Ever since I finished writing Return to Longbourn, I’ve been dying to get this story out there. The creative process isn’t complete until the resulting work is shared. And the wait to share a new book can be excruciating – like having a tantelizing secret to tell and no one to tell it to!
One reason I’m so anxious to share this book is that I want to know if it intrigues and surprises you as much as it did me when I wrote it. You see, although some authors plot their entire story in detail before actually beginning to write, I do not. I fly by the seat of my pants – dangerous at times, but also a lot of fun! This time the trip took me somewhere unexpected.
I set out to continue the Pride and Prejudice saga, following up on The Darcys of Pemberley by jumping about five years ahead in time. I wanted to finally answer the question first raised by Jane Austen herself 2oo years ago. What will happen to the the Bennet women when Mr. Bennet dies, seeing that the Longbourn estate is entailed away from the female line?
That’s the basic problem posed at the outset of Pride and Prejudice, and it’s only partially resolved by the end of the book. In The Darcys of Pemberley, I uncerimoniously knock off Mr. Collins (sorry, folks), but that changes nothing; the girls still cannot inherit. So when Mr. Bennet does (sadly) die, what happens to Mrs. Bennet, her two unmarried daughters, and the Longbourn estate?
Well, as it happens, Mr. Collins has a brother, one who emigrated to America as a very young man, and he is the new heir to Longbourn. With Mr. Tristan Collins on his way to England to claim his property, Mrs. Bennet immediately decides that the gentleman must be single… and he simply MUST marry one of her daughters; nothing else will do. So, will it be Mary or Kitty chosen for the dubious honor? At first neither one is too excited by the prospect. But, when the man in question turns out to be quite a catch after all, the contest between the sisters is on. Which one do you think will have the upper hand for ending up as the next mistress of Longbourn? Oh, but wait. There’s a dark horse (or possibly more than one) entering the scene to muddy the picture.
That’s the part I didn’t expect when I began writing this book: the dark horse contingent. First, one showed up in the story… then another… and even a third! What was going on? What I envisioned as a simple love triangle had morphed into a much more complicated geometric design right before my eyes. The next thing I knew, one of my characters flatly refused to confine himself to the supporting role I had assigned him; he unaccountably went charging off into “leading man” territory instead. And yet, the way he was behaving, he certainly didn’t deserve that honor. Suddenly, the entire anticipated ending of the book was in jeopardy!
How had it happened? After all, I am the author, right? It’s my book. Wasn’t I supposed to be in control?
But that’s the magical part of writing. Sometimes the story takes on a life of its own. It gallops off in an unexpected direction, and the author just has to go with it and hold on tight.
So now my secret is out. You probably thought that, in my genius, I always knew exactly where I was going. You assumed that I carefully planned every intricate twist and turn of the plot, that, like the great chess masters, I could see 25 moves ahead and make the correct adjustments so that I ended exactly where I had envisioned all along. But the truth is, I only head the horse in the right general direction and keep my eyes wide open, ready to take advantage of unexpected opportunities and every scenic detour.
In this case, it made for a far more interesting ride… and a much better novel too. At least that’s what I think. I hope you agree. After a brief prologue, the book begins like this:
It is a truth universally acknowledged that every mortal being must at some point face the certainty of death and the day of reckoning. Despite his every effort to avoid it, this reality at last bore in upon Mr. Bennet, a gentleman who had long resided near Meryton in Hertfordshire. He had managed to live in tolerable comfort for nearly seven-and-sixty years, his contentment at least partially owing to the fact that he was rarely incommoded by bouts of serious introspection. Yet, in his final hours, he did at last pause to reflect upon the questionable quality of his earthly pilgrimage.
The traits of idleness and self-indulgence suggested themselves straightaway. Whereas these are not generally touted as virtues, Mr. Bennet reasoned that it would be outright hypocrisy to condemn in himself that which he freely forgave in so many others of his acquaintance. With his conscience clear on that head, his two remaining sources of potential regret as he prepared to meet his maker were these. First, he had married unwisely and in haste. Yet he hardly thought it likely he would be chastised for that above, having already paid more than thirty years penance for the folly below. Likewise, he knew the consequences of his second regret – not having produced a male heir – would soon be meted out on the terrestrial rather than the celestial plane.
Finally, the dying man considered that perhaps he should have taken his domestic responsibilities more seriously – disciplined his five daughters with some diligence when they were young and made better provision for his widow. But this belated remorse proved as transitory as it was ineffectual. Thus, being serenely satisfied with his deportment in this life and, therefore, confident of a favorable reception in the next, Mr. Bennet breathed his last.
(For more excerpts, check the bottom of the Return to Longbourn page)