refers to Pride & Prejudice as if it is a nonfiction book.
Thus, The Bennet Wardrobe, the Narnia wardrobe, The King’s Roads, the TARDIS, and the flue network do exist because their universes have been created through their authors’ imaginations.
BTCole: Is there a particular reason that you chose to send Kitty to the particular time frame that you use in this particular story?
Don: I imagined Kitty being told by Mr. Bennet that her future life was going to revolve around a particularly austere seminary in Cornwall. Then, she would react as a teenager might…by throwing a tantrum. In the process, she was thinking/feeling ‘Anywhere but Cornwall. Anywhere but here. I wish that everybody plaguing me would just leave me alone!’ A fist slam against the front of the Wardrobe and “a thousand bees buzzed...and the pressure built.”
Now, the question you did not ask was ‘why Kitty?’ The answer rests in my attraction to the side characters. The Bennet Wardrobe Series is an alternative history in the Pride & Prejudice Universe. While the lead characters are familiar to all but only as secondary personalities, I have endeavored to provide each of them (Mary, Kitty, Lydia, and Thomas) with an opportunity to grow into three-dimensional persons, although not necessarily in the Regency. If they were shaped or stifled by the conventions of the period, the time-traveling powers of The Wardrobe helped solve their problems, make penance, and learn lessons by giving them a chance to escape that time frame, if only for a brief, life-changing interlude.
BTCole: I know that this is your second in a series of 'time traveling tales'. How many do you plan for your series? What is the next one going to be?
Don: Here is the entire series along with potential publication dates:
The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey (2016)
The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Époque (2017)
The Exile (pt. 2): The Countess Visits Longbourn (2017 proj.)
The Avenger: Thomas Bennet and A Father’s Lament (2018)
The Pilgrim: Lydia Bennet and A Soldier’s Portion (2018-19)
The Grail: The Saving of Elizabeth Darcy (2019)
BTCole: Are you currently writing anything new you wish to tell us about?
Don: I have been busy finalizing publication on ‘The Exile’ and working on the blog tour. However, by the end of June, I plan to go back into writing a novella that is within the Bennet Wardrobe universe which will offer a couple of twists: “The Darcys Meet Frankenstein.” Then there is a Christmas story which fits between the end of a work I am considering (“The Education of Caroline Bingley”) and Book Five in The Keeper. I hope to have “A Thornhill Christmas” released by the holidays. And, then I will also be writing Part 2 of ‘The Exile.’
BTCole:Anything else you would like to share with the readers here at Darcyholic Diversions?
Don: Yes, I thought I might share an exerpt of the book with your readers...
Darcy House, August 21, 1886
The idea that she was to greet guests by Maddie’s side unnerved Kitty. Who was she—silly Kitty Bennet of Longbourn—to stand next to the grande dame of the Bennet/Darcy clan? She craved the support and cover of her missing sisters now more than at any other time in the past four months.
Tears welled up in her large eyes as she stared at Lizzy’s doppelganger. While she had wept over Mama and Papa’s grave, she had never really felt the dams holding back lifelong fears and sadness crack in the slightest. Now, however, this loving silver-haired woman with deep chocolate brown eyes had put paid to years of invisibility and criticism as well as her reserve with a simple statement of regard; for was not the request to stand to the left of the hostess at a society ball nothing less than a supreme recognition of worthiness? The frightened little girl inside the teenaged Catherine Marie Bennet…the wee child who had cowered behind nervous coughing and slavish following of Lydia…now clawed her way to the surface. Her need to be loved had been unleashed by a simple act of caring.
Her head drooped. Great shuddering sobs shook her shoulders. Fat tears dripped from her eyes. Her wails, moans really, started low in her belly and were only broken in their ascent to her throat by powerful gasps as her lungs fought for the air she needed to avoid falling to the floor in a dead faint.
The sudden transition from seeming calm to quivering distraction momentarily stunned Madelyn, freezing her in her seat. Then, in an instant, she flew across the narrow gap separating them, nearly upsetting the table in between. Kneeling next to the girl and ignoring the seven decades in her joints, Maddie pulled Kitty’s head to her breast and began stroking her corn silk hair.
