Friday, June 14, 2019

Mirrors of the Mind, Part Two









Reposted from Austen Authors

Imagine, if you can, that you have never read Pride & Prejudice, never saw a film version, and never heard of Mr. Darcy. It's an exercise in which I constantly engage, and still it is incredibly difficult. I first read the book almost 30 years ago, when I was twelve or thirteen, and am so familiar with the story that any memory of my first impressions of it are largely buried beneath the weight of countless rereads and endless analysis, but I do remember being completely floored when Mr. Darcy proposed to Elizabeth. I saw he had some interest in her, but did not think (especially not only halfway through the novel) that he would find her an acceptable wife. Having embraced all of Elizabeth's prejudices, my astonishment was, like hers, "beyond expression."


As argued in my last post, Austen utilizes accepted contemporary notions of physiognomy, the "art" of determining a person's internal attributes by assessing their exterior, to manipulate the expectations of her readers while simultaneously providing a potent critique of of the pseudoscience. Appearances are deceptive. Character should be determined by actions, never a person's words, smiles, and polished manners alone. This is the dominant theme of Pride and Prejudice, which Austen originally titled First Impressions. Do not trust them, the authoress urges us, and she proves her point by playing upon physiognomical assumptions.
"Poor Wickham; there is such an expression of goodness in his countenance! such an openness and gentleness in his manner."  
"There certainly was some great mismanagement in the education of those two young men. One has got all the goodness, and the other all the appearance of it."

Let's juxtapose Darcy and Wickham. Superficially, they are equally endowed. Both are handsome, were reared in the same environment, and received the same education. It is their deportment (and financial circumstances) they they distinguish themselves from the other. Wickham is relaxed and comfortable, while Darcy is rigid and off-putting. Physiognomy judges not merely a person's physical attributes, but also how their eyes move, the rapidity of their movements, the modulation of their voice, their intensity of expression: all were considered representative of the internal state. A person's social discomfort could be interpreted as a reflection of some moral or mental failing, while easy manners might be presumed the result of a person's honesty.

This dichotomy between the two men is established when each is introduced. First their appearances are discussed, both favorably, but it is their manners that determine how they are perceived by their new acquaintances. Here is where we first meet Darcy:
[Mr. Bingley's] brother-in-law, Mr. Hurst, merely looked the gentleman; but his friend Mr. Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien; and the report which was in general circulation within five minutes after his entrance, of his having ten thousand a year. The gentlemen pronounced him to be a fine figure of a man, the ladies declared he was much handsomer than Mr. Bingley, and he was looked at with great admiration for about half the evening, till his manners gave a disgust which turned the tide of his popularity; for he was discovered to be proud, to be above his company, and above being pleased; and not all his large estate in Derbyshire could then save him from having a most forbidding, disagreeable countenance, and being unworthy to be compared with his friend.

When the people of Meryton hear disparaging information about Darcy, it is because he has already behaved disagreeably that they are so quick to believe it, particularly because their source seems so trustworthy.
[Wickham's] appearance was greatly in his favour; he had all the best part of beauty -- a fine countenance, a good figure, and very pleasing address. The introduction was followed up on his side by a happy readiness of conversation -- a readiness at the same time perfectly correct and unassuming ...
Repeatedly, Mr. Wickham is described as not merely charming, but as a man whose appearance professes his integrity. He looks like a good man. After reading Mr. Darcy's letter, Elizabeth reflects, "His countenance, voice, and manner had established him at once in the possession of every virtue." While care in judging character based on appearance alone is a theme in all of Austen's novels, this is probably her most transparent and decisive disproval of physiognomy. Had she not led us into the trap of using the conventions of physiognomy to judge character in the first place, she could not have so thoroughly proven her point.


To return to this notion of imaging you know nothing of the plot of Pride and Prejudice, try to rediscover the shock of Mr. Darcy's letter. As unexpected as his proposal was, it is Wickham's trespasses that are the true bombshell. We can far more easily believe good of Mr. Darcy (after all, he is equally handsome, and has given us no additional reason to feel offended since his opening salvo), but that Wickham should be so morally deficient is almost incredible. Elizabeth's struggle to accept the truth mirrors our own, and we are all forced to reconcile with the folly of our assumptions.
It would be remiss of me to not mention the less dramatic, though equally poignant, example of being led astray by physiognomy that occurs in Mr. Darcy's letter. He writes of the ball at Netherfield:
Your sister I also watched. -- Her look and manners were open, cheerful, and engaging as ever, but without any symptom of peculiar regard, and I remained convinced from the evening's scrutiny, that though she received his attentions with pleasure, she did not invite them by any participation of sentiment. ... the serenity of your sister's countenance and air was such as might have given the most acute observer a conviction that, however amiable her temper, her heart was not likely to be easily touched.


