Friday, July 22, 2011

How I became interested in history, Jane Austen, and reading by Mary Lydon Simonsen (and GIVEAWAY!)

First, Laura, I would like to thank you for inviting me to join you on your blog today. You asked about my interest in European and American history.

It all began because of a poppy. When I was about ten years old, on Armistice Day in the early 1960s, my mother bought a red poppy from a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and I asked her what it meant, and she recited a part of John McCrae’s poem, In Flanders Fields:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row.

That question led to a picture of my grandfather sitting on a camp stool, in front of a pup tent, in an open field in Pennsylvania. He had been drafted for service in World War I.* After hearing his story, I was hooked and wanted to learn about my parents’ generation. All of my aunts and uncles and my parents either served in one of the armed services during World War II or worked for government agencies in Washington, D.C. My first book was a young adult version of Guadalcanal Diary by Richard Tregaskis. One book led to another, and I now have a floor-to-ceiling bookcase containing nothing but books about the two great wars.

Because I was raised Catholic, I was curious about the reasons for the split between the Catholic Church and the Church of England. That led me to Henry VIII and all the Tudors and then the Stuarts and Hanoverians, especially George III, because of my interest in the history of the Revolutionary War. Moving chronologically, I eventually ended up in the Regency Era. I can say without hesitation that I would not have been as interested in Regency/Georgian history if it had not been for Jane Austen.

In Pride and Prejudice, Austen created this beautiful world of handsome ladies and gentlemen, exquisitely attired, attending assemblies and balls and going to London for the season. My interest in this era was piqued when I saw the 1980 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. I loved the clothes, the dancing, the accomplished ladies, and athletic men, and I loved Austen’s venues: great country houses, gardens, Bath, Lyme, Devon, and a carriage-choked London.

You also asked about what 19th Century novels I enjoyed. In the early 1970s, while my husband was overseas, I subscribed to the “100 Greatest Books” (bound in real leather!!! Are you impressed?) Well, some were great and some not so great (Master Skylark??), but it did open my world to great authors. In addition to Jane Austen, I also enjoyed Jane Eyre, Vanity Fair, Middlemarch, Silas Marner, Ivanhoe, Barchester Towers, David Copperfield, and Oliver Twist. (I would give my right arm to be able to write quirky characters like Dickens wrote.)

But the morale of my story is that reading leads to other things. After reading Pride and Prejudice when I was 17 years old, I went on an Austen binge and devoured her five complete novels. Thirty years after first meeting Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, I tried my hand at writing a Pride and Prejudice re-imagining. I would never have become an author without the help of my good friend, Jane Austen.

*I have written a post-World War I novella, Mr. Darcy’s Angel of Mercy.

Thank-you Mary Lydon Simonsen for the great guest post! Mr. Darcy's Angel of Mercy sounds very intrigung to me as well. I will have a review of Ms. Simonsen's new novel, A Wife for Mr. Darcy posted next week so stay tuned!

Giveaway Details
Sourcebooks is going to send one lucky winner a copy of A Wife for Mr. Darcy by Mary Lydon Simonsen.

If you would like to win a copy of A Wife for Mr. Darcy by Mary Lydon Simonsen please leave a comment about what intrigues you about the novel or this guest post.

As part of your comment, you must include an email address. If I can't find a way to contact you I will draw another winner.

For an additional entry, blog about this giveaway or post it on your sidebar. Provide a link to this post in your comment.

I will be using (or a monte carlo simulation in excel) to pick the winners from the comments.

This contest is only open to US and Canadian residents (Sorry!).

No P.O. Boxes.

The deadline for entry is midnight, Friday August 12th.

Good luck!


  1. "Please leave a comment about what intrigues you about the novel or this guest post."

    Oh, my, Laura!! It would be easier to say what DOES NOT intrigue me about this guest post! Even Mary's comment: "One book led to another, and I now have a floor-to-ceiling bookcase containing nothing but books about the two great wars.", was compelling!! (I want to go to her house!!).

    I definitely agree that reading leads to other interests, and that is one of the wonderful things about reading!!