“There…there, my darling girl,” crooned the matriarch, recalling when she soothed her own daughters suffering from what at the time seemed to be terminal heartbreak, “All will be well. You are not alone. I am here. We are all here.”
Kitty calmed somewhat, but continued to weep. Then there was a minutes-long silence throughout which her body periodically shook with paroxysms of emotion bolstered by renewed sobs. After a while, even these subsided.
Maddie sensed that she could release the girl and did so, allowing Kitty to compose herself on her own terms. After pressing her handkerchief on Kitty, she pushed herself from her knees and stepped back to her seat.
Her nose and eyes reddened from her crying fit, Kitty sat slightly slumped in her own chair. She stared at her niece over the cloth square she held tightly in her fist that was planted firmly against clamped lips. She audibly inhaled and then sighed out her exhaled breaths as she sought to further calm herself. Another minute passed during which Maddie, brows knit together, calmly regarded her. Then Kitty took one last deep breath, straightened in her seat and began to exorcise her demons.
Meeting Maddie’s gaze, she began in a little voice, “I do not know if I am sad because of what I have left behind or worried about what is in store for me.
“Oh, Aunt Maddie, if I could be certain that I would have a future in that world, I would leap into the Wardrobe and fly back there right now. But nothing would change. I still would be ignored by Papa for my silliness, hectored by Mama for coughing, and reminded of Lydia’s darling Wickham.
“So, that there/then offers nothing better than this here/now…and it may be worse.”
She paused and began nervously to twist the handkerchief in her hands.
She ventured forward, “I do not know what Lizzy may have told you of our family’s history…of how Mama became more and more upset and worried after each girl child she bore.
“Lizzy always had Jane and Papa to protect her from the worst of Mama’s fits of nerves. Sad Mary sought comfort in the musty leaves of Fordyce or in pounding the pianoforte so poorly that nobody would come near her. Papa disappeared into the bookroom at Longbourn or went shooting or visited tenants: anything to avoid Mama’s exclamations.
“Lydia was always Mama’s favorite. She could do no wrong bad enough to earn Mama’s disapprobation.
“I can hear Mama even now. ‘Kitty, do let Lydia have that ribbon. How is she to attract an officer without looking her best?’ or ‘Now Kitty, you know that Lydia is far prettier than you. She must have the new gown…or bonnet…or gloves.’ Oh, if I could erase that voice!”
Anger made Kitty’s china blue eyes darken and flash. Her voice became stronger.
“Lydia always came first. One pout or whine and she got whatever she wanted.
“Then there was Jane. She sat in the middle of the storm…calm and serene. And why not? There was never, never, a harsh word directed at her. She could sit there and be the perfect lady: placid with never an eyelash out of place. Jane never had to put herself forward because she so clearly stood out from the rest of the babbling, bickering Bennets.
“Mary…poor Mary…Mama could not keep from picking at her about her looks…her voice…her hair…her choice of reading material…her lack of accomplishments. Is it any wonder that she excluded herself from our family in so many ways?
“As for me, being much closer in age to Lydia than Jane, I was more often exiled in the nursery with Lydia while the older girls got to play with the Lucases. But outside of being tasked by Mama to watch Lydie, I was usually ignored.
“Lizzy, at least, was noticed enough to be frequently scolded. I am convinced she took perverse pleasure in acting hoydenish just to aggravate Mama, although I doubt if she refused Mr…well, you know who…just to upset Mama’s applecart. Lizzy always said she would marry only for love, but I am sure that she would have had to drink much of Mama’s special restorative to accept that odious man.”
Kitty threw a watery smile Maddie’s way.
“Of course, she had to refuse Hunsford or she would never have been in a position to accept Pemberley.”
Madelyn chuckled as Kitty’s black mood seemed to lift a bit.
“I can assure you that my children and grandchildren are thankful for my Mama’s high standards.
“I cannot imagine your life inside that tempest that was the Longbourn sitting room. What I can tell you is that every one of your sisters became remarkable women as they grew up.
“Mary and Lydia probably became the most famous of the Bennet sisters.