Oh, the vanity (or should I say pride?) of believing one can know another's heart and mind through mere observation! Mr. Darcy does great harm to both Jane and Bingley in his cold assessment of their emotional states. He was very wrong to assume he could know Jane's feelings based on an evening's worth of sporadic observation. To understand a person's character, a variety of information is required. Austen does not suggest ignoring appearances, but rather urges us to also consider a litany of other variables: reputation, financial conduct, consistency of opinion, and, above all, whether a person's words and actions correspond. Had Elizabeth attended to Wickham's inconsistent statements regarding his respect for the Darcy name, rather than indulging in the flattery of his attention, she might have been on her guard against him from their very first evening in company together.

I should like to think that I will return to this subject for one more post, but summer vacation (finally!) begins for my daughter the same day as I'm next scheduled, and the prospects seem slight that I will find the time to properly devote to it between now and then. I'm more likely to provide something lighthearted and easy, as my brain will be shot for anything else, but perhaps part three will manifest itself later this summer or in the fall. Please let me know if you're interested in more of this analysis. It would be a great motivator. Thanks for reading!

Friday, May 17, 2019

Mirrors of the Mind, Part One

Reposted from Austen Authors.


His countenance, voice, and manner had established him at once in the possession of every virtue. She tried to recollect some instance of goodness, some distinguished trait of integrity or benevolence, that might rescue him from the attacks of Mr. Darcy; or at least, by the predominance of virtue, atone for those casual errors, under which she would endeavour to class what Mr. Darcy had described as the idleness and vice of many years continuance. But no such recollection befriended her. She could see him instantly before her, in every charm of air and address; but she could remember no more substantial good than the general approbation of the neighbourhood, and the regard which his social powers had gained him in the mess. - Pride and Prejudice
Though they may not be aware of it, readers of 19th century literature are inevitably familiar with the theory of physiognomy: the notion that a person's character can be assessed through their external appearance. Authors of the period almost invariably utilize the practice to delineate their characters, and Jane Austen is no exception, even as her physical descriptions of characters are notoriously brief. I'm particularly cognizant when physiognomical depictions creep into my reading, in no small part due to my research into psychiatric practices of the time (please refer to my novel, The Madness of Mr. Darcy), which relied heavily on appearance to diagnose disorder. I could name countless instances in Austen novels that rely on the theory. What more need we know about John Thorpe or Sir Walter Elliot than what we learn immediately upon introduction? However, I also believe that if there is one message that remains constant throughout all of her works, it is that appearance can be deceiving and actions speak louder than words. How do we reconcile this seeming contradiction?


First, I think we need to keep in mind how very wide spread the theory of physiognomy was in the late 18th century, when Austen wrote her earliest novels. The idea dates back to Classical Greece and has ebbed and surged it's way through Western philosophy ever since. It's revival in the 18th century is largely due to the writings of Johann Kasper Lavater, a Swiss pastor and poet affiliated with the early Romantics, whose writings on physiognomy in the 1770's were published in German, French, and English. His theories became so mainstream as to become part of everyday parlance, so that even a critic of physiognomy would very likely still utilize its conventions.

I believe that this is exactly what Austen does, providing physiognomical depictions of certain characters and then actively undermining them. The most obvious examples of this are Willoughby and Wickham. Both are charming men with the appearance of goodness, whose subsequent actions reveal how very despicable they really are. This is a tool Austen utilizes in every one of her books. Look at characters like Mary Crawford, Frank Churchill, and Mr. Elliot: all are possessed of an external appearance that hides the corruption of their interiors. There are certainly also abundant examples of Austen characters whose exteriors perfectly mirror their souls, but Austen teaches us not to trust first impressions. We must wait until a person's behavior reveals the truth behind their intentions.

