Making a Scene at Georgiana’s Ball

Image result for anne de bourghWhen I mentioned on Facebook that I was writing the scene where Anne de Bourgh crashes Georgiana Darcy’s 18th birthday ball (for my work-in-progress, The Ladies of Rosings Park), I started to receive comments from enthusiastic friends about what they thought that scene should contain – creative suggestions I wished I could use for the book but couldn’t, since the book has to match the tone of Pride and Prejudice. Then I had this messaging conversation:

Friend: Wow! Anne crashing Georgie’s birthday ball sounds like it might be fun to read.

Me: Probably sounds more dramatic than it is. These people are all much too polite to cause and ugly scene, more’s the pity.

Friend: Bummer!

Me: Maybe I’ll write a mash-up version just for fun!

So that’s what I decided to do for this blog post. Here goes!



Anne de Bourgh made her way determinedly toward the door, outside of which a carriage waited to take her to London. “I am going to Georgiana’s ball, Mama. I am of age now, so there is nothing you can do to stop me.”

Lady Catherine followed close upon her heels, shaking her fist in the air. “You may be of age, but I still hold the purse strings. Just you remember that!”

Her daughter paused to deliver her parting salvo. “Perhaps I will find myself a rich husband at the ball, and then all your threats will be meaningless. In any case, I am going. Good-bye, Mama!”

The astonished but straight-faced butler opened the door, and Miss de Bourgh marched through it and on to the adventure ahead. She was quite shocked, really – probably no less so than her mother – that she had actually done it. She had stood up for herself and declared her emancipation from her domineering parent at last! Perhaps it was the recent upturn in her health that had given her the courage. Or perhaps she had finally reached her limit. It mattered only that she was liberated.

“Woohoo!” she shouted as the carriage left the grounds of Rosings Park. She raised her arms in jubilation, kicking up her heels and laughing hysterically. It was probably not decorous behavior. It was definitely not ladylike, and yet Anne cared no more than a jot. She had missed so much being cooped up in Kent; she did not mean to miss anything else, beginning with her cousin’s eighteenth birthday ball. She had another stop to make first, however.

Several hours later, the de Bourgh carriage, boasting its distinguished coat of arms, pulled to a stop in front of a brightly lit townhouse in Berkeley Square – one belonging to that old and honored family, the Darcys. The young lady who alighted, however, barely resembled the one who had come into London earlier that day by the same equipage. Her clothes – feathered headpiece down to her satin dancing slippers – were all new and up to date, and so was the styling of her hair. A bit of fresh color, expertly applied, highlighted her cheeks and lips.

No, it was not a miracle but the nearest thing to it that could be found this side of heaven – on Bond Street, to be more specific – something the fashionable establishment that performed the transformation called a Complete Makeover (which would soon become the rage among those with plenty of money and less than perfect appearance).

Now, finally, after years of being unfairly kept back from what was rightfully her due, Miss Anne de Bourgh, brimming with confidence, was ready to make her social debut. If only she had held an actual invitation to the ball, she should have felt no qualms whatsoever upon nearly reaching the door. But it was a small detail, one she trusted would be quickly overcome.

Image result for butler opens doorA forbidding-looking butler opened the door. “Good evening, Miss,” he said.

“Good evening,” she returned, inclining her head slightly. Anne intended to carry herself through the doorway in a regal manner so there would be no question of her belonging. Unfortunately, her new and unfamiliar slippers caused her to trip and nearly fall to the floor. She would have too, but for the butler’s quick action.

As he caught the young lady, he looked at her more closely. “Do you have an invitation, Miss?” he inquired haughtily.

What happened next is a matter of some dispute. Miss de Bourgh accused the butler of assaulting and otherwise hindering her person. The butler insisted that the lady was somehow to blame. In any case, noise of the scuffle between them soon brought Mr. Darcy to sort out the trouble.

“Is that you, Anne?” he asked, somewhat incredulous. “Heavens! What are you doing here?”

“Sir, kindly tell your man to unhand me!”

“Yes. Yes, of course. Henderson, please release the lady. She is my cousin Miss de Bourgh.” Darcy took his fair cousin’s coat and gave it to a waiting footman. “Now, come in, dear Anne. Come in. I was never so surprised to see anybody in my life, and looking so well too! You are most welcome, of course. Georgiana and Elizabeth will be delighted to see you. Indeed, we should certainly have sent you an invitation had we thought there was any possibility of your actually receiving it and also your mother’s permission to come.”

“Yes, well, I decided to come without – an invitation or Mama’s consent either one.”

“I applaud your courage and fortitude, my dear. Now do make yourself at home. You may find Georgiana through there,” he said pointing the way.” On the other hand, you may not. She has been skittish as a colt tonight, and I have not seen her this half hour. I would almost swear that she has gone into hiding. But you will please excuse me now. I must return to my duties before things get completely out of hand.”

Anne watched the retreating back of her handsome cousin, the man originally intended to be her husband, and she felt… Honestly, she felt only relief that he had found a way to foil the plan. When she thought of marriage, which she did but rarely, she pictured quite a different sort of man – blonde perhaps, slightly built like herself, and spectacles. Yes a bookish gentleman would suit her perfectly.

