Who doesn’t love diving into a great book, getting lost in the characters, and then obsessively searching online for more about the book, the author, etc? Here in the FFL book club we make it easy for you–each month, we shoot to interview the author of that month’s book pick. This July, we are so excited to discuss Ladies of the House with you, and our interview with author Lauren Edmonson is finally here!
We hope you enjoy!
What inspired you to write this book? Did the modern plot come to you first, or did you first enter it as a retelling of Sense and Sensibility?
I love Sense and Sensibility so much—I was always looking for retellings and not finding many, especially not on the scale that we have Pride and Prejudice retellings. I thought I should probably just write one myself. In 2017, I had written a novel before Ladies of the House that ultimately didn’t sell, so when my agent asked me if I had any more book ideas in me, I said yes, I do! This was also around the time when we, as a nation, were having many conversations regarding men, women, power, behavior, and whether it was possible to have a romantic relationship with someone who didn’t share the same political ideology. I thought this moment in our country would be very familiar to Jane Austen, as her work often deals with the barriers—internal and external—to love and romance, and the problems that arise when people don’t see eye-to-eye regarding what constitutes “right” or “correct” behavior.
How did you choose which Austen plot points to keep, which to modernize, and which not to use?
The monumental scenes, the especially dramatic scenes, the ones that most readers would remember from the original story were the ones I felt I had to keep in order to do a “proper” retelling. Those were the ones I was most excited to modernize, as well. For example, Ladies of the House opens, just like Sense and Sensibility, with the death of a patriarch. In the aftermath, the women have to rebuild their lives. This essential thread I wanted to keep.
Then there are more specific scenes from the original text, like the scene where Marianne Dashwood meets Willoughby at the London ball and he ignores her—I felt as though I couldn’t do a Sense and Sensibility retelling without working that moment in. There were, however, moments and characters that I had to cut. Ladies of the House only has two sisters, whereas there are three Dashwood sisters. This is in part because Austen was working with a much higher word count, and she was able to include more characters and story lines.
What was the hardest part of creating a modern adaptation of Austen on the page? What was the easiest part?
I felt a real obligation to do her story justice, and to make it enjoyable for Janeites as well as those who’ve never read Austen. There is a certain amount of pressure when you retell such a beloved work like Sense & Sensibility. The easiest part was finding the voices of the characters. I heard them well, especially the youngest “Marianne”-type character, who in my novel is called Wallis.
What was the most exciting process of debuting a novel–even though you did it during a pandemic?
Connecting with readers and other writers whom I never would have met otherwise. The Bookstagram community is wonderfully supportive, and I’ve so enjoyed meeting the women behind these wonderful accounts.
What is your writing process like? Do you edit as you write? Do you have writing friends you work closely with? Do you write daily?
I try to write at least three hours a day, Monday through Friday. As I was writing Ladies of the House, I typically worked at night after my day job, teaching English at a local community college. Now, I pull out my laptop whenever my eight-month-old son is sleeping. I have to be very flexible and seize any quiet moment. My agent and parents are first readers, always.
When did you first get introduced to Austen? Do you remember your initial impressions or the first Jane Austen book you read?
Like so many readers, I first met Austen in high school. Pride and Prejudice was my entry point. I still have that paperback version—it is quite falling apart. I remember a day when I was supposed to be working—I volunteered at a day care center—and I snuck to a hidden corner of the playground so I could finish it. Not my most responsible moment, but I couldn’t help myself. I reread Pride and Prejudice shortly after my daughter, now five, was born. I found it even more compelling, resonate, and hilarious than I did when I was seventeen. Austen gets better with age.
You live in the DC Area. What is your favorite part about Washington,D.C? Do you have a favorite “tourist” spot or a favorite hidden gem?
Part of the reason I wanted to set Ladies of the House in D.C. was because this town gets such a bad reputation, not just in the everyday news cycle, but in popular movies and television shows. D.C. is often presented as a two-dimensional backdrop where cold-hearted, deviously ambitious people thrive, and where really nefarious and/or ridiculous things happen. But Washington is my hometown, and is so much more complex and historic and culturally rich than it is given credit for. This is a town full of theatre and arts and music and food. And the vast majority of people who live here and work for the government are altruistic, good-hearted people who want to make our country a better place. Capturing on the page what I feel is the “real” D.C. was a joy.
I’m a baseball fan, so I love going to Nats Park. I also love going into Georgetown, eating and shopping and looking at the beautiful old homes and cobblestone streets. It’s no mistake that much of Ladies of the House revolves around Georgetown.
What do you like to read for leisure?
I am usually reading about four to five books at once. Right now, I’m reading a lot that will help me research my next novel and the characters’ lives. This includes memoir and nonfiction and historical fiction. The last book I read was A Well-Behaved Woman, a novel about Alva Vanderbilt Belmont by Therese Fowler. I highly recommend it.
What are you working on next? Will you tackle another Jane Austen tale?
No more Austen in my immediate future. But my new novel, which takes place in Newport, Rhode Island, has many of the same themes of Ladies of the House, including a family at a crossroads, class, power, and gender. I’m so excited to introduce readers to this new story, coming spring 2023.
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