The exhibit contained research gems such as a board game from 1809 called Journey Round the Metropolis: An Amusing and Instructive Game with pictures of London sights and an 1811 book called Ellen or the Naughty Girl Reclaimed with instructional stories for children illustrated by cut out figures. I think a rather prosy relative will present the book to Jessica in one of my future novels. Jessica will enjoy playing with the cut outs but wrinkle her nose at the text.
The exhibit also included a print of a portrait Austen said was Jane Bennet Bingley. I’ve always loved the letter of Austen’s in which she talks about attending an exhibition and finding a portrait of Mrs. Bingley. She adds that she looked for a portrait of Mrs. Darcy but didn’t find one, which she puts that down to Mr. Darcy not wanting to let go of any portraits of her. What I love about this letter, as I told Lauren Willig, is that it shows Austen imagined her characters having a life outside the pages of her novels.
Which is just what Lauren and I were doing throughout my visit (including at a wonderful brunch at the Atlantic Grill in the picture above). Talking about our characters, their pasts, their interconnections, events we envisioned for them in the future. Questioning each other about spoilers for future books (fortunately neither of us minds knowing spoilers) and how various characters’ paths might cross. Of course we both write series, which lend themselves to this sort of speculation, but I’ve always loved continuing the stories of books I read in my head after I turn the last page. I think it’s one reason that the books I write have always been interconnected.
I love the idea of Austen looking for her characters among the paintings at an exhibition. Much as today we look for our characters while watching a movie or turning the pages of a magazine. Such as when I watched the recent adaptation of Little Dorrit and thought Matthew MacFadyen would make a wonderful Charles. Or thinking how like Mélanie Eva Green was in Casino Royale.
Do you find yourself discovering characters (your own or other writers) in movies or paintings or photographs? Writers, do you think about your characters ongoing lives after the story ends or between books in a series? Readers, do you do the same with books you read?
I’ve just posted a new Fraser Correspondence letter from Lord Carfax (David’s father and Charles’s spymaster) to the Foreign Secretary, Lord Castlereagh.