Book review: A Jane Austen Daydream by Scott D. Southard

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen did not write enough books. Only six. Six! And those six are so well loved that a whole industry has risen up to supply the unending demand for more things Jane. I’ve read my fair share, with mixed feelings in some cases, but this latest one to come my way was a pleasure to read from start to finish.

perf5.500x8.500.inddThe book in question is A Jane Austen Daydream by Scott D. Southard.

The key word here is ‘daydream’. This novel is a fictional – almost speculative – biography of Jane Austen in her twenties. While Southard uses lots of biographical facts about Jane and her family for his plot, this is not in any sense a dramatization of her known biography. Instead it’s an imagined life, a what might-have-been (but probably wasn’t). And it’s a lot of fun.

The novel opens – in the spirit of Pride and Prejudice – with Jane and her elder sister Cassandra being invited to a ball. Mrs Austen, very Mrs Bennett-esque, is greatly excited at the prospect of marrying off her two daughters, and Jane, to be fair, is equally ready. Having heard from a gypsy that she will fall in love, when Jane encounters a handsome, eligible young man in the library at the ball, she is more than ready to cast him as her husband-to-be. But ‘the other Austen daughter’ – as she is known in a clearly disparaging contrast to Cassandra – does not find her path to love, or publication, runs smoothly.

Screen Shot 2018-04-23 at 8.20.12 PMSouthard’s Jane is an engaging, witty character. She is a little silly at points but matures nicely and learns from her mistakes (think Emma, anyone?). Jane’s search for success in love and literature had me turning the pages, and the cast of characters surrounding her is well-drawn and often amusing. I particularly liked her brothers, both in terms of their characters and their crisp and engaging dialogue.

Because Southard’s main character is Jane Austen, her every exchange offers an opportunity to link to the books that we all know and love. Jane’s story parallels those of her literary creations at times – especially Elizabeth Bennett and Anne Eliot. She meets a Mrs Catherine de Bourgh, a Mary Crawford, and a man putting on a performance of Lover’s Vows, the play that caused so much distress to Fanny in Mansfield Park. There is a comic Reverend, a best friend called Harriet… I could go on, but I won’t spoil the fun.

Serious bravery is required to take on Jane Austen and mess with her in fiction. Janeites know their stuff. Even non-Janeites (like me) know quite a bit. I’ve read all the books. Some of them several times. And I’ve a sketchy knowledge about Jane Austen’s life, at least in terms of her death and love life. But I’m confident that fans of Austen who open this book in the right spirit – ready to be entertained and enjoy a Jane that might not quite match up to their own preconceptions – will thoroughly enjoy their trip to a well-written, witty Regency England, full of references to those six wonderful books. Highly recommended.

Scott Southard author pic(1)Scott D. Southard, the author of A Jane Austen Daydream, swears he is not obsessed with Jane Austen. He is also the author of the novels: My Problem with Doors, Megan, Permanent Spring Showers, Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare, and 3 Days in Rome. With his eclectic writing he has found his way into radio, being the creator of the radio comedy series The Dante Experience. The production was honored with the Golden Headset Award for Best MultiCast Audio and the Silver Ogle Award for Best Fantasy Audio Production. Scott received his Master’s in writing from the University of Southern California. Scott can be found on the internet via his writing blog “The Musings & Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard” (sdsouthard.com)  where he writes on far-ranging topics like writing, art, books, TV, writing, parenting, life, movies, and writing. He even shares original fiction on the site. Currently, Scott resides in Michigan with his very understanding wife, his two patient children, and a very opinionated dog named Bronte.

 

 

Two Journey’s Home by Kevin O’Connell

Updated For Kevins Tour

It’s 1767. As the eagerly anticipated sequel to Beyond Derrynane begins, Eileen O’Connell avails herself of a fortuitous opportunity to travel back to Ireland. In Two Journeys Home, the O’Connells encounter old faces and new—and their lives change forever.

Her vivacious personality matched only by her arresting physical presence, Eileen returns to Derrynane this time not as a teen aged widow but as one of the most recognised figures at the Habsburg court. Before returning to Vienna she experiences a whirlwind romance, leading to a tumult of betrayal and conflict with the O’Connell clan.

Abigail lives not in the shadow of her sister but instead becomes the principal lady-in-waiting to Empress Maria Theresa.

Hugh O’Connell leaves behind waning adolescence and a fleeting attraction to the youngest archduchess when he begins a military career in the Irish Brigade under Louis XV. But more royal entanglement awaits him in France…

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Today I’m excited to share news of a new historical novel from author Kevin O’Connell, and tempt readers with this excerpt from Two Journey’s Home

Having served at the court of the Empress Maria Theresa for almost six years, Eileen O’Connell is returning to her home in County Kerry, Ireland for a brief visit. Though she had last departed the O’Connells’ sanctuary at Derrynane as a teenage widow, she returns as one of the most recognised figures at the glittering Habsburg court. As the family’s ship, the Will o’ the Wisp, approaches the secure harbour at Iskeroon, Eileen experiences a strong sense of place – and reflects on some of the events of her years in Vienna:

Within moments, it was the whistling trill that heralded the sudden leaping arrival of a pair of dolphins, their joyful presence—especially as they would remain on the port side of the vessel for the duration of the passage to Derrynane—reminding Eileen that no dolphins had been in evidence at the time of her most recent departures and arrivals. So perhaps the smiling dears herald something special, she reflected. As she watched them cavorting even as they swam, she could not help but smile, returning, she felt, the warm gestures the animals seemed to be directing to her.

