Jessica Irene attended a booksigning by Pamela Aidan, author of the Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman series, at Third Place Books Lake Forest Park, Seattle, Washington, on January 17, 2007, and was kind enough to send AustenBlog a report and photos. Click on the thumbnails to see larger versions of the photos.
Pamela started the evening with asking for shows of hands of how many present were Jane Austen lovers. The audience of about 35 women raised their hands. She asked how many felt P&P was their favorite; most raised their hands. Then she asked how many felt Persuasion was their second favorite, and about a third raised their hands (I raised mine as well, though Persuasion is my very first favorite). She then told us that we were in good company, that this was exactly the way she felt, this love for Darcy and Elizabeth; she had first read Jane in high school and had “fallen in love”, seeing Jane’s novels as her “comfort books”. In 1995 she saw the A&E version of P&P, which she said started a “Jane Austen revival and explosion” and she felt she “could not get enough of the film” and “wanted more”.
The internet was also proliferating at this point in time and others of like mind could find each other, websites devoted to JA and the A&E P&P “popped up” and “one of them was the Republic of Pemberley and another the Derbyshire Writers Guild”. She read lots of fan fiction, “some of it very good, some not so good”, and she said to herself “I can do this.” Working full time as a librarian, she tried her hand at a short piece called “Be Not Alarmed, Madam,” which she posted. She received lots of feedback, which encouraged her. She noticed that there were many prequels and sequels to P&P, but none telling the story in real time from Darcy’s point of view. We know he changes, but how did he change? What was it like from his point of view? “Well”, she thought, “if I want to find out what happened I guess I’ll have to write it myself.” She posted book one in The Chronicles of Pemberley series (now know as Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman) entitled “An Assembly Such as This”. She received loads of feedback, eventually hearing from people in 101 countries (my aside: witness the enduring power of Jane!). The response was so positive, and she “enjoyed the characters so much” that she began on book two. One particular email at this time caught her eye: it was from a male reader in the voice of Mr. Darcy, who proceeded to tell her that “she got a couple of things wrong”. She wrote him back and “found he knew what he was talking about and was not just blowing smoke.” As Darcy he told her “what she got right and what was wrong”; she wrote thanking him for the insights, and a correspondence ensued. Soon she was sending him chapters of book two for comments, and eventually they met and were married.
People began begging her to get published so “they would not have to carry around notebooks filled with copies”. She knew the public liked it, but what about an editor? She located Print on Demand, but at a book fair she found the printer they used, Lightning Source, and contracted to print the first book with them directly by forming her own publishing company, Wytherngate Press. Michael/Darcy was a technical writer and prepared the entire manuscript with her for production, since they had no editor. So far 70,000 copies of An Assembly Such As This have sold on online bookstores. Pamela has been told that it has sold more than any other self published historical romance (again: the power of Jane!) Soon it made the Barnes and Noble Top 10 Historical Fiction list, and Simon and Schuster called. Pamela turned them down twice. Finally she got a lawyer and negotiated, and S&S finally offered her 5 times their original offer. At this point another 70,000 copies have been sold of the second two books.
Pamela then read from the pub scene in These Three Remain. She read well, though rather comically at first in a poor approximation of a British accent. As the story rolled along the audience began the chuckle at the well written scene between Dy and a drunken Darcy. Questions then ensued. When asked “How did you get inside a man’s mind?” Pamela shared that she is “from a family of four brothers and she has three sons”. She also stated that Michael helped her very much. She had “only written college papers before”(her Masters in Library Science had a children’s lit emphasis), but found it was a “labor of love”. She did a lot of research, reading British history, biographies of Jane, taking “lots of notes” to “guide her in what Darcy’s life in London and society might be like.” She begins writing early in the morning: “while it is dark, I listen to Enya and have a cup of tea, and then I sit down at the desk and just begin to write”.
I asked Pamela that given the research she has done, did she think it accurate that in Duty and Desire Darcy would go to such places as Lady Caroline Lamb’s party and Norwycke Castle, and (redacted by the Editrix as it is a major spoiler). Would he mix with these people? She bristled a bit at this and said “oh here’s that question!” I asked her if this had been raised before, and she said that many critical observations had been posted that Darcy would not have left London at the time. Her response was “Show me where it says that anywhere in Austen’s books.” She went on to say that she wanted to do “a character study of Darcy, not just tell the story from a male point of view. His most important influences are his family, his peers–and in this I do not think Bingley would be his closest friend, I see Darcy more as Bingley’s mentor. He would have a friend like Dyfed, intelligent and his equal. I wanted to show him with his peers, that society for whom he is rejecting Elizabeth. We need to know how he changed, how his morals and assumptions were challenged. It is at Norwycke Castle that he sees that Elizabeth indeed has no equal, despite her social standing, and that the society of his peers shows signs of corruption. In studying this era I found that there was a great deal of ugliness which is not included in Jane’s novels. She wrote about what she knew in her world, but outside of that there was a lot of nasty stuff going on. Darcy also sees at Norwycke Castle how deep his hatred is for Wickham in his own heart and it shocks him. This is my idea of how he changed for the better; it is Elizabeth’s goodness and good sense he is attracted to.”
Though she seemed a bit miffed by this question, it also seemed to produce the most passionate and deeply thought response. I told her I loved Fletcher and she concluded by saying that he “just appeared on the page” and that she felt that he quoted Shakespeare because he knew he wanted to guide Darcy toward Elizabeth (and her maid for himself) but as a servant could do so only obliquely through cryptic quotations.
The evening ended with Pamela graciously signing books (both An Assembly Such As This and Duty and Desire were sold out) and thanking us all for coming. She was floored when I shared with her that Lord Brougham has already spawned his own fan fiction (thanks, Sylvia!). All in all it was a fun evening, though it was short (lasting about 75 minutes) and people did not mingle much. There were two men there; Pamela’s husband Darcy-Michael and a teenaged boyfriend of a girl doing a book report for school who said “I wasn’t sure if I wandered into a “He’s Not That Into You” group or something.”
To me, the whole event was another example of the enduring impression left by Jane’s works. Her legacy lives on.