“You cannot look out your window today without seeing the impact Aunt Mary and her husband Edward Benton had on Great Britain. Abolition, the Factory Acts, the Reform Acts and countless other causes are the handiwork of that incredible duo.
“And, if you chose to go University, you will now be able to attend Somerville Hall at Oxford.[ii] That was a project close to Aunt Mary’s heart, but it was Lydia’s dear friend, Lady Martha Campbell, a teacher herself, who was the true driving force behind advanced education for women.
“Of course Aunt Lydia, as the Countess of Matlock, stood astride Victorian society. However, she is also beloved by all the unfortunate women who gave their husbands to the expansion of Empire. Her unflagging advocacy for war widows and their children began shortly after Waterloo and continued to her dying day.
“Aunt Jane was happiest when she was in the precincts of Thornhill with her husband, Mr. Bingley, and their children. She was supremely content to be known as mother and wife. Note that I did not say ‘only a mother and wife.’
“My Aunt Jane was the one every Bennet, Darcy, Fitzwilliam and Benton child would run to for solace. In fact, my Mama and Aunt Lydia would chide Aunt Jane that she would have been happier to claim as her those extra ten children who chased after her seven throughout Thornhill’s halls during the summer months,” Madelyn said before a somber look crossed her face and she fell silent.
Only one generation separated Kitty from Maddie. Unlike with Lady Elaine Fitzwilliam, Henry’s mother, she could speak of things Bennet with this elderly lady, her niece.
“I noticed how your story did not reach Lizzy and Mr. Darcy before you became sad.
“The last time I saw Lizzy was just after her wedding breakfast. All I know of her life after marrying Mr. Darcy is what I have seen in the family history at the Trust and a letter from my sisters dated in 1836,” Kitty commented.
Madelyn started. Her eyes took on a faraway look as she replied, “Yes, 1836. That was the year Mama left us. Papa was never the same man after that.”
Now it was Kitty’s turn to be the healer. She reached across the table and grasped the wrinkled hand that rested upon Mrs. Johnson’s knee.
She prompted Maddie saying, “Tell me about Lizzy and Mr. Darcy. What were they like?”
Madelyn looked away from those intense blue eyes as they bored deeply into her soul.
What of Papa and Mama’s love? It was the stuff of legend, so strong that after Mama was gone, Papa never really smiled again.
Oh, he could be happy as when his grandchildren would circle his long legs begging to be lifted ever so high. But he was neither deeply joyful nor contented. He came the closest when he would sit with Aunt Jane and Uncle Charles. Then Mama was only a shade away. Of all of those of his generation, maybe Mrs. Johnson offered him the greatest comfort because she gave nothing but quiet companionship having lost such as he had.
“What I can say,” she replied sadly, “is that theirs was the truest love…the Greeks call it agape. A stone of the highest clarity could not have been more beautiful as when Mama and Papa shared a quiet moment watching the sun set over the Peaks. They found their pleasure in stolen moments.
“They were two halves of the same whole, thoroughly attuned to one another’s thoughts. Such a universal love could not be extinguished.
“Many were amazed that my father survived for nearly twenty years without her—just five fewer than their marriage—before he, too, left us.”
With that she rose from her seat and smoothed her gown with both hands. Shaking herself as if to dust off the memories, she closed with a pronouncement that left Kitty puzzled.
“My faith tells me I will see my Thomas again. But I will have no certainty of that until the last moment when I let go and pass through the final veil. As for my parents, I have no doubt that they will be together again in this world and the next.”
[i] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Number_of_the_Beast_(novel) accessed 7/26/16.
[ii] In 1879, Somerville Hall was the first women’s college founded at Oxford University. The school was named after Scottish mathematician Mary Somerville. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Somerville_College,_Oxford accessed 2/22/17.
Beware of What You Wish For
The Bennet Wardrobe may grant it!
Longbourn, December 1811. The day after Jane and Lizzy marry dawns especially cold for young Kitty Bennet. Called to Papa’s bookroom, she is faced with a resolute Mr. Bennet who intends to punish her complicity in her sister’s elopement. She will be sent packing to a seminary in far-off Cornwall.