Image result for bowl of punchRecalling herself from her musings, Anne smoothed her gown, struck an elegant pose, and looked about herself. What she saw was a party in full swing. The dancing had not begun, and yet the well-turned-out throng of people had already commenced carrying on. Their spirits were very high indeed, and it seemed that the largest bowl of punch she had ever seen was at the center of it all. What was in that punch, she wondered?

While Miss de Bourgh was noticing the room, the room – at least the male portion of it -had begun noticing her as well. When she strolled through in search of Miss Darcy, every gentleman’s head turned. One asked, “Who is that ethereal beauty? I’ve not seen her before.” “I heard Mr. Darcy call her his cousin, a Miss de Bourgh,” reported another. “Miss de Bourgh!” exclaimed a third. “Why, she is one of the richest ladies in the country. Miss Darcy’s fortune is nothing to hers.”

Within five minutes the report had circulated throughout the entire company, and nearly everybody present knew the newly arrived lady’s name, the exact size of her fortune, and the other singular fact: she was neither married nor engaged.

Anne was oblivious to all this. After stopping to enjoy a generous sample of the punch, which she found particularly refreshing, she continued her search for Georgiana. But the crowd began to press about her, and she could make no headway. Everywhere she turned, there was another smiling gentleman, contriving a way to introduce himself and beg the promise of a dance from her. She no more than succeeded in turning one away when two others took his place.

The situation became desperate. When Anne thought she might succumb to the crush, unable to breath, she spotted help. “Elizabeth!” she cried out with all the remaining air her lungs contained.

Mrs. Darcy heard, saw the lady in peril, and instantly perceived that the situation was indeed dire. She came to Anne’s rescue at once, a way gradually opening between them as the guests heeded her command to, “Step back. Step back all of you. Give the lady some air. You men go away and stop bothering her or I shall have you thrown out of this house and onto the street, every one of you.”

“Come with me, my dear,” Mrs. Darcy told the lady in distress, leading her to a side room and closing the door behind them. “Now, do sit down and let me have a look at you.” Miss de Bourgh did as instructed. After a moment, Mrs. Darcy said, “There is something familiar… Oh, my goodness! Anne, can it be you?”

“It is, Elizabeth. Please do forgive me for making such a scene, especially uninvited as I am.”

“You are not the problem, Miss de Bourgh. It is the others.” Just then, the sound of a muffled sneeze told the two they were not alone. Elizabeth turned to find the source, which she did behind an ornately embroidered oriental screen. “Georgiana! What do you do there?”

Image result for georgiana darcy pride and prejudiceThe birthday girl replied, “Oh, Lizzy, I could not bear all those people looking at me any longer – the women wanting to find a flaw and the men hoping to win my fortune. Greetings Cousin Anne,” she continued, going to shake her hand. “So nice of you to come. It has been ever so long, and my, how extremely well you look!”

“She does, indeed,” agreed Mrs. Darcy. “Now, we must think how best to proceed. Hiding here will not do for either one of you. Let me start by fetching each of you a bracing cup of punch.”

While Elizabeth was gone, Anne turned to her cousin. “Oh, Georgiana, I have done it at last! I have done what you encouraged me to do in your letters; I have taken a stand against Mama. As you know, she forbid me to ever see you or your brother again. But I told her I was going to your ball, whatever may come.”

“That was very brave of you, dear Anne! I hope you may not soon regret it.”

“Mama can threaten all she likes to disinherit me, but she has nobody else to leave her money to. Besides, I told her I will not need it because I intend to marry a very rich man.”

“And do you?”

“I suppose I would if the right one came along. What about you, dear Georgiana? But you are very young to concern yourself with finding a husband yet. You must dance and make merry – all the things I was deprived of at your age. You must not waste a single minute.”

“You make me very ashamed of myself, Anne. I urged you to take courage against your mother, and here you find me hiding from my own guests!”

Elizabeth returned with the promised punch. “Here we are, ladies. Drink this. I am sure it will do you good. I had some myself and found it highly therapeutic.”

Anne and Georgiana did as they were told; they each drank down a large draught of punch.”

“Feeling better?” asked Elizabeth. Both the others agreed that they were. “Excellent. Now let us all go out and enjoy your ball, Georgiana. Your brother has been waiting for you to begin the dancing.”

Image result for pride and prejudice ballThus fortified, the three women did just that. Miss Darcy soon discovered she was not as nervous as before, and Miss de Bourgh found the amorous gentlemen much more easily managed since Elizabeth had scolded them. They both danced and danced.

A good time was had by all, in fact, and the ball was an infamous success. All the papers said so.

Much was made of the two young heiresses and their entourage of followers. Speculation continued long about who Miss Darcy would marry in the end, since she showed no particular preference for one gentleman over another. But everybody in the know had already awarded Miss de Bourgh’s hand to Sir Nigel Harrington – a slight, bespectacled young nobleman who had never shown much aptitude for attracting the ladies before, despite all his thousands in the bank. The logic went like this: “Did Miss de Bourgh really dance a full ten dances with Sir Nigel? Then there can be no doubt in the matter; they must be secretly engaged.”

