How important was fine art to Jane Austen? And how does it influence her books? We know that Jane sketched, and so did other members of her family. A couple of her heroines draw, too — but it’s not portrayed as their calling in life. It’s more of a hobby.
Janine Barchas, an associate prof at the University of Texas, points out in her essay “Artistic Names in Austen’s Fiction: Cameo Appearances by Prominent Painters,” that Austen also alludes to artists in some of her characters’ names. In Pride and Prejudice, Darcy’s housekeeper, who shows off her employer’s portrait to Lizzie, is named Mrs. Reynolds — maybe a reference to portrait painter Joshua Reynolds? In Emma, the title character, who sketches, has a housekeeper named Hodges — maybe inspired by William Hodges? Other characters who share names with painters of the time are George Moreland in Northanger Abbey and Charles Hayter in Persuasion.
In my Regency-set romance, The Artful Miss Irvine, the title character is a serious artist, and her work plays a key role in the plot, giving the hero insights into her personality and her past. Of course, art is always open to interpretation, and her artwork also sets the stage for a misunderstanding between the characters. 🙂
For a description and sample chapters of The Artful Miss Irvine, please hop on over to the book page here. Janine Barchas’ essay is available (for a price) from Amazon here. It also appeared in Volume 31 2009 of the Jane Austen Society journal Persuasions. More on them on this this site.
Sometimes an idea for a single scene can grow into a whole book. That was definitely the case with For the Love of Lila, where the big scene, for me at least, is the parlor game that pretty much dissolves into an orgy.
In The Artful Miss Irvine, there’s a stand-out scene where the heroine is on a balcony at night reciting Shakespeare, and the hero walks up and responds with the next lines. (Oh, how I love characters that deftly quote the classics — or speak other languages with ease. Of course, they have me, the writer, to look things up on their behalf.)
In Lord St. Leger’s Find, my favorite scene is the visit to the Egyptian-tomb exhibit. It’s dark and moody, people are getting jostled around, women are pretending to be scared … it’s just enough chaos to crack open the reserve between the main characters.
I also have a fave scene I’ve written that has no story surrounding it (yet?). It emerged from an idea for a story, but the plot felt too complicated, and I didn’t really like where it was going. The scene takes place in a Babylonian temple in ancient times and also involves moody chaos. Maybe a story will evolve around it. I hope so.
Some of my fave scenes in other people’s books? In To Kill a Mockingbird, when Scout meets Boo Radley. In Pride And Prejudice, when Elizabeth’s father talks to her about Mr. Darcy asking for “her hand.” In Catch-22, when we find out what happened with Snowden on the plane. One thing I loved about the TV series “Lost” is that the writers often took a classic scene like the one in Catch-22 and inserted the theme into an episode. If only they’d done that with the series finale.
A few quick updates:
Hubby and I recently self-published all five books as NOOKbooks, so they’re now available through Barnes and Noble. Check them out on BN.com here.
On Nookboards, an independent forum for Nook users, I also posted a little info about how For the Love of Lila came about. Please drop by the thread here. If you can think of a comment or question and thereby bump up the thread, I’d be grateful!
Finally, on the official B&N Community Forum (“BookClubs”), I posted a plug for The Artful Miss Irvine. To check that out, click here.
In college, when I read Troilus and Cressida (known as one of Shakespeare’s “problem plays” because it’s neither comedy nor tragedy), I felt Cressida got a bad rap as the epitome of infidelity. To summarize the plot, with the Trojan War as backdrop, Troilus and Cressida declare their love and make love, but the next morning when the Trojans want to trade her to the Greeks for a prisoner of war, he doesn’t object. Later, when she hooks up with one of the Greeks, he’s floored.
The thing is, if you were Cressida in the midst of a war being fought over a woman (Helen), but your Trojan lover didn’t raise hell about you being traded to the enemy, how would you feel? Personally, I think I would have hooked up with a Greek, too.
In The Artful Miss Irvine, Maeve Irvine reads Troilus and Cressida after being dumped by a fortune hunter who cited duty to family as his reason for marrying a woman with more money. With that baggage, Maeve is indignant that Troilus accepts duty to Troy as a reason to trade Cressida for a POW. When Maeve moves from Boston to London, she meets Adrian, Duke of Ashton, and is attracted to him, but he’s her late cousin’s widower, and she learns that he left to go to war while her cousin was pregnant. To Maeve, it’s another case of a man choosing duty over a woman, and it’s not acceptable.
Of course, there’s more to Adrian’s story, but that has to work its way out. To read the first couple of chapters, click here and scroll down. To read Troilus and Cressida online, go to Project Gutenberg.
As a kid, one of my favorite paintings was Charles Willson Peale’s Staircase Group, shown on the right, which I’d seen at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. (I love that it’s framed with door molding and has a real step at the bottom.) The story goes that one of Peale’s friends once bowed to the painting, mistaking it for Peale’s sons Raphaelle and Titian.
I’ve also always liked that Peale had a penchant for naming his offspring after painters. Besides the two just mentioned, he had Rembrandt, Rubens and Titian, among others. He had 17 kids (with two wives), and a lot of them became talented artists themselves.
The father was one of the most prominent portraitists of the early United States. George Washington sat for him seven times, and he also painted Jefferson, Hamilton, Franklin and other celebs of the day. Peale also established one of the first modern museums, where he displayed the first full mastodon skeleton.
Even I am a little surprised when I tally up the instances where the Peale family plays into my books. Artist Lara Peale in Eternally Yours is named for them. The title character in The Artful Miss Irvine is described as one of the first female members of an art academy, an attribute grabbed from Peale’s daughters, Sarah and Anna. And in one of my works-in-progress, the hero’s family is modeled partly on the Peales and partly on my own creative family. (I’d like to finish that manuscript in 2011. We’ll see how that goes!)
For more on the Peales, see an exhibition description from a few years back here.