How did the book, the play and the movie influence my novel? Read about it at Austenesque Reviews.
(From Austensque Reviews, Nov. 1, 2017)
Hi friends! I am so excited to welcome a new author to Austenesque Reviews today! As you may have already seen, Riana Everly is in the midst of celebrating her debut release, Teaching Eliza!! As a big fan of My Fair Lady (It is one of my all-time favorite movies/musicals!), I’m so thrilled to see this new release that mashes up the George Bernard Shaw play, Pygmalion with Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice! Today Riana has kindly answered some questions about her new release, Teaching Eliza! We hope you enjoy!
What inspired you to combine Pride and Prejudice and Pygmalion?
First, I’m a huge musical theatre fan, and that includes movie musicals. I grew up listening to Eliza Doolittle singing about “a room somewhere,” and telling Henry Higgins “just you wait.” I also love the theatre, and I’ve seen Pygmalion on stage twice. The first time was in London, more years ago than I want to think about, and the second time was just last year at the marvelous Shaw Theatre Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake. This latter production was set in the present, with computer screens and iPads and modern dress, and it worked. It worked beautifully. I find Jane Austen is like that as well. Her stories are gems of the Regency period in England, but they are not limited to that time. They are such distillations of the human experience that they translate beautifully into different times and genres. Anyone who has read a modern P&P variation will know exactly what I mean.
This got me thinking about one, then the other, and somewhere in the midst of all that thinking, the two tales merged in my head. They are not so very different, after all; Darcy (channelling Henry Higgins) is proud and overbearing, and Elizabeth (Eliza – how perfect is that?) is witty and strong. She is willing to sacrifice a certain amount of her independence to achieve her goal, but in the end, her backbone remains strong and she stands up and fights for what she believes is right. In Shaw’s play, Professor Higgins has a friend and ally in the congenial and polite Colonel Pickering, and so Professor Darcy has his friend in Colonel Fitzwilliam. The characters are all there. They are just waiting for their cues.
Be honest. How much did you sing while writing this book? Do you have a favourite song?
Me? Sing? You know me too well. I think I hummed every song from the movie about a hundred times, and had a few on repeat in the desperate hopes of getting them out of my head. The music is wonderful.
In terms of a favourite song, how can one choose? They are all wonderful. I do love Freddy’s “On the street where you live,” and I will never forget my moment of shock when I discovered that the actor who played Freddy (Jeremy Brett) went on to play the very unstable and rather unattractive Sherlock Holmes!
In case anyone needs a memory jog, here’s the clip.
Did all of the characters map neatly, one-to-one?
No, not at all. Nor did I carry them whole cloth from either the novel or the play. My Eliza is not a flower girl from the gutter, but a young women of the gentry, who wishes merely to polish her already presentable habits. She also demands to be treated as the gentlewoman she is, and takes little nonsense from Darcy. As for Darcy, he is less of the careless academic than Shaw’s professor, and is more a representative of the society Elizabeth wishes to enter. He can be rude and thoughtless, but in his case it is deliberate, a thumbing of the nose at the very people who have made him what he is.
Then there are those who do not appear in both sources. George Wickham and Georgiana Darcy both feature prominently in my tale, but neither is based on any character in Shaw’s play, although Wickham’s end does have its germs in Pygmalion. And then there is Freddy, the rival suitor. He is key to Shaw’s storyline, even if he has relatively few lines. He has much more stage time in my story, and I have had the pleasure to create him from whole cloth. I think he is one of my favourite characters in this tale, and one day, perhaps, he will get his very own story.
You will see other characters from both sources come and go in the story. Charlotte Lucas and Caroline Bingley are both important, as is Mrs. Pearce from Pygmalion. But we also can’t forget the Gardiners and Mrs. Reynolds from Pemberley. They all fit nicely into the story as it developed.
What challenges did you have in meshing these two complementary, but very different stories?