This kind of society gossip and speculation was rather standard fare however – entertaining for a time or until the next big thing came along. What made Miss Darcy’s ball truly unforgettable was something else entirely.

Image result for Pride and Prejudice Lady CatherDuring the supper break, another scuffle was heard in the hall, followed by indignant words. “Unhand me, Henderson! You forget yourself. I am here to collect my daughter, and I will not be prevented!”

The indignant lady was soon identified as Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Her daughter heard the noise and came at once to see what could be done about it.

“Ah, there you are, Anne,” continued Lady Catherine upon seeing her approaching. “You are coming with me this instant.”

“Mama!” cried Miss de Bourgh in alarm. Then, after a moment’s consideration, she knew what to do. “Mama, you look tired.”

“Of course I am tired! You have given me much trouble today, you ungrateful child.”

“Yes, tired and overwrought. Come and have some punch to refresh yourself after your long journey.”

“Well… perhaps I will,” she said starting forward. “Then we must be off…”

Some say Lady Catherine stumbled all on her own. Some say she was tripped – by her daughter or by other means. What is known for certain is that the great lady somehow careened headlong, coming to rest with her face buried deep in the bowl of punch. Before she could be helped out again, she had apparently consumed a fair amount of the contents.  She staggered and blustered her discontent, making an ugly scene before a host of witnesses. Mr. Darcy, therefore, had little choice. He gave the command that his aunt should be taken upstairs to one of the guest apartments and put to bed straightaway so that the party could continue, which it did until early morning’s light.

Ah, yes, it was truly a night to remember!



I hope you enjoyed this lively version of events at Georgiana’s ball. In The Ladies of Rosings Park, the scene will take place at Pemberley and play out a little differently, although still with some fireworks. Please stay tuned!

“I am sure he fell in love with you at the ball; I am sure the mischief was done that evening. You did look remarkable well. Everybody said so…” (Mansfield Park, chapter 33)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Summer Travels and Sagging Middles

Don’t you love the title? Once it came to me, I had to go with it.

However little Mr. Darcy might have liked such an address, he contented himself with coolly replying that he perceived no other alteration than [Elizabeth] being rather tanned, no miraculous consequence of travelling in the summer. (Pride and Prejudice, chapter 45)

With a lead in like that, I should either show you my gorgeous summer tan or maybe my sagging middle. But my tan is not that impressive and my sagging middle is… Well, we’ll get to that later. Let’s focus on Jane Austen first, specifically her travels – summer or otherwise.

Jane Austen actually got around a little more than you might think. She lived in Steventon, Hampshire, in Bath, in Southhampton, and finally at Chawton. She went to boarding school in Oxford and Southhampton as a child. She visited friends and family in places like Kent, Ibthorpe, Bath, Winchester, Clifton, and Adlestrop. She made it to London several times for business and pleasure. And she vacationed with her family in seaside resort towns such as Sidmouth, Colyton, and Lyme Regis.

Not bad, and a bonus for us is that she wrote a lot of letters when she was away (or when her sister was), and many of those letters survived and are available for us to read! But my guess is she would have liked to travel more if she’d had the means.

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Lake Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

The same is true for my husband and me, although the limiting factor for us has been time as much as money. Like everybody else, we were busy with careers, kids, and keeping up at home. Even after our sons were grown and I quit my “day job,” my husband was still working, time and overtime, for a few more years. Now, that’s changed. This was the first summer we were more free to go and do. So, go we did!

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The scariest ride at Silverwood

Nothing grand this year. Like Jane Austen, no world tours (although technically we did go “abroad” – to Canada). Just stuff in neighboring states and across the border to British Columbia. When our son asked us to go with his family to Silverwood (an amusement park in Idaho), we said “Sure!” When I was invited to a Jane Austen festival at Port Alberni on Vancouver Island, I said “Count me in!” When my husband told me he wanted to visit relatives in Kalispell, Montana, I said, “Why not?” When I suggested zipping down to Salem, Oregon to see the total eclipse, we just took off and went!

Image may contain: 11 people, people smiling, people sitting, table and outdoorIt was lovely, and we had some wonderful times along the way. Part of the fun has been sharing our experiences with others. Whereas Jane Austen sent letters, I’ve been sharing things on social media. (I hope you have enjoyed the pictures on FB!)

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Silver Falls, Salem

The only downside to all this coming and going is that I haven’t been able to get as much writing done as I would have otherwise, and that’s where the “sagging middle” comes in. No, it’s not a comment on my middle-aged figure. It’s a writing term.

Some novels get off to a roaring start, end with a bang, but have a long, comparatively dull stretch in the middle, where nothing very exciting happens. This can be deadly, putting you at risk for losing the readers’ interest. I’ve never struggled with that particular problem before. (If I’ve been criticized for pace, it’s been for slow starts instead!) Since I’m not really a plotter, I haven’t necessarily planned it, but something dramatic always seems to come along in the story about then – a death, a surprising revelation, a major plot twist, etc.  So no sagging middles in the past, but I was a little worried this time.

