Saturday, October 25, 2014

Becoming Mrs. Norris: Part One

A note on the text: This story presupposes that the opening words of Mansfield Park – “About thirty years ago … “ – refer to the time period in which the bulk of the plot takes place and not the first few chapters. It also assumes that though Austen almost always refers to Mrs. Norris in the opening paragraph, using her maiden name and title once, that the lady was still Miss Ward at the time of Miss Frances’ marriage to Mr. Price. Thank you for reading this “Twisted Austen” tale, and have a happy Halloween.


Between them, the Misses Ward had twenty-one thousand pounds, more than enough to cover the costs of their housing, feeding, and servants, and each year their uncle, the lawyer, presented the eldest with a tally sheet, detailing precisely why he was owed all of their interest earned. Miss Ward had learned not to question his figures, no matter how fantastic they might be. To do so would bring down upon her the dreaded charge of ingratitude, a sentiment Mr. Ward found particularly distasteful in his nieces, whose guardianship he only begrudgingly undertook. They made his inheritance, unlooked for and unneeded, more an encumbrance than a fortune. What good to him, for whom the country held no pleasure, was his elder brother's modest estate? He often swore he would rather his brother had lived though he wished him to the devil often enough when alive and not burdened him so, but the law declared the ladies his responsibility, and he was a strict upholder of the law.

In his eye, the three ladies were guilty of the unforgivable crime of being orphans. It was ludicrous to blame his brother: never intelligent and far too dead to feel his guilt. The two youngest Miss Wards were similarly vacuous, but the eldest was more capable. She alone was fully sensible of her culpability, and so for her did he reserve his most venomous complaints.

Knowing her privileged position within the household, Miss Ward did her best to protect Maria and Frances from his rage, and over the years, she had learned how to minimize his fits of temper. At twenty-one, having survived eleven years in his care, she knew how to best engage his meager supply of sympathy.

Knocking on the open door, she tentatively asked, "Sir? May I claim a moment of your time?"

He looked up through a cloud of pipe smoke and fixed her with an angry stare before consulting his pocket watch. "You have two minutes."

She stepped into the terrible glare emanating from the great windows behind the desk, but she willed her eyes not to blink. Better to water mercilessly than display such a weakness before her guardian. "I request your permission to invite a gentleman to dinner tomorrow evening. He is calling upon Miss Maria now. This is the third time he has called since they were introduced at last week's assembly."

He sneered, eyes still on his watch. "I suppose I shall have to bear the expense of feeding all the foolish gentlemen who are susceptible to a pretty face and empty head. Who is he?"

"Sir Thomas Bertram of Mansfield Park." She tried to hide the satisfaction in the words.

He looked up. "Mr. Norris' guest? The baronet?"

"The same."

"He should not be bothering with Maria. She is at least three thousand pounds short of being worthy of his interest."

"You underestimate the appeal of becoming manners and complaisance, Uncle."

"I doubt it," he snorted, "but if Sir Thomas fancies an empty-headed wife, I shall not be the one to throw a rub in his way. Invite him for Wednesday next, when Richards dines. That will minimize the expense."

"Yes, Uncle," she replied and retreated, before he had the opportunity to scold that her two minutes had expired.

Rejoining her sisters in the drawing room was like reentering another world from that which lay just down the passage, sulfurous and bright. Maria's gentle laughter, like the sound of the angel she was, rang forth. "My dear sister!" she cried with an unusual degree of animation. "You will not believe what Sir Thomas has been telling us! He has property in the West Indies, and he has actually journeyed all that way to see it for himself! Can you imagine?"

Miss Ward beamed at her sister indulgently before casting her eyes towards Sir Thomas, whom she saw was just as charmed by Maria's innocence as she had always been. With uncharted pleasure she replied, "A gentleman of honor and intelligence must wish to be in command of all his interests. To leave land in the stewardship of others, with no supervision whatsoever, would be negligent."

Maria shook her curls in negation. "But what of the danger? I am glad, Sir Thomas," she said candidly, "that no hardship befell you on such a journey, but I hope you will never have occasion to ever venture so far from home again. I do not know how I could bear the worry."

Sir Thomas looked as if he needed only the slightest urging to secure such a becoming display of concern as his very own. Miss Ward saw it all with an anticipation that bordered on pain. The prospect of such a match, and the liberation she associated with it, was like a wild fantasy come true.

It had long been brought to bear upon her how much depended on each of the sisters securing husbands. It was only the second evening she spent in her uncle's house, not a week following the death of both her parents, that she was first summoned into the forbidding office from which her uncle oversaw all his concerns. There was no sun to blind her then, but the multitude of tallow candles which her uncle deemed necessary to illuminate his domain had much the same effect, their smoke combining with that of his cigar to make the terrified ten-year-old cough and gag.

He watched her silently until the fit subsided, making it perfectly clear that he had no intention of offering her any comfort, and then said, "Edmund would saddle me with sickly brats. If you are all inclined towards colds and ailments, I shall have you off to school at once."

"No, sir! That is ..."

