Helen Angove began her working life as an electrical engineer on the south coast of England, and then worked briefly as a pricing analyst for an electricity supply company. After this she trained to be a priest in the Church of England, and spent seven years in full time ministry before deciding that she had to leave before she tore out all her hair. Now she is living with her husband and two children in Southern California, and, against all the dictates of common sense, pursuing a career in writing. Visit her at her website.
The early nineteenth century in England: the Industrial Revolution in full swing, war in Europe, a mad King on the throne, and a libertine prince holding the reins of power.
And then, along with all this upheaval and uncertainty, an extraordinary burgeoning of human knowledge. The world is being explored, mapped and tamed. Science is changing from something done by amateurs (the bookish curate working alone in his vicarage study) to something that is done professionally, with government financing and formal publication of results.
This is the backdrop against which Jane Austen wrote. For most people, perhaps, Austen conjures up pictures of elegant young ladies in empire-line dresses taking afternoon tea. And Austen was, primarily, concerned with human beings and their interactions and their follies – and within that the particular fate of women, for whom the only usual route to fulfillment and any degree of self-determination was marriage (although, with glorious irony, Austen carved out a different fate for herself). Her writing, however, cannot help but be affected by the momentous events of the world outside her parlors and drawing rooms. In a world that is increasingly unkind to the landed gentry, inherited wealth is no longer enough. In a changing society her characters have to re-think their ideas about class, and who constitutes an eligible marriage partner. Her young female characters are constantly at risk of dishonor at the hands of feckless young men corrupted by the ideals of the haute ton.
It is this juxtaposition that fascinates me. In the face of the change and upheaval in the world around them, the particular sector of middle-class English society about which Austen writes is clinging to its manners and its social mores with the desperation of a fourth-season debutante to her dance card. What happens, then, when you expand the boundaries of what Austen wrote about? What happens when you add, say, scientific discovery to the mix? Or non-traditional sexual relationships? Or nonconforming gender roles? These things surely existed in Regency society, even within Austen’s own middle-class milieu. How would people have reacted to them?
This is where my fiction comes from. Constance and Conspiracy, soon to be published in Jess’s new Undeath and the Detective anthology, is a supernatural mystery, a Jane Austen pastiche, and also an exploration of the legacy of a woman who refuses to conform to the expectations of the society in which she lives. I hope you enjoy it, and if you do, check out my website (www.helenangove.com) for my other work!