As some of you know, I’ve been working on a book called The Ladies of Rosings Park, which basically tells Lady Catherine’s and Anne de Bourgh’s stories in three parts. The first section, which I zipped right through and thoroughly enjoyed writing, is what takes place from their perspectives during the timeline of Pride and Prejudice. The last part, which I don’t expect to be too difficult either, will overlay the action of my P&P sequel The Darcys of Pemberley, again, from the Rosings Park ladies’ points of view. The middle, the place I got stuck this summer, is what happens in between – the several months after the end of Jane Austen’s novel and before the beginning of my sequel.

Image result for Rosings ParkI knew basically what had to take place. Still, I was struggling with lack of time and inspiration for how to write it. Since we were gone so much, it was difficult to keep any momentum going in the story line. And I began to worry I might have a sagging middle on my hands!

I wish I could give my fellow writers a brilliant solution from my experience – how I overcame the difficulty. I think it was mostly plain old perseverance, though. In any case, I’m happy to report that I successfully got through and am on to section three.

Image result for anne de bourghImage result for lady catherine pride and prejudiceBut what of that sagging middle I was worried about? Is it going to be a tough slog for readers when they get there? No, I don’t think so. I was forgetting that this whole section will be entirely unexplored territory for most, with lots of new action and revelations. What happens to Anne de Bourgh when Darcy marries Elizabeth instead? Is she devastated or relieved? As an heiress, even a sickly one, she must have other suitors. Who are they, and do any of them steal her heart? Does Lady Catherine accept the defeat of her original plan gracefully or keep conniving? What about Anne’s health? Does it ever improve? If so, how? And (what I think is a particularly intriguing question) what really happened to her father, Mr. De Bourgh? He’s absent and presumably dead, but is that all there is to the story?

So now I’m past the tricky middle and on the homeward stretch. Hopefully the ladies of Rosings Park (Lady Catherine, Anne, Charlotte Collins, and Mrs. Jenkinson) will be ready to tell their combined stories sometime early next spring!

(For a couple of sneak previews now, read excerpts on previous posts here and here. Then watch for weekly chapters of the book to be posted at Austen Variation beginning in January!)

Did you experience some special summer travels this year? Share a snippet in comments below! Writers – have you ever struggled with a sagging middle, and how did you find your way out of it? Do you have a favorite passage about travel in one of Jane Austen’s letters or novels?

 

 

 

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A Better Fate for Jane

Some of you may have seen this last month at Austen Variations, but I wanted to reproduce my post here, so I would have it as a permanent part of my own blog. Yes, it’s that important to me!


Have you recovered yet from the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death? Although it was gratifying to see how many people and groups think enough of her to offer special tributes and commemorations, it was still a dark date on the calendar. Heart-wrenching, really. We were reminded all over again of the painful illness she suffered, of her tragic premature end in Winchester, of her family’s grief, of the years of promise she didn’t get a chance to live out, of the stories she never had time to write. So sad!

“If, however, I am allowed to think that you and yours feel an interest in my fate and actions, it may be the means – it may put me on my guard – at least it may be something to live for.” (Sense and Sensibility)

I was prepared to mourn over this anniversary, but then I decided I really didn’t need to. Why not? Although the official record says Jane Austen died July 18, 1817 at the age of 41, I prefer to believe something else.

I am no different than any other fan. Which of us hasn’t, even this past week, wished Jane Austen had met with a better fate? She, who has given so much pleasure to countless thousands through her novels, surely deserved the same romance and happy ending she carefully crafted for all her heroines! For years, I wished I could do something about the injustice of it all, but what?

Hmm. The more I considered the question, the more excited I became. Perhaps there was something I could do for her after all. I couldn’t turn back the clock exactly, but I could use my super powers as a novelist to reinterpret the existing facts into a more felicitous outcome for Jane. And really, I had a lot of leeway to work with – gaps in the record, time unaccounted for, missing letters.

Image result for The Persuasion of Miss Jane AustenThere was probably a lot more to Jane Austen’s story than is generally known, I decided.

First, since most authors draw heavily from people and situations in their own lives, it didn’t seem unreasonable to me that she might have had more real-life experience in the field of romance than the record suggests. Obviously not a married-her-sweetheart-at-twenty-and-lived-happily-ever-after kind of affair. But what about a bitter-sweet romance marked by grand passion, misfortune, and long separation? That would be a better fit. Perhaps something on the order of Persuasion.

Yes! What if Austen actually wrote her last, most poignant novel as a public homage to a very private romance with the man who was the one true love of her life? Soon I was off and running with what would become The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen.

Image result for persuasion by jane austen movieI introduced her to the dashing Captain Devereaux, and they really hit it off. More romance for Jane: check! That’s great, but I still wasn’t content; I desperately wanted it ALL for her. Including the happy ending? How fabulous would that be?

So, that became my new (and audacious) goal – to find a plausible and more pleasing alternative outcome for Jane, something that would fit within the framework of what we know (or think we know) about her life. It would be tricky to pull off – a real challenge. For starters, why would the historical record be wrong? …unless Jane and/or her family had deliberately misled everyone about her fate. But why would they have decided to do that?

I was already well into the book when the answer came to me. Of course! It all made perfect sense! Then everything else fell into place too.

That’s why I no longer have to mourn over an early death for Jane Austen. Instead, I think of her plausible alternative. The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen is my gift to her – to her and to anybody else who prefers a believable fiction to the uncharitable slap of harsh reality. I think Jane would have approved. After all, she subscribed to happy endings too!

