Readers have commented that they see a lot of the influence of Jane Austen in my story ‘That Scoundrel Émile Dubois’ and they are so right.
I love that acid wit of Jane Austen’s – and even without it, which is hard to imagine – the books would be fascinating period pieces and an invaluable source of information about life in Britain during the Napoleonic Wars.
Most people like best ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and for sure, that novel is the liveliest and funniest, the most romantic, and in Elizabeth Bennet contains the most likable heroine, witty, impatient of snobbery, lively, fond of dancing and flirting yet always acting from ‘active moral principle’ as her creator would put it.
My favourite (trust me to be awkward) is not, as might be expected, that satire on the Gothic, ‘Northanger Abbey’ but is in fact ‘Mansfield Park’.
In ‘Mansfield Park’ the heroine, Fanny Price, is, like my own character Sophie de Courcy, a poor relative to a grand family who is taken on by them as a sort of higher class servant to help with Lady Bertram’s fidgety requirements; Fanny Price is destined to be, like Sophie, a companion, to live in the household in a sort of social no-man’s land, a social inferior, beneath the family members yet above the servants.
My own character, the Countess of Ruthin, is of course even more ineffectual than Lady Bertram as regards sewing, but Sophie is lucky in that she is treated with remarkable generosity by the Count of Ruthin’s household.
While the officious Aunt Norris makes sure that at Mansfield Park Fanny Price endures unheated rooms and a Spartan lifestyle, Sophie is astonished to be given a suite of rooms previously reserved for guests complete with roaring fires, and a canopied bed.
She even has her own lady’s maid, the irrepressible Agnes, and
Lord Ynyr arranges music lessons for Sophie to improve her already impressive singing and playing skills.
Her duties are ‘ridiculously light’; arranging the flowers and creating table centrepieces, unpicking the Dowager Countess’ sewing and entertaining the company in the evening. She is also, like any Nice Young Lady of the time, expected to do good works amongst the poor and afflicted in the local area, and kind hearted and democratically disposed as she is, that is something to which she is particularly well suited.
Obviously, the Dowager Countess wishes to make a daughter out of her. Another girl lives with them, of course, who might have been able to fulfil this role, but Morwenna is very confident, poised and with her acid tongue no doubt the Countess finds her rather too overbearing a character to be easy to spoil.
Sophie, however (though given to rebellious and sensual thoughts) is sweet natured, and ideal for the part. If, encouraged by her ambitious brother John and his conniving wife Harriet she initially dreams of extracting a proposal from young Lord Ynyr, then the Countess is blissfully oblivious to such presumption.
Sophie is soon to change the object of her desire when the sole surviving member of the Dowager’s brother Armand Dubois comes to stay with them.
If Jane Austen’s Henry Crawford, the Lothario neighbour who comes along and pays court to all three of the girls at Mansfield Park – only to fall in love himself with the poor relative, is a rascal, then Émile Dubois is an outright criminal, newly come from ‘terrorising the roads about Hounslow Heath’ in the company of his wicked valet Georges…
While Fanny Price didn’t fall for Henry Crawford, Sophie falls ‘Like a ton of coals being delivered’ for Émile Dubois’.