    I now want to read the Jane Austen books that I previously have skipped over! And I am definitely intrigued to read books by Mary Lydon Simonsen.

    Please enter my name in the contest!
    My email address is: madley AT cogeco DOT ca

    Many thanks!

  2. Thank you Laura for having me on your blog. On vacation. Will check in on Wed.

    Mary Simonsen

  3. I can relate to Mary's comment about the poppies. They're so indicative of the world wars and I've always been fascinated by not just the wars but what happened to the people and countries waiting at home for those fighting in them.

    I've seen this book popping up and it sounds good. I haven't read a lot of P&P rewrites, sequels that I've truly liked, but this one definitely sounds like it's worth reading. I'd love to win it.


    2 Kids and Tired Books

  4. I have always loved history myself so I love reading books about it. Funny though I used to read a lot more historical non-fiction than historical fiction. Lately that's changed. I'm very curious to read Mary's book "Mr. Darcy's Angle of Mercy. I've been following this blog tour hoping to win! Thanks for the giveaway!


  5. I found this post by a happy Twitter encounter and am so glad I did. This post absolutely mirrors the comments we get on the literature podcast CraftLit. Lovers of classic lit abound--and many started with Austen (and "In Flanders Fields" for that matter...). I'll be adding a link to this post in the shownotes for this week's episode.
    Thank you so much for this!
    Heather [at]

  6. Great, thank you for the review.

  7. "A Wife for Mr. Darcy" definitely intrigues. In historical fiction an era that really interests me is World War I because it was such a turbulent time for both soldiers, wives of soldiers and their community. There was love, there was sacrifice and there was lost. I'm interested to see how the "Pride and Prejudice" world plays out against this backdrop.


  8. What intrigues me?? Besides i'm a HUGE fan of Jane Austen, and that I love the hole idea of twisting the story??? I really NEED to read this book, lol! Thank you so much!!


  9. As a lover of all things Austen, I'm always eager to read continuations or reimaginings of Austen characters and stories.

    tnshadylady at

  10. Hi Laura, I'm back from a visit with my sisters in TX. Thanks to everyone who stopped by. I think I've found some fellow history lovers. I really appreciate all your comments. Good luck on the giveaway.

  11. I love hearing the stories of how other authors began their writing careers. Thank you!

  12. Pride and Prejudice is my favorite book and I love to read different authors' takes on the characters. I, also, loved Jane Eyre. I really need to read some of the other classics that were mentioned. thanks for the giveaway

  13. Intrigue me?? Is Darcy!!! OMG!! Jane Austen is one of the BEST authors ever!! and a in a huge fan of anything that has to do with anyone of the characthers from Pride and Prejudice but Darcy is my fav!!


  14. Jane Austen, along with Louisa May Alcott and Emily Bronte, is one of my favorite authors of all time. All these women were feminists before feminism became a movement. Creating strong, enigmatic characters that are inspiring, "Elizabeth" and "Mr.Darcy" are probably some of the finest characters ever created by an author. I would absolutely LOVE to read this book. And as far as "book crushes" go, I've only ever had one love...and it's always been Mr. Darcy. Thank you so much for this wonderful giveaway opportunity, and for your generosity! :)

    +1 Sidebar Mention of Giveaway:

    GFC Follower: ~Enamored Soul~
    Email: Enamoredsoul(at)gmail(dot)com
    Networked Blog Follower: Hira Hasnain

  15. thx, sourcebooks, for your generosity and keeping us janeites reading '')
    found mary's journey, as expressed in this interview, to be encouraging. we never know what will result from innocent comments or connxns. both for us and through us. the ripple effect in action. food for thought...

  16. What intrigues me about this book? Are you kidding me? Of course it's Darcy we are talking about here! Every single girl I know is in love with him. Too bad for them, I already got him. (*evil laugh)
    Woop. Bye for now, my psychiatrist here again. Pft.

  17. Believe it or not, I have never read Jane Austin. I know, I know, kept meaning to, but.......I would like to read this book to get a taste of what she is all about.

    Thanks for the chance! :)

    nancyecdavis AT bellsouth DOT net