What do you think? Do you insist on realism, however bleak? Or would you, like me, prefer to believe Jane Austen met with a better fate? All it takes is a little imagination and a little suspension of disbelief in a good cause. Borrowing a line from Atonement by Ian McEwan…

I like to think that it isn’t weakness or evasion, but a final act of kindness, a stand against oblivion and despair, to let my lovers live and to unite them at the end.

 

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A Fresh Place of Interest

“Port Alberni? Where’s that?”

I don’t remember if I actually said those words, but I definitely thought them when I was first invited to attend a Jane Austen festival there July 14 – 16. In case you’re scratching your head and asking yourself the same question, Port Alberni is a community of about 18,000 people at the end of a long fjord on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. As part of the festival, local enthusiasts (a group called the Centennial Belles) had decided to attempt breaking the record for the most people gathered in Regency costume – an ambitious goal considering the modest size and remoteness of the town.

20170720_152941-1_resizedSince I was so warmly invited, since Port Alberni isn’t all that far from Seattle (or so it appears on the map), and since I had the weekend free on my calendar, I decided to go. We could make a mini-vacation of it, I thought. The scenery was sure to be spectacular. I’d have the chance to dress up, talk to people about my books, and soak up the general Jane Austen atmosphere. And with a little luck, my husband might even catch the spirit. Surely he would want to support the record attempt by dressing Regency long enough to be counted. At least I dared to hope so.

We ran into a couple of obstacles, though. First, my passport had expired and, even though we (especially those of us in border states, perhaps) tend to think of Canada as our friendly neighbor to the north, technically it is a foreign country, now requiring official documentation from all visitors. New passport obtained, check.

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The other significant obstruction was that body of water between us. It may not look like much on the map, but THERE IS NO BRIDGE, and ferries, although a scenic form of travel, don’t schedule their departure times according my own convenience. We also discovered that traffic jams aren’t only a phenomenon of major metropolitan areas like Seattle; they also occur at 5:00pm on Fridays in smaller population centers with smaller capacity roads, apparently. We persevered, however, and safely arrived in Port Alberni about 9:30pm. Those three inches on the map had somehow translated into about 13 hours of travel.

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Helena Korin, me, and Suzan Lauder

Well rested after overnighting at a comfortable B&B, we were ready for the big day. The first event on Saturday morning would be the record attempt, at which I and fellow authors Helena Korin and Suzan Lauder had been invited to display our wares. When the official count came in, there was good news and bad news. Although the 286 total beat last year’s number, it unfortunately fell short of the 409 needed to establish a new record. I thought it an impressive total nonetheless, and everybody seemed to be having a good time.

20170715_123704_resizedThen it was off to the pier for a promenade, which turned out to be a very windy affair. “Hang on to your bonnets!” Next came a Jane Austen inspired lunch (with my first taste of the celebrated “white soup” – quite tasty!), followed by author readings (I did a well-received excerpt from The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen), and very entertaining mini-play versions of Persuasion and Emma.

As with most if not all Jane Austen festivals, this one climaxed with a grand ball in the evening. Although not everybody was an expert dancer, everybody was enthusiastic and having a marvelous time!

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This kind of dancing (“country dances” like you see in the movie adaptations) is a lot of fun; it doesn’t require an even number of men and women; and it’s something that can be carried on well into later years. If you want to give it a try, go to a JA festival/convention or look for a Regency dance club in your area.

20170716_124327_resizedSaturday was a very full day, and I slept well that night. A picnic at a local park was the only thing on the schedule for Sunday. Some people went all out for that too, as you can see. Then it was time to do a little sightseeing before saying farewell to Port Alberni and all the friends we made there.

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“…and previously there had been a great deal of enjoyment. So much novelty and beauty! I have travelled so little that every fresh place would be interesting to me – but there is real beauty at Lyme… altogether my impressions of the place are very agreeable.” (Persuasion)

20170715_102912-1_resizedYes, we had all the above: a great deal of enjoyment, novelty, beauty, and a fresh place that made an agreeable impression on me.

What would I consider my personal highlight, though?  It had to be finally seeing my husband in full Regency dress (for the first and hopefully not the last time) and having the chance to dance period dances with him. That’s a bit of fantasy fulfillment. Sort of a mature Mr. Darcy or Mr. Knightly, don’t you think?

So thank you, Port Alberni and all my new friends! It was a great weekend!


For a related post on the Jane Austen experience, see my post about attending the 2013 JASNA convention in Minneapolis: Having a Ball…

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Lady Catherine’s Celebrated Frankness

Pride and Prejudice.“Miss Bennet,” replied her ladyship, in an angry tone, “you ought to know that I am not to be trifled with. But however insincere you may choose to be, you shall not find me so. My character has ever been celebrated for its sincerity and frankness, and in a cause of such moment as this, I shall certainly not depart from it.” (Pride and Prejudice, chapter 56)

My current work-in-progress, The Ladies of Rosings Park, is really coming along well! I’ve got about 25K words already. That’s about 1/4 of a novel. (See this previous post for more about the book plus the prologue.)

