Saturday, May 30, 2020

Natalie Jenner's "The Jane Austen Society"

Natalie Jenner was born in England and emigrated to Canada as a young child. She obtained her B.A. from the University of Toronto’s St. Michael’s College where she was the 1990 Gold Medalist in English Literature, her LL.B. from the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law, and was Called to the Bar of Ontario in 1995. In addition to a brief career as a corporate lawyer, Jenner has worked as a recruiter, career coach, and consultant to leading law firms in Canada for over twenty years.

Most recently she founded the independent bookstore Archetype Books in Oakville, Ontario, where she lives with her family and two rescue dogs.

Here Jenner dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, The Jane Austen Society:
In The Jane Austen Society there are eight main characters who band together at the end of WWII to save Jane Austen’s house, which is a bit of a handful for any producer to both cast and afford. Drawing quick distinctions between all these characters, both physically and temperamentally, became critical early on in the writing. But one thing they almost all had in common: a bona fide British accent. As a result, my dream cast would be a who’s who of leading actors in British film and television.

Because I write without any kind of an outline or idea of what lies ahead, I get to know my characters over time. But with The Jane Austen Society, one particular actor and his performances directly influenced one of my characters right from the start. Benjamin Gray is the widowed village doctor in my story, as well as the keeper of everyone's secrets. When I was writing, I kept imagining this pillar of the town who was so handsome and tall and comforting in tone, but also so inwardly tormented. In that respect the character called to mind the performance by British actor Richard Armitage in the 2004 BBC drama North and South where he played John Thornton, who has always struck me as the ultimate romantic period drama hero. I could see Matthew Goode for the character of the lawyer, Andrew Forrester, who is described as ramrod-straight in both posture and behaviour. For the farmer Adam in my book, I think James Norton from the television series Grantchester and the recent BBC War & Peace would capture the quiet gentleness of that character, and Tom Hughes of the ITV series Victoria would make a perfectly cutting Yardley, the Sotheby’s auctioneer. As for Jack Leonard, the rakish Hollywood producer who is so ostensibly lucky and golden, only Armie Hammer will do.

I thought Hayley Atwell, who always gives such confident and centred performances no matter the role, would make an excellent version of my American actress character Mimi—and she has the perfect bone structure to pull it off. For Evie Stone, the small, suspicious and intellectually precocious servant girl who is secretly cataloguing a potentially invaluable family library in the book, I wish I could shave a few inches of height off of Saoirse Ronan because she would just be perfect in the role. Adeline Grover, the war widow, is one of my favourite characters in the book because she is just so no-holds-barred damaged, and British actress Ruth Wilson always captures that mix of directness and vulnerability so well. As for Frances Knight, the heiress to the estate at risk of dispersal in my book, I think Olivia Colman could really do justice to a woman in her late 40s who has let life pass her by but still has one last spark left.

In terms of location, my book is set in the actual village of Chawton, England, where Jane Austen lived and wrote her books, and where the first real-life Jane Austen Society started up in the 1940s in an effort to preserve Austen’s cottage as a museum. It was a one-week trip that I took to Chawton three years ago that inspired me to write my book in the first place. Any film production company interested in my book should know that not only do all the locations for my book already exist, Chawton House today has welcomed film crews inside to film. Fingers crossed that the actual rooms and grounds that inspired my book could come to life all over again on film in a neat little existential loop.
Visit Natalie Jenner's website.

Q&A with Natalie Jenner.

--Marshal Zeringue