Jane Austen's Lady Susan Love and FriendshipThe topic is much in my thoughts having just finished rereading Lady Susan (by the way, if you haven't read it before or are planning to again, our read-along of the novel a few years ago is an excellent accompaniment. Find it at The Writer's Block forum). Written in the mid-1790s when Austen was not yet twenty, this short epistolary novel relies on a subversion of physiognomy to drive its plot. We don't have a description of the title character until six letters into the story, but her true character has already been laid bare. She is a conniving, unfeeling, and immoral woman, bent on indulging herself at the expense of others, including her only child, Frederica. Though she has never met her sister-in-law, with whom Lady Susan comes to stay, Mrs. Vernon and her relations know enough of their guest to think the very worst of her. Mrs. Vernon's brother, Mr. De Courcy, writes of Lady Susan in the most scathing terms and yet yearns to see her, much like some oddity on display in a circus side show. Despite his firm prejudice against her, he totally succumbs to her charm. Mrs. Vernon is not as easily deceived. When she finally meets Lady Susan, we finally receive the following description of her:
Well, my dear Reginald, I have seen this dangerous creature, and must give you some description of her, though I hope you will soon be able to form your own judgment. She is really excessively pretty; however you may choose to question the allurements of a lady no longer young, I must, for my own part, declare that I have seldom seen so lovely a woman as Lady Susan. She is delicately fair, with fine grey eyes and dark eyelashes; and from her appearance one would not suppose her more than five and twenty, though she must in fact be ten years older. I was certainly not disposed to admire her, though always hearing she was beautiful; but I cannot help feeling that she possesses an uncommon union of symmetry, brilliancy, and grace. Her address to me was so gentle, frank, and even affectionate, that, if I had not known how much she has always disliked me for marrying Mr. Vernon, and that we had never met before, I should have imagined her an attached friend. One is apt, I believe, to connect assurance of manner with coquetry, and to expect that an impudent address will naturally attend an impudent mind; at least I was myself prepared for an improper degree of confidence in Lady Susan; but her countenance is absolutely sweet, and her voice and manner winningly mild. I am sorry it is so, for what is this but deceit? Unfortunately, one knows her too well. She is clever and agreeable, has all that knowledge of the world which makes conversation easy, and talks very well, with a happy command of language, which is too often used, I believe, to make black appear white. She has already almost persuaded me of her being warmly attached to her daughter, though I have been so long convinced to the contrary. She speaks of her with so much tenderness and anxiety, lamenting so bitterly the neglect of her education, which she represents however as wholly unavoidable, that I am forced to recollect how many successive springs her ladyship spent in town, while her daughter was left in Staffordshire to the care of servants, or a governess very little better, to prevent my believing what she says.
Lady Susan's appearance is entirely deceptive, and Mrs. Vernon is only safe from her guest's enchantment because she has prior knowledge that guards against its influence. She provides the story with its conscience, coming the closest to the narrative voice we are accustomed to in an Austen novel, and anticipating the discernment of heroines like Elinor Dashwood and Fanny Price, who perceive the faults behind a charming exterior even while those closest to them are blinded by it. Sense and Sensibility is an excellent example of Austen's ability to subvert our expectations using physiognomy, as not only are the charming revealed to be sinister (Willoughby), but also the vulgar prove themselves steadfast friends (Mrs. Jennings). Austen further explores this paradigm in Pride and Prejudice, tweaking it with romance, and producing the perfection that is Mr. Darcy. As this is where my analysis gets increasingly complex, I shall abandon it for today and resume the discussion later. I must say how great it feels to be working an essay, even if in fits and starts. My children leave me little time for such pursuits these days. Thanks for reading!

Friday, January 25, 2019

This is a repost from Austen Authors: https://austenauthors.net/the-rice-portrait-of-jane-austen/.

How clearly I recall writing this blog post in March of 2011. I was six months pregnant with my daughter and spent the bulk of the morning at a lab getting my second glucose test for gestational diabetes. I whiled away the hungry hours devouring the new evidence that Jane Odiwe, author, artist, and friend, had brought to my attention concerning the authenticity of the Rice portrait. For decades, experts have debated whether the portrait is or is not of Jane Austen, the crux of the naysayers' argument relying on both the date of the portrait and a lack of proof of provenance. Would Jane Austen have been young enough to be the sitter, and why, if it is Austen, is there no mention of the portrait by her descendants for almost 100 years after it was painted? Some of the biggest names in Austen scholarship stand on opposite sides of the fence on this issue, but I have always wanted so very much to believe it is a portrait of Jane. My complete bias now on the table, you can imagine my excitement (possibly aided by glucose overload - turns out I did have GD) that early spring morning in 2011, as I delightedly detailed the history of the controversy and presented the new evidence that the painter was Ozias Humphry and not Johan Zoffany, as previously believed. I was too busy with new parenthood to properly follow up a few years later when new, high image photographs revealed a date on the canvas of seventeen eighty something (Claudia Johnson had already said it was proof of authenticity in this article, so what more could I really add, anyway?). Happy to live in a world where I knew just what my favorite author looked like, I proceeded through the next several years content the matter was closed, even as the National Portrait Gallery continued to stubbornly refuse to authenticate the portrait. So it was with chagrin and abject disappointment that I read on another March morning in 2017 the Financial Times article that discredited the portrait. My emotions were something like Elizabeth Bennet's in reaction to Mr. Darcy's letter: at first I refused to believe it, but gradually the truth took hold. There was stamp on the back of the Rice portrait that proved the canvass had to be made after 1800. I rushed over www.janeaustenriceportrait.com, where the Rice family keeps the world informed about their quest to authenticate the portrait, and saw their inability to reply to this blow with dismay. It was like a dear friend had died.