She reacts like any teenager chafing under the “burden” of parental rules—she throws a tantrum. In her fury, she slams her hands against the doors of The Bennet Wardrobe.
Her heart’s desire?
I wish they were dead! Anywhere but Cornwall! Anywhere but here!
As Lydia later said, “The Wardrobe has a unique sense of humor.”
London, May 1886. Seventeen-year-old Catherine Marie Bennet tumbles out of The Wardrobe at Matlock House to come face-to-face with the austere Viscount Henry Fitzwilliam, a scion of the Five Families and one of the wealthiest men in the world. However, while their paths may have crossed that May morning, Henry still fights his feelings for another woman, lost to him nearly thirty years in his future. And Miss Bennet must decide between exile to the remote wastelands of Cornwall or making a new life for herself in Victorian Britain and Belle Époque France.
ArkansasAustenFan reviews “The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey”:
What an amazing historical novel that has a paranormal Wardrobe, which transports members of the Bennet-blood-family into the future and back… Don Jacobson is a master storyteller weaving English history into the lives of the P&P characters in a unique way. This book is not light, fluffy reading. It is an intriguing novel that would make a wonderful mini series on BBC much like Downton Abby.
Don Jacobson has written professionally for forty years. His output has ranged from news and features to advertising, television and radio. His work has been nominated for Emmys and other awards. He has previously published five books, all non-fiction. In 2016, he published the first volume of The Bennet Wardrobe Series—The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey, novel that grew from two earlier novellas. The Exile is the second volume of The Bennet Wardrobe Series. Other JAFF P&P Variations include the paired books “Of Fortune’s Reversal” and “The Maid and The Footman.”
Jacobson holds an advanced degree in History with a specialty in American Foreign Relations. As a college instructor, Don teaches United States History, World History, the History of Western Civilization and Research Writing.
He is a member of JASNA-Puget Sound. Likewise, Don is a member of the Austen Authors collective (see the internet, Facebook and Twitter).
He lives in the Seattle, WA area with his wife and co-author, Pam, a woman Ms. Austen would have been hard-pressed to categorize, and their rather assertive four-and-twenty pound cat, Bear. Besides thoroughly immersing himself in the JAFF world, Don also enjoys cooking; dining out, fine wine and well-aged scotch whiskey.
His other passion is cycling. Most days from April through October will find him “putting in the miles” around the Seattle area (yes there are hills). He has ridden several “centuries” (100 mile days). Don is especially proud that he successfully completed the AIDS Ride—Midwest (500 miles from Minneapolis to Chicago) and the Make-A-Wish Miracle Ride (300 miles from Traverse City, MI to Brooklyn, MI).
Contact Info: (Link is embedded in the name)
Blog Tour Schedule:
06/15 From Pemberley to Milton; Guest Post, GA
06/16 My Jane Austen Book Club; Guest Post, Excerpt, GA
06/17 Just Jane 1813; Review, Excerpt, GA
06/18 Free Date
06/19 Diary of an Eccentric; Excerpt, GA
06/20 Savvy Verse and Wit; Guest Post, GA
06/21 Darcyholic Diversions; Author Interview, GA
06/22 My Vices and Weaknesses; Review, Excerpt, GA
06/23 Babblings of a Bookworm; Character Interview, GA
06/24 A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide to Life; Guest Post
06/25 Free Date
06/26 Interests of a Jane Austen Girl; Review, Excerpt, GA
06/27 So little time…; Guest Post, GA
06/28 Laughing With Lizzie; Guest Post or Vignette, Excerpt, GA
Terms and Conditions For Blog Tour Give Aways:
Readers may enter the drawing by tweeting once a day and daily commenting on a blog post or review that has a giveaway attached for the tour. Entrants must provide the name of the blog where they commented (which will be verified). If an entrant does not do so, that entry will be disqualified. Remember: Tweet and comment once daily to earn extra entries.
A winner may win ONLY 1 (ONE) eBook of The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Époque by Don Jacobson. Each winner will be randomly selected by Rafflecopter and the giveaway is international.