Becoming Catherine Bennet was a novel I enjoyed writing. It took a fair amount of work and reviewing Pride and Prejudice itself and watching the BBC and 2005 versions.
As I mentioned yesterday, I had a general idea where the story would go but then decided to go in a completely different direction, though leaving the original idea in since the main plot could be built around it. And that main plot involved Kitty/Catherine–one of the tricks was trying to keep how she was referred by characters straight since several affirmatively decide, at her request, to call her “Catherine,” “Kitty” being, as Anne de Bourgh will say, “such a girl’s name.”
The first two-thirds of the book is told in a third-person narrator’s voice. I don’t know if I’m particularly adept with that, but it allows from moving between characters and providing some insight into their thoughts (without, I hope, the dreaded “head hopping”). As I was going, I knew where it would end.
Or thought I did. There was an Edith Wharton ending. It’s still in the book. But I realized that I couldn’t end it there. So began Part II. Part II is Catherine’s first-person narrative. Indeed, in it she explains how she came to take up writing:
A strange thing about Amazon reviews. If the reviewer is not verified, a review in one region doesn’t show up in the US. So I get a quite good 4-star review on Amazon.uk but not on Amazon.com. I don’t know who this reader is, but I liked the review because it notes that the novel is not your standard Pride and Prejudice fare.
Reviews sometimes point to things that readers might not like. (I’ll get to that in a later post.) Here, the concern seems to be about Jane. Jane Bingley is well down on the list of characters, thought she’s still important, and in the end I wanted her not to be quite the empathetic sister she is in the book. But those are the choices one makes.
I’ll get to some less pleased readers soon. But even there, I like to get responses and feedback. Jane Austen Fan Fiction can be tricky. But fun too.
I learned that there is a huge market for Jane Austen Fan Fiction (JAFF). I started writing a book entitled Debt Comes to Pemberley, a play on PD James’s Death Comes to Pemberley, which was made into a BBC thing. The core issue was that Darcy someone went bankrupt. (The cover to the right is for the audio version, which I’ll get to in a later post.)
For whatever reason, as I wrote it, I had Anne de Bourgh come to his rescue. Which got me thinking about Anne de Bourgh as a major character which got me thinking of how could she become other than the sickly creature described in Pride and Prejudice itself. The obvious ploy was to kill off her mother, Lady Catherine. So off she went. This has the additional benefit of freeing Mr. and Mrs. Collins from her shadow.
The plot then morphed into a story built around Kitty or Catherine Bennet.
First about Darcy and going bankrupt. Turns out, as best as I could tell, Pemberley was likely entailed (as was Longbourn which had such an adverse impact on the Bennet daughters and as was not Rosings, which had such a positive effect, in the end, on Anne de Bourgh). So I came up with a way to seriously cut out Darcy’s (and Bingley’s) income, which forced retrenchment of the sort Sir Walter Elliot could not tolerate in Persuasion.
If you read the first chapters–they can be sampled here–you’ll see that I kill off George Wickham too. Now, Kitty did move to be with her sister Lydia–this was the one major change I made from Pride and Prejudice itself–and the two youngest Bennets must come to London, where they’ll live with Jane (as opposed to Lizzy, who lives some blocks away).
And stuff happens. I’m quite pleased with the effort. I learned a good deal by re-reading the novel. And it turns out that I have gotten a very large number of reads. It’s on Kindle Unlimited so I get paid (slightly) for page reads. In about three weeks, I have over 42,000 page views and have sold 18 ebooks. Of course, the proceeds for all that are about $200. So I’m not getting rich on this.
For my conversion of covers to avoid any rights issues, I did searches of those institutions that have Open Access policies, i.e., they allow the use of their images of works in the public domain for any purposes. I searched for portraits in various periods and from various places. This brought up a large number of images, from which I selected a bunch for possible cover use.
Elizabeth Bennet is one of literature’s iconic figures. As I went through my little collection, I wanted someone who could be Elizabeth Bennet. Though for some covers I’ve gone outside the time period, for P&P and my other Austens I needed to keep to it.
The painting I use is of a 19 or 20 year-old and it was done in 1804. So, she is Elizabeth’s age and the date is only a few years before the book’s story. The portrait is from The National Gallery in Washington.
She is Ann Stuart, who was born in Fairfax County, Virginia in 1784. Her aunt described her mother about Ann Stuart and her sister in a manner that will sound familiar to P&P readers: “their mother paid scant heed to their education and brought them up as if they were to marry English lords, and I don’t believe they accept the offers made to them.”
That aunt would later write of her:
The eldest of the Stuart girls is a very nice girl, but she now lives quite far away in Virginia. Her father, whom I am sure you remember as an extremely austere and tedious man — completely respectable, but more knowledgeable about the customs of the Greeks and Romans than of today — forced her against her will to marry a man who does not have enough intelligence to make a woman such as she happy. Although she writes me that she is perfectly [content], I do not believe it.
Ann Stuart wrote to a friend in 1807:
You would be surprised to see what a change has taken place in my taste, instead of reading or writing all day and being out of humor when interrupted I am quite active about the Farm and garden and very solicitous to do something in that way to entitle me to become a member of the agricultural society.
She had two children, boys, and is thought to have died in 1823. She was thirty-nine.