You are all aware of the Dear Teen Me project, yes? If not, then you should remedy that immediately by going to the website and reading all the letters authors have posted to their younger selves. This project is the brainchild of E. Kristin Anderson and Miranda Kenneally, and they graciously invited me to participate. My letter goes up on Thursday, by the way.
So! In doing research for my letter (by “doing research”, I really mean “going through old pictures and notes”), I found a treasure trove of artifacts from JJ’s teen days. They were dark days, my friends. These were the days before JJ even existed. These were the days she was still Sarah. (Oh, the horror!)
These artifacts prompted me to lead up to my Dear Teen Me letter on Thursday by giving you all a glimpse into the mind of my younger self through fiction, pictures, and drawings. (You can actually catch a glimpse of my 17-year-old teenage self on my blog. Yes, I have been blogging forever.)
Some hilarity beneath the cut!
Like many bookish types, I was an avid reader of Jane Austen. Like many of the female persuasion, I had also seen the 1995 BBC production of Pride & Prejudice (with Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy). And like many impressionable young women, I wrote really, really godawful fanfiction–no, excuse me, really godawful homages to Jane Austen.
You see, it all began (as it so often does) with a great English teacher and an English class. Pride & Prejudice was on the syllabus in my sophomore honors English class, introducing me to free indirect discourse and the genius of Austen’s arch wit. After finishing Pride & Prejudice, I promptly ran off and read the entirety of Austen’s catalogue. I also borrowed aforementioned production of P&P from Blockbuster. (But that’s another, tangentially related, but hilarious story.)
As it was often the case, when I really loved something as a child, I would write stories inspired by and constructed around the setting. I wrote loads of thinly-veiled Middle Earth fanfiction (I think the heroine’s name was Ailúriel), loads of supernatural FBI thrillers (based on my obsession with the X-Files), etc. 15 was the year my writing took a decidedly Regency bent.
Going through my box of memories, I came across parts of an epistolary novel. By “parts”, I mean letters I wrote. As my protagonist. To her sister. Unfortunately, I only have a few letters and I lost the outline that gives these letters context. But, let’s see what we can reconstruct, shall we?
March the 9th
My dearest Anne,
I know it has been several weeks since I’ve last written, but London is not short on delights. Last night Marianne and her husband Mr Woods were kind enough to take me to see a play. Though it was not Shakespeare, I enjoyed it immensely. The dialogue was full of passion and wit and the plot was most entertaining. The heroine dies at the end in order to save her true love. Tragic, true, but utterly romantic. How glorious it would be to die for love! I know if you were here, dear sister, you would say my sentimental tendencies have done away with my better judgment. Perhaps it is so, but I cannot go against my nature.
Right, so we apparently have a protagonist who seems to be a blatant caricature of Marianne Dashwood (note the appearance of the name in another character), with a sensible sister molded after Elinor Dashwood. Also, the actual research I’ve done for this seems to be nil. Was Shakespeare even performed during this time? If so, what plays? And where?
After the play, I chanced to meet with Mr Lovejoy. I was quite surprised at seeing him in London; has he quit his friend’s place at Briarwood? I did not anticipate his being in town, or else I would have made quite sure to avoid any possibility of our meeting again. He does not strike me as the sort to savor the delights of the season, but perhaps he is here for business.
However, as puzzled as I was to see him, he did not appear the least bit astonished to meet me on the steps of the theatre. He strode purposefully toward me, no doubt compelled by manners and some perverted sense of pride to engage me. Marianne, the traitor, was nowhere to be found and I was left to fend for myself. To my great wonder, Mr Lovejoy bestowed upon me an amiable greeting.
“Mr Lovejoy,” I acknowledged.
“I did not expect to find you here in London.”
“No indeed,” I replied. An awkward silence followed. I confess, darling Anne, that I was too perplexed by his civility to carry on any semblance of conversation. I simply could not fathom his sudden change in behavior.
“I trust that you are in good health–you and all your family?” he enquired.
“Yes, indeed, sir.”
