“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.
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.
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.
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?