When I decided to write a sequel to Pride and Prejudice, what I most looked forward to was reveling in the happiness of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. That was before it dawned on me that I couldn’t make a novel out of 300 pages of happily-ever-aftering (no conflict = no story, remember?). And, as it turned out, I had the best fun writing the parts of the original novel’s “bad guys”: Mr. Collins, Lady Catherine De Bourgh, Miss Bingley, and Mr. Wickham.
Mr. Collins I dealt with straight away, as you may know from the opening to The Darcys of Pemberley , or from reading my related short story, Mr. Collins’s Last Supper (finalist in the Jane Austen Made Me Do It short story contest, and now available for Kindle). I will have to leave you in suspense about Miss Bingley and Mr. Wickham (Hmm, Miss Bingley and Mr. Wickham – they would make an interesting couple). As for Lady Catherine, I started with what Jane Austen provided in her epilogue:
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. But at length by Elizabeth’s persuasion, he was prevailed on to overlook the offence, and seek a reconciliation; and, after a little farther resistance on the part of his aunt, her resentment gave way … and she condescended to wait on them at Pemberley, in spite of that pollution which its woods had received…
Since I had committed to contradicting nothing of significance from the original novel, this was the framework I had to work within. So, there would have to be a reconciliation … eventually. But I was at liberty to lead Lady Catherine a merry dance first, wasn’t I?
I’d hardly begun writing when I found Lady Catherine was up to her old tricks again – trying to run everybody’s lives (including her poor daughter Anne’s) according to her snooty ideas and selfish agenda. I couldn’t let her get away with that. I had to take her down a peg or two. Surely you would agree. I don’t want to give too much away, but here’s a tidbit:
When the dining room summit concluded, Lady Catherine was in no humor for idle conversation or to otherwise linger in the company of persons who had witnessed her mortification at the hands of her own daughter. Giving the plausible excuse of a headache, she went directly to bed.
This scene is fresh on my mind today because I just sent off a story based on it to the Chawton House Library Short Story Contest (Yes, another contest!). I enjoyed revisiting that chapter as much as having a cup of coffee with a dear friend after a long separation. And I remembered how much fun it was to write it in the first place. I really put Lady Catherine through the wringer that day.
I’ve heard it said that actors often like playing villains more than nice, ordinary folks. Based on my own experience, at least, it’s the same with writing. Maybe it’s the freedom to do and say things we would never do and say in real life, and all without real-life consequences. But I think it’s also because we know we need the “bad guys.” They bring in the conflict, and therein lies the story.