Before moving on to a sequel story line, the first section of this book revisits the timeline of Pride and Prejudice with “missing scenes” and scenes retold from the perspective of the ladies of Rosings Park – Lady Catherine, Anne de Bourgh, and even Mrs. Jenkinson. What did the three of them think of Elizabeth Bennet when she came to Rosings? Which of them first detected the danger she represented to the supposed engagement between Anne and Darcy? Was Anne heartbroken or indifferent to discover Darcy would marry Elizabeth instead of her? These were things I needed to sort out.

Jane Austen doesn’t tell us how Anne felt about the broken engagement, but she does tell us how Lady Catherine reacted to having her careful plans frustrated. In the final chapter of Pride and Prejudice, you’ll find these lines:

“Lady Catherine was extremely indignant on the marriage of her nephew; and as she gave way to all the genuine frankness of her character in her reply to the letter which announced its arrangement, she sent him language so very abusive, especially of Elizabeth, that for some time all intercourse was at an end.”

There’s that word again: frankness. That’s all we get, though. Jane Austen tells us about the letters but she doesn’t show them to us. The exact contents are left to our imaginations. Once again, that’s where I step in, to fill in those blanks.

Lady Catherine, with her superior air, her overdeveloped sense of entitlement, and her ‘celebrated frankness’ is such fun to write for! I’m glad for the excuse of this new book to do a lot more of that, and I have always especially enjoyed writing the letters included in my novels (see related post). So writing these two juicy letters – the one from Darcy to Lady Catherine and her abusive reply – was a dream assignment!

I couldn’t help sharing recently on FB how much fun I’d had doing it. And, since several of you have said you positively couldn’t wait to read them, here they are!



The Ladies of Rosings Park  (This chapter is told by Lady Catherine)

I should not have been so surprised that Miss Bennet failed to recognize my authority, even after all my kindness to her; she was obviously very badly brought up. But Darcy had not the same excuse, which makes his downfall – caught, as he was, in the web of that young woman’s arts and allurements – all the more tragic. Still, I held out some hope that he might meditate further on my frank advice to him that day and come to his senses in time, that is, until I received this communication from him not long afterward.

 

Image result for pride and prejudice Darcy and ElizabethDear Aunt,

I am a most fortunate man. Miss Elizabeth Bennet has done me the great honor of accepting my proposal, and we are to be married in November. I do not delude myself into thinking you will receive this news gladly. However, now that everything is definitely settled, I pray you will adjust your mind to accept my decision, that you will determine to put aside your former prejudices and welcome the lady who is soon to be my wife into the family. All intercourse between Pemberley and Rosings will be at an end otherwise, for my sister and I will not continue to associate with any person who persists in insulting someone we both care for deeply. The matter is entirely in your hands, Madam.

Fitzwilliam Darcy

 

Words fail me to adequately describe what I felt upon receiving this letter. Indignant? Incensed? Livid? Outraged? Yes, all of these things and more. And when I considered that one who had been near and dear to me was the cause of my suffering… Again, the English language does not contain anything equal to the task.

Yet language was all that was left to me at that point. Therefore, I sat down at once to get on with the job of making my honest sentiments known to my nephew, in order that I might have done, once and for all. There was nothing to be gained by delay. I wrote as follows.

 

Darcy,

I can no longer address you as ‘my dear nephew,’ for by your actions you have surrendered your right to any such regard. You spit in the face of everything I hold sacred by this disgraceful marriage you plan to perpetrate upon the family. I only thank God your father and your sainted mother did not live to see this day!

As for your ludicrous suggestion that I meekly accept your decision and your intended bride, this can never be! My character, which has been ever celebrated for its frankness, will not permit it. I shall speak my mind as long as I draw breath, and my opinion is this. Miss Bennet has behaved disgracefully. In total disregard for honor and right, she has forced herself in where she was not wanted. She has entered through the back door like a common thief and carried away the peace and integrity of a noble family, treating these things as cheaply as dirt. Mark well my words, Darcy. She cares only for money and status. She cares nothing for you, your sister, or for your beloved Pemberley, and she will ruin all three in the end.

If intercourse between our households must now cease, so be it. However, I refuse to take the blame. I lay it instead where it rightly belongs, at Miss Bennet’s feet. This is her doing. I warned her what she could expect if she succeeded in drawing you in – that she would never receive any notice from the family, that she would be censured and despised wherever she went, and that she would drag you down with her in the eyes of the world. That you were (and apparently still are) too blind to see it is most regrettable, but that in no way acquits you of responsibility.

I am most seriously displeased! But beyond refusing to see you again or to ever acknowledge your wife, it is not for me to mete out the punishment you deserve. Nevertheless, punishment is surely coming. The course you have set for yourself makes that certain.  You are bound to suffer the inevitable consequences of this decision for years to come. Perhaps painful experience will finally teach you to repent of this foolishness where reason failed to do so. I have done my best, but I now wash my hands of you.

Lady Catherine de Bourgh

I folded the letter, wrote the direction, sealed and posted it the same day.



What do you think? Have I captured Lady Catherine’s tone and her celebrated frankness correctly? Do you think she might later have regretted being so harsh?

