Updates and Picnics

See the source imageYay! I’m happy to report that the Jane Austen devotional I’ve been working on is complete! It contains 50 meditations inspired by Jane Austen’s preserved prayers, with spiritual illustrations drawn from the characters and situations in her novels. (See earlier post Life and Other Unmanageable Events for a preview of one of the segments.) As with every other book I’ve written, it was a labor of love, this time with a whole different set of interesting challenges, since it was my first non-fiction piece.

Anyway, I’ve sent the manuscript out to a few trusted beta readers for comments and corrections with an eye to a probable publishing date in September (or October at the latest). My cover designer will now begin his work (with lots of “helpful” input from me). But until the final rewrites are needed, I’m a little at my leisure. So I’ve turned my attention, with renewed enthusiasm, back to the Northanger Abbey sequel I had begun before that – working title: Murder at Northanger Abbey.

I shared a slightly steamy scene from that work-in-progress here, but the following is what I wrote recently for a “Picnics” theme post at Austen Variations.

Emma had never been to Box Hill; she wished to see what every body found so well worth seeing; and she and Mr Weston had agreed to chuse some fine morning and drive thither… and it was to be done in a quiet, unpretending, elegant way, infinitely superior to the bustle and preparation, the regular eating and drinking, and picnic parade of the Eltons and the Sucklings. (Emma, chapter 42)

In case you missed reading it there, I decided to share it here too! I’ve added this little scene to chapter one of the book, where it fits nicely as part of the snap shot of Catherine and Henry’s early wedded bliss before events lead them into danger and intrigue.  So here’s another sneak peek!

The drawing room had been an instant favorite with Catherine from the occasion of her first setting eyes on it those months before. General Tilney himself had brought her to Woodston to see Henry’s home, at the time making ill-disguised allusions that it might one day be her home as well.

“Oh, what a sweet room!” she had involuntarily exclaimed to Henry upon seeing it. “But why do not you fit it up, Mr. Tilney? What a pity not to have it fitted up for use! It is the prettiest room I ever saw! If this were my house, I am sure I should never sit anywhere else!”

Such were her irrepressible sensations at the time. She remembered that Henry’s answering smile seemed to convey his amusement and pleasure at her unguarded effusions.

“I trust,” the General had said with a satisfied smile, “that it will very speedily be furnished; it waits only for a lady’s taste!”

General Tilney, of course, had shortly thereafter changed his mind, withdrawing his good opinion of her when she turned out not to be the heiress he had supposed. But as for Catherine, she had never retreated from her high opinion of the drawing room at Woodston parsonage. It was still her favorite room in the world. And though she had yet to finish properly fitting it up – there would be new paper for the walls, different curtains, and a stylish sofa had been ordered – she had temporarily installed a small table and two comfortable chairs directly facing the tall windows, where they could sit and enjoy the bucolic view in the meanwhile.

Before she could settle to her work, Catherine once again paused before those windows to consider the scene, as she had done an hundred times before. But this day she flattered herself that she was seeing with a more educated eye, as she had been recently studying some extracts from a large volume on the subject of the picturesque. And now it struck her for the first time that there was some small imperfection in the view before her. Although there were hills at the back to give depth, and a cheerful green meadow at the fore, generously embellished with wandering sheep and hedgerows, to Catherine’s newly enlightened mind, there was still something wanting.

See the source imageCatherine’s knowledge of art in general was very thin, but she had learnt enough to know that every landscape should contain a point of particular interest to draw one’s eye. The sheep could not be counted on to arrange themselves just so, and besides, they were far too ordinary to serve. No, it should be something else, something less commonplace but just as serene. Then an idea struck her, and she knew at once that her instincts had been correct. It only remained for Henry to be convinced as well.

Catherine lost no time. Finding Henry in his book room, she took him by the hand and propelled him to the drawing room without bothering to answer his questions as to the cause of her obvious excitement.

“There!” she said pointing through the windows to the precise place suggested by her imagination. Henry looked, but when he failed to respond with appropriate enthusiasm, Catherine was forced to go on. “There must be a picnic to take place exactly there,” she said, “Cannot you see how charming it would look, Henry? That is the very thing to complete the picture!”

Henry laughed. “My darling girl, is this what has you so agitated – the need for a picnic? Well it is a fine day, and I have no dislike for eating out of door. We may take a picnic wherever you say, but why among the sheep, darling? Surely under one of the trees to the side of the lawn would do as well or better.”

“No, Henry, you are missing the point. It must be exactly there for the sake of correct composition. A young couple like ourselves, sitting on a blanket, is needed to add the point of particular interest and complete the view. Look again, and I am sure you will see that I am right.”

Henry obeyed but remained mystified. “I suppose you are right in thinking it would be a pretty scene, but not one that it is within our power to contrive. We are not likely to be able to convince any young couple to continually picnic there just so that we may always have the pleasure of looking at them.”