My biggest challenges involved my leading men. In Shaw’s play, Eliza ends up with Freddy, not Higgins. This was deemed problematic even by early audiences, because Shaw had to justify his decision to the masses. The Hollywood musical version, My Fair Lady, ends with Eliza returning to Higgins. I dislike this ending; I think Shaw had it right. Eliza grows up and becomes a lady, but Higgins does not really change, and remains a little boy in man’s clothing. I needed to make my professor similar to Higgins in some ways, while allowing him to grow and develop and become the man whom Lizzy deserved.
I also needed to make my Freddy a very viable option for her. She never loves him, but she sees in him everything that she wants in a partner. It was a challenge to make him almost right for her, while keeping him just shy of perfection. She had to choose Darcy because he was the better match for her, and not just because it’s the expected ending. (Oh – sorry. Was that a spoiler?)
For the reader who knows the movie, I think the biggest challenge will be to imagineDarcy as a young and handsome man, and not like the rumpled and not-too-lovely Rex Harrison from My Fair Lady. I have tried to describe him a bit, while leaving the reader to her own imagination, but if that is not quite sufficient, I will leave you with this lovely portrait by John Partridge. The subject is Charles Robert Leslie, and he was painted in 1836. He is almost exactly the Darcy I had in mind as I wove my tale of Teaching Eliza. I hope you approve.
I can’t wait to meet your Darcy, Riana! I’m sure I will find him easy to love! How about we have some fun with some Quick-Fire Question??
What do you love most about My Fair Lady/Pygmalion?
I love the general message: that a person’s outer shell, what he shows to the world, is nothing compared with what is inside. Eliza Doolittle always had the makings of a duchess, because she respected herself. The only thing that changed was how she presented herself to the world. And of course, Shaw’s wit is acerbic and quite biting, and always makes me laugh. The whole play is brilliant, and is really a form of Greek Mythology Fan Fiction in its own way.
What is your favorite scene from Pride and Prejudice?
That is so hard to answer. There are several scenes I love. The very first meeting at the Meryton Assembly, when Darcy makes such an idiot of himself, is terrific because it draws Lizzy’s character so well. Similarly, I love the scene after the Hunsford proposal where she reads Darcy’s letter. Both of them are so exposed in that passage, and we start to see Darcy as a person.
Do you have more in common with Elizabeth Bennet or with Eliza Doolittle?
Probably Eliza Doolittle. I’ve never been to a private ball, I have lots of ratty old straw hats, and I don’t know which fork to use with which course at dinner. I’ve also been known to utter words that are out of place in a fine estate’s drawing room. But I do not drop my H’s, I do love long walks and I do love to read. Cue the next question…
Do you prefer long rambles outdoors or an afternoon sitting in an enormous chair with lots of chocolates?
You said the magic word – Chocolate! Can I have both? Please? I love long walks, especially when the weather is just turning to fall and the air is crisp, but it’s hard to say no to a good book and chocolate! Both would be loverly!
Bearded Irises are magnificent to see, but the smell of lilacs always makes me go “ahhhhh.” Sadly, I have a black thumb so I only enjoy flowers from afar, lest I kill them unintentionally by looking at them the wrong way.
Which outing would you look forward to more – the Ascot Races or the Embassy Ball?
Ascot! I would love to wear one of those fabulous hats!
What do you admire most about Mr. Darcy?
I admire his steadfastness and loyalty, and his willingness to do the right thing without the first thought of “what’s in it for me?” I also greatly admire his willingness to look at himself and see his faults and attempt to correct them. That takes a big person.
What do you think Jane Austen would say about George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion?
I think she would love it! His sensibilities are almost 100 years later than hers, and are much more worldly, but he has a similar view of the world as she does. They both look for chinks in the armour of society and expose them through witty and thoughtful commentary. I think they two would have had a wonderful time chatting over tea.
I love it, Riana! Fabulous answers! 🙂 I agree about the Ascot and some chocolate after a long walk would be most loverly indeed! 😉 Thanks so much for the lovely chat, Riana! We wish you all the best with your new release, Teaching Eliza!