 

 

 

Posted in Jane Austen, Jane Austen Quotes, my books, Shannon Winslow, Shannon Winslow's writing, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Final Departure

Image result for Chawton cottageAs some of you know, this year is the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s much-too-early death, and many of the faithful are noting events leading up to the end as they pass on the calendar. Yesterday (May 24th), for example, marked the day when Jane left her home in Chawton for what would turn out to be the last time, seeking medical help in Winchester, where she later died.

Jane loved her Chawton Cottage home (which she shared with her mother, sister Cassandra, and friend Martha), and it must have been very painful indeed to leave it, knowing she might never see it again.

Many were the tears shed by them in their last adieus to a place so much beloved. ‘Dear, dear Norland!’ said Marianne, as she wandered alone before the house on the last evening of their being there. ‘When shall I cease to regret you, when learn to feel a home elsewhere? Oh, happy house! Could you know what I suffer in now viewing you from this spot, from whence perhaps I may view you no more!’ (Sense and Sensibility, chapter 5)

Image result for The Persuasion of Miss Jane AustenReading the recent posts about Jane’s move to Winchester (such as this one at the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation) brought back to my mind when I had researched this time in her life for The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen. I took the known facts, filled in from imagination what it must have been like for Jane to leave her home, and then wrote the scene. It seemed appropriate to share it with you today.

So here is most of chapter 31 from The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen, strategically edited to avoid spoilers (since my version of events in this book departs from the historical record in surprising but happily plausible ways!). Jane Austen tells the story in her own words:



I woke feeling far more tired than when I had gone to sleep, and I was so weak that I could not get out of bed. Within days, the dark blotches, which I could never have feigned, obligingly re-appeared on my skin. The only conscious effort I had to make to advance my objective was to no longer hide what I was feeling. Now, when my back ached, I groaned aloud instead of stifling myself. Now, I did not bother to deny that I was very ill indeed.

My family was genuinely concerned at this most frightening turn, as indeed was I. And, when the limited talents of the local medical man yielded no appreciable result, Mama’s mind was made up for Winchester without my even having to suggest it.

Although the course of action required was decided quickly enough, it could not be enacted without considerable exertion. Letters had to be written – one to Mr. Lyford to warn him of my coming, and another to James to secure the loan of his carriage to take me thither. Winchester lodgings had also to be found. Then there was the packing together of all that Cassandra and I might need for a stay from home of undetermined duration, and the funds necessary to support us through it.

All these arrangements I observed and yet was powerless to assist in. Mama, Martha, Cassandra, and Henry: they all buzzed and fussed about me, fulfilling my every need and providing every tender comfort within their reach. And the others rallied round as well, visiting and contributing what they could.

It is a humbling thing to find oneself utterly helpless, and yet it can be a gift as well. One who is too proud to admit a weakness will never experience the compassionate care of others. It is only when that person is brought low, dropped to the bottom of a deep pit, that he or she will look up for relief and find it.

Such a one was I, although I did not know it before then. I had privately taken satisfaction in my own abilities and often thought myself a cut above my company – not perhaps by society’s standards, but by my own. Now where were my grounds for boasting? What benefit to me was my intellect in this situation? Could I think myself well again? When I was unable to even raise my head from the pillow, could I by my own efforts expect to add one minute to the length of my life?

Only God could do that. He would ultimately decide the length and course of my days. In the meantime, He had already sent his ministering angels round me, I perceived, in the form of my friends. I had never known such tenderness and love as they showed me through my illness. Or perhaps it had been there all along, and I had failed to properly appreciate it. In any case, I understood as never be-fore that I was blessed. And there were moments when I felt as if I might wish for nothing better than to die there, peacefully, at home, and cradled in the bosom of such a family.

But we are not made that way. We are made to cling to life so long as there is hope. And I still had the hope of getting well and the hope of seeing Captain Devereaux again. These things compelled me to continue forward, to not give in just yet.

So, I said goodbye to my mother, knowing it would be, in all likelihood, the last time I would see her on this side of heaven, and I allowed myself to be carried off to Winchester. Cassandra travelled with me in my brother James’s carriage, with Henry and my nephew William riding escort alongside.

“They will surely be soaked clean through,” I said as I watched the rain running down the windows, heard it pattering on the roof of the coach. I was reclined on the makeshift bed that had been arranged for me, bridging across from one set of seats to the opposite. Poor Cassandra was crushed into the little space leftover. “If I were not such a wretched invalid, we could all have ridden inside where is it dry. What a bother I am.”

“Don’t be silly, Jane,” she replied, straight faced. “If you were not an invalid, we would hardly be going to Winchester in the first place.”

She meant it in jest, I knew, and I laughed at her joke – one more proof that she really is the witty one. “Of course, you are right,” I agreed. “It would seem that even my mind is failing me now. More evidence of what I was saying, Cass. I am become a dreadful burden, especially to you.”

“Let us have no more of this kind of talk. It is for me to decide if I am overburdened, not you. And I can always call on Mary to help with the nursing if it becomes more than I can manage.”

I sighed. “I think we can hardly stop her coming. She sounded so determined in her letter,” said I, referring to the note that had arrived from Steventon parsonage along with the carriage, wherein my sister-in-law had volunteered her services.

