Before there was a single man in possession of a good fortune at Netherfield, there was a single man in want of a wife in London. His name was Wickham and he was bent on marrying himself into as much wealth as he might contrive, preferably to the detriment of the man who had destroyed all his prospects in life – the man known as Darcy of Pemberley.
In Pride and Prejudice, everything hinges on a letter which Mr. Darcy gives Elizabeth – a letter setting forth all his dealings with Mr. Wickham. These facts, supplied by Austen herself, are at the heart of Follies Past. The novel begins at Pemberley, at Christmas, almost a year before the opening of Pride and Prejudice. It follows young Georgiana Darcy to London, to Ramsgate and to the brink of a perilous elopement.
Upon cracking open the pages of Follies Past, readers will quickly forget that it was not penned by the masterful hand of Jane Austen herself. Crafted with all the skill of a trained linguist, this jaunty excursion into a flawless Regency England gives readers all the joys, the wit, and the drama of their beloved Pride and Prejudice. Existing characters are just as Austen wrote them, and the story, the manners, even the syntax, all conform to her standards and idioms.
As well as some exciting new characters and a sweet and touching new love story, readers will discover delightful surprises from more minor characters such as Anne de Bourgh and Mrs. Younge. The prefect prequel to England’s favourite book, this is a novel for true Austen fans.
Melanie Kerr studied linguistics, English and theatre at the University of British Columbia and law at the University of Alberta. She is a regular attendee at meetings of her local chapter of JASNA, and has numerous times arranged for large groups of Canadians to join her in attending the Jane Austen Festival in Bath, England. Kerr is a reckless lover of clotted cream, a staunch defender of the semi-colon and a fierce opponent of unpleasant music. She wooed her current and only husband with false promises of skill at word games and eternally good hair. She lives in Edmonton, where she raises her two sons, sews her own Regency costumes, runs a Jane Austen Fun Club, blogs on all things old and English, endeavours to take over the world and occasionally practices law. Follies Past is her first novel.
1. How did you come with the idea for your current story?
One of the great things about Jane Austen’s storytelling is the way she ties everything up into a deeply satisfying ending. We all want the books to go on and on, but extending the characters and the plot after the final chapter felt to me like interfering with that perfect ending. And it would all have to be speculative. Nobody knows what happens after the close of a book, but Jane Austen herself tells us what happened before Pride and Prejudice. In Darcy’s letter to Elizabeth, setting out all his dealings with Mr. Wickham, Austen gives us that history, and on that foundation, I built my novel, Follies Past.
I thought if I extended the story backwards in time, I would be able to explore more of her world, spend more time with her characters and create the experience I longed for as a reader, but without offending anyone’s ideas about what might have happened. Everyone ends up exactly as they are at the start of P&P. Also, I love the history of things. I love the depth that a prequel can give to an original story, not that P&P needs anything from me, but just to expand on the back-story, to delve into the history, felt really exciting.
The book also contains a story of its own, to create the arc and structure of a Jane Austen novel, the kind of plot that I, myself, like to read. Because everyone knows how the Wickham and Georgiana story ends, I have woven it with another story with some mystery and drama to keep the pages turning.
2. Tell us about your writing process. Do you outline, or are you more of a seat of your pants type of a writer?
I definitely outline. I have to know where I am going, so that everything builds towards a conclusion. Writing Follies Past, I had the ending in mind the whole time. I could have written the last three chapters first. I felt like this helped me to focus my writing and prevented me from getting side-tracked. It also motivated me to keep writing because I just wanted to get to the ending, which I was so excited about writing.
3. What is your favorite scene in the book? Why?
Oh, there are so many! My real favourite comes right at the end, so it would be too much of a spoiler to speak of it. I quite enjoy every scene with Lady Catherine, and I thoroughly enjoyed writing Caroline Bingley. She is so ridiculous in her self-regard that there was a lot of fun to be had in following her through her story. I also gave myself a lot of freedom with her because nobody likes her anyway. I didn’t have to worry about making her likeable.
There are also some scenes between Mrs. Younge and Mr. Wickham which I like very much. These are 2 villains, really, and to see how they plot together, and the nature of their relationship, the interaction of their characters, had a lot of room for humour and for development of Mr. Wickham in particular.
4. What is the highest goal that you desire to meet as an author?
Having my book made into a mini-series for British television. That is my dream and my ambitious goal. But if I can give a few people a chance to live a few more hours in Jane Austen’s world, without any jarring anachronisms or inconsistencies, that would be most gratifying.
Really, I just want to write. I want enough people to read my books so that I can justify writing them.
5. What is in your To Read Pile that you are dying to start or upcoming release you can’t wait for?
I am excited to read Longbourn, which you might have heard of, about the servants of Longbourn during Pride and Prejudice. And I would like to read One Summer by Bill Bryson. I love his books, the way they combine humour and history. I have been told it is even better than At Home, which was one of my favourite books.
