I'm writing an historical fiction novel in the style of Jane Austen, in the period of Austen, 1802, BUT set in Ireland.
During this writing challenge, I've been reading all of Austen's works, letters, unfinished works, unpublished works, etc. It's been fascinating to watch her grow as a writer, but also fascinating to realize how bloody good she was in her youth.
If you've never heard of, or read Lady Susan, one of Austen's earliest unpublished novels, I highly recommend it. It's an epistolary novel, meaning it's composed entirely of letters, and the lead character is quite a scandalous lady of her time. Hand-written correspondence has all but disappeared in the modern lexicon of life, so the delight of reading letters is ten fold increased today. Hence, my hypothesis as to why Lady Susan is making a comeback on bookshelves. Reading someone else's letter is a voyeuristic occupation. It allows the outside reader in on a secret. And this book, with a beautiful, charming lady seducing men many years her junior and carrying on an affair with a married man, is full of salacious secrets. The letters from the jealous wives of the seduced men are equally as intriguing.
This brings me to an observation about all of Jane's writings - the fact that women had little or no power over their fate. Lady Susan is her only character, in any of her books that even attempts to live life for her own happiness, and not to please others. She can not be happy if oppressed by the rules of society, so she defies every rule.
But she is always the Belle of the ball, despite her reputation. Why? Because women, the jealous wives, have no power. In the land of Austen, good morals always win the day; but if an opposite horse ever had it chance at the blue ribbon, it was Lady Susan.
Women in the regency era, 1790's - 1820's, were always at the mercy of either a good marriage or an inheritance. If neither were in a woman's future, she may be forced into service as a governess. The stakes for a low-income, young, unmarried lady are great, it's either marriage or servitude. This situation is exactly why Austen's books are so enjoyable; a lady's merits overrule her income. A rich husband is always found for the lady of high moral character. The books offer hope to all the penniless gentlemans' daughters of the past and the present. The reader is instantly rooting for the underdog.
Now the question - as it pertains to my own Irish set Austen novel. If my young sisters each have £20,000, like Miss Crawford in Mansfield Park, are they allowed to marry beneath their rank? Knowing that women at this time have little choice in their fate, is it believable that a wealthy Anglo-Irish lady may choose to marry a working doctor? Is it believable at this time, in 1802, that a young lady may wish to find a greater purpose in her life than to simply sip tea with her morning callers, which is any well-bred ladys' fate as she fends off one fortune hunting suitor after another?
What's your opinion?