Jay Margrave on Jane Austen’s brother Francis, Admiral of the Fleet
Love and Loyalty – an inspiration
My latest ‘mystorical’ posits the idea that Jane Austen had a secret love affair with a French naval officer, brought home as a captive by her brother, Frank, a British navy officer who fought in the Napoleonic Wars and rose to become Admiral of the Fleet.
So what inspired me to write the novel? Some years ago, in 1997, my husband, a historian with an interest in medals, shoved an auction catalogue under my nose which contained a detailed biography of Frank Austen because his five medals were being sold by the auction house. Jane’s brother achieved the highest rank in the navy, and, because of his duties, just missed the Battle of Trafalgar – he was most disappointed at this, but went on to make himself rich with prizes won in battles. I started thinking; why didn’t Jane Austen mention anything about the major concerns of her era in which she must have been deeply interested, with two brothers fighting in the Navy? She would have been personally affected by the upheaval of the Napoleonic Wars; the raging inflation of the time and the problem of slavery. Yes, she does hint at the problems of owning slaves (Mansfield Park) and certainly has a worthy hero in naval Captain Harville (Persuasion) but these are oblique references in otherwise clever and subtle works of domestic and personal obsessions.
Did she, I wondered, have a personal agenda for concentrating on the love interests of her characters?
I pondered this over the years while I wrote my three other published ‘mystoricals’, The Gawain Quest, Luther’s Ambassadors and The Nine Lives of Kit Marlowe.
I was a little over-awed by tackling Jane herself as I knew a lot of ‘Janeites’ might not like me taking liberties with their author, but the tale was now becoming pressing so I set about my research and the time line seemed to fit. I began, I thought, to ‘know’ Jane – and the novel just flowed, once I started, with a denouement, I hope, which not only explains why her love affair is not ‘public’ but also why she concentrates on the love interest of her characters.
I adore researching for my novels and it was great to visit Bath and Chawton as well as dipping into the costumes of the era and the horrors of being a sailor in the 18th/19th centuries. I am pleased to say that one reviewer has said that the scenes at sea are good and realistic and will appeal to a male audience, so my novel is not all ‘Love and Loyalty’ but has some political and social connotations as well.