Leaning against the ship’s rail, noticing the sun’s orb as it continued its struggle to make itself more fully evident in the still-dull heavens, recalling briefly her gentle awakening, Eileen spoke aloud to the wind, and to herself, “These years, these not-quite six years . . . They could have all been a dream . . . could they not have? Yet to me, all of it has actually happened . . .” A panoply of places and events—and people, so many people! —raced vividly through her mind, as if it were all unfolding as a moving panorama before her.

With the coming of the spring of 1761, General O’Connell’s skilful orchestration of arranging opportunities at the court of the Empress Maria Theresa in Vienna for Eileen, now twenty-three, and her ebullient, slightly older sister, Abigail, having borne fruit, it was the Countess Maria von Graffenreit, at the time and for a number of years prior the primary lady-in-waiting to the empress, with whom Eileen and Abby had corresponded, in preparation for their journey to Vienna.

It was also the countess who had greeted them warmly on their arrival at court in October of the same year, following their five-weeklong journey from Derrynane, seeing to it that Eileen was presented to her new charges—Their Imperial Highnesses, the Archduchesses Maria Carolina and Maria Antonia of Austria and Lorraine—and Abigail to her own new mistress, the Empress Maria Theresa herself, as well as choreographing a lengthy series of both formal and informal introductions to key persons at court.

In the years that quickly followed, as the sisters flourished at the apex of the glittering Habsburg court and society, Maria von Graffenreit was daily, quietly in their lives. More so, during the same period, the attractive, quietly elegant widow had grown ever closer to the never married general, such that the two had wed quietly, early in the current year.

It was with, or so it seemed to Eileen, an almost-dizzying speed that immediately following their marriage, the countess had yielded her lofty position as head of the empress’s household to Abigail O’Connell O’Sullivan, herself wed less than a year to Major Denis O’Sullivan, an officer in the Hungarian Hussars.

During the ensuing bitterly cold, unusually snowy Vienna winter of the current year, Eileen had experienced what she had come to refer to as the winter of my own discontent, marked significantly by the departure from Vienna of her dear friend and lover, Major Wolfgang von Klaus, for an extended tour of duty at the Imperial Russian court at St. Petersburg, an event that had resulted in Eileen unexpectedly sensing herself unsettled, uncertain.

Though in the interim she had become less disconcerted, her state of mind remained such that when in early June the general and the countess announced a late-summer trip to Ireland, Eileen had met the news with an unexpected but profound desire to return to Derrynane herself, if only for a time. Whilst she indicated to the couple that her motivation lay in a simple desire to see the rest of her family, Eileen acknowledged to herself that seeing the O’Sullivans and, more recently, the general and the countess all well-wed—and, she somewhat reluctantly admitted, von Klaus’s departure for Russia—had left her feeling to some not insignificant degree uncertain as to what life might next hold in store for her. She felt that some time spent at what she had always felt the powerful sanctuary that was Derrynane might help her clarify her life’s future direction.

Though she realised it might be awkward for the newlyweds, Eileen quietly inquired of them if she might accompany them to Ireland, phrasing it lightly, “With the dragoons I shall gladly ride.” The general had no doubt that she was, in fact, more than willing to make the trip on horseback rather than intrude on the couple’s privacy in a coach. They immediately and graciously acceded to her request, and Eileen rode in the coach.

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Kevin O'ConnellKevin O’Connell is a native of New York City and the descendant of a young officer of what had—from 1690 to 1792—been the Irish Brigade of the French Army, believed to have arrived in French Canada following the execution of Queen Marie Antoinette in October of 1793. He holds both Irish and American citizenship.

An international business attorney, Mr. O’Connell is an alumnus of Providence College and Georgetown University Law Centre.

A lifelong personal and scholarly interest in the history of eighteenth-century Ireland, as well as that of his extended family, led O’Connell to create his first book, Beyond Derrynane, which will, together with Two Journeys Home and the two books to follow, comprise the Derrynane Saga.

The father of five children and grandfather of ten, he and his wife, Laurette, live with their golden retriever, Katie, near Annapolis, Maryland.

Connect with Kevin on Facebook, through his website or on Amazon

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Reviews:

Two Journeys HomeO’Connell is a fantastic storyteller. His prose is so rich and beautiful it is a joy to read. The story is compelling and the characters memorable – all the more so because they are based on real people. . . I am Irish but I did not know about this piece of Irish history. It is fascinating but historical fiction at the same time . . . Highly recommended for historical fiction lovers! (c) Beth Nolan, Beth’s Book Nook

I enjoyed the first part of the Saga awhile back . . . (and) couldn’t wait to continue the story of Eileen and her family . . . this author really does have a way with words. The world and the characters are so vivid . . . Overall, I was hooked from page one. I honestly think that (Two Journeys Home) was better than (Beyond Derrynane) – which is rare. The characters and world-building was done in such a beautiful manner . . . I can’t wait for the next one . . . (c) Carole Rae, Carole’s Sunday Review, Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell

Two Journeys Home: A Novel of Eighteenth Century Europe . . . is a gripping story that will transport the reader back in time, a story with a strong setting and compelling characters . . . a sensational romance, betrayal, family drama and intrigue . . . The plot is so complex that I find it hard to offer a summary in a few lines, but it is intriguing and it holds many surprises . . .  great writing. Kevin O’Connell’s prose is crisp and highly descriptive. I was delighted (by) . . . how he builds the setting, offering . . . powerful images of places, exploring cultural traits and unveiling the political climate of the time . . . The conflict is (as well-developed as the characters) and it is a powerful ingredient that moves the plot forward . . . an absorbing and intelligently-crafted historical novel . . . . (c) Divine Zapa for Readers’ Favourite