JANE AUSTEN: BLOOD PERSUASION
It’s 1810 and Jane Austen settles down to some serious writing in the peaceful village of Chawton. But it’s not so peaceful when the Damned introduce themselves as her new neighbors. Jane has to deal with the threat of a vampire civil war, her best friend borrowing her precious silk stockings for assignations with the Damned, and a former lover determined to hold a grudge for eternity.
I’m a cheater.
So I cheated. I’m only human. Here’s what happened.
I was contracted to write two books about Jane Austen as a vampire, the first of which, JANE AND THE DAMNED, released last year. I set it in 1797, deliberately choosing a time when we don’t know much about what Jane Austen was up to, except that she and her family visited the spa city of Bath in November shortly after the first version of Pride and Prejudice was rejected. (Imagine how that publisher felt—rather like the music producer who turned down the Beatles.)
So in that book Jane became a vampire and loses the ability to write, but she’s busy collecting material, ripping out a few throats, falling in love, fighting off a French invasion (yes, this is fiction) and at the end of the book takes the cure for vampirism, the mineral waters at Bath so she can return to her writing. I had the second book planned to be about the end of Jane’s life, but my editor put her foot down. Absolutely not! She wanted Jane writing and being a vamp (again).
So it all depended on how how effective were the Bath waters as a cure for vampirism. Or as a cure for anything. And here was my loophole, my opportunity to cheat. I decided that like so much medicine of the Georgian era, the “cure” of the Bath waters was imperfect (many preposterous claims were made about the waters’ healthful properties) and that in the dozen or so intervening years Jane has fought against the recurring symptoms of vampirism.
When newcomers to the village of Chawton arrive and she discovers they are vampires and the household includes her Creator (the one who turned her and with whom she shares a deep and imperfect bond), Jane is in trouble. In this scene, she shares her experience with her former lover, Luke:
“All these years, Luke, I would so often think I saw you across a room or on a street, while I learned how to be mortal once more, and earned my family’s forgiveness.”
“Their forgiveness! For the sacrifices you made!” He shook his head. “And I thought you’d be happy. I hoped you would be so. I expected you to be married and with a flock of children by now: that you’d have the only thing I could not give you.”
“No. The only children I have are my books.”
“So you write, still.”
“Finally, yes. It has not been easy. I have felt that I was never sufficiently cured and the ability to write again, and the desire to do so, took some years. And there were other indications that I was not completely mortal: when, for instance, I—” she stopped, blushing.
He looked at her with keen interest. “When you what?”
“It is nothing,” she muttered in embarrassment. “I have never been able to speak of it.”
“But you can now. Go on.”
“Promise you will not laugh.”
He laid a hand on his heart. “I promise.”
“I received a proposal of marriage a few years after we—after our liaison--from a neighbor’s son. He was a little younger than me, but it was a very good match for he was to inherit considerable property. My father was pleased, as were all my family.”
“My congratulations,” Luke said. “And what happened?”
“I broke off the engagement the next morning. You see … after I accepted the proposal, we were alone, and we …”
“You dined from him?” Luke gazed at her in astonishment.
“Oh, heavens, no. I was not en sanglant or anything of the sort. But it seemed only natural to … to bite his neck.”
“I believe it is something mortals may do in the throes of passion.” Luke, despite his promise, seemed to be having trouble keeping a straight face.
“Well, how was I to know? Besides, I wasn’t in the throes of passion, as you so elegantly put it. I have only—” she stopped in embarrassment, unwilling to admit that she had experienced those throes only with Luke. Besides, doubtless he knew that already. “He seemed most alarmed although I did not bite him very hard. He started to question me on my morals and I was incensed that he should doubt me.”
“Oh, of course. Fornication with the Damned does not count at all, as many respectable women could tell you.”
“It is not amusing. It was mortifying for me and naturally I had to end the engagement. His sisters, once my good friends, would not speak to me for some time after, and both families were very much disappointed.”
And the beauty of this scene is that it’s based on truth! In 1802, when she was 26, Jane did accept a proposal of marriage from a rich young landowner—the sort of match that would have ensured her and her family’s financial security. The next day, however, she ended the engagement. We didn’t know why—until now. (I think his name alone, Harris Bigg-Wither, was justification for it.)
Now you could argue that I—or any other writer of vamp fiction—cheats. I don’t believe anyone can use all the traditional vampire myths—that they can’t cross water, tolerate garlic, see their reflections in mirrors, listen to FM radio, go out in daylight, and so on (I made one of these up). I wanted to make my vampires true to their times and JANE AUSTEN: BLOOD PERSUASION includes both a history of vampires in England and a glossary of vampire terms. In the passage above, I use the term “dine” instead of “feed” (it’s so much more elegant) and the term en sanglant (some fake French for having a fang-on).
So what are your favorite and least favorite vampire myth? And how much bending of an author’s rules can you tolerate?
Find me online:
www.janetmullany.com where there’s a contest, another excerpt from JABP and lots of info about my books.