"I will not have my household disordered, do you understand? I can only guess what kind of liberality you are used to enjoying, but I will not have waste and idleness under my roof. The three of you will remain in my charge until you marry or reach the age of twenty-five, at which point you may undertake the guardianship of your sisters. Between this time and that, I suggest you busy yourselves in attaining those accomplishments that will secure my relief from your burden as soon as possible. The interest from your dowries may be used towards this end. I shall not fund such nonsense, of that you may be sure!"

A bewildered Miss Ward was abruptly dismissed and returned to her grieving sisters, still overcome by shock at the loss of family and home, and as determined to be married with the greatest possible swiftness as her uncle could hope. Their removal from Opperthorn had been a heavy blow so close on the heels of their parents’ carriage accident, but their uncle lived in Huntington when he was not in London, and having no affection for his familial home, he ordered the place shut up and gave the servants their leave. The house was put up for sale, but as no one ever emerged who was willing to meet Mr. Ward’s terms, it had now stood empty for almost half her lifetime, all of which had been devoted to the goal of finding husbands for her sisters.

She was presented with a ledger – the first of many – and told to keep strict accounts of her expenditures. Item number one was the ledger. Item two the pen. Though yet a child, it was Miss Ward who was charged with finding a governess for herself. She was lucky to fall into the hands of a Miss Tilney, who undertook the care of the three girls at a rate tenable to their guardian. She remained with the family for nearly seven years, at which point Miss Ward was deemed to know enough to teach the others. Mr. Ward dismissed her one day while the ladies were out alone. When they returned from their shopping, Miss Tilney was already gone. She had been Miss Ward’s confidant and friend, and her loss, while bourn stoically, caused a hurt far too deep to ever completely recover.

It now fell to Miss Ward to find the masters who would complete the education of herself and her sisters. Never being allowed enough funds to hire competent instructors, they made do with those who were merely tolerable and emerged from their years of education predictably devoid of any true accomplishment. Miss Ward saw the lack but knew not what to do about it. Tolerable dowries and pretty faces would have to fill the void.

With the latter they were well endowed. Miss Ward was widely regarded as a handsome woman. Her long nose and slightly sharp features may not have held up to the severest scrutiny, but that she had countenance was undeniable. Maria was very pretty and promised to become more so. Frances was cut from a similar mold.

For herself, Miss Ward was not long in finding both security and satisfaction in the assumption within the family that she would, someday, marry Mr. Richards, her uncle's clerk. She liked James. They shared the ready sympathy of fellow sufferers in the hands of the same tyrant. His prospects were good enough to match her own ambitions, which for herself were very modest, and their understanding freed her energy to focus on her sisters, for whom she wished a bit better. It would be convenient if she could marry sooner, but such happiness must wait upon the advancement of Mr. Richards’ career (which Mr. Ward, considering his complaints against his nieces, was remarkably reluctant to promote) or the death of his maternal grandmother, a remarkably stout woman of seventy-two, to whose small, free-hold property he was heir.

The recent entrance of the baronet into their society was like a brilliant light shining where all had always been dark. As soon as Miss Ward saw him at the assembly, she knew he would be an ideal husband for Maria. She busied herself for the first few sets, positioning their chaperone, an elderly and somewhat feeble neighbor, so as to maximize the likelihood of capturing Sir Thomas' attention. The gratification of an introduction was quickly amplified by his request for Maria’s hand, a circumstance Miss Ward was certain would have taken much longer to occur if she had not been forward enough to suggest it. A second dance was claimed later in the evening, by which time all attending were abuzz with Miss Maria's triumph. She smiled and received the congratulations of those so bold as to give them with her typical, languid grace. Miss Ward, on the other hand, saw the conquest as largely her own, and her satisfaction in this suddenly illuminated path towards liberation was palpable.


Come back tomorrow to read Part Two!



Today's giveaway includes one copy of The Madness of Mr. Darcy and a handmade set of my Harrowing Austen cards, featuring ghoulish moments from each of her novels. This giveaway is open internationally, but I can only offer a choice between a paperback or ebook to North American residents. All others will receive the ebook.

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Being Mrs. Bennet: Chapter Twenty-one

Elizabeth watched for the first appearance of Pemberley Woods as they drove along with some perturbation; and when at length they turned in at the lodge, her spirits were in a high flutter.

The park was very large, and contained great variety of ground. They entered it in one of its lowest points, and drove for some time through a beautiful wood, stretching over a wide extent.

Elizabeth's mind was too full for conversation. If she did know which words to say, her tongue would not cooperate. Several of her organs seemed to not be behaving as God intended, but her eyes could still see and admire everything. They gradually ascended for half a mile, and then found themselves at the top of a considerable eminence, where the wood ceased, and the eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of a valley, into which the road, with some abruptness, wound. It was a large, handsome, stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills, and in front a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal, nor falsely adorned. Elizabeth had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste. Her aunt and uncle were warm in their admiration of the estate, as Elizabeth should be, too, were she an impartial observer, or even just a young lady who had rejected a proposal from its master, and not the daughter of a lady whose body has been taken over by a woman from another time and place, who furthermore insisted that this place and time was nothing more than a novel and hinted furiously that this was the heroine's climatic moment. Elizabeth's heart thumped erratically while her stomach churned, but at  this moment she felt to be that heroine - to be mistress of Pemberley - might be something.