Since that day, I have come to accept that I love the portrait regardless of the sitter's identity. It can still represent my idealized image of who Austen was, even if it isn't actually her. Then yesterday I read this headline from The Guardian: Jane Austen? Family says note establishes disputed portrait's identity. By the time I reached the end of the article, hope had blossomed anew.

Even without any relevance to the Rice portrait controversy, the discovery of a previously unknown note by Fanny Caroline Lefroy, Austen's great-niece, would create buzz in the Janeite community, but the fact that this note explicitly establishes the provenance of the Rice Portrait makes it a bombshell. The handwriting matches Lefroy's, of which there are many existent examples. It was somehow, seemingly miraculously, suddenly found in Austen's writing desk.

Now, some of this feels just a bit too convenient. However was the note overlooked for so long? I'd like to see testing done on the paper to establish its age. There is a lot of information missing, but nevertheless, the claim is absolutely tantalizing. It certainly calls into question the dating of the stamp. Another explanation will need to be provided for its existence, but if it can be rationally accounted for, pressure for the National Gallery to finally recognize the portrait (and hopefully acquire it, saving it from its current fate in a storage locker) will certainly increase. What that would do to the value of the beloved but inadequate portrait by Cassandra Austen, currently the only verified portrait of her face, is an interesting question, as well as how that consideration might influence the NPG's position.

Also worth noting is that the authentication of the Rice portrait may have implications for another, unverified portrait, the knowledge of which is confined to a photograph in a Christie's catalog from an estate sale at Godmersham Park in 1983, its current whereabouts being unknown. You can read more about it in that original blog post from 2011, but the long and short of it is is that this could be a portrait of the Austen family. If so, Jane is the very young girl, positioned third from the left. Bears something of a resemblance to the girl in the Rice portrait, doesn't she?

You can see a much better image of the restored Rice portrait at the family's website: http://www.janeaustenriceportrait.com/latest-news/4581084461. It's gorgeous!

Friday, November 30, 2018

NaNoWriMo 2018 Winner!

I can't believe I did it! It was a very close call this year, and while I logged over 50,000 words, I did not get anywhere close to my personal goal of 150,000. Oh well. The project is now shelved until 2019. It's party time!


Friday, November 9, 2018

Twisted Austen Winners Announced

Thanks so much to everyone who read Young Wickham and entered the giveaway! The book will remain available on this blog just a few weeks more, at which time I will remove it. The story can now be purchased at Amazon.

Without further ado, the two grand winners are:

Patty Edmisson and Glynis

Both will receive a set of decorative clothes pins and ebooks of all the Twisted Austen stories, including Young Wickham.

The two runners up are:

Randi Chance and Deborah Ann

Each will receive a Young Wickham ebook.

Thanks so much to everyone. I will be in touch with the winners soon. I am sorry I wasn't better about replying to everyone's comments. I read them all, it's just that life is terribly busy at the moment (and that's before NaNoWriMo). Happy but hectic. I wish you all beautiful Novembers.


Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Young Wickham: Part Eight

PART ONE / PART TWO / PART THREE / PART FOUR / PART FIVE / PART SIX / PART SEVEN

When Mr. Darcy, Mrs. Darcy, and Mr. Bingley entered upon the scene, having been belatedly alerted to Mrs. Norton’s ailment, the drawing room was yet a scene of chaos. Their appearance had the helpful effect of silencing the many children clamoring around the sofa upon which she lay, her head in Mrs. Bingley’s lap. They parted before their elders like the Red Sea.

“What is wrong? What has happened?” Mrs. Darcy cried, kneeling down beside her sister and feeling for her pulse.

“She ran into the house screaming she had been shot!” Mrs. Bingley said in a shaky voice. “Yet there is no blood.”

Mrs. Darcy began inspecting her sister’s form for injury and Mr. Darcy ordered, “Miss Lee! Miss Jones! Please remove your charges from the room!” The children, suddenly compliant, were quickly ushered out the door, while Edmund approached his father and pulled him aside.

Tom signaled to Mark and George to follow the others, and the three had almost escaped when Mr. Darcy, still beside Edmund, pointed an accusing finger their way and said, “Not you three!"

The boys turned reluctantly around and slowly walked back across the room.

“Edmund believes you may know something of what has befallen your aunt,” he said sternly, looking to his eldest. “I am waiting for you to enlighten me, Tom.”

“We were just in the woods by the lawn,” he smoothly replied. “We came in when we heard Aunt Norton hollering, like everyone else. I don’t know why Edmund should think we have any more information than any of the others.”