“Of course not,” Catherine said patiently. “We must do it ourselves.”

“But… I’m afraid I still do not understand, my darling. One cannot be in two places a once – here to observe the pretty scene and there to be observed…” He trailed off.

“I know that much: I am no simpleton. But once we have picnicked on that spot, I will ever after be able to see it in my mind’s eye when I look out this window. Even many years from now, when we are quite old and gray, I will picture us exactly there. Wait!” Catherine ran to the cupboard in the next room, returning with a dark blue blanket, which she handed to her husband. “Now take this and go out into the meadow. I will direct you to the correct spot from here. Meanwhile, I will have Mrs. Peabody make up a basket with a few things – just bread, wine, and cheese, perhaps. Then, when everything is ready, I will join you and we will have our picnic.”

See the source imageHenry made no further protest. He took the blanket and set off out the door, across the lawn, and down the lane to where there was a stile to give access to the meadow beyond. Every few minutes he looked back, waved, and looked for Catherine’s direction for where to proceed. Soon enough, she joined him and they shared the modest repast together there, talking and laughing, and then lying back on the blanket, holding hands and gazing deep into the clear blue sky.

Although Henry Tilney had gone along with the plan simply to humor his wife, he ended by thinking her idea a very wise one indeed. Not only had he enjoyed himself immensely, which did not surprise him. He also was to discover how right Catherine had been. For never again would he look out the drawing room windows without picturing their lovely picnic exactly there, as she had said.

I hope you enjoyed this playful look at the young married couple and the way they interact. Stay tuned for further updates on this and other projects!

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Visitors to Hunsford: a P&P Missing Scene

See the source imageAs most of you know, writing “missing scenes” is a particular passion of mine. Although, the scene I’m going to share with you today – what takes place when Mr. Darcy first comes to Hunsford – is not so much “missing” from P&P as “expanded” and written from a different perspective: Charlotte’s. It actually appears in The Ladies of Rosings Park. Hope you enjoy it!

[Mr. Darcy’s] arrival was soon known at the Parsonage, for Mr. Collins was walking the whole morning within view of the lodges opening into Hunsford Lane, in order to have the earliest assurance of it; and after making his bow as the carriage turned into the Park, hurried home with the great intelligence. On the following morning, he hastened to Rosings to pay his respects. There were two nephews of Lady Catherine to require them, for Mr. Darcy had brought with him a Colonel Fitzwilliam… and to the great surprise of all the party, when Mr. Collins returned the gentlemen accompanied him. (Pride and Prejudice, chapter 30)

Receiving Visitors at the Parsonage

I took some small satisfaction in preventing my husband from running off to Rosings the moment he saw the expected visitors arrive. But I could not make him listen to reason the following morning when I diplomatically suggested it was far too early in the day for a call to be considered polite.

“Nonsense,” he said. “When the compliment of a call is required, it cannot be paid too soon. Indeed, were I to delay another moment, it would be an insult to my esteemed patroness and to her honored guests. I am very far from fearing I will be turned away. I flatter myself that I am on such a footing at Rosings that I shall be very welcome. Her ladyship is always ‘at home’ to me.”

A wife owes it to her husband to do what she can to elevate him, so that his prospects are better for having her at his side. I believe in the sagacity of this universal truth. Consequently, since my coming to Hunsford, it had been my chief aim to direct, by subtle means, sounder judgment and more sensible behavior in the man I had married. I was not always successful, however.

What occurred when Mr. Collins arrived at the great house, I do not know in full. He never seemed conscious of having blundered in any way. And he could not have offended very greatly, I suppose, since when Mr. Collins returned to the parsonage he was accompanied by Mr. Darcy and his cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam. Mr. Collins took this triumph as a compliment to himself, I believe, but I gave the credit for it entirely to Elizabeth. No doubt she was the one the gentlemen were eager to see.

When I espied all three of them from the window, crossing the road in our direction, I informed her and Maria what an honor was in store for us.

“I may thank you, Eliza, for this act of civility,” I concluded. “Mr. Darcy would never have come so soon to wait upon me.”

“You are mistaken, Charlotte,” she said. But that was all she had time for before the gentlemen entered to pay their compliments.

See the source imageSince a suspicion of Mr. Darcy’s being partial to my pretty friend had already been awakened within me, I was on alert for any confirming signs. He barely spoke, however, to Lizzy or to anybody else.  He sat composedly but silently, allowing Colonel Fitzwilliam to bear the weight of the conversation. The only sign that I might not have been entirely wrong was that I noticed Mr. Darcy’s gaze, if little discourse, was very often directed at Elizabeth.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth largely ignored him for the more amiable company of the colonel, whose manners one could not help but admire.