In addition to being pseudo-Marianne Dashwood, my heroine also appears to have a snarky, Elizabeth-and-Darcy sort of relationship with the hero. I am so original!
So there are more awkward pauses, while the heroine tries to figure out why this annoying person is suddenly being nice to her and what he wants when the chaperone finally returns.
It was at this propitious moment Marianne appeared; propitious, for as we both know, our dear friend is never at a loss for conversation.
“Dear Mr Lovejoy!” she cried, “it has been far too long! Why, I did not expect to see you in town! I see you have already made the acquaintance of our lovely Miss Merrimam. And your family? I trust they are in good health? Are they also in town?”
Apparently, if one is ever at a loss for conversation in Regency England, one must remember to enquire after the health of the family. It’s the modern day equivalent of talking about the weather, I suppose.
“They are all perfectly well, thank you, madam,” he said politely. “My mother and father are still in Somerset, but my sister Felicity is making her debut.”
I had known of the existence of Miss Lovejoy, but I am ashamed to write that I could scarcely contain my giggles when I heard her Christian name. Felicity Lovejoy indeed.
“Yes,” said Mr Lovejoy ruefully, sensing the source of my mirth. “It was my mother who named her. My mother, who is otherwise the best of women, oftimes lets her sensibilties get in the way of her good sense.”
I turned my head to conceal my embarrassment. I could not help but feel this was a veiled insult to my person, but in truth I was more ashamed of my laughter. To answer his cordiality with ridicule–how shameful!
Right, so now I have a Marianne Dashwood/Elizabeth Bennett heroine, a pseudo-Mr Darcy, and now I even have a Georgiana! But I haven’t been able to suss out a plot yet.
There is more conversation in this vein, which culminates in Mr Lovejoy inviting our ladies to his estate in Somerset and my heroine starting to feel swoony in his presence, an emotion that is simply alien–alien!–in her interactions with him.
“Good night, Miss Merrimam.” He took my hand, and with utmost gentility, kissed it before allowing a teazing grin to grace his lips.
I bobbed my head in farewell, but when I lifted my eyes to meet his, his gaze turned serious. I was taken aback by the intensity in his grey eyes. I had always minded his how well he looked, but at that moment, I could feel the force of his good looks into the very marrow of my bones. The expression in his eyes turned my knees to water and set my cheeks aflame.
Of course his eyes are grey. Of course. And at last! We get to the swoony bits! With no context! Or any reason to care about my characters at all!
For the first time, dear Anne, I wished that I were more handsome. I take great pride in my accomplishments, but they offer me meagre comfort and compensation against my plainness. If only I could affect Mr Lovejoy in the manner in which he has affected me! It isn’t fair that he should have such power over me. But you would say the Lord sends us such trials as we can bear, and that I shall rise above it. If only you were here, darling sister. Without you, I fear I should lose myself in despair.
Well! Here is a bit of adolescent angst leaking through. I am plain! He is SOOOOOOOOOOOOOO hot! He will never find me attractive! It is the end of the world. “Despair” is rather harsh, but in my defense, I was 15 when I wrote this. I have to say, I think I got a good feel for the diction of Austen’s time, even if my plotting and characterization left much to be desired.
From the other letters, the following plot events seem to take place:
- Heroine goes to Mr Lovejoy’s estate in Somerset.
- Heroine meets Felicity Lovejoy.
- They bond over music and accomplishments.
- Heroine also meets a Helena Fitzgerald*, a pale beauty with some mysterious tie to Mr Lovejoy.
- There is a ball. (Of course there is a ball.)
- Heroine and Lovejoy are persuaded to perform a duet.
- They do not know duets, but will learn one to exhibit.
- More swooning ensues, but Miss Fitzgerald’s melancholy seems to affect Mr Lovejoy greatly.
- WHAT COULD IT BE????
*Helena Fitzgerald is Lou Reed Girlfriend‘s actual name. Meaning I invented Lou Reed Girlfriend three years before I actually met her.
Oh teen self. Was I silly or what?