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Rowing and Writing

Christopher Koehler's blog about rowing and writing and who knows what else.

First Impressions, pt 1

  Posted by Christoarpher , 27 April 2021 · 252 views

So the second edition of First Impressions has been out for a few weeks, and I thought I’d talk for a bit about the challenges of writing a story inspired by Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice that not only involves gay men but is also set in the contemporary world. Since ‘gay’ is an historically bounded sexual and cultural identity, the one goes with the other.
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In some ways, modern gay life and Austen’s world have a number of things in common, and in fact the idea for First Impressions came to me while I was driving to go for a run with Sacramento FrontRunners/FrontWalkers, an LGBT+ running and walking club. I realized that my life resembled a Jane Austen novel.
Both social milieux are quite small; everyone in a gay community in even a large urban area knows everyone else or knows of everyone else, and likewise it’s obvious from Austen’s novels that everyone in a society knows each other.
In both modern gay urban life and in Austen’s world, life is a constant series of parties and dances with one goal: finding a husband (or at least Mr. Right Now). In modern gay life, these are parties and dance clubs. In Austen’s world, these were bride-finding balls and house parties. But in both, the goal was the same (at least in the crowd I ran with—YMMV).
Likewise, people in both milieux know too much about each other, particularly each other’s mating habits. In a relatively closed society like a modern gay community, it doesn’t take long before one knows who’s done whom. Similarly in the middle-class world depicted in Austen’s novels, everyone knows who fancies whom and, especially, who contemplated misalliances.
Newcomers are regarded the same in both worlds: fresh meat. In my experience in a particular part of Sacramento’s gay community, everyone’s interested in newcomers while they try to place new faces into the existing social ecology. As for Austen’s fictional world, look how excited everyone is in Pride and Prejudice when Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley arrived in Meryton, the fictional town in Hertforfshire where Longborne, the Bennet family estate is located. Mr. Bingley’s estate of Netherfield is nearby. Significantly, Mr. Darcey’s estate, Pemberley, is rather further away in Derbyshire, making Darcy both new in the social environment and also an outsider temporarily in the neighborhood. Perhaps significantly, Hertfordshite is one of the Home Counties, ancient counties around London having a certain cachet that would’ve been instantly known to Austen’s readers. Derbyshire is rather further north, in the East Midlands.
A bit of trivia, Chatsworth House, seat of the Cavendish Dukes of Devonshire, was used to film scenes of Pemberley in the 2005 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.
Since my educational background is in the history of biologuy, the Cavendish Labs (named for the British chemist and physicist Henry Cavendish, grandson of the second Cavendish duke of Devonshire) at Cambridge where were crucial x-ray crystallography work done by Rosalind Franklin, leading to the discovery of the structure of DNA. Watson and Crick stole those crystallographs from Franklin’s desk. Nice, eh?
If you’re fan of more recent goings-on (or more recent than the second duke, at any rate), the late Dowager Duchess of Devonshire was a Mitford Sister, the former Deborah Mitford. After the estate was almost ruined by taxes at the death of the tenth duke, Duchess Deborah of Devonshire (try saying that five times fast…) almost single-handedly brought the estate back into the black. At the death of her husband, her son Peregrine because the twelfth duke and she handed him a viable and profitable enterprise ready for the twenty-first century.
If you’ve never heard of the Mitford Sisters, they were among the first to create celebrity culture, young women famous for being famous, decades before Paris Hilton and the Kardashians. It’s too bad so many of Debo Mitford’s sisters became Nazis.
There is one more thing both modern gay communities and the world of Pride and Prejudice have in common: they were both shark tanks.
So what do I mean by that?
One wrong move and you’re dead, at least socially.
I faced one major problem translating Pride and Prejudice into modern gay life, and I’ll address that in my next post.The post First Impressions, pt 1 first appeared on Christopher Koehler.


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