At length, however, Mr. Darcy’s courtesy was so far awakened as to enquire of Elizabeth after the health of her family. She answered him in the usual way, and after a moment’s pause, added, “My eldest sister has been in town these three months. Have you never happened to see her there?”

Understanding Elizabeth and her ways so well as I did, I knew there was more to her question than what the words themselves revealed. She was testing Mr. Darcy to see what he would say. She was tormenting him with the trouble of constructing an answer. She meant to tease him. She meant to place an irritating pebble in his shoe. My guess was that she wanted to remind him of Jane and his presumed interference there, for Lizzy had always believed Mr. Darcy responsible for removing Mr. Bingley from her sister’s side.

I believe Lizzy’s question hit home; Mr. Darcy looked taken aback and his answer was not very articulate.

“I.. I cannot recall. That is, I cannot recall that I did see Miss Bennet. Well, in fact, no… No, I was not so fortunate as to have the pleasure of meeting with your sister in London. But then, that is hardly surprising, is it? There are so very many people, and one tends to only come across those who move in one’s own circle.”

“Quite so, Mr. Darcy,” Lizzy answered with a satisfied smile, as if she had made her point. “That is exactly what I thought you would say.”

Their eyes held for another moment or two, and I had the impression that Mr. Darcy was deciding whether or not to say anything more. In the end, he only walked off to the window in silence.

The gentlemen soon went away, but we would see them several times more while they remained at Rosings. I was interested to observe what, if anything, would develop. There was very little intrigue in my own life, but I had high hopes for finding more in Elizabeth’s.

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Life and Other Unmanageable Events

See the source imageWhat do Marianne Dashwood, Louisa Musgrove, and my handsome husband all have in common? We’ll get to that in a moment. But first, time for a brief update on my activities and progress.

If you read my blog regularly (not too much of a demand on your time, since I only get around to posting about once a month!), you might remember that I’ve had an eclectic mix of projects to work on: a play, a Northanger Abbey sequel, a story about a car, and a Jane Austen devotional. Hows that for variety?

The good news is that the play (adapted from The Ladies of Rosings Park) is finished! I’ve passed it along to my friend who has connections with a Seattle playhouse. Keep your fingers crossed that it makes it onto the Taproot Theater’s schedule in the next year or two. Wouldn’t that be exciting?

See the source imageThe not-so-good news is that the story about the car (see An Inspiring Trip to the Lake) hit a roadblock fairly early on, although I still plan to come back to it with renewed energy at some point. So then I turned my attention to the NA sequel, working title Murder at Northanger Abbey (see description and excerpt in Coming Attractions). Everything went great for the first 16 chapters. Then I kind of ran out of steam, which is unusual for me.

Since then, I’ve been working exclusively on the devotional. It’s based on Jane Austen’s three preserved prayers, using events and people from her novels to illustrate spiritual principles (see Jane Austen’s Devotion).  I’ve got 37 (of probably 50) segments done for a total of 172 pages so far.

My progress has been slower than I hoped due to life and other unmanageable events. I’m sure I’m not alone in this; you probably know just what I mean. We make big plans and well-intentioned goals, only to have interruptions occur, complications arise, and the unexpected pop up to block our paths.

Among other things, this has meant WAY too much time spent in hospitals by my family this past year – everything from a complicated pregnancy/premature birth to end of life issues, with a few things in between. In case I was unaware of it before (which I wasn’t), all this goes to show that we are not in control, no matter how much we like to imagine we are. We don’t know from one minute to the next if we’ll make it through the day safely.

Inspired by a line Jane Austen wrote in one of her prayers, that’s how I began the particular devotional segment I was working on March 20, when one of those unexpected and all-too-real-life crisis events showed up in my path. Here’s what I wrote:


An Ounce of Wisdom…

Father of Heaven! whose goodness has brought us in safety to the close of this day, dispose our hearts in fervent prayer.

Making it safely through any particular day is not something we can ever take for granted. Although experience has taught us that we usually do, accidents can happen, sudden illness may occur (even to a person who seemed perfectly healthy a moment before), and random violence is always at least a remote possibility.

When I wrote the lines above, little did I realize that I would an hour later be living out the truth of them as my husband was taken to the hospital with what turned out to be a mild heart attack. Thankfully, he’s going to be okay, but it came as quite a shock, especially since he was exactly what I had just described: a person who seemed perfectly healthy a moment before!

See the source imageIn much the same way, when a group of friends decided to take one last walk on the Cobb at Lyme, they had no suspicion that one of them would barely make it back alive.  And when a lovely young woman set out one day for a rather wet ramble over the grounds of the Cleveland estate, she had no idea it would result in a violent fever that would pursue her to the brink of death.

