The Boundaries of a Book by Eloisa James
When Jody first approached me with the idea for an Essex Sisters companion consisting of historical essays addressing various aspects of the novels, I imagined contributing a couple of pages. But once we began discussing possibilities that went beyond historical investigation, my contribution grew to include an original novella, extra material that had previously been published only on my website, and this narrative essay, which traces my initial idea for the quartet to an “extra” chapter set a decade after Pleasure for Pleasure, the final book in the series. While Jody and I quickly agreed to include material already available to readers, the really crucial question for me had to do with Kiss Me, Annabel, which exists in sharply different versions.
The original plot of Kiss Me sprang from the fact that my husband is an observant Catholic, whereas I was introduced as a child to a confusing medley of religions, from Lutheran to Buddhist, none of which I now practice. I wanted to write a novel in which hero and heroine are not of one mind with respect to faith.
My editor at the time found the second half of the novel far too dark. The change she requested required me to cut the last nineteen chapters and rewrite them. As it happened, I was reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books aloud to my daughter at the time; I credit those books with inspiring me to reshape my overly dark story into a lighthearted road trip (with a detour into the mysteries of butter churning).
The two endings are so different that I don’t think it’s possible to say that one is “better” than the other. Reading the original draft all these years later, I love the focus on Ewan’s faith, as well as all the drama. But I might as well add that when I recounted the original plot to my current editor, Carrie Feron, her eyes grew round and she said that she likely would have found the story a bit dark.
For me, including the original half of Kiss Me, Annabel here definitively transformed this companion from a bunch of complementary essays to something that questioned our conception of a genre novel. Why shouldn’t a book exist in two different versions, as long as each ends happily? Why shouldn’t a reader be able to follow—and take pleasure in—two completely different paths by which the same characters end up in the same place?
Once I accepted that, the temptation to meddle with other parts of the series was irresistible. As I again immersed myself in the world of the Essex Sisters, I found loose ends in Pleasure for Pleasure that, interestingly enough, all had to do with bullying. The novel is a reader favorite, not least because Josie’s experience of being labeled with the horrid nickname the “Scottish Sausage” resonates with so many readers. What happened to the other girls mentioned in the book, who were ostracized along with Josie? What about the young lady deemed unmarriageable because her brother was “silly,” leading everyone to assume that her children would be cognitively impaired? Or the “Wooly Breeder,” so named because she had unruly, curly hair and a father who owned many sheep?
Part of the reason this companion took two years to assemble was that I found myself writing new, discrete novellas to answer those questions. A Midsummer Night’s Disgrace, included here, tells the story of the sister of “Silly Billy,” and her recognition that she was tired of being shunned; instead of silly, she chooses to be scandalous. A Gentleman Never Tells, another new novella, is being published in tandem with the companion; it answers the question of what happened to the “Wooly Breeder,” while also considering the long-term consequences of bullying on the bully. I hope readers will be happy to see that Josie and her husband, the Earl of Mayne, make a brief appearance in the companion, and then reappear in company with their daughter in A Gentleman Never Tells
And now, clearly, it’s time for a series re-read. 🙂
Even not remembering every detail of the series, though, I had a great time perusing The Official Essex Sisters Companion Guide. First, there’s a whole lot of material by Eloisa James, including a new short story set in their world. Though the former Josie Essex is just a minor character, it was fun to see her happiness in marriage. (There’s a new novella that’s being published separately, A Gentleman Never Tells , and Josie will play a part in that one too.) There’s a series wrap-up bonus chapter that got me all teary, and a whole lot about Ms. James’ author process in general and for the series specifically, which I always find fascinating. There are illustrated essays on conventions and institutions during the time of the sisters (fashion, publications, theater), a character guide and family tree.
The only part I’m saving until later is the alternate (original) ending for Kiss Me, Annabel . It’s a half of the book long! I need to re-read the original before I peruse that one, because I know I’ll want the story’s details clearer in my mind before I do. I can’t wait, though–not one, but two HEAs for Annabel and Ewan!
Overall this book was a lot of fun to peruse–and a heck of a lot more than the “100 pages” Goodreads claims (my Nook copy says it’s nearly four times that). If you’re a fan of the series, or even just have the books on your TBR because you love Eloisa’s other books, it’s definitely worth the relatively small price tag. Even if you don’t read it cover to cover, you’ll definitely find a lot to pique your attention as you browse your way through.
Rating: 4 stars / A-
I received a complimentary copy in exchange for an honest review…and then I bought a second one so I could read it on the larger screen of my tablet too 🙂
traditional author. She is dedicated to unearthing publications of the past, and sharing these long-forgotten books … the jewels and riches of the written word. She has uncovered tens of thousands of old publications from the eighteenth
and nineteenth centuries and wants to bring them to life, and send her readers traveling back in time.