So, my New Year’s resolution was to be more regular about my blog posts. You now know how good I am at keeping New Year’s resolutions! Anyway….
I attended a writing workshop this morning on world-building, courtesy of the local chapter of the Romance Writers of America. I wasn’t sure how much would be applicable for me, since the worlds I write aren’t my invention: Regency England, which I try to keep historically accurate, and modern-day Woods Hole, which actually exists. But even with the most reality-based settings, writers still have to pick out which important facts about the setting and the society to highlight, which becomes world-building of a sort. It made me realize that I use different worlds even in my Pemberley Variations, which take place in the same years, same locations, and even the same characters.
In Impulse & Initiative, Regency England is a fairly light-hearted place. There aren’t any poor people except a few servants who are quite contented with their lot, nobody gets seriously ill, and I blithely ignore the harsher realities of Regency life. It’s the Victorian view of the pre-industrial Regency as an age of perfect innocence. Well, there’s innocence and then there’s innocence, as it were, but most of us have inherited that quite fallacious view that the Regency was a perfected version of the Victorian hyper-moral universe, when actually it was quite decadent and far from innocent. Mr. Darcy’s Obsession, which comes out this fall, is the story of what happens when Darcy, who believes he lives in the easy world of Impulse & Initiative, discovers he actually lives in a superficial society that builds its pleasures on the back of other people’s pain, where good birth is conidered of vastly more importance than good morals, and that he’s going to have to make some choices about whether to continue to pretend that everything is fine or to pay the price of publicly disagreeing with the status quo. Being Darcy, he of course makes the right decision, with some assistance from Elizabeth. But it’s a completely different world. The joys are different and the conflicts are different.
I’ve always thought of my Pemberley Variations as each highlighting different personality aspects of the characters created by Jane Austen. Impulse & Initiative Elizabeth is the traditional modern view of an arch and witty Elizabeth, whereas the Elizabeth in Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy: The Last Man in the World is the Elizabeth who knows how to bite her tongue when the situation requires and has occasional periods of depression – all of which is described by Austen in Pride & Prejudice. It just depends on which parts you pay attention to. But perhaps it’s more accurate to say that my worlds have changed as I’ve learned more about life in Regency England, the things Austen assumed her readers would know but which modern readers for the most part miss. Austen could refer in passing to Elizabeth’s periods of depression because that was a common and expected state for women then, so there was no need to dwell on it. The readers would fill in those blanks themselves. But we, as modern victims of the Victorian rewriting of Regency society, end up missing the significance of those brief references.
But none of this means that the world I built in Impulse & Initiative is in any way superior or inferior to the world of Mr. Darcy’s Obsession, because it’s all fiction. That’s sometimes a little hard to remember, especially when I get hung up in historical detail, but it’s more important for fiction to be convincing than absolutely accurate. Mr. Darcy’s Obsession takes place in a more historically accurate world, but I’ve still made it a happier place than it probably was, and it makes Darcy shine like a beacon of hope. The darker world shows the characters in brighter relief.