A brush with disaster may indeed dispose our hearts in fervent prayer, as in today’s petition. We pray that God will rescue us from things beyond our control (then hopefully remember to pray just as fervently in thanksgiving if he does!). It also has the power to change us, temporarily or even permanently. We tend to see things more clearly afterward, to reexamine our behavior and our priorities in light of the discovery that life itself is fragile. We may be moved to repent if our own folly contributed to the crisis, just as Marianne Dashwood does.

“My illness has made me think… I saw in my own behaviour… nothing but a series of imprudence towards myself, and want of kindness to others. I saw that my own feelings had prepared my sufferings, and that my want of fortitude under them had almost led me to the grave. My illness, I well knew, had been entirely brought on by myself, by such negligence of my own health, as I had felt even at the time to be wrong… I wonder at my recovery, wonder that the very eagerness of my desire to live, to have time for atonement to my God, and to you all, did not kill me at once… I have laid down my plan, and if I am capable of adhering to it, my feelings shall be governed and my temper improved… it shall be checked by religion, by reason, by constant employment.” (Sense and Sensibility, chapter 46)

Marianne Dashwood (just like Louisa Musgrove in Persuasion) was profoundly changed by her close call. As it says in the final chapter, She was born to discover the falsehood of her own opinions, and to counteract, by her conduct, her most favourite maxims. She lived to make a far wiser choice for herself, too, in Colonel Brandon.

Good for her! But how much better it would be if we could become wise without the drama of near tragedy to teach us what not to do! – if Louisa Musgrove hadn’t insisted on recklessly risking life and limb by jumping from the stairs in the first place, if Marianne Dashwood hadn’t worked herself into a susceptible state by giving free rein to her ‘excess sensibility.’

The same also applies to the rest of us. Not all disasters are self-inflicted, of course, but many are. Have you, knowingly or unknowingly, placed yourself (or others) in jeopardy by indulging in risky behavior? Are you by bad habits endangering your health in some way? Are you storing up suffering for yourself by neglecting your marriage, your finances, or the discipline of your children?

Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who embrace her; those who lay hold of her will be blessed… My son, preserve sound judgment and discernment, do not let them out of your sight; they will be life for you, an ornament to grace your neck. Then you will go on your way in safety, and your foot will not stumble; when you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. Have no fear of sudden disaster or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked, for the LORD will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being snared. (Proverbs 3:13-26)

God himself is the source of all wisdom – the starting point, the essence, the sum total, the final word. Where you lack understanding, ask him and he has promised to give it generously without reproach (James1:5). May you then be wise enough to apply it. And when, in his goodness, God brings you safely to the end of another day, remember, like Jane Austen wrote, to give him fervent thanks!

What do you think of this sample? Seriously, I’d appreciate some feedback.

I write these devotional segments as much for myself as anybody else, and this one is no exception. Even though it was my husband who had the heart attack, it could just as easily have been me. So we’re both trying to benefit from the wake-up call and wise up, embarking on a program for better health.

Wishing each of you health and wisdom as you go through the days (and hopefully many, many years) to come!

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The Supreme Council of Baddies

49e9b-barbara_leigh_huntI wrote this fun mash-up a couple of years ago for our March Madness theme on Austen Variations, but I haven’t shared it here before. This is what happened when I  collected a bunch of Jane Austen’s villains in one place at the same time. What could possibly go wrong?

Everybody who is anybody was there. Wickham, of course, and Willoughby. General Tilney and his eldest son, the captain, showing off their military finery. The Crawfords, both brother and sister, Mrs. Norris, and Lucy Steele. All the A-listers and even some of the more minor players. They only awaited their chairman to get things started.

Mr. CollinsFinally Mr. Collins, who had vociferously volunteered his services to facilitate the meeting, rushed in and loudly cleared his throat to get their attention.

When the rumble of voices had quieted sufficiently, he announced with hushed reverence, “Our esteemed leader has arrived. I trust you will all join me in honoring her with the attention and respect her rank and position among us must rightly demand.” Gesturing toward the doorway, Mr. Collins elevated his voice to a fevered pitch. “I give you Lady Catherine de Bourgh!”

All eyes turned, and yet they saw only a vacant portal.

Mr. Collins briefly faltered but then tried again. “Please welcome Lady Catherine de Bourgh!”

Lady Catherine de BourghPerhaps it was the slight bow he added to his introduction or the extra flourish of his arm gesture. In any case, this time the great lady did appear as bidden. Light applause broke out but was quickly silenced by Lady Catherine’s cutting glare.

“This is not a celebration,” she said sternly upon claiming the podium. “We are not here for our mutual entertainment. We have serious work ahead.” She allowed the weight of this pronouncement to settle upon her listeners as she, one by one, took in the faces before her. “Is everyone present?” she asked Mr. Collins.

“Yes, indeed, your ladyship. Everything is as it should be, though I do say it myself,” he answered with obsequious humility. “All are present and I have distributed the assignments according to your specific instructions.”

