Thursday, March 25, 2010

Sexy JAFF: A Conversation with Lory Lilian

Back in January, after reading and commenting on Mary Simonsen's interview with Lory Lilian, the author of Rainy Days and Remembrance of the Past, I began an email conversation with this latter lady in which we discussed the prevalence of sex in Austen fan fiction. I have some pretty strong feelings on this issue and had used what was theoretically supposed to be a review of Remembrance of the Past to rant and rave about it. Imagine my mortification when I learned that Ms. Lilian had read my crazy ramblings! I ran right out and purchased Rainy Days (reviewed here), which I very much enjoyed, in order to repay her kindness in debating with me by giving her work proper recognition. Here is the result of our conversation.  Ms. Lilian would like me to emphasize that these are her personal, private opinions put forth (just as mine are) and that she is not attempting in any way to speak on the behalf of other writers or readers of Jane Austen fan fiction. I hope you enjoy this debate on the reasons for and merits of the inclusion of sexual activity in JAFF, the effects film has had on the sexualization of Austen, and what it's like to actually write one of these steamy scenes. We certainly enjoyed ourselves having it!

Alexa: I'm a bit ashamed that you read the review I did of Remembrance of the Past, having used it as an opportunity to rant and rave rather than give your book proper attention. I read it right when the question of sex in Austen fan fiction was the focus of my mind, having just finished reading a slew of books in which it was a prominent feature. I know many fans love these scenes and the pressure to include them, especially when writing in an online forum, must be intense. I would love to have a conversation with you on this subject, if you are interested in pursuing the topic further. If not, I understand. It certainly is not my intention to force you into the role of defender of all the many writers who decide to follow Lizzy and Darcy into the bedroom.
Lory: First of all – let me say I would love to talk to you, too, on any subject regarding Jane Austen, including hot mush scenes and why people love them :) . However, I can only speak for myself, not for the other authors, so if my opinion is enough for you – it’s fine with me.
Alexa: Of course, your voice is your own and cannot speak for anyone but yourself - still, I think the conversation will be both enlightening and entertaining. Thank you for taking the time. I believe you are the ideal person to help me, because I am afraid I just don't get it: I cannot figure out what it is that makes Austen fans want these scenes in the first place. As you read in my sorry excuse for a review, you know I am not generally prudish - sex scenes do not offend me elsewhere in literature - but they are just so incongruous with Jane Austen. I guess I feel protective of her for some completely irrational reason. It's silly, I know, but in this way I am like E.M. Forster, "slightly imbecile about Jane Austen."
Lory: I agree with you on some points regarding Pride and Prejudice variations; the most important thing I want to repeat is that Pride and Prejudice is my favorite book in the world (and I really read a lot), so I am very protective over it, too. I have very strong, sometimes silly reactions about it, too, and I don’t hesitate to express my opinion openly on forums every time I have a chance. I do not like reading some online fanfiction stories that are changing Regency Darcy and Elizabeth in a dramatic way… For me, Darcy and Elizabeth can only belong together with no other men or women interfering with them; this is why I love this story so much (besides Jane Austen’s genius and her awesome writing) – despite pride, prejudice and many other things, Darcy and Elizabeth are meant to be together and they will be ‘the happiest couple in the world’, no question about that!!!!  And I think this is part of the answer regarding the desire of reading (and writing) more about this aspect of their happy married life. Jane Austen implied so much and told us so little, and we simply cannot have enough of it.
Alexa: The sexual fascination with these characters is astounding to me. I guess their status as the most perfect couple in literature (in my opinion) leads people to want to imagine the perfections of their love life. If they are, indeed, "the happiest couple in the world", as you said, it seems safe to assume that their love life would correspond to that state. Personally, I require no elucidation to be assured of the fact. I also often wonder how much of this fascination can be laid at the feet of Andrew Davies and Colin Firth, though I still adore both men even if they are culpable. Do you know how prevalent such imaginings were before 1995?
Lory: Pride and Prejudice1995 had a dramatic and devastating impact on people's sexual fascination with Darcy and Elizabeth. As far as I know, the process of Pride and Prejudice fanfiction itself started immediately after the 1995 film was aired (somewhere around 96 - 97), and it turned into a major phenomenon that grew year by year.
I, for one, started to fantasize about Darcy and Elizabeth's extra scenes right after I saw it and discovered that Colin Firth was my perfect Darcy. His gazes at Elizabeth, his silence, his body language, his small gestures, the expression on his face, the pain on his face when he was rejected, the embarrassment when he met Elizabeth at Pemberley, the happiness when he stared at Elizabeth at the pianoforte, his briefly holding her hands at the Lambton Inn and their final kiss in the end, all these were the reasons that made me start writing fanfiction. Each of Colin and Jennifer's glances, each of their interactions, each of their sparkling dialogs were inspiration for my writing, and all I had to do was to put them in different circumstances and to guess how they would react, based on what I had seen and read. When I first saw the movie, I had already been in love with P and P for many years, but I never consider imagining anything beyond what Jane Austen wrote. An aspect of Jane's genius is that she said (wrote) little but suggested so much about the hidden part of Darcy and Elizabeth's relationship, and allowed the reader’s imagination to work and to explore it. Well, after I saw the miniseries, my imagination turned wild – and I was grateful when I discovered the fanfiction world.
Alexa: I must emphatically agree that Colin Firth is incredibly swoon worthy and the perfect Mr. Darcy. There is huge sexual tension in the film and it is almost all expressed in his eyes. This certainly explains why so many of these books are a) written from Darcy's perspective and b) focus in on his dirty thoughts. But there is Pride and Prejudice fan fiction that predates this film, just not the treasure trove that we now have. I adore this movie and fully understand why it would inspire so many, but I will admit that I get kind of irritated when fan fiction is based more on the movie than the book, because it is very different in many ways (not so much sexual tension in the book, is there?). This is why the sex sometimes bothers me so much - Jane Austen could never have written such scenes, not only because of her sexual inexperience but because of her own sense of what was seemly and what wasn't. I think I am most appalled when the moral strictures of the day are completely disregarded, displaying Elizabeth and Darcy, before they are married, getting it on in a field or some such craziness, or flirting in a manner that would have been considered totally disgracefully while in public. But then of course, some of my favorite books are Abigail Reynolds' Pemberley Variations, which almost always seem to involve extensive premarital sex, so I am obviously quite capable of overcoming my qualms.
Lory: I love Abigail's stories, too. She was the author who made me a JAFF addict five years ago. I still remember the day she invited me to post at Austen Interlude (there were only a very few authors there at that time) -  I was soooo flattered, so happy!

