Whenever we travel, and happen to have a female pilot, I joke to my wife about my horror that they’re letting a “girl” fly the airliner. Knowing that my own flight instructor was a woman, my wife usually responds with nothing worse than a sharp elbow to the ribs. (I fly little planes—they’d never let me fly a big one.)
My primary physician, my dentist, and most other professionals in my life—women. My career—often one of collaboration with women. My most satisfying professional times—a company run by women. The loveliest person in my life—a woman.
It seems only natural that I should write a novel that has as its protagonist a strong female character, in the form of Jane Austen, respected for her intelligence, her wit, and her demand that women be treated with respect.
No doubt this empathy for women involves my own personal history. I and my two brothers were raised by a single mother after our father ran away from home. This was in the conservative South, when being a divorcee had the whiff of the disreputable about it, and the highest rung on the corporate ladder for a woman was that of office secretary.
We survived, but I would not romanticize the experience. My mother struggled her entire life to earn a living—and respect. We had food on the table, but not much. We often fell behind on our account with the grocer. But she never missed a day of work, and she eventually paid every bill. Absorbing her work ethic, we boys clawed our way up and out.
But that life and experience was not ennobling. It largely broke my mother. She achieved modest comfort in retirement, but she was never really happy.
Because of the timing of my career, I witnessed the rise of women in the workplace. When I began working for newspapers in high school, ninety percent of newsrooms were male, and the women were largely relegated to the Society section. By my mid-twenties, half the newsrooms were female. When I moved into high-tech ten years later, communications had shifted from largely male to largely female. Many women avoided the glass ceiling by founding their own firms.
By and large, I have prospered more under the collegial atmosphere fostered by women than by the tiresome competitiveness that is too often a part of male culture. I successfully swam with the sharks, but it wasn’t a lot of fun.
These are all the personal reasons that I’ve been drawn to Jane Austen as a character. In so many ways, she represents an intelligent woman’s fight for independence in a society structured to keep her dependent.
In writing this book, I can liberate her to become a whole woman capable of fulfilling her life’s dreams. I can engage her in issues from which she otherwise would have been excluded. I can throw the worst of the Regency era at her and see how she responds. By testing her mettle, I can draw a deeper and more honest portrait of her character than is otherwise possible.
And, by making her the first woman in Bath to fly, I can have her life soar. …