“Good. I only wish to say these things once.” She then returned her attention to the small conclave before her. “Each of you has had opportunity to review your latest assignments, and I trust you are all ready to carry them out to the letter… at risk of life and limb if necessary.” Hearing no immediate contradiction to her statement – it was most definitely not a question, after all – she went on.

“We are not here to debate these instructions, only to address questions and strategize how to most effectively see the battle through. Your theatres of operation may be different, but your main mission is the same. The blight of true love is to be overthrown in every case,” she said, scornfully emphasizing that particular phrase. “Unequal alliances and sloppy sentimentality must be stamped out where you find them. The fictional expectation of ‘happy endings’ for these simpering heroines we suffer nowadays must be proven just that: a fiction. You have been given license to use any means necessary – any means short of doing actual bodily harm, that is – to undermine, oppose, and sabotage. Ours is a noble cause, and we must be prepared to meet the enemy forces with cunning and resolve.”

“Hear, hear!” shouted Mrs. Norris, spontaneously rising to her feet.

Some of the others joined in her enthusiasm for Lady Catherine’s inspiring speech, but not General Tilney. No, he wore a look of unmistakable hostility. This, it may be supposed, can be attributed to his lingering disgust over his failure to depose the current speaker in the previous election. Thus motivated, he challenged her with a question.

“You talk a good game, Madam, but what support from headquarters can you deliver to those of us on the front lines? Love is a formidable force. Fine-sounding words will only go so far against it.”

“How wrong you are, sir,” she shot back at him. “There is no more effective weapon on earth than an arsenal of words, finely honed and expertly delivered. If, after all your training, you persist in doubting the truth of it, I suggest you review chapter six of your manual. As for support services, you will receive what has been promised. You may depend on it.”

“Hear, hear!” Mrs. Norris shouted once again, drawing looks of annoyance from more than one quarter.

Lady Catherine, having successfully thwarted General Tilney’s challenge, expected the rest to fall quietly into line behind her leadership. “I need not remind you of headquarters’ intolerant attitude toward failure. Some of you are teetering on the brink of banishment from this society as it is.” Again she cast her eyes from face to face, this time with a you-know-who-I-mean lift to her right eyebrow.  “Very well, then,” she continued when satisfied. “If there’s nothing else…”

No one would dare defy her authority, she surmised. In fact, they would probably be too intimidated to even ask questions. She would make quick work of anyone who did, and then she could be on to more interesting endeavors. Really, it was all such a bore, supervising these under-talented pretenders when she had much rather be keeping her rendezvous with that distinguished Count Deering. Now there was a man truly worthy of her time and abilities…

Her ladyship’s private reverie was unpleasantly cut short by a noisy uprising. It started small, with a protest from Lucy Steele, directed at no one in particular.

Lucy SteeleLooking up from studying her assignment, she said, “I don’t mind stirring up trouble. In fact, I’m sure I shall enjoy it immensely. But I cannot be expected to go so far as actually marrying one of these silly Ferrars brothers. What if I don’t like the looks of them, or the wrong one ends up with the money? It would be throwing myself away completely!”

Henry Crawford came to her support. “Miss Steele is perfectly right. We are professionals, after all. We must be allowed some room for creative expression, some leeway to carry out our assignments as we see fit.”

“I agree with my brother,” declared Mary Crawford.

“Naturally,” muttered Captain Tilney.

Lucy Steele gave Henry an appreciative nod and a coy smile.

“What about seduction?” asked Wickham, standing and raising his voice to be heard above the growing disturbance. “Is that allowed or is it considered ‘bodily harm’?”

“Depends who’s doing the seducing!” returned Captain Tilney with a wry smile, and he was rewarded with appreciative laughter. “The ladies never complain when it’s me.”

Perturbed by Tilney’s implication, Wickham, redirected. “I wasn’t asking you, sir. My question was for our chairman… uh, chairwoman, I mean.”

Before Lady Catherine could address this or any of the previous remarks, Willoughby added his voice to the growing melee.

Willoughby“And another thing,” he said to the group at large. “I don’t much care for these veiled threats of banishment if any of us should fail. As far as I can see, Lady Catherine has not succeeded in stamping out the threat of true love either, except perhaps in her poor, unfortunate daughter. Now there is a young lady I should like to see benefited by a little male companionship, if you know what I mean!”

“Silence,” shrieked Lady Catherine before slumping down in a near faint.

Mr. Collins, completely beside himself by now, ran from member to member begging for a return to order. Not surprisingly, he and his pleas went unheeded. General Tilney leant back in his chair, smiling serenely at the scene before him and no doubt anticipating a more favorable outcome in the next election. Nearly everybody else had risen by this time, shouting and gesturing various insults at various parties, present or not. In the chaos, no one even noticed when Henry Crawford and Lucy Steele slipped out the back door together.