Mr. Darcy looked at both Mark and George, neither of whom could hide their guilt as well as Tom, and sighed miserably. He knew not when his son had become such an accomplished liar, but the realization that he was tore at his heart. “Mark? George? What have you to say for yourselves.” Neither boy replied, both staring downward in shame. Mr. Darcy looked again to his son, who confidently met his eye. “Are you lying to me, Tom?”

Tom dropped his gaze and assumed an attitude of repentance. “I am sorry, Father.”

“Tell me what happened.”

“George did not mean any harm,” he quickly said, “I am sure he did not.”

“Me?” George exclaimed in alarm.

“George is not to blame,” Mark spoke up. “It was our idea. He warned us it was a poor one, but we really did not mean to do Aunt Norton any harm.”

“Mark!” Tom exclaimed, his voice a warning.

“What did you do?” Mr. Darcy asked, the words seeming to come from someone else.

Mark swallowed hard, looked pleadingly at Tom, then back at Mr. Darcy. “Tom fired his slingshot across Aunt Norton’s path. He did not hit her. I swear it.”

His nephew’s admission was like a knife in Mr. Darcy’s side, slowly twisting as the full magnitude of what he was hearing sunk in. His son had played a dangerous prank, which was bad enough, but then he lied about it and tried to blame another. He must have thought his father would believe him over this new nephew, the son of his old nemesis. Never had Mr. Darcy felt more a failure, not even when Wickham nearly absconded with his sister, all those many years ago.

Mrs. Norton was beginning to rouse and moan. Mr. Darcy Looked to where his wife sat busily administering to her sister and was grateful she had been spared the burden of her son’s sins, at least temporarily. “Go to my study and wait for me there,” he ordered the three boys. “You too Edmund. I will be in to speak with you shortly.”

§§§

“You betrayed me, Mark!” Tom said as soon as they were in the privacy of Mr. Darcy’s study. “And you too, Edmund. How dare you!”

“How dare I?” Edmund, never one to raise his voice, nearly shouted. “How dare you! Where do you find the audacity, Tom? Have you no thought at all for the lives you endangered? Yes, lives! For you placed George’s life in threat today just as much as you did Aunt Norton’s. I am ashamed to call you brother.”

“You had best not speak so to me,” Tom growled. “I should be sorry to see another prospective rector of Kympton lose his livelihood.”

“It is not in your power to deprive me of my birthright, but it is within Father’s. Yours as well. If nothing else inspires you to contrition, I am certain losing your inheritance would.”

Tom had no reply to this, and for the first time seemed truly chastened.

“What did you mean by ‘another prospective rector of Kympton?’” Mark suddenly asked.

“My father was meant to have the living,” George explained. “Tom implies Uncle Darcy denied it to him, but it is not true. He accepted a cash settlement for the value of the living.”

“I don’t know how you know that,” Mr. Darcy’s voice interrupted the boys, who had not heard the door open. Mr. Bingley followed him into the room. “I am sure your father never told you.”

George blushed but faced his uncle and said, “No, my father spoke rather bitterly of the loss of the living, but long before I came here and met you I realized his version of events did not add up.”

“George has been snooping through old estate ledgers, Father,” Tom said.

“At your insistence,” Edmund appnded, earning him a violent glare from his brother.

Mr. Darcy sighed heavily and dropped into his chair. “Your aunt will recover, though she has suffered a severe shock. I hope all of you understand the seriousness of your actions. Had your thoughtless prank resulted in her death, you might have been held responsible before the law.” He paused to allow this notion to seep into their minds.

“I am very disappointed in you, Mark, to pull such a cruel trick,” Mr. Bingley said. “I must discuss with your mother how best to punish you, but I assure you it will be severe.”

“Yes, Papa,” Mark said. His face spoke his understanding, both showing fear of what might come and acknowledgement that whatever it was, he had earned it.

“Come along, your Uncle Darcy wishes to speak to the others alone.” Mark followed his father out of the room, looking back miserably at his cousins before shutting the door behind him.

“I do not even know where to begin.” Tom opened his mouth to offer a suggestion but an upheld hand stopped his tongue. “Much has been revealed in the past few moments, the severity of which is difficult to digest. Foolish pranks and invasions of privacy aside, we have disharmony between brothers, abuse of power, and deception with which to contend. In the end, the fault must be mine. Somehow, I have failed to instill a proper morality, and Elizabeth and I will have to do something to account for this neglect, but Tom: you must understand the severity of your actions! You are to be the Master of Pemberley someday! Countless people will be dependent on your good sense and honor. Today I fear you have revealed a character unfit for such a task.”

“I am sorry, Father,” he said. “For everything. It was stupid to lead the others in the stunt. I take full responsibility.”