“Now, Jane, although Mary is not a favourite with you, you ought to be grateful for her kind offer.”

“I know you are right, and I am grateful, but I fear she will become a complication we can ill afford…”

…We jostled along several minutes in relative silence, with only hoof beats, the jingle of harness, and the creaking of the carriage timbers to fill our ears…

…I felt excitement building in my chest as we neared our destination. I began thinking less of difficulties and of what I had left behind, and more for what lay ahead. It would be an adventure either way. I had always liked Winchester for its own sake – the beautiful cathedral especially.  Now it was where my fate would be decided. In Winchester, God willing, I would see Captain Devereaux again. Perhaps he was in town already. That thought set my heart to fluttering despite my weariness.

We stopped at Mr. Lyford’s house in Parchment Street only long enough for Henry to go to the door and announce our arrival.

“Lyford said he would come to you tomorrow morning,” Henry reported upon his return to the carriage.

Image result for Winchester house where Jane Austen diedWe drove on to College Street, where we had arranged to rent rooms, but attaining those rooms was no easy task. In my dependent state, I had to nearly be carried up the narrow flight of stairs. I was especially glad for young William’s presence then, for it was an awkward business and I doubt as to Henry’s being able to have managed it on his own. Once more I apologised for my helplessness, and once more I was assured that my friends considered it a privilege to be of service to me.

Image result for Winchester house where Jane Austen diedThe best feature of our apartment was the neat little drawing room, which boasted a bow window with a view to the street, the old city wall, and Dr. Gabell’s garden. It was a pleasant room, but as I looked about myself I could not help wondering if I would ever leave that place again. Were those four walls, with the faded paisley paper peeling at the seams, the last sight my eyes would behold before closing forever? If so, the glories of heaven were sure to be the more impressive for the dramatic contrast.

I had no complaints, however. My surroundings did not signify… I was content in knowing that I would have a secure place to rest my head and the care of my friends.



If you think this is all too sad to bear, I agree with you. But the good news is the story doesn’t end here. There are seven more chapters!

The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen is dedicated to every fan who has wished Jane Austen herself might have enjoyed the romance and happy ending she so carefully crafted for all of her heroines. I have endeavored to grant that wish!

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Number Eight is Underway!

20170222_144124_resizedFirst, let me thank everyone who has already read one or both of my two new releases, Leap of Faith and Leap of Hope, especially those who have gone the extra mile and posted a review. I appreciate your confidence and support more than I can say!

The ink is barely dry on these novels, number six and seven, and I’ve already started work on number eight, tentatively titled The Ladies of Rosings Park. I only have a couple of chapters at this point, but so far it’s been a lot of fun to write – my favorite story with a fresh take. If everything goes well, the new book will become the fourth in my The Darcys of Pemberley series – not expanding the series chronologically but laterally, like Miss Georgiana Darcy of Pemberley did in 2015.

Image result for Rosings ParkThis one, as the name implies, will tell events (during the timelines of P&P and TDoP) through the eyes of Anne de Bourgh alternating with Lady Catherine. (Mrs. Jenkinson might even get a chapter or two!) As you might imagine, the mother’s take on things will be a little different than the daughter’s, and Lady Catherine, of course, is never wrong! 

Here’s the prologue to give you a taste. I hope you’ll leave me a comment afterward to let me know what you think. I’m open to suggestions or how I can incorporate your scathingly brilliant ideas!



Image result for anne de bourghTwo things Anne de Bourgh understood from a very early age: first, that she was loved by her father, and second, that she would one day marry Fitzwilliam Darcy.

These unalterable facts served as the sure foundation of her young life. If her mother censured some weakness in her character or deportment, Anne could depend on finding unconditional approval in her other parent. When she might have been tempted to fret for her future prospects, especially in light of her sickly constitution, she was reassured that an excellent match had already been made for her. Her continued social consequence and connubial contentment were secure.

Image result for lady catherine pride and prejudice“My sister and I arranged it all between ourselves,” Lady Catherine frequently told her only child, sometimes varying her exact words but never her conclusion. “And the men mean to make no difficulty about it. When the time comes, you shall marry your cousin. It is not only the cherished wish of your mother and aunt, it is a solemn promise and therefore to be considered a settled engagement. The two great estates will thus be united in one family. There could be no connection more highly desirable on either side, no alliance more perfectly natural.”

Anne, being still too young to understand the mysteries of love between a man and a woman, could see no reason to question her mother’s decree on the subject, especially since her dear papa concurred when pressed.

“It will be a fine thing for you,” he had said with conviction if not enthusiasm. “A fine thing indeed, my pet.”

No evidence to the contrary, Anne believed she should be as happy with her cousin as with any other man. Had he not always been kind to her?

Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth BennetBut nothing lasts forever, it seems, not even sure foundations. One pillar of support crumbled when Anne’s father suddenly died a month short of her fourteenth birthday. A few years later, the other – her betrothal to Fitzwilliam Darcy – was cast into serious jeopardy upon the arrival at Rosings of a young woman named Elizabeth Bennet.



“Her daughter, Miss de Bourgh, will have a very large fortune and it is believed that she and her cousin will unite the two estates.” (Pride and Prejudice, chapter 16)

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