Saturday, February 19, 2011

Meet Barbara Cornthwaite, author of George Knightley, Esquire

GIVEAWAY: Comment on this post or the previous one (which is a review of the book itself) and you'll be entered in a giveaway for one of two copies of George Knightley, Esquire Book One. Open to U.S./Canada only--contest ends Wednesday, February 23, 10 pm MT. Tweet this info and/or post on Facebook and you will receive an extra entry--just let me know!

When I decided it was high time that I read and blogged about George Knightley, Esquire (Book One), I asked Barbara Cornthwaite if I could profile her as well. She graciously agreed, and here is our conversation over a virtual cup of tea...

How did you come to write about George Knightley?

I discovered Jane Austen in college, when I was required to read Pride and Prejudice, and then went on to read all the other novels on my own. I ended up teaching literature and writing at the university level for a few years, and then I got married to my charming Irish husband and “retired” to be a homemaker and homeschooling mom to our four lovely children.

I bought my first copy of Emma in Edinburgh, Scotland on June 8, 1994 (I still have the book, and that’s the date I wrote on the title page). I was on my version of the Grand Tour--my parents and I had together scraped up enough money for me to spend a month traveling in the British Isles as a sort of graduation trip from college. I remember buying Emma from a shop called "James Thin, Booksellers" and sitting down to read it in some kind of public park not far away. I think Emma was the third Austen book I read.

Anyway, I read Emma as I traveled around Scotland. I went to a place called Oban because someone had told me it was beautiful. It was, but there was nothing to do there but gaze at the boats in the harbour, and shop. Shopping was out of the budget, and the sea is hard to stand and stare at for more than an hour, so I went back to my bed and breakfast and read the rest of Emma.

I was the perfect reader for such a book--gullible, unsuspicious, and completely taken off guard by the ending. For some reason, early in the book, I had got a mental picture of Mr. Knightley as a short, middle-aged man, slightly pudgy and sporting a mustache (!). With that image in my mind, everything he said and did could be easily interpreted as the actions of a benevolent, caring, uncle-type. I was as shocked as Emma when he declared himself. Of course, I wasn't sure that such a pudgy man with a mustache should be the romantic hero, and the end was a little unsatisfying in that regard. However, a few more readings allowed me to alter my mental picture, and the ending became the standard by which all other novels are judged!

I had been writing various things down through the years, but didn’t feel drawn to Austen fan fiction until I read the books of Pamela Aidan and Susan Kaye. Then I had a decided longing to do for George Knightley what they had done for Mr. Darcy and Captain Wentworth. It’s been great fun!

So, are you (were you) an American who married an Irish man and moved to Ireland?

Yes, I'm American, from Los Angeles (a neighbor here said to me, "So, you went from 18 million people down to 18?"--meaning the size of our village!). Actually, we were in England for a few years first, and then moved to Ireland.

Is homeschooling popular in Ireland? I think of it mainly as a U.S. phenomena, but don't know really know if that's true.

No, homeschooling is not very popular in Ireland, although there are a few of us. There are homeschoolers in almost every Western country, although it's definitely more popular in the U.S. than any other country I've seen. We love it.

Funny, I saw Mr. K in much the same way as you describe first imagining him, so imagine my delight when I saw Jeremy Northam play him. Do you have a favorite adaptation of Emma? Is there an actor you would love to see play your Mr. Knightley?

I like different things about all the adaptations--what I wouldn't give to merge some of them together! I don't think any of them are truly terrible, although I must say that Emma 3 is my least favorite Mr. Knightley. But then it has my favorite Jane Fairfax, so I don't want to give it up. When I heard they were going to make Emma 4, I was kind of hoping they would choose Anthony Howell (Roger in Wives and Daughters) to play Mr. Knightley. But I think Jonny Lee Miller did a great job--I think he's my new favorite, although Jeremy Northam comes close behind.

Would you like to continue the story of the Knightleys after Book 2 comes out (i.e., write a sequel to Austen's story)?