What can be said about the outcome of this council meeting except that it was a total loss? As for the success or failure of the members’ subsequent missions? The answers await your discovery between the pages of books.

This was a very popular piece when it aired at Austen Variations. But people were quick to point out that I had overlooked some notorious “baddies.” So I will probably rewrite it later, expanding it to include a few more. Did I cover all your favorites, or do you want to put in a word for some deserving villain for the second edition?

PMJA proof arrivesPS – In case you haven’t heard, I’ve started posting chapters of The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen every Friday at Austen Variations. So you can now read it for free! To get started, follow this link to part 1.

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Popular Highlights “Return”

Return-to-Longbourn-book-cover-webConfession. I just finished reading one of my own books: Return to Longbourn… again.

I have talked to other authors who say that once their books are finished and published, they never look at them again. The reasons they give? I’ve heard two: either they are sick to death of the book after working on it so long, or they’re afraid they’ll find flaws that it’s too late to correct, which would torment them.

I feel completely different. Yes, it bugs me when I discover a typo in one of my books, one that managed to somehow elude all the beta reads and edits meant to catch that kind of thing. But my books and the people in them are like old friends to me. Friends aren’t perfect either, and yet that doesn’t keep me from wanting them to visit from time to time.

In this case, it had been a few years since I had read Return to Longbourn – long enough that I’d forgotten some things which I had fun rediscovering along the way.

Since I was reading on my Kindle, I periodically came across an underlined “popular highlight.” Are you familiar with this feature? It shows which lines in a book have been highlighted most by readers. It’s designed to be of interest to readers, but it’s tremendous fun for authors too. It’s so interesting (and gratifying) to see which things I’ve written have been marked, indicating that people especially loved or valued them.

In a pair of posts I wrote on this topic several years ago, I reported that the most popular highlights from The Darcys of Pemberley and For Myself Alone seemed to fall into one of two categories: romance or wisdom. Return to Longbourn, is a little different. Perhaps because Mary Bennet (the book’s primary heroine) has a more practical, less romantic, turn of mind (at least in the beginning), the “highlights” of her story fall mostly into my so-called “wisdom” category. Or maybe it’s because Mary had so much to learn! Here are readers’ 9 top picks from RTL followed by a bit of Austen’s own wisdom:

“I believe most people tend to judge things just and fair only when they have their own way.” (Mary Bennet)

“To never experience the good, for fear that it will one day be taken from you – what kind of way is that to live?” (Tristan Collins)

It is a truth universally acknowledged that every mortal being must at some point face the certainty of death and the day of reckoning.

Marriage: how much of happiness or torment seemed bound up in that one, irrevocable act.

No quantity of worry or tears would alter that which could not be changed.

True right and wrong were still what they had always been, of course; only her sympathy for those who sometimes found themselves over the line had changed. Her former prejudices had been stripped away, and she had more understanding of the powerful forces that pushed and pulled at the vulnerable hearts of men.

“The proper measure of a man is not taken by how he treats his peers and betters, but in how he deals with those over whom he holds unconditional power – his wife, his children, his tenants, those in his service and employ. If he treats them fairly when he has no one except his own conscience to answer to, then he is honorable indeed.” (Mr. Darcy)

She had always been so severe on people who were not perfect and so unwilling to show any sign of frailty herself. Now, however, she rejoiced in her own weaknesses so flagrantly displayed over the last year, because it made accepting Mr. _____’s past failings not only possible but compulsory.

To admit to a joy was to admit to vulnerability, and the voice of caution in her head always protested loudly against taking the smallest risk of that kind. This time, however, she was glad she had found the courage to ignore it.

Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without affection. (written in a letter from Jane Austen to her niece Fanny)

Yes, Mary had a lot to learn. And by the end of the book she has come a long way. In fact, you might say the overlooked ugly duckling turned out to be a swan after all!

I enjoyed visiting with my old friends again in Return to Longbourn – the Bennets, the Bingleys, the Darcys from Pride and Prejudice, as well as several more characters of my own invention – and remembering what a wild ride it was to write this book, with all the unplanned twists and turns the story ended up taking along the way  (see the RTL launch post).

What’s your policy about re-reading books? If you read on Kindle, do you ever use the Highlighting feature? Do you have a favorite quote amongst the highlights from RTL given here, or a memorable bit of Jane Austen wisdom that has stuck with you?

PMJA proof arrivesPS – In case you haven’t heard, I’ve started posting chapters of The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen every Friday at Austen Variations. So you can now read it for free! To get started, follow this link to part 1.