6. How do you spend your free time? Do you have a favorite place to go and unwind?
Essentially, I have no free time. If I did, I would spend it sitting on the couch and drinking tea, probably watching a costume drama. I also love to bake and sew and entertain. My favourite place in the world might be Bath, England. I dream about it all the time, walking through the cobbled streets, going for cream tea, stopping in at a used book shop, buying shoes, grabbing a pasty and looking in shop windows – heaven!
7. Tell us three fun facts about yourself.
I grew up in New Zealand, specifically Devonport, Waiheke Island and Taumarunui, for anyone who knows the country.
I am a Baha’i.
I first met my British husband briefly in China, then convinced him, from across the world, to move to Canada and marry me.
8. Is there anything else you’d like to share with your readers?
Yes, please visit my website (folliespast.com) to check out the 3 film-style trailers I made for the book, and to read the post about making them.
Caroline Bingley had long known the name of Darcy, and she had always hoped to increase her family’s intimacy with it. In fact, she was prepared, as soon as it could be arranged, to take it as her own. Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy was the head of the very wealthy and well-connected family and was her brother’s most esteemed friend. She thought, therefore, of the joy it would bring her brother if she could be the means of uniting the companions in brotherhood, of the many benefits such an exalted connection would bring for her own dear sister, of the future generations of her family and all that they would reap from their association with the prestigious house of Darcy. Of all these considerations, she took pride in none so much as she did in her own charity, for having considered everyone’s interest but her own.
“I know not how I shall survive two fortnights without you, Louisa,” she remarked to her sister as she packed her trunk. “This may be the most important four weeks of my life.”
Caroline had been introduced to Mr. Darcy by her brother at a ball earlier that year. He had not asked her to dance, but she had convinced him to sit down to a game of cards with her, and she felt she had outdone herself in conversation with him—particularly since he was somewhat taciturn with her at first. He had even gone so far as to express a hope of meeting again, which was more than she had heard him do for any other lady that evening. When she received from her brother the news that they were all invited to spend Christmas at Pemberley, Mr. Darcy’s Derbyshire estate, she attributed it to her personal charms and was very well pleased with her success.
Had Caroline known the true reason for the invitation, her pride and her hopes would have been quite dashed. The Bingleys had been invited with the pointed purpose of being introduced to Mr. Darcy’s younger sister, Georgiana. Caroline always spent the London season at her brother’s house in town and Mr. Darcy hoped that she might take an interest in Georgiana, that their acquaintance might ease his sister’s transition to London and her coming out in society, both of which were to follow in the spring.
Caroline’s sister, Louisa, was not able to accept Mr. Darcy’s invitation as she was to spend the season with the family of Mr. Hurst, the man whom she had lately engaged herself to marry.
“If Mr. Darcy’s affections were inspired on the strength of a single meeting,” Louisa said, “then it would be best to imitate, as closely as possible, the conditions of that first encounter.”
Caroline nodded her agreement with this wise counsel.
“To your first dinner at Pemberley,” she continued, “you must wear the very gown you wore that night. This shall inspire in him a recollection of his obviously favourable first impression.”
“But is not it a risk to wear the same gown twice in a row in the same company?” asked Caroline.
Her sister replied with confidence, “And so it must stand out in Mr. Darcy’s mind for its anomaly and work to impress upon him even more deeply the significance of your first encounter. What is more, you must wear the same fragrance, as scent is known to act upon the mind and heart more potently than any other of the senses.”
“An excellent point,” remarked Caroline. She agreed to everything suggested by her sister, but most importantly, she determined to be everything charming and clever.
After several days and three nights of fair weather and tolerable inns, Caroline and her brother, Mr. Bingley, arrived at Pemberley at dusk.
“We are dreadfully late in arriving, Caroline,” said Mr. Bingley as the carriage entered the gate. “We ought to have left Allestree much earlier. It is, indeed, a duty to offer charity wherever possible, but I cannot understand why it was necessary to visit the alms houses in person. Surely a gift of some money would have sufficed. Christian duty or no, you risk inconveniencing our hosts.”
“Oh Charles,” Caroline sighed. “You are not accustomed to acts of charity as I am. It is the presence of the giver that is the true gift. The money is of assistance, certainly, but to receive it from the hands of the giver—to see the face of generosity—is a gift of hope and good will that far exceeds the value of the coins themselves. Surely you can see that this is worth delaying our arrival for.”
In truth, Caroline had insisted on visiting the poor in order to delay their arrival until the sun was setting, in order that her complexion might profit by the glow of evening light. She believed that there was never too much concern to be spent in making an impression. She wished her sister had been present to make a third as they alighted from the carriage, for a grouping of three is always more pleasing to the eye than two. She was cheered by the late but happy thought that the figure of the footman would suffice to complete the picture.