On applying to see the place, they were admitted into the hall; The housekeeper, a respectable-looking, elderly woman, led them first into the dining-parlour. It was a large, well-proportioned room, handsomely fitted up. Elizabeth, after slightly surveying it, went to a window to enjoy its prospect. The hill, crowned with wood, from which they had descended, receiving increased abruptness from the distance, was a beautiful object. Every disposition of the ground was good; and she looked on the whole scene -- the river, the trees scattered on its banks, and the winding of the valley, as far as she could trace it -- with delight. As they passed into other rooms, these objects were taking different positions; but from every window there were beauties to be seen. The rooms were lofty and handsome, and their furniture suitable to the fortune of their proprietor; but Elizabeth saw, with admiration of his taste, that it was neither gaudy nor uselessly fine; with less of splendor, and more real elegance, than the furniture of Rosings.
"And of this place," thought she, "I might have been mistress! With these rooms I might now have been familiarly acquainted! Instead of viewing them as a stranger, I might have rejoiced in them as my own, and welcomed to them as visitors my uncle and aunt. -- But no," -- recollecting herself, -- "that could never be: my uncle and aunt would have been lost to me: I should not have been allowed to invite them." This was a lucky recollection -- it saved her from something like regret.
She longed to enquire of the housekeeper whether her master were really absent, but had not courage for it. At length, however, the question was asked by her uncle; and she turned away with alarm, while Mrs. Reynolds replied that he was, adding, "but we expect him tomorrow, with a large party of friends." How rejoiced was Elizabeth that their own journey had not by any circumstance been delayed a day!
Her aunt now called her to look at a picture. She approached, and saw the likeness of Mr. Wickham suspended, amongst several other miniatures, over the mantlepiece. Her aunt asked her, smilingly, how she liked it. The housekeeper came forward, and told them it was the picture of a young gentleman, the son of her late master's steward, who had been brought up by him at his own expence. -- "He is now gone into the army," she added, "but I am afraid he has turned out very wild."
Mrs. Gardiner looked at her niece with a smile, but Elizabeth could not return it.
"And that," said Mrs. Reynolds, pointing to another of the miniatures, "is my master -- and very like him. It was drawn at the same time as the other -- about eight years ago."
"I have heard much of your master's fine person," said Mrs. Gardiner, looking at the picture; "it is a handsome face. But, Lizzy, you can tell us whether it is like or not."
Mrs. Reynolds's respect for Elizabeth seemed to increase on this intimation of her knowing her master.
"Does that young lady know Mr. Darcy?"
Elizabeth coloured, and said -- "A little."
"And do not you think him a very handsome gentleman, Ma'am?"
"Yes, very handsome."
"I am sure I know none so handsome; but in the gallery up stairs you will see a finer, larger picture of him than this. This room was my late master's favourite room, and these miniatures are just as they used to be then. He was very fond of them."
This accounted to Elizabeth for Mr. Wickham's being among them.
Mrs. Reynolds then directed their attention to one of Miss Darcy, drawn when she was only eight years old.
"And is Miss Darcy as handsome as her brother?" said Mr. Gardiner.
"Oh! yes -- the handsomest young lady that ever was seen; and so accomplished! -- She plays and sings all day long. In the next room is a new instrument just come down for her -- a present from my master; she comes here to-morrow with him."
Mr. Gardiner, whose manners were easy and pleasant, encouraged her communicativeness by his questions and remarks; Mrs. Reynolds, either from pride or attachment, had evidently great pleasure in talking of her master and his sister.
"Is your master much at Pemberley in the course of the year?"
"Not so much as I could wish, Sir; but I dare say he may spend half his time here; and Miss Darcy is always down for the summer months."
"Except," thought Elizabeth, "when she goes to Ramsgate."
"If your master would marry, you might see more of him."
"Yes, Sir; but I do not know when that will be. I do not know who is good enough for him."
Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner smiled. Elizabeth could not help saying, "It is very much to his credit, I am sure, that you should think so."
"I say no more than the truth, and what every body will say that knows him," replied the other. Elizabeth thought this was going pretty far; and she listened with increasing astonishment as the housekeeper added, "I have never had a cross word from him in my life, and I have known him ever since he was four years old."
This was praise, of all others most extraordinary, most opposite to her ideas. That he was not a good tempered man had been her firmest opinion. Her keenest attention was awakened; she longed to hear more, and was grateful to her uncle for saying,
"There are very few people of whom so much can be said. You are lucky in having such a master."
"Yes, Sir, I know I am. If I was to go through the world, I could not meet with a better. But I have always observed that they who are good-natured when children are good-natured when they grow up; and he was always the sweetest-tempered, most generous-hearted, boy in the world."
Elizabeth almost stared at her. -- "Can this be Mr. Darcy!" thought she.
"His father was an excellent man," said Mrs. Gardiner.
"Yes, Ma'am, that he was indeed; and his son will be just like him -- just as affable to the poor."
Elizabeth listened, wondered, doubted, and was impatient for more. Mrs. Reynolds could interest her on no other point. She related the subject of the pictures, the dimensions of the rooms, and the price of the furniture, in vain. Mr. Gardiner, highly amused by the kind of family prejudice to which he attributed her excessive commendation of her master, soon led again to the subject; and she dwelt with energy on his many merits, as they proceeded together up the great staircase.
"He is the best landlord, and the best master," said she, "that ever lived. Not like the wild young men now-a-days, who think of nothing but themselves. There is not one of his tenants or servants but what will give him a good name. Some people call him proud; but I am sure I never saw any thing of it. To my fancy, it is only because he does not rattle away like other young men."
"In what an amiable light does this place him!" thought Elizabeth.
"This fine account of him," whispered her aunt, as they walked, "is not quite consistent with his behaviour to our poor friend."
"Perhaps we might be deceived."
"That is not very likely; our authority was too good."
On reaching the spacious lobby above, they were shewn into a very pretty sitting-room, lately fitted up with greater elegance and lightness than the apartments below; and were informed that it was but just done to give pleasure to Miss Darcy, who had taken a liking to the room when last at Pemberley.
"He is certainly a good brother," said Elizabeth, as she walked towards one of the windows.
Mrs. Reynolds anticipated Miss Darcy's delight when she should enter the room. "And this is always the way with him," she added. -- "Whatever can give his sister any pleasure is sure to be done in a moment. There is nothing he would not do for her."
The picture gallery, and two or three of the principal bedrooms, were all that remained to be shewn. In the former were many good paintings; but Elizabeth knew nothing of the art; and from such as had been already visible below, she had willingly turned to look at some drawings of Miss Darcy's, in crayons, whose subjects were usually more interesting, and also more intelligible.
In the gallery there were many family portraits, but they could have little to fix the attention of a stranger. Elizabeth walked on in quest of the only face whose features would be known to her. At last it arrested her -- and she beheld a striking resemblance of Mr. Darcy, with such a smile over the face as she remembered to have sometimes seen, when he looked at her. She stood several minutes before the picture in earnest contemplation, and returned to it again before they quitted the gallery. Mrs. Reynolds informed them that it had been taken in his father's life time.