I have studied the Regency period a little and have also asked many questions of our "Regency experts" in fanfic; I know that sexual interludes between engaged people were not rare at all. and while nobody openly approved it, everybody expected it to happen. Even more, I read that children conceived during the engagement were considered legitimate if they were born after the marriage. This is why it was such a big deal for a woman to break an engagement: everybody expected that some sexual things already happened during the engagement and, consequently, she was not so pure anymore.

Despite all these, I do not like much the idea of Darcy and Elizabeth engaged in premarital sexual relations or in any kind of intimate interludes in places where they could have been seen. Darcy would never expose Elizabeth or himself to public censure for improper behavior. This is my opinion, and this is what I did in my books.
As for their wedding night, as my Darcy said in Remembrance, I wanted it to be perfect, in the privacy of their home. In my opinion, I doubt Darcy would spend his wedding night in an Inn, surely he could have waited a few more hours to reach his Town House, as London was pretty close to Hertfordshire. (However, there are a few stories which I love, in which they did spend the wedding night in an Inn, so I am not very strict about it -- LOL ). On the other hand, I am sure they would indulge their passion with some small, half-guilty pleasurable moments, like kisses, touches, holding hands and all, with extreme caution to keep it private.
Alexa: As I said in my blog post on Remembrance of the Past, I was very appreciative of the fact that you did not include scenes of premarital sex between Elizabeth and Darcy. The prevalence of sex in the book put me off a bit, I admit, but you incorporated it with a lot more taste and decency than is often employed.

