Edmund Bertram was not the reason I did Mansfield Park. I'd never quite liked him--although I didn't care much and that was a good thing. I actually took Mansfield because its characters annoyed me the least. I preferred some of Austen's other novels as overall stories, but each of them had at least one major character that irritated me to pieces. Writing about those characters would be a problem, so I bypassed those books. Only two of them were options, but I would also have skipped the other three if they had been on the table. Edmund was the one character I didn't completely like in Mansfield Park, but he didn't drive me crazy.
The tricky thing was that he was a primary male character, so I couldn't minimize him. I planned for him to be an obligatory reference at first and early on I wrote more of a trite romance between Ed and Fanny (Faye) than currently appears in Bellevere because I felt he wasn't good for much else. But he sprang up large because he has a quite real, unexpected entertainment factor. In fact, his faults are what I began to enjoy about him. He doesn't have to be perfect or anywhere close to that in order to be a good character. He just has to be real--something that applies to Bellevere House as a whole. Its characters aren't whitewashed role models or even entirely rational, but from being a skeptic who had always had Austen in my face (not that I hated her, but my friends and family were way bigger fans) I've grown into loving her work. Bellevere is now my personal favorite of my books for plot and storyline. Not for characters, because that's Victoria: A Tale of Spain. But for narrative and that of course means I've put it above any of my own creative plots. To paraphrase John Dryden "I hope that in wrecking Jane Austen I have created an above-average self-published novel."
When I was evaluating my books, I began to reconsider Bellevere and Ed. Though he's unattractive at times, his absolute foolishness keeps him from being a boring character. He might even be funny as he drifts around trying to up his market value by being rude to the woman he actually likes and flirting with someone else. After all, what I've always tried to avoid was writing a boring book, not a bad one. And, thanks to Austen's vivid story arcs, this one will be worth reading no matter what I do with it. My first blurbs for the book, which feel almost cute since they were so long ago, said Ed was the one Faye would never admit she was in love with. I've discovered it's the opposite. Faye is the one Ed will never admit he's in love with. But since he is actually quite fond of her, it makes sense that he now spends most of the last chapter apologizing to her.😊
And there will be more updates.
Digging deeper into The Test of Devotion always brings rewards, as I found when I returned to the first draft last year. It has such a great plot, in which interlocking characters pursue separate journeys with one goal in mind—what to do about beautiful, possibly out-of-her-depth, rebellious Arabella. It has POV characters for both sides of the plot, and we switch back and forth between them pretty systematically. Outside of Devotion, the only other novel where I've used multiple POV is Harrisons, but its function is merely practical for incidents that the narrators (Betty or Letty) might not be able to show if I used just one of them. In Devotion the two plots frame each other and head towards one conclusion, swirling around Arabella, as we follow two teenagers who are approaching the same story from different angles.
Viajero is a boy who is born and raised into the outlaw lifestyle, since his father is an outlaw. He also likes it pretty well and views it as a dashing role in society, which causes him embarrassment gradually as he meets new people while finding Arabella and he learns that becoming a criminal is not really an admired life decision. After he is hired by Arabella’s boyfriend to help him navigate an unfamiliar western landscape in search of her, we follow Viajero’s view on the adventure instead of Trevalyn’s.
Jenny, similarly, is a girl who is viewed as a helpful figure around Arabella and balances the Viajero/Trevalyn chapters with feminine situations in a hotel where she spends time with Arabella as a companion/assistant/friend. Her father, who runs the hotel where Arabella is staying, isn’t very popular and Jenny is self-conscious about her role in society, unlike Viajero. Although not formally hired as an attendant, she rapidly becomes one and we follow her efforts to help the attractive protagonist get out of danger.
And there will be more updates.
Bellevere House is a reworking of a classic novel (Mansfield Park) and the source material has a sizable influence on what plots and characters appear in the book. The original book is a soap opera in which the characters run a pretty big gamut of situations. Like all Jane Austen's novels, knotted family situations and complex romantic character development are given free rein to grow, and Mansfield Park is by nature a complicated type of story. Austen's fearlessness encouraged me to examine situations I hadn't written about before and took me out of my usual storytelling to broaden my writing.
After I worked with them, these Central Five Characters became a little bit mine as well as Austen’s. But you can definitely still recognize that they were once hers.
Uncle Warren is the head of the Haverton family. He is unusually wealthy for the Depression era and is sometimes a threatening figure to others, since he is rather self-centered and motivated by what he feels is a “bigger picture” instead of individual feelings. While far from the world's best dad, he does genuinely try to be involved with his children's lives—like Sir Thomas, who is an imperfect but often misunderstood Austen father.
Aunt Cora is the middle-aged sister of Uncle Warren’s wife. She lives with the Haverton family and spends all her time doing—well, basically nothing. In the past, she was a devious and active woman who got situated around her rich relatives. She was also very much full of herself and now she doesn't quite know when to stop getting on people's nerves, which makes her a really funny character.
Horace was inspired by Henry Crawford, one of Austen’s most dashing and frustrating characters. It’s understandable why the talented young Henry has wowed whole generations of fans, but he has real limitations that contribute to his demise. In Bellevere, Horace Carter embraces religion as a path to gain social acceptance after moral transgressions, sharing Henry’s inability to quite understand those he wishes to be near.
Faye is Uncle Warren’s niece. A quiet young woman, she comes from a poor family and while she's not angsty about it, she acknowledges the social reality of her position and gains from being useful to those around her. Otherwise, she has few opinions on the lives of others, simply trying to deal with opportunities or challenges as they present themselves. But you certainly shouldn't make her mad, as her cousin Ed finds out when awkward efforts to flirt with her by being rude backfire.
Jane Watson appears as a thread in all the VJA retellings. She’s a concept of what Austen might have been like had she lived in the 1930s and although she only appears for a couple of scenes in Bellevere, she is very meaningful. The variations on her differ from book to book, but all agree that she is a strong person and keenly observant without being petty. Family, community, and feminism are all important qualities to her and her work as a journalist makes her objective.
And there will be more updates.
Author of Science Fiction, General Fiction, Historical Fiction, and Anthology Fiction
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Bellevere House has been featured on Ezvid Wiki video "10 Wonderfully Inventive Retellings That Interpret Classic Stories in a New Way." Click to see the video.