Mr. Darcy’s eyes spoke his pain. “Now you say what you ought to have the moment I inquired. How do I know you do not speak only to appease me? Your first instinct was to evade responsibility for your actions.”

“I am sorry, Father,” Tom said again. “It was very wrong to blame George.”

“Yes, it was. Far worse than it would have been to have tried to put the blame on Mark, who is not in any way beholden to you. Have you apologized to George?”

Tom promptly turned to his cousin and extended his hand. “I am sorry, George. Have I your forgiveness?”

“Yes,” George relented for the second time that day and shook the proffered hand, though he could see no sincerity in Tom’s eyes.

“You will both make a full confession and apology to your Aunt Norris. I imagine she may be in need of a few days of rest to recover herself. You will offer to assist her while she convalesces with anything she requires.”

“Yes, sir,” Tom and George chorused in reply.

“I blush for you, Tom,” he said severely. “Based upon your recent actions, I feel it incumbent to remind you that you shall enact no vengeance upon either Edmund, Mark, and most certainly not George for what has occurred here today.”

“No, sir”.

“We will discuss your punishment further. Edmund, George, before you leave us, I want to clarify a few matters, that they need not be further pursued,” he paused thoughtfully. “Nearly twenty years ago, George’s father did indeed receive a payment from me for the value of the living at Kympton. He professed the intention of studying the law, which the funds provided should have easily covered. As you know, he ended up in a different career, and upon marriage received from me the purchase of an ensigncy in the Regulars, as a means of supporting his wife and future family. These dealings have no bearing on the fissure between myself and him, the reasons for which I trust cannot be found in any ledger. If you have any further questions on the matter, I invite you to ask them now.”

Edmund and George both shook their head in reply, while Tom managed to look as if he had never a care for the subject at all.  

“Very good. I trust the topic may now be permanently closed for discussion. Let me just say your father’s past is not your own, George. Despite your part in today’s outrage, your subsequent conduct reflects well on your character. You aunt and I are very happy to have you with us here at Pemberley.”

“Thank you, Uncle Darcy.”

“Now go. Tom and I have much to discuss.”

The boys left the young heir to his fate, closing the study door behind them.

§§§

Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery! I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore everybody, not greatly in fault themselves, to tolerable comfort, and to have done with all the rest.

Ten years following these events, Thomas Darcy attempted to jump an ominous hedge and broke his neck.

Darcy and Elizabeth, though heartbroken by his death, found solace in the knowledge that he did not suffer and even came to see the good of it in time. Their other children were constant sources of pride and their love for them and each other only grew in intensity throughout the years.

Mr. Norton proceeded Tom to the grave before Edmund was old enough to succeed him. Mrs. Norton left the rectory and took up possession of the far grander Dower House, where she discovered ailments of her own to fill the void the loss of her husband’s gout left in her conversation.

Mr. Carson and Miss Lee, once their services were no longer required by the Darcys, made a future for themselves together and had three very well-educated children to show for it.

The Bingleys lived a charmed existence, rarely touched by loss or grief. Mark studied engineering and invested heavily in the railroad, his private fortune one day outstripping that of all his other relations.

Edmund never did take orders but proved a superior landlord, ensuring the prosperity of Pemberley and all attached to it for generations to come. He spent his later years developing his love of painting and joined the Royal Academy, his works regularly featured in the Summer Exhibition.

The boys never did learn the extent of the elder Wickham’s betrayal of the Darcy family, though the younger George Wickham forever called Pemberley home, his bond with the Darcys solidified and the injuries of the past fully forgotten by the time he was old enough to wed Maria.

THE END

_________________________

 Twisted Austen Giveaway:

Stop by, read the story, and enter to win! Increase your chances of winning by leaving multiple comments (be sure to include you email address in at least one). At the end of the event (giveaway open through November 7th), I will randomly select two grand winners. Each will receive copies of all five Twisted Austen ebooks, including Young Wickham, plus a set (six each) of these adorable decorative clothes pins, purchased at my local grocery here in Switzerland. Two runners up will receive Young Wickham ebooks. What if you already have all the Twisted Austen books? Enter anyway. We'll work something out. This giveaway is open internationally. Extra entries for social media shares, but you must mention them in your comments for credit. Good luck to all who enter, thank you so much for reading, and have a very happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Young Wickham: Part Seven

PART ONE / PART TWO / PART THREE / PART FOUR / PART FIVE / PART SIX

George spent two hours that second day at Pemberley ensconced in the library, reading through entries made in a much younger Mr. Thompson’s hand. The next morning he continued the task before breakfast, attended his first lessons in Mr. Carson’s tutelage, and returned to the library later that day. This pattern continued on Friday, only interrupted when Aunt Lizzy insisted the boy accompany her to Lambton for some much needed new attire. By Saturday, as the family prepared for the arrival of the Bingleys, Mr. Wilcox reported to Mr. Darcy that Midnight had yet been ridden only once by her new master. When his nephew presented himself in the breakfast parlor, Mr. Darcy tasked him with this neglect.