Posted in Jane Austen Quotes, Shannon Winslow's writing, Uncategorized, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Diverting to Derbyshire – a P&P Missing Scene

See the source imageSince everybody seemed to appreciate The Specter of Mr. Collins, which I posted here a couple of months ago, I thought today I’d share another of my P&P ‘missing scenes.’ Most of the ones I’ve written are included in a group publication (Pride & Prejudice: Behind the Scenes), but I hope to compile them all as part of my own short story volume eventually!

I have a hard time beginning to write something out of nothing, but if I have a question or some other jumping-off point to spark my imagination, I’m off and running, and probably having the time of my life! The following verse (Pride and Prejudice, chapter 42) inspired the scene below – Elizabeth dreads the possibility of running into Darcy when she goes to Derbyshire with her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner. Hope you enjoy it!

With the mention of Derbyshire, there were many ideas connected. It was impossible for her to see the word without thinking of Pemberley and its owner. “But surely,” said she, “I may enter his county with impunity, and rob it of a few petrified spars without his perceiving me.”


Elizabeth Bennet:

Derbyshire. That one word brought it all flooding back to my mind, all that I had so studiously endeavored to put from it. My heart had been set on seeing The Lakes, but my aunt’s letter two weeks ago not only put an end to that thrilling expectation, but replaced it with something like apprehension at the thought of diverting to Derbyshire instead. Even now, I am tormented by the idea.

I cannot think of Derbyshire without unhappy associations rising up in my mind. No doubt it is grand country, full of beauties that are not to be missed. But to me it can only ever mean one thing; I will be entering the county wherein resides the owner of Pemberley, a man I had fervently hoped never to meet with again in the whole course of my life. And I know he must feel the same. For proof of it, I have only to refer again to his letter.

Why I have kept it, I cannot rightly say. It is not normally in my nature to dwell on unpleasantness. But in this case, I make an exception. My culpability in the debacle with Mr. Darcy is something I dare not forget entirely, lest I should ever behave so badly again. How despicably I acted! How dreadfully I misjudged him! His written words at last taught me to properly know myself, and I have resolved to revisit them occasionally as a sort of penance.

Pulling the letter from its hiding place, I peruse its pages once more. The truth of his explanations concerning the two charges I so vehemently laid at his door, I have long since ceased to question. I need not read those sections again; I know them by heart.

Mr. Darcy’s interference with Jane and Mr. Bingley is something I continue to lament most grievously for my sister’s sake, although I can no longer bring myself to hate him for it. There was no malice in the case, only an error in judgment – a failing to which I proved similarly susceptible in the other matter. When I think what he and his sister suffered at the hands of Mr. Wickham, I believe I better understand some portion of his actions in Hertfordshire, some grounds for his distrustful reserve.

Although his careful explanations are most material in exonerating his character, it is always the beginning and the end of Mr. Darcy’s letter that cut me to the quick. That is where my conscience seeks to punish me, for that is where the man himself and how I have injured him are most clearly revealed.

Be not alarmed, Madam, on receiving this letter, by the apprehension of its containing any repetition of those sentiments, or renewal of those offers, which were last night so disgusting to you. I write without any intention of paining you, or humbling myself, by dwelling on wishes, which, for the happiness of both, cannot be too soon forgotten…

 And then at the end…

 …If your abhorrence of me should make my assertions valueless, you cannot be prevented by the same cause from confiding in my cousin; and that there may be the possibility of consulting him, I shall endeavour to find some opportunity of putting this letter in your hands in the course of the morning. I will only add, God bless you.

 Fitzwilliam Darcy

Oh, how these words have tortured me! If I still believed him to be a man without feeling, I could laugh at my own blindness well enough. Yet here is evidence that he has a heart after all, one capable of caring deeply… and being just as deeply wounded. Even should he one day find the charity to forgive how I have insulted him, I shall never forgive myself. But neither can I be content to wallow forever in self recriminations. I was not formed for unhappiness.

No, the only safe solution is that I never see Mr. Darcy again. He may get on with his life, well rid of me, and I will get on with mine, a little better for having known him. So there’s an end to it. Now, if only I can tour Derbyshire without him crossing my path…

Luckily for Elizabeth, she doesn’t get her wish. As you know, she finds something much better than she expects in Derbyshire!

Posted in Austen Authors, Jane Austen, Jane Austen Quotes, P&P200, Shannon Winslow's writing, Uncategorized, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

A Christmas Ramble

Christmas is coming! Notice that I didn’t say Christmas is here, because technically this is Advent – a time of waiting and preparation in anticipation of the day of Jesus’ birth.

I know that on the retail calendar, the Christmas season now begins immediately after Halloween, but traditionally (and on the church calendar) it begins on December 25th and runs for twelve days – through January 5th (Twelfth Night).

By the way, in Jane Austen’s time, that’s when gifts were exchanged, not on Christmas Day itself. Why? Because Twelfth Night marks the Feast of Epiphany, which celebrates the arrival of the kings (or magi), bringing their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the Christ child.