There was certainly at this moment, in Elizabeth's mind, a more gentle sensation towards the original than she had ever felt in the height of their acquaintance. The commendation bestowed on him by Mrs. Reynolds was of no trifling nature. What praise is more valuable than the praise of an intelligent servant? As a brother, a landlord, a master, she considered how many people's happiness were in his guardianship! -- How much of pleasure or pain it was in his power to bestow! -- How much of good or evil must be done by him! Every idea that had been brought forward by the housekeeper was favourable to his character, and as she stood before the canvas, on which he was represented, and fixed his eyes upon herself, she thought of his regard with a deeper sentiment of gratitude than it had ever raised before; she remembered its warmth, and softened its impropriety of expression.
When all of the house that was open to general inspection had been seen, they returned down stairs, and, taking leave of the housekeeper, were consigned over to the gardener, who met them at the hall door.
As they walked across the lawn towards the river, Elizabeth turned back to look again; her uncle and aunt stopped also, and while the former was conjecturing as to the date of the building, the owner of it himself suddenly came forward from the road, which led behind it to the stables.
They were within twenty yards of each other, and so abrupt was his appearance, that it was impossible to avoid his sight. Their eyes instantly met, and the cheeks of each were overspread with the deepest blush. He absolutely started, and for a moment seemed immoveable from surprise; but shortly recovering himself, advanced towards the party, and spoke to Elizabeth, if not in terms of perfect composure, at least of perfect civility.
She had instinctively turned away; but, stopping on his approach, received his compliments with an embarrassment impossible to be overcome. Had his first appearance, or his resemblance to the picture they had just been examining, been insufficient to assure the other two that they now saw Mr. Darcy, the gardener's expression of surprise on beholding his master must immediately have told it. They stood a little aloof while he was talking to their niece, who, astonished and confused, scarcely dared lift her eyes to his face, and knew not what answer she returned to his civil enquiries after her family. Amazed at the alteration in his manner since they last parted, every sentence that he uttered was increasing her embarrassment; and every idea of the impropriety of her being found there recurring to her mind, the few minutes in which they continued together were some of the most uncomfortable of her life. Nor did he seem much more at ease; when he spoke, his accent had none of its usual sedateness; and he repeated his enquiries as to the time of her having left Longbourn, and of her stay in Derbyshire, so often, and in so hurried a way, as plainly spoke the distraction of his thoughts.
At length, every idea seemed to fail him; and, after standing a few moments without saying a word, he suddenly recollected himself, and took leave.
The others then joined her, and expressed their admiration of his figure; but Elizabeth heard not a word, and, wholly engrossed by her own feelings, followed them in silence. She was overpowered by shame and vexation. Her coming there was the most unfortunate, the most ill-judged thing in the world! How strange must it appear to him! In what a disgraceful light might it not strike so vain a man! It might seem as if she had purposely thrown herself in his way again! Oh! why did she come? or, why did he thus come a day before he was expected? Had they been only ten minutes sooner, they should have been beyond the reach of his discrimination, for it was plain that he was that moment arrived, that moment alighted from his horse or his carriage. She blushed again and again over the perverseness of the meeting. And his behaviour, so strikingly altered, -- what could it mean? That he should even speak to her was amazing! -- but to speak with such civility, to enquire after her family! Never in her life had she seen his manners so little dignified, never had he spoken with such gentleness as on this unexpected meeting. What a contrast did it offer to his last address in Rosings Park, when he put his letter into her hand! She knew not what to think, nor how to account for it.
They had now entered a beautiful walk by the side of the water, and every step was bringing forward a nobler fall of ground, or a finer reach of the woods to which they were approaching; but it was some time before Elizabeth was sensible of any of it; and, though she answered mechanically to the repeated appeals of her uncle and aunt, and seemed to direct her eyes to such objects as they pointed out, she distinguished no part of the scene. Her thoughts were all fixed on that one spot of Pemberley House, whichever it might be, where Mr. Darcy then was. She longed to know what at that moment was passing in his mind; in what manner he thought of her, and whether, in defiance of every thing, she was still dear to him. Perhaps he had been civil only because he felt himself at ease; yet there had beenthat in his voice which was not like ease. Whether he had felt more of pain or of pleasure in seeing her, she could not tell, but he certainly had not seen her with composure.
At length, however, the remarks of her companions on her absence of mind roused her, and she felt the necessity of appearing more like herself.
They entered the woods, and bidding adieu to the river for a while, ascended some of the higher grounds; whence, in spots where the opening of the trees gave the eye power to wander, were many charming views of the valley, the opposite hills, with the long range of woods overspreading many, and occasionally part of the stream. Mr. Gardiner expressed a wish of going round the whole Park, but feared it might be beyond a walk. With a triumphant smile, they were told that it was ten miles round. It settled the matter; and they pursued the accustomed circuit; which brought them again, after some time, in a descent among hanging woods, to the edge of the water, in one of its narrowest parts. They crossed it by a simple bridge, in character with the general air of the scene; it was a spot less adorned than any they had yet visited; and the valley, here contracted into a glen, allowed room only for the stream, and a narrow walk amidst the rough coppice-wood which bordered it. Elizabeth longed to explore its windings; but when they had crossed the bridge, and perceived their distance from the house, Mrs. Gardiner, who was not a great walker, could go no farther, and thought only of returning to the carriage as quickly as possible. Her niece was, therefore, obliged to submit, and they took their way towards the house on the opposite side of the river, in the nearest direction; but their progress was slow, for Mr. Gardiner, though seldom able to indulge the taste, was very fond of fishing, and was so much engaged in watching the occasional appearance of some trout in the water, and talking to the man about them, that he advanced but little. Whilst wandering on in this slow manner, they were again surprised, and Elizabeth's astonishment was quite equal to what it had been at first, by the sight of Mr. Darcy approaching them, and at no great distance. The walk being here less sheltered than on the other side, allowed them to see him before they met. Elizabeth, however astonished, was at least more prepared for an interview than before, and resolved to appear and to speak with calmness, if he really intended to meet them. For a few moments, indeed, she felt that he would probably strike into some other path. This idea lasted while a turning in the walk concealed him from their view; the turning past, he was immediately before them. With a glance she saw that he had lost none of his recent civility; and, to imitate his politeness, she began, as they met, to admire the beauty of the place; but she had not got beyond the words "delightful," and "charming," when some unlucky recollections obtruded, and she fancied that praise of Pemberley from her might be mischievously construed. Her colour changed, and she said no more.
Mrs. Gardiner was standing a little behind; and on her pausing, he asked her if she would do him the honour of introducing him to her friends. This was a stroke of civility for which she was quite unprepared; and she could hardly suppress a smile at his being now seeking the acquaintance of some of those very people against whom his pride had revolted, in his offer to herself. "What will be his surprise," thought she, "when he knows who they are! He takes them now for people of fashion."
The introduction, however, was immediately made; and as she named their relationship to herself, she stole a sly look at him, to see how he bore it; and was not without the expectation of his decamping as fast as he could from such disgraceful companions. That he was surprised by the connexion was evident; he sustained it however with fortitude, and so far from going away, turned back with them, and entered into conversation with Mr. Gardiner. Elizabeth could not but be pleased, could not but triumph. It was consoling that he should know she had some relations for whom there was no need to blush. She listened most attentively to all that passed between them, and gloried in every expression, every sentence of her uncle, which marked his intelligence, his taste, or his good manners.
The conversation soon turned upon fishing, and she heard Mr. Darcy invite him, with the greatest civility, to fish there as often as he chose while he continued in the neighbourhood, offering at the same time to supply him with fishing tackle, and pointing out those parts of the stream where there was usually most sport. Mrs. Gardiner, who was walking arm in arm with Elizabeth, gave her a look expressive of her wonder. Elizabeth said nothing, but it gratified her exceedingly; the compliment must be all for herself. Her astonishment, however, was extreme; and continually was she repeating, "Why is he so altered? From what can it proceed? It cannot be for me, it cannot be for my sake that his manners are thus softened. My reproofs at Hunsford could not work such a change as this. It is impossible that he should still love me."
After walking some time in this way, the two ladies in front, the two gentlemen behind, on resuming their places after descending to the brink of the river for the better inspection of some curious water-plant, there chanced to be a little alteration. It originated in Mrs. Gardiner, who, fatigued by the exercise of the morning, found Elizabeth's arm inadequate to her support, and consequently preferred her husband's. Mr. Darcy took her place by her niece, and they walked on together. After a short silence, the lady first spoke. She wished him to know that she had been assured of his absence before she came to the place, and accordingly began by observing that his arrival had been very unexpected -- "for your housekeeper," she added, "informed us that you would certainly not be here till to-morrow; and indeed, before we left Bakewell we understood that you were not immediately expected in the country." He acknowledged the truth of it all; and said that business with his steward had occasioned his coming forward a few hours before the rest of the party with whom he had been travelling. "They will join me early tomorrow," he continued, "and among them are some who will claim an acquaintance with you, -- Mr. Bingley and his sisters."
Elizabeth answered only by a slight bow. Her thoughts were instantly driven back to the time when Mr. Bingley's name had been last mentioned between them; and if she might judge from his complexion, his mind was not very differently engaged.
"There is also one other person in the party," he continued after a pause, "who more particularly wishes to be known to you, -- Will you allow me, or do I ask too much, to introduce my sister to your acquaintance during your stay at Lambton?"
The surprise of such an application was great indeed; it was too great for her to know in what manner she acceded to it. She immediately felt that whatever desire Miss Darcy might have of being acquainted with her must be the work of her brother, and without looking farther, it was satisfactory; it was gratifying to know that his resentment had not made him think really ill of her.
They now walked on in silence; each of them deep in thought. Elizabeth was not comfortable; that was impossible; but she was flattered and pleased. His wish of introducing his sister to her was a compliment of the highest kind. They soon outstripped the others, and when they had reached the carriage, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner were half a quarter of a mile behind.
He then asked her to walk into the house -- but she declared herself not tired, and they stood together on the lawn. At such a time, much might have been said, and silence was very awkward. She wanted to talk, but there seemed an embargo on every subject. At last she recollected that she had been travelling, and they talked of Matlock and Dove Dale with great perseverance. Yet time and her aunt moved slowly -- and her patience and her ideas were nearly worn out before the tête-à-tête was over. On Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner's coming up, they were all pressed to go into the house and take some refreshment; but this was declined, and they parted on each side with the utmost politeness. Mr. Darcy handed the ladies into the carriage, and when it drove off, Elizabeth saw him walking slowly towards the house.
The observations of her uncle and aunt now began; and each of them pronounced him to be infinitely superior to any thing they had expected. "He is perfectly well behaved, polite, and unassuming," said her uncle.
"There is something a little stately in him to be sure," replied her aunt, "but it is confined to his air, and is not unbecoming. I can now say with the housekeeper, that though some people may call him proud, I have seen nothing of it."
"I was never more surprised than by his behaviour to us. It was more than civil; it was really attentive; and there was no necessity for such attention. His acquaintance with Elizabeth was very trifling."
"To be sure, Lizzy," said her aunt, "he is not so handsome as Wickham; or rather he has not Wickham's countenance, for his features are perfectly good. But how came you to tell us that he was so disagreeable?"
Elizabeth excused herself as well as she could; said that she had liked him better when they met in Kent than before, and that she had never seen him so pleasant as this morning.
"But perhaps he may be a little whimsical in his civilities," replied her uncle. "Your great men often are; and therefore I shall not take him at his word about fishing, as he might change his mind another day, and warn me off his grounds."
Elizabeth felt that they had entirely mistaken his character, but said nothing.
"From what we have seen of him," continued Mrs. Gardiner, "I really should not have thought that he could have behaved in so cruel a way by any body, as he has done by poor Wickham. He has not an ill-natured look. On the contrary, there is something pleasing about his mouth when he speaks. And there is something of dignity in his countenance, that would not give one an unfavourable idea of his heart. But to be sure, the good lady who shewed us the house did give him a most flaming character! I could hardly help laughing aloud sometimes. But he is a liberal master, I suppose, and that in the eye of a servant comprehends every virtue."
Elizabeth here felt herself called on to say something in vindication of his behaviour to Wickham; and therefore gave them to understand, in as guarded a manner as she could, that by what she had heard from his relations in Kent, his actions were capable of a very different construction; and that his character was by no means so faulty, nor Wickham's so amiable, as they had been considered in Hertfordshire. In confirmation of this, she related the particulars of all the pecuniary transactions in which they had been connected, without actually naming her authority, but stating it to be such as might be relied on.
Mrs. Gardiner was surprised and concerned; but as they were now approaching the scene of her former pleasures, every idea gave way to the charm of recollection; and she was too much engaged in pointing out to her husband all the interesting spots in its environs to think of any thing else. Fatigued as she had been by the morning's walk, they had no sooner dined than she set off again in quest of her former acquaintance, and the evening was spent in the satisfactions of an intercourse renewed after many years discontinuance.
The occurrences of the day were too full of interest to leave Elizabeth much attention for any of these new friends; and she could do nothing but think, and think with wonder, of Mr. Darcy's civility, and above all, of his wishing her to be acquainted with his sister.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Works of Charlotte Lennox - Part 2: The Female Quixote