“Is Midnight not to your liking, George?” he asked.

“Oh no, Uncle Darcy! She is magnificent horse. I am most grateful for the consideration you showed in selecting her for me.”

Mr. Darcy glanced at his wife in confusion. “Perhaps you are unaccustomed to having such an animal of your own, but you will need to take her out more regularly. She requires the exercise, and it is now your responsibility to see she gets it and benefit from the exertion yourself. You have no lessons today and our guests will not arrive until later. Join Tom and Edmund when they go out.”

It was George’s turn to glance uncertainly down the table, catching Tom’s eye.

“If my cousin wishes to remain indoors, Edmund can ride Midnight for George today.”

“And what of Hamlet?” Mr. Darcy questioned.

“Wilcox will see he gets some exercise.”

“Your generosity on your brother’s behalf notwithstanding,” Mr. Darcy replied dryly, looking at his eldest with some chagrin, “George must not shutter himself away in library all day long. A young man needs fresh air and activity. You will ride today,” he concluded with finality, speaking directly to George.

“Yes, sir,” came the somewhat meek reply.

“I understand your enthusiasm for the library, George,” Mrs. Darcy said. “When I first came to Pemberley, I too could lose myself in it for hours on end, but that was winter. You will have ample time to hide away in the months to come.”

“I like reading in the library, too,” Maria offered, “but there are many more interesting books there than those old ledgers, Cousin George.”

“Old ledgers?” Mr. Darcy questioned.

“Edmund brought them to my attention my first morning here,” George quickly explained. “They reveal much about the workings of the estate.”

“If you wish to know more of the estate, you would do better to attend Mr. Thompson in his rounds, a task that he performs on horseback, incidentally.”

“I should like that very much, Uncle Darcy.”

“I will arrange it for next week.”

When the meal concluded and the boys headed out towards the stables, Tom questioned George on his progress.

“Have you found anything yet?”

“Well, yes, in fact, I did. There are two entries listing payments made to my father in 1808. The first was a one thousand pound legacy stipulated in your grandfather’s will. The second, more interesting payment was for three thousand pounds.”

“That is a tidy sum of money. What was that for?” Tom eagerly asked.

“I am more curious to know what happened to it,” George said with a slight hint of bitterness, “The note said ‘in lieu of Kympton,’ nothing more.”

“Well! That is something! So my father paid him the value of the living? He must have decided not to take orders, and I cannot say that I blame him. T’would be a dull life for such a man. I think he must have been far better suited to a military career.”

“Perhaps,” George concurred, looking consciously at Edmund, “but I suspect it would have been a better life for his family. Besides, my father did not join the militia for several more years, just before he met my mother. She has told me countless times that when they were first introduced he did not yet have his uniform. All he required was a redcoat to become the most dashing man of her acquaintance.”

“I bet he squandered it gambling and whoring,” Tom replied with some glee.

George had no reply. He feared his cousin was all too correct.

Soon they arrived at the stables and were met by Mr. Wilcox. “Is it true that George’s father was intended for the living at Kympton?” Tom asked with little preamble.

“Aye, and a good thing it was too that Mr. Darcy refused to give it to ‘em. A worse rector ye’d be hard pressed to find.”

“Father refused him?” Edmund asked in surprise.

“We were under the impression that my father rejected the living and was compensated in kind,” George pressed.

“Aye, that he was. But then he turns up here again, a few years later when the old rector died, pestering Mr. Darcy for what he gave up all rights to, fair and square,” he shook his head disapprovingly.  “I’m not one to speak ill of the dead, but he was a bold one, yer father.”

Tom and George exchanged excited glances. “That must be when they cut ties,” the former commented. “Your father joined the militia instead and ran away with Aunt Lydia.”

George was taken aback. He had pieced the story of his parent’s betrothal together well enough, but he would never dare speak of it so openly.

“I’d told ye before, Master Tom, that the past is best left to itself. No good will come of ye pryin’ about in what don’t concern ye.”

“I have said the same, Mr. Wilcox, to no avail,” Edmund said grimly.

“Ye’d do well to heed yer brother, Master Tom,” Wilcox said ominously.  

Tom laughed off the warning. Once the boys were on their way he said, “You can have some more time in the library after tea today, George.”

“But the Bingleys will be here,” Edmund protested.

“When else is he to do it? Sunday is sure to be busy with church and all the family here, and Father has made it difficult for him to sneak off in the mornings. When you ride with Mr. Thompson next week, George, be sure to press him for information. I bet he knows it all.”