So how was Christmas celebrated in Regency England? You can scratch the excess hype and frenzy of today. But like now, it was a time to gather with friends and family, a time for music and singing, a time to feast and to share some of their bounty with the less fortunate. The particulars may have changed – the specific foods enjoyed, the songs sung, etc. – but the basics are still recognizable to us.

“Oh, my dear Miss Dashwood,” said Mrs. Palmer soon afterwards, “I have got such a favour to ask of you and your sister. Will you come and spend some time at Cleveland this Christmas? Now, pray do, and come while the Westons are with us You cannot think how happy I shall be! It will be quite delightful!” (Sense and Sensibility)

Sidebar: Do you suppose Jane Austen imagined that the Palmers’ friends (mentioned here in S&S) to be the same Westons we know from Emma?

Christmas Day itself began for most people with a walk to church, which could be a very chilly affair, not only outside but in, since there often was no means of heating the building.

The Regency home would have been specially decorated with candles, holly, ivy, and other greens, but no Christmas tree. That tradition wasn’t fully adopted in England until Victorian times, when it was popularized by Prince Albert, who brought the custom with him from his native country of Germany.

This “no Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, eyeglasses and textChristmas tree” policy was used to great effect as a running joke in a play I saw recently – Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley. On a whim, Elizabeth Bennet Darcy installed a Christmas tree at Pemberley one year. Each person that entered the room after that, including Darcy himself, suffered a mild shock upon seeing it, remarking with some distaste (or even horror), “You have a tree… inside,” or similar words. Elizabeth would each time have to, somewhat apologetically, explain it was a German tradition that she thought charming.

“…I am the happiest creature in the world. Perhaps other people have said so before, but not one with such justice. I am happier even than Jane; she only smiles, I laugh. Mr. Darcy sends you all the love in the world that he can spare from me. You are all to come to Pemberley at Christmas. Yours, etc.” (Elizabeth in a letter to Mrs. Gardiner, Pride and Prejudice)

From this passage, I inferred that Pemberley would be the Christmas gathering place thereafter. Sounds like the perfect setting to spend a couple of week – perhaps snow falling outside, good friends and warm hospitality within. Since I doubt that I’ll be able to wrangle an actual invitation, my imagination will have to do. So I wrote about it in Return to Longbourn.

The holiday itself began with a trip to Kympton for church. Later, back at Pemberley, much was made of the Christmas dinner and of the children’s enjoyment – all twelve Bingley, Darcy, and Gardiner offspring – and of the special little treats and traditions established within the family to commemorate the occasion. Mary was called upon to render the day all the more festive by employing her musical abilities, playing a number of yuletide hymns and popular tunes on the piano-forte…

(later)… Gazing out into the night, Mary could just make out the faded gray of the lawn below, guarded by a few sentinel trees, as it fell away toward the inky blackness of the lake. The filtered moonlight’s poor illumination rendered every familiar article in ghostly guise, or was it something else that made it all look so peculiarly eerie? Ah, it had begun to snow, she then realized. For the moment, it was only a sugar dusting, but doubtless by daybreak everything would be wearing a full coat of winter white. “It is snowing,” she informed the others.

Kitty, who had always been particularly enamored of snow, came bounding excitedly to the window. A few of the others followed more sedately. “How thrilled the children will be when they wake in the morning!” remarked Jane.

Without stirring, Mrs. Bennet said, “I for one am not surprised. I can always tell it will snow by how my rheumatism comes on. Oh, such pains and spasms as I have suffered all the day long! But then I never like to complain.”

No chance of snow here today in the Seattle area. We were down in the 20’s a week or so ago, but today it was almost balmy, reaching 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Nevertheless, the Christmas spirit has begun to overtake me. And not a moment too soon. I still have cards to get out (yes, I am one of the few who still sends them), decorating to do, a little shopping and wrapping too. But fortunately I have plenty of time, right? After all, Christmas doesn’t start until the 25th!

See the source imageI will leave you with an adapted version of a Christmas sentiment Miss Bingley wrote in a letter to Jane Bennet. My best wishes that you would have a wonderful Christmas (or whatever tradition you celebrate this time of year) are truly sincere, unlike Miss Bingley’s. Please fill in the blanks as you choose. (Since you may be planning to spend Christmas somewhere other than Hertfordshire, and you may be wishing for something other than numerous beaux! Or maybe not?)

“I sincerely hope your Christmas in _________ may abound in the gaieties which that season generally brings, and that your _________ will be numerous!”


Other Christmas posts:

2014 Christmas Decorations and Waxing Philosophical

2012 The “W” in Christmas

2011 Christmas Cards

2010 The Stories of Christmas



Posted in English Regency culture, History, Jane Austen, Jane Austen Quotes, my books, Shannon Winslow, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments