Emily M. DeArdo



"Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance": Jane Austen and Married Soulmates

Uncategorized, Jane AustenEmily DeArdo2 Comments

"'Well,' said Charlotte, 'I wish Jane success with all my heart; and if she were married to him to-morrow, I should think she had as good a chance of happiness, as if she were to be studying his character for a twelve-month. Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance.'"

--Pride and Prejudice

The idea of "soulmates" is definitely a modern one. For the majority of human history, people viewed marriage under a much less romantic lens. 

This is sort of addendum to a post I wrote yesterday about marriage in the Church; but it's also something I've been thinking about for awhile, ever since I had a conversation with a friend about Charlotte Lucas and Mr. Collins. 

My friend's position was that Charlotte marrying Mr. Collins was a failing of the book; Why would Charlotte marry a man that she doesn't really like? That's just ridiculous! Jane messed up. 

But what Pride and Prejudice--and to extent, almost all of Jane's books--illustrates is that women didn't, generally, marry for love. It was nice if you could do it. But single women were really limited in what they could do, without a husband. They couldn't own property. They had really no say in a court of law. If they weren't married, their fathers were in charge. If their fathers were dead, then their brothers were in charge. If you did marry for love, you were Super Special--and possibly, super odd. 

Jane knew, very vividly, what this was like. She made the decision not to marry for anything other than love, but that meant that she was at the mercy of her brothers, after her father died. Fortunately, the Austen men were good sorts of men, and took good care of Jane, her sister Cassandra, and her mother.  They were lucky, and Jane knew it; you can see it in her fiction. The Dashwoods' brother is not nearly as kind to his sisters. 

 Charlotte Lucas is older than Lizzie (who is almost 21), which plays a part in her deciding to marry Mr. Collins. She's probably feeling the need to get married soon, before all the guys are taken. With a husband, she's off her father and brothers' hands. She's provided for; she has some station in the world. Even though she's the daughter of a knight, she won't inherit anything at Lucas Lodge. It will all go to her brothers. Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice both show what happens when an estate is "entailed away from the female line." The reason Mrs. Bennet wants Lizzie to marry Mr. Collins is so the house can stay in the family--when Mr. Bennet dies, as he says, Mr. Collins could "throw [them] all out, if he chooses." Yes, that's right--Mrs. Bennet, and all of her unmarried daughters, would be out of their house, if the new owner so chose to do that. 

Marianne, Elinor, and Margaret Dashwood are essentially being helped by another male relative, Sir John Middleton. The money their father left them and their mother is quite a small sum, and they lost their home, Norland. They weren't poor, but without Sir John's help, they very well might have been. And keep in mind that women couldn't really "earn" a living. Look at Miss Bates in Emma. She and her mother aren't Dickensian, but they're also not really genteel, either. They're poor enough that Emma takes them food and clothes and things like that. 

Fanny Price's family could be Dickensian. They are very clearly poor. Her father wastes any money he gets, and it's only because Mrs. Price begs her sister, Lady Bertram, to take Fanny, that Fanny has any chance. Mrs. Price "married for love", and it's not a recommendation she makes to her daughter. She would like to see Fanny marry Henry Crawford. 

In Jane Austen's England, love was a secondary question.  It's lucky that all of Jane's heroines do end happily--but the risk of that not happening is very close, all the time. None of them, except Emma, is independently wealthy. Emma is the only one who could really choose to stay single. Marianne, Margaret, Elinor, Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Kitty, Lydia, Fanny, Harriet, and Anne all have to either get married, or be dependent on the whims of their male relations. 

Emma and Sir John Knightley

Emma and Sir John Knightley

It's important, when reading Jane, or the Brontes,  Dickens, or even Outlander, to remember that their world is not our world. There was a very different code that governed lives and society.  In Outlander, Jamie says that a good husband is one who doesn't beat or starve his wife. That's what's a "good" husband in 18th century Scotland is. Jane Eyre's pluck is sort of risky--she could very easily have alienated, instead of entranced, Mr. Rochester. And if Lizzy and Darcy's feelings for each other hadn't changed, Lizzy would've been in a pickle, as she says, somewhat laughingly, to Jane: "I may in time meet with another Mr. Collins!" 

There's also the question of class, which is raised in P&P. "He is a gentleman, I am a gentleman's daughter, thus far we are equal," Lizzy says to Lady Catherine near the end of P&P. "But who is your mother? Who are your uncles and aunts?" Lady C shoots back. Lizzie's father may be a gentleman, but the fact that her one uncle is a lawyer, and one is in trade, doesn't bode well for Lizzie's social standing. 

In an "ideal" marriage, everything would match--fortune, social standing, breeding, etc. That doesn't mean that they'll be happy together; look at Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. But the important thing to remember is that the idea of "soulmates" isn't something that was common for most of human history, as we can see in the history of the period, as well as in the fiction. 

Edmund and Fanny 

Edmund and Fanny 




It's Alive! Creating a Vibrant Novel Part III: Dialogue

fiction, The Undesirables, writingEmily DeArdoComment

How to write convincing dialogue @emily_m_deardo Dialogue is my favorite thing to write. Putting words in people's mouth is always a fun thing to do, especially when it's part of the job. Characters need dialogue in order to really exist. You can dig out the caves, you can do all your pre-writing research, but your characters, eventually, will have to talk to each other.