I'm very curious about both why and how you decided to take what had been an explicitly PG text (Rainy Days) and increase its adult content. I assume that fans of your writing requested these additions, is that correct?
Lory: In none of my stories do Darcy and Elizabeth have premarital sexual interludes. There are many more sex scenes in Remembrance than in Rainy Days because the story continues after their marriage, and I used the sex scenes to show the development in their relationship as a married couple, to illustrate the process of knowing each other better and sharing everything, including marital happiness. I also used two sex scenes between Cassandra and David in two critical points of the story. To be honest, I agree I could have done the same thing without those detailed sex scenes, but I wonder if the impact on the readers would have been equally as strong. (I really wonder, not sure at all...) All I know is that Remembrance was planned from the very beginning to include detailed, hot scenes and more angst than my first book, because I felt the story itself asked for it. I know some people agree, some disagree; I just hope the readers do not consider the sex scenes gratuitous and unnecessary.
As for Rainy Days – it was my first book and first I posted it on DWG, so it was PG general; I finished it and I even wrote the wedding night, keeping it PG 13! Then, I started posting it on HG – which was an adult site – and some cyber friends started to ‘demand’ to enhance some scenes, to explore more of Darcy’s thoughts, to write more details about their touches and kisses and passion. I confess I was a little shy at the beginning, but then I started to enjoy entering deeper into Darcy and Elizabeth’s thoughts, wishes, fears, desires, to put a stronger touch of passion into their love. And, since the readers’ reaction was very positive, this was an incentive to continue this exploration. I will only say that, while writing, I had screen captures from Pride and Prejudice 95 on my desktop LOL, and I could easily tell you which scene inspired me to write a certain scene in Rainy Days. However, though there are many hot scenes in Rainy Days, in my opinion – and in some of my readers’ opinion –  the hottest scene in the book is the one in the library during the Netherfield Ball, when Darcy took off Elizabeth’s gloves and kissed her hands. It is hot and it is PG general, right? Sothe question is: Could I write hot scenes and keep them PG-13? Probably yes… but I confess my guilty pleasure in writing hot mush, and I most likely will continue doing it as long as my readers join me in this guilty pleasure. I also hope that the readers who do not approve of these kinds of scenes will find it easy to simply skip them and still enjoy my stories.
Alexa: Well I can certainly assert that I still enjoyed both your books, in spite of my Austen-sepcific prudishness. When I return to enjoy them again (as I will surely do - especially Rainy Days, which I really loved) I will do as you suggest and jump over those scenes that make me blush. While I'm not sure we reached any revolutionary conclusions here, I do think I now have a better sense as to why other people so enjoy these scenes that make me cringe. Thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to chat with me. It has been excessively diverting! 

Lory discovered JAFF in 2004 as an avid reader then a year later as a tentative author. She lives in Bucharest, Romania, with her dear husband, her dear daughter of 15 and her dear dog ( a French bulldog). She is 41 and works as a Recruitment and Training Manager in a multinational company, and when she is not working ( which is very rare), she loves reading ( Pride and Prejudice is the all time favorite), going to the theater and writing ( JAFF, of course).

Images of Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy in varying stages of undress borrowed from What Kate Did Next, My Pride and Prejudice, The Republic of Pemberley, and My Pride and Prejudice again, respectively.


  1. I "excessively" enjoyed your discussion, ladies. It was interesting to learn about what Regecny couples did when they were engaged. I have always wondered if they ever stole a kiss or held hands. I wouldn't have been able to survive the engagement period if that wasn't allowed as I am a person that loves to give and receive physical affection!

    Lory, I think it is so interesting that the hottest scene is one where he is kissing her hand! That just goes to show you that they don't need to be doing something explicitly graphic for it to be hot!

    I was under the impression that only one of Abigail Reynolds variations had premarital sex, I may be wrong as there are two of them that I haven't read recently. Also I'm pretty sure in "From Lambton to Longbourn" there is no sex at all, in fact the book is pretty PG-13.

    Thank you for sharing your conversation. Alexa, I can see where you are coming from about how the sexual tension coming from the movies more than the book. But I sort of feel that when they were debating with each other there had to be some kind of energy or passion between them.