I would love to. If I can think of a good plot and have enough time, I certainly will! I'm not one of those writers that is full of ideas for plots and just doesn't have enough time to write them all. I'm the kind that is stuck for weeks on end because I can't figure out anything to write! But I do love these characters, and hope I can spend more time with them.

Thank-you, Barbara, for sharing your story with us. It's always a treat to chat with authors whose works I admire!

And now...would the real Mr. Knightley please stand up?

Mr Knightley has been portrayed by John Carson (1972), Jeremy Northam (1996), Mark Strong (1996), Jonny Lee Miller (2009)


  1. Very interesting post. I loved hearing about your discovery of and growing affection for Emma. My Mr Knightley will always be Jeremy Northam, but every actor has brought something different and interesting to the role.
    By the way, a very small thing, the picture you have of Jeremy Northam is from his portrayal of poet Randolph Henry Ash in 'Possession' and not his performance as Mr Knightley in 'Emma'.


  2. I LOVED this book! No need to enter me in the giveaway, as I already have my copy (and cannot wait to read book two - any notion when it might be available?). This was a fascinating interview. I lived in Ireland for a year when I was 14/15 (early 90's), and my dad was temporarily relocated for work. We did our version of the British Isle tours when there and visited Oban, which I recall much as described. I was reading through Victor Hugo at the time, but your reminiscences here make me wish it had been Austen. Lovely interview - thank you ladies!

    Oh, and I fully agree that Jeremy Northam was the best Knightley, though all have been excellent, in their own ways.

  3. Barbara is delightful! Oh, I wish I could live in Ireland.

    My favorite Mr. Knightleys: Jeremy Northam and Jonny Lee Miller (kind of partial to the latter). =O)


  4. I loved your interview with Barbara. I also love Aidan, Kaye and Hiles works. I have them all. I don't have Barbara's however. What a fascinating way to become enamored with Emma. Emma is not my favorite but perhaps it's because I don't have the sense of their personalities as you have described. I would love to visit Ireland. (I loved your recent pics) My favorite Mr. K is Jeremy Northam and Mark Strong. I left a comment on the previous site as well. I'd love to win this. schafsue at gmail dot com.

  5. Great interview. Have read her book and it's one of my favorites..Love Emma and not enough sequels out there. Ireland is my dream vacation, how lucky to live there. Jonny Lee Miller is my Mr Knightley, though Jeremy Northham is good too.

  6. Don't need to enter me in the giveaway, since I already happily own a wonderful copy of this novel! Just wanted to stop by and learn more about Ms. Cornthwaite! I loved her writing and especially enjoyed how her Highbury was just like Jane Austen's. I just love Highbury!

    I liked how Ms. Corthnwaite shared her first experience with reading Emma, it sounds like a very memorable time!

  7. I enjoyed this thoroughly interesting interview. This novel sounds captivating and special. What a wonderful post. thanks. rojosho(at)hotmail(dot)com

  8. Knightley is one of my favorite Austen heroes, so I'd love to read more about him!


  9. JLM as Mr. Knightley is my perfect ideal man! I've watched the 2009 adaptation of Emma so many times I can't even begin to count. I watch it almost purely for the joy of watching Mr. Knightley. I just love his basic character, It would be great to find a non-fictional hero just like him. JLM as Edmund in Mansfield Park is also superb. As was mentioned by the director of Emma, JLM has a basic stillness about him and has such incredible subtlty in his facial expressions that if you don't watch very closely, you will miss his feelings expressed and think him very dull indeed. I recommend to watch the characters of Edmund and Mr. Knightley very closely, especially facial expression and the look in his eyes in his scenes and you'll see so much more of the character than you might at first think.

    I'm so glad the complete Mr. knightley chronicles will available soon as I'm making myself wait until both books are available to read his story.

  10. I just finished this and is it Thursday yet. The second book is due out this week and I am already searching websites to find a copy. I love Knightley and now am a terrific fan of Jonny Lee Miller. The other Mr. Knightleys were very good but as I read Charity Envieth Not..I could see JLM as I read Knighley's thoughts. I trully appreciated the interaction between John and gave both characters more life.