URGENT WARNING: This contains obscene amounts of spoilers, so please please do not read on if you haven't read austenland yet. |
I've had many questions about what the other endings were, so I thought I'd reveal them here. My early drafts are messy and thin, and I don't find the character and the arc the character needs to travel until many drafts in. Jane was a particularly difficult character to find.
Originally I had Lydia, a wealthy magazine editor who was more Emma-ish, had many suitors that never quite satisfied. Her experience was quite different at Pembrook Park, and so was her ending. In her story (much shorter than Jane's), Mr. Nobley was an idle distraction, while Martin really came through in the end. Here's the last couple of pages from that much earlier draft:
“I’m about to leave, Martin. What do you want to do? Have a torrid email affair? Or call everyday at whatever hours our two hemispheres share daylight?”
“I’ll go with you,” he said. He indicated his backpack, packed and ready.
“Hear me out, here,” he said. “We could do this on trial. I could get a separate place and just…just see if this was all moonlight and rootbeer, or not.”
“You’ll just find a place. Just like that. In New York.”
Here Martin looked a little embarrassed. “I’d need your help at first, until I could find some gardening work.”
“So,” said Lydia suspiciously, “I’d be your convenient ticket to America.”
“And I’ll be your enduring English escort, among other things.”
“What other things?” She honestly felt curious.
“I’m not a bad housekeeper,” he said. “That sounded odd, didn’t it? Or maybe too desperate? I mean, when you’re busy or off on business trips, I’d like to keep your things in order, clean up and make sure your refrigerator is well-stocked. And I’ll keep your houseplants not only alive, but thriving.”
“Wait a minute, now, what makes you think my houseplants don’t flourish...”
Martin tilted his head in a come-on-now expression.
Lydia paused. “OK, yes, go on.”
“We’ll go to your business events and parties together, if you like. I think I can be an impressive specimen if I keep my mouth shut and just be tall, but mostly I’d like to be there when you get home, tired and all, and I’ll’ve taped Sports Night and ordered Thai or Chinese. I give pretty good foot massages.”
Martin was pacing now, excited by the vision.
“Once a year we’ll take a trip to back here. I’ve an idea you don’t take vacations often, so I’d make sure of that, and we could visit my mother and sister, they’d love you, and have tea and crumpets and do whatever you anglophiles dream of doing. They’ll be great trips.
“But the best part will be coming home again, and that extra day before you return to work when we’re both recovering from jetlag, rolling around the apartment in our pajamas, eating cereal all day and watching cartoons. That’s not a bad life, Lydia. I’d give up a lot, I think, for that life with you.”
They called her flight number again. Lydia was watching Martin intensely. She could imagine everything he said, and it didn’t frighten her. The fact that it didn’t frighten her frightened her a little. But it also felt good. How strange. How strange and sudden it was to be so sure so quickly. But then again, she realized, Austen’s heroines were often engaged with less contact and conversation. And really, who was to say she needed anything more than the epic Elizabeth Bennet?
“Yes, good,” she said.
“Good?” he said hopefully.
“Excellent,” she said, extending her hand. “I think we can work together. You, sir, have just landed my account.”
He threw her over his shoulder and ran to the ticket counter.
They couldn’t buy him a seat on that flight, but managed to catch the next, and soon were holding hands in first class, looking out at the tarmac as though it were full of memories.
“So,” said Martin, putting his arm around her shoulders, “did you get out of that trip what you were looking for?”
“Why, yes, Martin,” said Lydia in You-see,-Timmy,-Lassie-was-all-right-after-all tones, “I learned that Mr. Darcy is a character, and I’m not, and that to find love I don’t need to travel through time to a distant era. It was in my backyard all along.”
Martin looked at her with a little line between his eyes. “Really?”
Lydia shrugged. “Except that bit about my backyard, and some of the rest, and I should add that it cost me a ton of cash, but I got away with you, didn’t I?”
