Welcome to Novels Alive! We’re happy to have award-winning author Lona Manning.
Thank you for having me!
Your novella, Shelley and the Unknown Lady: A novella excerpted from The Mansfield Trilogy is based on the poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley’s tumultuous, short-lived life. What drew you to write about Percy Shelley?
I first read about Shelley’s private life in Paul Johnson’s book Intellectuals and was really intrigued by the drama of his life. He was such an intense person. I think he would have been fascinating to meet. I was a kid during the 60’s, so I remember Woodstock and hippies. I think Shelley was basically the first hippie.
Percy Shelley is quite otherworldly and more than a little idealistic. Do you personally share any of his views on life and love?
“Otherworldly” is a good word for Shelley! He didn’t know how to fit into society, and he burned his bridges at school, with his family, and in the literary world. He had compassion for others, but he also used his philosophical ideas to justify his selfish actions. For example, he thought that his wife shouldn’t feel jealous if he fell in love with other women. Apart from liking harp music, Shelley and I don’t have much in common.
Mary Crawford (Bertram) is a character from your third book in your Mansfield Trilogy, A Different Kind of Woman. What about Mary’s character prompted you to use her as the “unknown woman” spoken of by Percy Shelley to his contemporaries?
Everybody agrees that Mary Crawford is a more interesting character than the heroine of Mansfield Park, Fanny Price. In my variation on Mansfield Park, Mary does marry Edmund Bertram, but she can’t reconcile herself to life as a clergyman’s wife. She wants to be married to someone important, someone of distinction, to rise to the top of the social scene in London. Percy Shelley wanted to be famous (though he always claimed he did not want “mere fame”). I could see Mary deciding to hitch her wagon to Shelley’s star—or rather, she would be the woman behind the man, propelling him to greatness. Plus, she plays the harp!
Your fictional character Mary Crawford (Bertram), was nothing, if not ambitious. Do you feel her own ambitions got in the way of her happiness?
Yes. I picture Mary Crawford as someone who tended to blame others if she wasn’t happy. So, you’re right, her inability to appreciate what she had in life did make her unhappy. I also picture her as the kind of person who has an explosive temper. She has to erupt every now and then. This isn’t a problem for her, but it’s a problem for the people around her.
Percy Shelley was a true romantic, but was also cavalier with his love, as most romantics tend to be. How did his writing reflect his attitudes on love and loss?
Shelley was always falling violently, passionately in love, and he would convince himself that the object of his affection was the sum total of human perfection. When he created idealized portrayals of Wisdom and Truth in his poems, they were in the form of beautiful women. Shelley’s poems reveal a lot about his inner feelings, and the poems that he wrote in 1818 and 1819—the period in which this story is set—show a heartbroken man.
In your bio, you indicate you are a fan of Jane Austen. Which of her books is your favorite? Or is it like choosing a favorite child?
Well, I noticed that Mansfield Park that is the one I go back and re-read the most, so it’s my favourite. I admire it for the subtlety and power of the writing and the interactions of the characters, but I have to agree that Fanny Price is not the most interesting Austen heroine. But all the Austen novels are great for re-reading. You always notice some little detail you hadn’t noticed before.
Tell us a little about your newest release, Shelley and the Unknown Lady: A novella excerpted from The Mansfield Trilogy.
It’s based on a real literary mystery. Shelley told his cousin—and he told Lord Byron—that a beautiful, rich, well-born lady had fallen madly in love with him and followed him around Europe. Could the story be true? I researched Shelley’s travels and writings in Italy for that period to come up with my storyline. I have woven real historical events into several of my novels and it’s a fun challenge to stay accurate to events while creating a good story arc. In this case, however, it is a tragic story, not a happy-ever-after.
What are you working on next?
I’ve introduced a new blog series on my website called “Clutching My Pearls,” in which I discuss Jane Austen’s beliefs and ideas as portrayed in her novels. I also plan to write a memoir about the four years I spent teaching in China!
Thank you so much for joining us today and for answering my questions. Your book is such a compelling read—especially for those of us who enjoy a well-researched romantic tragedy.
Release Date: October 5, 2020
Percy Bysshe Shelley’s brief and turbulent life was as passionate and haunting as his poetry.
Romantic, idealistic and impulsive, Shelley had several intense love affairs.
When Shelley drowned at sea, he took his secrets with him.
Did a beautiful, lovelorn lady really follow him throughout Europe, as he claimed? Did Mary Shelley ever learn about this rival for her affections?
Shelley and the Unknown Lady is a carefully researched imagining of the true-life tragedy behind the mystery.
This novella is a stand-alone story excerpted from Lona Manning’s Mansfield Trilogy.
“Many try to emulate [Jane] Austen; not all succeed. Here, Manning triumphs.” ~ Blue Ink Reviews
“Manning’s books are… maniacally well-researched, gorgeously written, and wholly accurate in character. I can’t wait for the next one! I wholeheartedly recommend her books…” ~ Goodreads reviewer
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Lona Manning loves reading, choral singing, gardening and travel. Over the years, she has been a home care aide, legal secretary, political speech writer, office manager, vocational instructor, non-profit administrator and ESL Teacher. She has also written true crime articles for www.CrimeMagazine.com. She began writing A Contrary Wind, her award-winning debut novel, while she was teaching English in China. Manning and her husband raised their family in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, Canada. You can follow her on Twitter or Goodreads or at her Facebook page, “A Contrary Wind” where she posts on all things Jane Austen.
Monday, October 5
Review at Passages to the Past
Wednesday, October 7
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Thursday, October 8
Guest Post at Novels Alive
Saturday, October 10
Feature at Reading is My Remedy
Sunday, October 11
Review at Gwendalyn’s Books
Monday, October 12
Guest Post at Coffee and Ink