Jane Austen has long been a major influence on me, and, I think, on countless other women who write, women who read, and women who just generally exist in the world. So when I was given the opportunity to interview her for this series of conversations with some of history’s literary greats, I leapt at the opportunity—and into my time travel machine. I was transported back to Regency-era England, where Ms. Austen and I discussed writing, men, our favorite foods, and deal-breakers, over a pot of excellent tea.
Miss Austen, thank you so much for inviting me into your home. I feel truly honored.
Oh the honor is mine! I’m always delighted to meet other writers of the gentle sex. And please, do call me Jane.
Thank you Jane, I will. Only Ms. Austen I guess, if you’re nasty!
I should hope never to have occasion to speak with someone who finds me, as you say, nasty.
Fair enough. What inspired you to begin writing novels?
If I am completely honest, I first took up the pen to record my daily thoughts, both good and bad, about those who surrounded me.
So you kept a diary? Where you vented your feelings?
We don’t have vents here. Though the windows in the library do offer an excellent cross-breeze. Shall we take a turn?
Just like, walk around the library?
I find a stroll of several feet does wonders for the constitution.
Sure, let’s do it. While we walk—was your character Mr. Darcy, in Pride and Prejudice, based on someone you knew in real life?
Darcy was based on myself, I’m afraid to admit. While I very much believe in love, it’s never been my primary focus. This is why I have turned down each of the several dozen men who have proposed marriage to me.
That’s right! I forgot that you’re an old-school player!
What is it the young ones always say? Despise the one who will not listen to your suit, not the hearing of the suit itself?
Something like that. Where I’m from, we say, “hate the player, not the game.”
I do not play any games but whist.
For me it’s mainly Scrabble. What do you look for in a potential mate?
A stormy disposition, a terrible secret, an internal conflict, and a stylish cravat. The size of his income is unimportant.
Is “his income” meant to be innuendo?
I don’t speak much French, I’m afraid, but I could play a light operetta on the piano if you’d like. Would you like to sample a dry oatcake while we revive ourselves with some tea after that bracing exercise?
Sure, sounds good.
Oatcakes are my second favorite food, the first being fruit trifles of all sorts.
Cool, cool, I can dig it.
I am sorry we could not stroll out of doors today. But since there are clouds in the sky, I feared we would take ill, requiring that we stay in our beds for several weeks.
I understand, nobody wants that. Do you find it challenging being a female author in an age where men seem to dominate everything and a woman’s only place seems to be at home or at balls?
Your words displease me. You are a very ill-humored person. I fear you leave me with no other choice but to write a satirical version of you, in the person of a character who is always talking about her trials before eventually marrying for security. Also, she will wear ridiculous and floppy hats.
I guess I should be flattered. So you consider negativity a deal-breaker?
I only know one deal-breaker, and he fled town under the guise of returning to his regiment.
Don’t they all.
Indeed not! Most soldiers are quite honorable.
What one question would you most love to ask Jane Austen?