When I wrote “part 1,” I didn’t intend a follow-up piece. But now I find that I must retract part of what I said then.
“I have to thank you, Miss Woodhouse, for a very kind forgiving message in one of Mrs. Weston’s letters. I hope time has not made you less willing to pardon. I hope you do not retract what you then said.” (Emma, chapter 18)
My original Much Left to the Imagination post was about how Jane Austen tells/shows us very little of the proposal scenes in her novels. For whatever reason, she leaves much (or in some cases, nearly ALL) to our imaginations. It works for her, and I don’t question her genius. But my contention was that a modern writer probably couldn’t get away with this, that readers today expect to be given all the juicy details.
Turns out that I’ve copied Jane Austen’s techniques more than I realized. I refer to the proposal scene I wrote (or didn’t write) for The Darcys of Pemberley.
Since it’s a sequel to Pride and Prejudice, Darcy and Elizabeth are already married. But the book also tells the story of the courtship of Miss Georgiana Darcy, so it’s the proposal to her I’m referring to. (As for who’s proposing, I wouldn’t wish to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t yet read it ;))
It’s a few years since I originally wrote this novel but, in the process of producing the audio version, I have now re-read it twice in the last week! That’s when it struck me how much I also left the reader’s imagination. Here’s a slightly edited version, also censored as to the gentleman’s name:
Whilst the contest for her future joy was being waged int he library, Miss Darcy sat at her pianoforte and played on, completely unaware that her whole world was about to change. She noticed when Mr. X entered the room yet she did not stop. She knew he liked to listen to her, and she was more inclined to play for him than talk to him just then. With that thought in mind, Georgiana felt her misfortune at being very nearly to the end of the piece. She soon finished, accepted the gentleman’s praise without a word, and was about to begin again when he prevented her. He took both her hands in his and gently turned her toward himself. To her total astonishment, he then dropped to one knee beside her.
“Dear Georgiana,” he began, “I am now at liberty to tell you that which has long been in my heart. Will you hear me?”
Although too overcome to speak in any case, Georgiana had not the slightest objection to hearing whatever Mr. X might wish to say to her on bended knee. She nodded her acquiescence, and he was sufficiently encouraged to go on. He commenced by describing the major revolution he had experienced in his feelings toward her over the last several months. He concluded with the fervent hope that she could in some measure return his earnest affection and consent to becoming his wife.
To suddenly find herself the object of Mr. X’s love was so wholly unexpected that Georgiana hesitated in her answer, not from indecision but from disbelief… Whilst her heart told her to consent instantly before she awoke from the dream in which she found herself, her mind called for a point of clarification.
“You say you have been in love with me for some time now, sir. If I am to believe you, you must explain something. Why have I never seen any sign of it, any change in your manner, any gesture or word of peculiar regard?…”
“Oh, my dear girl, if you only knew how difficult it has been for me to show so little when I felt so much. But I was honor-bound to speak to your brother before giving you any idea of my true affection… Now tell me, dearest Georgiana do you think in time you could learn to love me? Please say that I have some chance of winning your heart.”
With her one and only reservation very satisfactorily overcome, Georgiana gave the gentleman to understand that her heart in fact already belonged to him and to him alone.
Can you just picture it? I hope so, although not knowing the proposer’s identity may leave a pretty big hole in the image. As to how the modern reader has accepted this very-Jane-Austen treatment of a proposal scene, I can’t say that I’ve had any specific complaints about it. There are some who have commented that they wished I hadn’t wrapped things up so quickly at the end of the book; perhaps that’s what they meant in part.
Since then, I’ve written much more complete proposal scenes in For Myself Alone and Return to Longbourn. But there’s still something about the one above that I especially like. Maybe it’s because it IS so very Jane Austen in leaving something to the imagination!
Update 5/18/16: For anyone stumbling on this post, the update is that I have now written a more complete version of this proposal scene in Miss Georgiana Darcy of Pemberley, the companion book to The Darcys of Pemberley.
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You’re right, contemporary writers can’t leave anything to the imagination. The modern reader is so incredibly shallow and stupid that they neither desire nor understand anything other than immediate thrills, and you have to give them what they want. This may not be so much the case if you’re catering for the Jane Austen niche market but it is generally true.