"Alphonsine" did not do. We were disgusted in twenty pages, as, independent of a bad translation, it has indelicacies which disgrace a pen hitherto so pure; and we changed it for the "Female Quixotte," which now makes our evening amusement; to me a very high one, as I find the work quite equal to what I remembered it. Mrs. F. A., to whom it is new, enjoys it as one could wish; the other Mary, I believe, has little pleasure from that or any other book. - Jane Austen to Cassandra Austen, 1807

The best known and most celebrated of Lennox's works, The Female Quixote: or, The Adventures of Arabella is the story of the daughter of a reclusive Marquis. In all but one aspect she is feminine perfection personified, more beautiful and brilliant than all around her:
Nature had indeed given her a most charming Face, a Shape easy and delicate, a sweet and insinuating  Voice, and an Air so full of Dignity and Grace, as drew the Admiration of all that saw her. These native Charms were improved with all the Heightenings of Art; her Dress was perfectly magnificent; the best Masters of Music and Dancing were sent for from London to attend her. She soon became a perfect Mistress of the French and Italian Languages, under the Care of her Father; and it is not to be doubted, but she would have made a great Proficiency in all useful Knowlege, had not her whole Time been taken up by another Study. 
Arabella's comic failing is that she believes the romantic novels she adores are based on reality (yes, we'll get to Northanger soon). Never having entered the world, we can forgive her this foible, but perhaps not the father who never corrected the unfortunate misconception. That man's death and the arrival of a cousin, Mr. Glanville, occasion the beginning of Arabella's emergence into society. Though he sees and laments how ridiculous she is, Mr. Glanville falls in love with Arabella's beauty and nobility. First he must earn her regard through those acts of valiantly, loyalty, and perseverance which Arabella deems necessary for courtship, then he must take her into the world to try and excuse, hide, and rectify her absurdities as best he can. It is a long slough through the course of which the hero undergoes such degradation as to make it difficult to maintain respect for the man.