Having a good ear for dialogue is a bit of an unearned talent. Some writers have it, and some don't. There was an entire period of novel writing when dialogue was pretty spare. Henry James is a great example of this. You have pages and pages of text, without any dialogue, and to be honest, this sort of writing drives me crazy. I don't need pages of internal monologue. I need dialogue. Detail is helpful, yes; but there is a place where it becomes burdensome (see Moby-Dick....this is the main reason why I so dislike Melville).

Knowing your characters will tell you a lot about how they talk. If they're lawyers, they're going to talk different than Eliza Doolittle. An Earl is going to speak differently than a shopkeeper, and someone older is going to use larger words, and more sophisticated sentences, than a two-year old.

Here's an example from The Undesirables, where we have several characters of different ages interacting:

I found Jack in the kitchen, spreading batter into a cake pan. “Guinness Cake, for Kate,” he said.

“Her favorite.”

“We’re going out for dinner?”

“Yup.” The strands of Aladdin, and the girls’ singing, came into the kitchen. “Sweet. I’m off duty.” Jack placed the pan in the oven and tossed the mitts on the counter. “Where to?”

“We need to decide.”

“CHEESE,” The girls cried. LeAnne and Margaret were of one mind--they wanted the place that served grilled cheese down the street.

“Something a bit fancier, my ladies,” their dad said, picking each one up under the arms. The girls squealed and the threesome fell on the couch.

“Wendy’s!” They squealed in concert.

“Even fancier than that,” I said, tickling Margaret.

“I don’t know that it gets much fancier than Wendy’s,” Emme said as she tossed her keys on the counter.

“In their world, probably not,” Jack said as we let the girls go back to the movie. The Rug was playing checkers with Robin Williams’ Genie.

I actually love writing in kids' voices, so this scene was fun for me to do. But it's an example of adults interacting with kids, and kids being kids.

Dialogue is a place where stealing is a great idea. Charles Schultz said that if you didn't have a funny dog you didn't know how funny a dog could be, and it's the same way with dialogue.

If you're writing in an accent, it can be hard to catch that accent, so definitely do research beforehand. Don't throw in words or expressions that wouldn't fit that particular culture/social realm.

Jane Austen, of course, is a master of dialogue. There's a reason we find her and Shakespeare so quotable. It's because they knew how to write in a way that captured our ears and our minds. Stilted dialogue can kill a scene really quickly, and it's something I'm always obsessing over.

A really good example of stilted dialogue? The Star Wars movies, especially the prequels. I like them as much as anyone else, but George Lucas' gift really is not writing dialogue. It's just not. Even the best actors can't save bad dialogue.  They can try, but ultimately it's probably always going to sound stilted.

Do you have favorite writers who excel in dialogue? Do you ever have problems writing it?

let's talk about creating great dialogue in your writing! @emily_m_deardo

It's Alive! Creating a Vibrant Novel Part II: The Characters

behind the scenes, fiction, research, writingEmily DeArdoComment

let's talk about how to create great characters in your writing! @emily_m_deardo

Last week, we talked about how important research is to a novel. Today, we're going to talk about the people that populate your stories--the characters.

There are a plethora of approaches involving characters. Virginia Woolf talked about digging a cave behind hers:

“I dig out beautiful caves behind my characters; I think that gives exactly what I want; humanity, humor, depth. The idea is that the caves shall connect, & each comes to daylight at the present moment.”

 Diana Gabaldon writes about characterization at length on her website. Some authors prefer to know everything about their characters, from the time they were born to their favorite childhood breakfast, while some wing it as they go along. Some characters have things borrowed from people I know, and some are created out of whole cloth (like Ariel, a minor character in The Undesirables--I just worked on a scene with her yesterday, so she's fresh in my mind. And yes, her name is Ariel for a reason.)

Generally, I know my main characters well. I write down details about them--eye color, hair color, height, general body shape and composition. I know how they like to dress and what they do for fun, and I can picture them as I'm writing. Secondary characters tend to spring up because the main characters need them to populate their world. For example, in Undesirables, Kate (the main character) has a best friend, Paige. David (Kate's husband, and the other protagonist), has a best friend, Eric. While I might not know as much about these guys as I do about Kate and David, I still need to know how Eric and Paige will react in situations with Kate and David. How do they talk? What is their relationship with my main characters? What is their physicality--how they enter a room, how they sit, their mannerisms.

In Pilate's Wife, for example, I knew there were things that Pontius and Claudia wouldn't do. They wouldn't slouch or be slovenly people. They wouldn't talk with their mouths full. They have a certain sense of breeding and carriage. I also had to be careful of their dialogue. I couldn't put twenty-first century idioms into first century mouths.

But the main characters have "caves" behind them: I know when they were born, who their parents are, their siblings. I often sketch out family trees for these guys, and have birthdays for their siblings and parents. I know where their parents live and where the characters grew up. I know their best and worst school subjects. To me, that's all very important,  even if I will never use this information. I still have to know it.

The last piece of creating a vibrant novel is dialogue, and for this, I'll have to devote another post.

Who are some of your favorite fictional characters? If you write fiction, how do you create your characters?

let's talk about creating great characters in your writing! @emily_m_deardo

Pilate's Wife--now available!

fiction, Pilate's WifeEmily DeArdoComment

Pilate's Wife has been released! Find out how to get a copy  @emily_m_deardo

Hi everyone!

As promised, Pilate's Wife went out to all subscribers today as a thank you gift! I hope that you enjoy reading it!

However, if you are a WordPress follower, I can't email the story to you. So if you want a copy, please use the contact form on the about me page, and I will send you the story! I want to make sure you get your gift!

I'm "excited and scared" that this story is out there in the world, and I hope that you all enjoy it.