top of page

Janeite Spotlight: Introducing J. C. Peterson

Hello, dear readers! This year, we’ve begun a blog series highlighting Austen-lovers around the world—sharing how they first discovered Austen’s fiction, why they love Austen, how they’ve contributed to the Janeite community, you get the picture. Fans, who cultivate and engage in discourse surrounding Austen’s life and fiction, participate in workshops and conventions, host book clubs, and don I ❤️ Darcy merchandise with pride (but hopefully not prejudice—wink, wink), are the reason Jane’s spirit survives in the twenty-first century. We deserve a shout-out! And we deserve the chance to connect with like-minded individuals across the world. This Spotlight features J. C. Peterson, young adult author of the Austen-adjacent novels Being Mary Bennet and Lola at Last.


J. C. Peterson

Young adult novelist J. C. Peterson, who goes by Jenny, hails from the Midwest, where she grew up in small-town Michigan with a big imagination and a love of all things vintage. As a child, she recalls long hours spent in the woods and on the lake at her grandparents’ house, pretending to be Anne Shirley of L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series and Mary Lennox from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden.

Montgomery and Burnett’s novels were Jenny’s first “literary loves,” if you will, reflecting her life-long love of “old things,” including media with a vintage aesthetic that still felt real and relevant to her experience growing up in the 1990s and early 2000s. As a teenager, Jenny’s passion for “old things” expanded when her mother brought home BBC’s 1995 Pride and Prejudice miniseries on DVD one summer day. Like a typical angsty teenager, Jenny initially stalked off in protest, pretending to be “too cool” for her mom’s stuffy British programming. But she soon found herself peeking at the screen from the corner of the living room, then perching on the arm of the couch for a better view.

Pretty soon, she realized she was hooked. “I mean, probably when Colin Firth comes out of the lake,” Jenny laughs, blushing, “that’s probably when I really got invested.” As she began reading Austen’s original novels, she fell in love with Austen’s writing, how she “could write real characters with real flaws and real ways to grow.” Take Emma, for example—so vain, so self-absorbed, so shallow and manipulative at the beginning of the novel—who must learn to respect those of “inferior status” and rethink her relationships with Harriet, Jane Fairfax, Frank Churchill, Mr. Knightley, and even herself.

Jenny speculates that readers’ appreciation of Austen’s flawed, growth-fueled heroines is the reason Mansfield Park tends to flop with Austen-lovers. Fanny Price begins the novel as “an unimpeachable Mary Sue,” a perfect woman whose entire narrative journey revolves around making those around her realize that perfection.

This fascination with Austen’s attention to strong female heroines is, in part, what led her to write her debut novel, Being Mary Bennet. While many Austen fans want to be Lizzie Bennet with witty comebacks and a penchant for flirty banter (who wouldn’t, of course?), Jenny believes that many of us, including herself, are actually more like Mary—sort of awkward, sort of shy, the kind of person who “doesn’t come up with that witty comeback until four hours later in the shower.”

In Austen’s original novel, Mary doesn’t get much page time, and where she does appear in the story, she is a pedantic and particular character. “You can tell Austen doesn’t like her,” Jenny says, because she’s striving for attention within her family and not getting it. Being Mary Bennet tells the story of Marnie Barnes, the quiet, “utterly forgettable” sister in the middle of a very loud family. The novel is set in modern San Francisco, following Marnie’s struggle to raise her own voice above her sisters’ chaotic clamor.

Jenny’s second novel, Lola at Last, follows Marnie’s sister Lola, the “Lydia Bennet” of Jenny’s fictional universe, as she deals with the fallout from the revamped “Wickham scandal” that tanked her social status, alienated her friends, and drove a wedge between herself and her twin sister. When Jenny began the process of writing Being Mary Bennet, she never thought she’d want to write about Lydia Bennet, who was brash, tacky, and inconsiderate. But when she dove deeper into the story, she began to see a young girl whose teenaged mistakes—perpetuated by a manipulative older man—irrevocably define her life, threatening to derail her sisters’ futures, too.

“In Pride and Prejudice,” Jenny says, “those mistakes that Lydia makes are going to destroy her life, essentially. And she might not know it right now, but we the reader know that her life is never going to be great because she has made these mistakes at fifteen—because she was preyed on by an older man.” She adds that Georgiana Darcy would have suffered the same fate if not for her family’s wealth and social status, which allow her to escape her own affair with Wickham wholly unscathed.

In Lola at Last, Jenny wanted to tell the story of someone who makes real mistakes and must suffer the consequences of those mistakes—but also someone who is offered a shot at redemption. Someone whose mistakes don’t define her entire life. Unlike Lydia Bennet, Lola Barnes is given a new future to look forward to by the end of the novel, learning “to use her big, loud voice to hopefully make those around her a little happier and make the world a little bit of a better place.” Sounds a bit like the beloved Emma Woodhouse, no?

Even apart from her own novels, Jenny is a huge fan of Austen adaptations, no matter what form they take. “I just like to see someone [a writer, a director, etc.] taking something they love … and putting their own spin on it.” Jenny looks for adaptations that capture the spirit of the original story rather than perfect line-by-line recreations of Austen’s material.

J. C. with her book babies!

“As a writer, I tend to think about this a lot,” she adds. “Once I put my book out there, it’s no longer mine. It belongs to other people now, and they can interpret it how they want.” It’s up to the audience to decide where the characters go after “The End” of a novel, whether it be hers or Austen’s.


J. C. Peterson received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Michigan State University and lives in Denver, Colorado, with her husband and two sons. In her spare time, Jenny loves hiking, camping, and collecting different editions of Jane Austen’s novels, including Jane Austen board books for her kids!

Connect with Jenny via Instagram, TikTok, or her website.

Excerpted from Zoom interview with Jenny Peterson, February 13, 2024.


If you or someone you know would like to be featured in a future Janeite Spotlight article, please fill out this form. We can’t wait to hear from you!


bottom of page