The text is dominated by long speeches by Arabella recounting the feats of the heroes and heroines of old whose behavior she reveres and strives to emulate. Here is one in which she chides Glanville, who is often subjected to her lectures:
But Repentance ought to precede Reformation, replied Arabella; otherwise, there is great room to suspect it is only feigned: And a sincere Repentance shews itself in such visible Marks, that one can hardly be deceived in that which is genuine. I have read of many indiscreet Lovers, who not succeeding in their Addresses, have pretended to repent, and acted as you do; that is, without giving any Signs of Contrition for the Fault they had committed, have eat and slept well, never lost their Colour, or grew one bit thinner, by their Sorrow; but contented themselves with saying they repented; and, without changing their Disposition to renew their Fault, only concealed their Intention, for fear of losing any favourable Opportunity of committing it again: But true Repentance, as I was saying, not only produces Reformation, but the Person who is possessed of it voluntarily punishes himself for the Faults he has been guilty of. Thus Mazares, deeply  repenting of the Crime his Passion for the divine Mandana had forced him to commit; as a Punishment,  obliged himself to follow the Fortune of his glorious Rival; obey all his Commands; and, fighting under his Banners, assist him to gain the Possession of his adored Mistress. Such a glorious Instance of Self-denial was, indeed, a sufficient Proof of his Repentance; and infinitely more convincing than the Silence he imposed upon himself with respect to his Passion.  
Oroondates, to punish himself for his Presumption, in daring to tell the admirable Statira, that he loved her, resolved to die, to expiate his Crime; and, doubtless, would have done so, if his fair Mistress, at the Intreaty of her Brother, had not commanded him to live. 
This goes on for hundreds and hundreds of pages. A man pays Arabella a compliment and she, thinking he has fallen helplessly in love with her,  banns him forever from her presence. Witnessing an altercation between a man and his female companion, Arabella assumes she is a foreign princess held captive against her will. Thinking a passing carriage might be an abductor, she throws herself into an icy river and nearly drowns. And so on. And so on. And yet so on. O.K. the river scene was pretty funny, but struggle as I might I cannot find what joy Austen found in this text. Inspiration ... that's a different story. Clearly the plot of Northanger Abbey incorporates themes from The Female Quixote. Both feature women who are led astray by the influence of reading: Arabella by Renaissance romance and Catherine Morland by Gothic novels. Though Lennox's characters are caricatures compared to Austen's highly developed creations, comparisons between them are easy to draw: both heroines led by their reading to commit an indiscretion, both heroes are sarcastic and have sisters who are pivotal to the plot, everybody goes to Bath, and both stories feature treacherous friends. Yet the difference are far more obvious than the similarities. Catherine Morland doesn't scoff at reality like, even if her imagination does run away with her. It is when she sees evidence of Mr. Thorpe's unpleasantness and Isabella's perfidy that she abandons them, and not before such proofs of unworthiness. When caught in her great indiscretion - sneaking into the late Mrs. Tilney's room - Catherine reforms her ways instead of stubbornly persisting in folly. She is in this the antithesis of Arabella in her behavior, as she is in her simple origins and lack of achievement. The gentlemen, too, are opposites. One cannot imagine Mr. Tilney degrading himself as Mr. Glanville does. If the influence of Lennox is to be felt on Northanger it must be interpreted as a critique, not on homage, for Lennox is guilty of precisely what Austen derides in her famous defense of the novel in chapter five: "I will not adopt that ungenerous and impolitic custom so common with novel-writers, of degrading by their contemptuous censure the very performances, to the number of which they are themselves adding." 