  2. HI Meredith - I'm glad we succeeded in providing diversion! You're right, from Lampton to Longbourn (my very favorite Pemberely Variation, by the way) does not have premarital sex, nor does The Last Man in the World, but I think most of the others do, but it's been a while since I've reread most of them so I can't vouch for the fact. Regardless, all of Abigail Reynolds' novels are pretty steamy. As for sexual tension in Pride and Prejudice, I think a strong argument could be made for Darcy experiencing it during their debates (as nearly every writer who has written from his perspective has done), but I feel fairly safe asserting that Elizabeth was completely oblivious. It takes two to tango, after all.

  3. Unless you're Joe Wright (argkissshotintherainarg).

  4. Hi ibmiller. Not my favorite scene either, though I do get the whole rains-as-a mood-setter notion. You know, I thought you'd have a bit more to say on this particular topic.

  5. Meredith, I am happy you enjoyed the discussion.
    Alexa, I agree that Elizabeth was oblivious to any sexual tension in the beginning; on the other hand, from their first interaction she reacted very strong to Darcy... (yes, I agree, it was not a "tender" reaction, but it was strong nevertheless :)

  6. Very true Lory. It probably was sexual tension and she just had no notion of it. How odd to be so innocent! Kind of like little girls and boys beating on each other on the playground...

  7. Alexa, I agree !!!! Beside, during the first part of the book, they were actually beating each other on a playground lol. Even the Netherfield ball, when they danced together, it was mostly a duel !

  8. Hi Alexa, Lory wrote on "A happy assembly" about your discussion about the use of explicit scenes in Jane Austen fanfiction. I wanted to let you know what my answer was. Maybe it helps to understand the appeal of it to me.

    "I admit without blushing that I really love the hot stuff. A story doesn't necessarily have to include hot scenes, it very much depends on the storyline and the tone of the story. I don't read them to read the words cock, heaving bossom *retch* or have detailed description of a penetration. It gives me nothing to read a sex scene without a plot.

    Sometimes a story focuses very much on the intricate dance of courting and falling in love. A slow build-up of intimacies. The removal of a glove. Touching skin to skin for the first time. Imagining to see Elizabeth with her hair down. Feeling his chest when he wears no coat and picturing what it will be like to feel it without the shirt. Going one step further each time. It's not only a build-up for the characters but for me as well. I shiver when he plays with the curls at her neck. I salivate when he walks around shirtless. If the story is well writen, I feel with the characters. Being excluded from the wedding night feels to me as it would make Darcy feel when Elizabeth shuts the door in his face that night. I need a conclusion to the sexual tension.

    That said, I admit that in some stories sex would be out of place. If a story focuses on the abduction of Elizabeth and Darcy's quest to find her, he can't rip her clothes off once he finds her, just because he needs to feel her or whatever reason they may have. I would even skip those scenes, because it doesn't fit the flow of the story.

    Furthermore, a sex scene doesn't have to be sensual. It can also show the awkwardness of a relationship, the inability to open themselves to the other in fear of rejection, even a selfishness in a character in persuing the intimacies despite the others obvious reticence. Observing someone in such an intimate moment can give you a deeper insight into its character."


  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. Hi Mieze. Thank you for sharing your response. It is certainly helpful. I had no expectation that so many people previously unfamiliar with me would be reading this post (there have been so many of you!). Had I known, I would have included more context for my background/feelings. The reason Lory and I began this conversation is because I was trying to bridge the gap between my sense of what was seemly in Austen - which is, admittedly, rather stringent - and that of the larger JAFF audience. The reason why I was particularly interested in Lory's opinion is because she handles intimate moments, be they actual sex or not, with an incredible degree of tact. I see how the subtleties of romance can add greatly to a story line, but my question regards why we have to go beyond those subtle hints. My intention was not to deny the sensuality inherent in Austen, but when dealing with her work, particularly, focused as it is on her set of morals, to venture beyond the bounds of what she considered acceptable seems to me, honesty, disrespectful (hence the apology in the sidebar). I wanted to understand how those who overcome that barrier while still honoring Austen perceive it. While the conversation was enlightening (and very enjoyable) it hasn't changed my opinion, only made Lory's perspective more sympathetic.

    You know, it's probably those sex scenes that ARE uncomfortable (not sensual) that really upset me. I don't really want to bring Darcy and Elizabeth down to the level of real humans. Part of Austen's appeal, especially from the modern perspective, is that she supplies an alternative reality, quite devoid of our modern sexual consciousness.