Felicity and economic security surely awaited the couple back in New York. I wish I could say that Lydia’s society was all open arms to her new beau, but as he was English (sneaky foreigner stealing her away from deserving American boys), poor, and especially as he seemed to be a permanent fixture on Lydia’s right, there were a lot of disgruntled handsome young professionals who felt they had been next in line as her temporary boyfriend. And her girlfriends, who swore Lydia would be the last to settle down, saw her settle down, while they were still going to clubs until 2 a.m. and acting like eighteen-year-olds on Spring Break. One eventually pulled Lydia aside and begged her to reveal where exactly she had gone on this mysterious vacation, while eyeing Martin in a hungry kind of way.
But Martin and Lydia’s alone-life was precisely as he’d painted it. They did go to Britain at least once a year and they did watch Sports Center together over Chinese take-out. And Lydia’s houseplants flourished, glossy and near-luminescent in their greenness, as though, mystically, the atmosphere of her New York apartment was always that of mild, misty, countryside England.
This was disappointing. After finding out that Martin was a fake, it felt even phonier to have him sweep through gallantly. I didn't buy their relationship long term. And I was unhappy with Lydia. Besides, what was this story really saying? Didn't I want her to be okay alone? Shouldn't she leave Pembrook Park healed and whole? I tried a different approach, having both Martin and Mr. Nobley chase her down at the airport:
“Thank you,” she whispered. “Tell Mrs. Wattlesbrook that I feel fine.”
She turned and hurried to the gate. She could hear the men calling after her, protesting, reaffirming their sincerity. Lydia ignored them and smiled all the way down the tunnel. She didn’t know if it was an act or real. It didn’t matter. It was exactly the finale she had dreamed of. Her love life was still no better metaphor than a chain after all, a golden, luscious, glittering chain, and this day had been another moment, another link. But a good one.
She half expected one of them to rush the airplane and make kneeling proposals to her from the First Class aisle, and she was glad when they did not. She liked the way it had ended, her last line being “I feel fine.” And she did. She stared out the window at the little men on the tarmac with their orange-coned flashlights waving about as though trying to get her attention, and she relaxed to puzzle over things. What had been real? How much of the game had Mrs. Wattlesbrook controlled? Was Miss Charming actually a guest? And a new and intriguing thought—had Mr. Templeton been acting all along?
The jet engines began to whir, the pressure of the cabin stuck invisible fingers vibrating deep into her ears, and Lydia settled deeper into her seat and decided the answers didn’t matter at all. And in that moment when the plane rushed forward as though for its life, and gravity pushed down, and the plane lifted up, and Lydia was breathless inside those two forces, she remembered that Jane Austen had never married. Only that all her fictional heroines had.
“Let Miss Erstwhile marry Mr. Nobley, then,” thought Lydia. “I’m going home.”
Nope. This just wasn't working. I didn't like Lydia much, and her character was all wrong for getting what I needed to out of Pembrook Park. So I found Jane. Ah, yes, at last! A real turning point was when I thought of telling all her ex-boyfriend stories and using those to build up to the ending. Her different economic and social condition served so much better. Her relationships with the two men changed, and she changed. And that was the real goal. And besides, her last line just didn't serve. It became a frenzied hunt for that last line, and I am enormously pleased with "Tallyho."
It's always painful and aggravating to have a first (or tenth) draft that just doens't work, but in the long run, I think it really helped this story. By allowing Martin to be the good guy and win in the end in one draft, and then letting the main character free herself from both men and be happy alone, I was able to make myself believe both those endings as possibilities. Then when I found the real ending, it came out feeling more real to me, more possible. I think if I'd written the she-gets-Mr. Nobley-in-the-end from the beginning, I wouldn't have been able to accept it, I would have felt cheap. But I fought for that ending by eliminating every possibility during the writing process. I'm so on your side, Jane. You owe me big time.
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