I was sorry to find The Female Quixote almost painful to read. It began well enough, and much as I expected, but as Arabella's foolishness was exposed and mocked over and over and over it ceased to be humorous or absurd and just became tedious. The farther I read, the more I wondered what compelled Lennox to write it. Obviously, the book is a parody of Don Quixote, but why create a woman as foolish as Arabella and then use her as a vehicle to criticize your own work? Lennox's other books all depict realities in which Arabella's supposed nonsense would fit right in, so who is she censuring but herself, just as Austen accuses? The great irony, as noted in Part One, is that many of the outlandish adventures Lennox's heroines endure are based on the author's real life experiences! The multitude of questions this text provokes makes it ideal for academic dissection, but it can't do much for the casual reader. Maybe if you really love Don Quixote, and I admit to knowing quite a few people who do, but the unsuspecting Janeite might want to think twice before following this particular recommendation from our beloved authoress. Maybe I'll save a few lucky souls from enduring the torture of reading this tomb (there are NINE volumes). Lennox's other works are better reads and more worth the effort.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Madness of Mr. Darcy at Austenesque Reviews

There is a guest post about some of the characters from Austen's other novels that appear in The Madness of Mr. Darcy at the fabulous Austenesque Reviews along with a giveaway! Don't miss it!

I've been rather busy lately and as usual it is my blog that suffers. Look for more Being Mrs. Bennet soon (it is almost done!). I also haven't forgotten Francis Hodgson Burnet and Charlotte Lennox. I cannot say when the next posts in those series will appear. Before the end of the year? Honestly, between NaNoWriMo bearing down on me like a steam engine and all my other commitments, it is hard to predict what will and wont get done. How about a few final quarter writing/blogging goals?

  1. Have an awesome Twisted Austen with Becoming Mrs. Norris. Posts start the 25th.
  2. Write 50,000 words of The Prodigal Husband, my first non-austenesque, regency romance 
  3. Finish Being Mrs. Bennet
  4. Write a much requested short sequel to The Madness of Mr. Darcy, a Christmas gift to my readers.
Those are the main items. We'll see what else gets done. There are, of course, my real life commitments too. Case in point, the guessing game for the school book fair. How many gemstones so you see?

If Cinderella & Elsa were roommates ...
Constructed entirely of cardboard & hot glue
And many many plastic gemstones.
Little secret passageway 
Just had to share.

Makes a cozy reading nook

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Madness of Mr. Darcy at My Jane Austen Book Club!

There is an excerpt and giveaway - a paperback and international ebook - of The Madness of Mr. Darcy at My Jane Austen Book Club! Is this the first paperback I've given away on a blog so far? No, the second, but there haven't been many. Usually I giveaway a bunch of copies here when my books release, but I've been so busy this time that it hasn't happened. There will be several more opportunities to win it, however, during Twisted Austen. Come spend Halloween with Aunt Norris and me. The fun (?) starts October 25th!

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Madness of Mr. Darcy on Austenprose!

I'm very excited to announce that there is an excerpt from The Madness of Mr. Darcy at Austenprose! Laurel Ann Nattress has been amazingly supportive of the past few years as I've struggled to find my voice and become a better writer, but this is the first time one of my books has been featured on her blog. I'm honored! Please stop by and leave a comment:

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Review of The Madness of Mr. Darcy at The Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell

Please take a moment to check out the review of The Madness of Mr. Darcy posted today at The Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell. In summation: "I enjoyed it immensely." Yeah!

Probably no Being Mrs, Bennet this week as I am all wrapped up with trying to finish Becoming Mrs. Norris (even I'm confused with the two titles).  Look for her next week when Elizabeth finally lands at Pemberley, and Mrs. Norris will be the feature for Twisted Austen this year, the last week leading up to Halloween. Don't miss it! Lots of giveaways!