“I am not sure I wish to learn anymore,” George said reluctantly. “It makes sense that he and Uncle Darcy fought over the living and explains a great deal of my Father’s grievances.”

“I think there is more to it than that. Such a mundane squabble they would have overcome years ago. Something kept our families from contact until after your father’s death. You must want to know what it was!” Tom insisted. “How could you not? It is your birthright!”

George shook his head. “I did want to know, when I was worried that Uncle Darcy would never accept me, but now that he seems to have taken a liking to me, it seems wrong to pry. Besides, he has proven himself an exceedingly thoughtful and honorable man in my few days here.” He shook his head sadly. “I do not wish to know all the tawdry details of my father’s indiscretions.”

Edmund nodded. “Some information we are better off without.”

“So you are both content to let sleeping dogs lie,” Tom said grimly, surveying his two companions. “Well, so be it, then. Know that I think you both chicken-hearted.”

George felt the injustice of Tom’s words but yet was reluctant to stand up for himself against the domineering heir, even as his cousin’s brittle temperament cast a dark shadow on otherwise rosy prospects. Holding his tongue, he tried to forget his hurt in observation of the landscape, but before this salve had a chance to absorb Tom resumed his censure.

“I understand why you are afraid of what you might learn, George” he taunted. “Certainly you hoped your father was innocent all along and not the dastard we all know him to have been.”

“Badly done, Tom!” Edmund cried in outrage.

He shrugged. “I only speak the truth. Who would not wish to redeem their father’s sullied reputation, no matter how well deserved?”

“No matter the sins of my father,” George spoke in a terse, controlled voice, “they do not give you leave to besmirch his memory so. I shall have your apology.”

“Will you now?” Tom sneered. “And if I refuse, what will you do? Challenge me?”

The suddenly belligerent look in George’s eye suggested it was exactly that course of action he had in mind.

“Tom,” Edmund intervened, “apologize to my cousin. You must.”

“Very well,” Tom relented, adopting an affected manner and bowing dramatically. “I am sorry if Mr. Wickham’s honor was offended. Do accept my humble apology and be assured I shall never so trespass again.”

“Do be serious,” Edmund chided.

“I am serious!” Tom exclaimed. “Do you accept my apology, Cousin?”

George paused before conceding. “Yes.”

“There you have it! Everyone is satisfied,” and Tom turned the subject to what fun they would have once the Bingleys arrived.

§§§

All the family living at Pemberley and Mrs. Norton gathered on the steps of the house to greet the guests. Mrs. Darcy presented George to Mrs. Bingley with pride, and she quickly took the boy into her warm embrace, exclaiming on what she insisted was his uncanny resemblance to Lydia. Mr. Bingley shook his friend’s hand before likewise embracing George, asking about his horse, and generally endearing himself into the boy’s heart. Nearby a seemingly endless stream of Bingley cousins poured out of the three carriages required to transport them all. Tom, delighting in his reunion with Mark, was in great humor, and conducted George through the mass, making introductions with aplomb. A host of attendants soon had the unwieldy crew bustled indoors, and with remarkable efficiency attended to all the various needs and wants of the travelers. George was in awe of their skill, wondering if the assistance Mr. Darcy was sending to his mother would be equally competent. It would mean a vast improvement in the comfort of her household.

The eldest Bingley, Charles, and his next sister, Fanny, were content to sit and take tea with the adults, but all the rest of the youngsters except the very smallest, who had been dispatched to the nursery, were soon again outdoors. Games were organized, and George found himself a valued member of his new social group, proving his skill in both hiding, seeking, and cracking the whip. After having exhausted himself in such pursuits, George retreated from the others to lean against a nearby oak and rest. As his breathing quieted, he became aware of his name being called in a whisper from a nearby shrubbery. Following the sound, he found Tom and Mark hiding behind the foliage.

“Come with us, George!” Tom said. “Aunt Norton just left for Kympton on foot. Mama always offers her the use of a carriage, but she always declines even as she complains about the distance all the while.”

“’I think nothing of the inconvenience to myself,’” Mark mimicked in a high falsetto nothing like their aunt’s voice but no less hilarious to the three boys for its lack of resemblance.

“I am going to give her a fright that will make her think twice about walking alone from now on and spare us all her griping.”

“What do you plan to do?” George asked, and Tom held up a sling shot in response.

“I won’t hurt her. My aim is excellent. It will just unnerve her a bit. You have not yet seen my aunt in high hysterics. It is excellent sport,” Tom said as Mark nodded his concurrence.

“Let us go now before anyone sees us,” he said, leading the way off into the woods. Tom grabbed George by the wrist and pulled him along before he could register any further objection.

The boys forged a trail through the trees in order to cut off the path to Kympton. Soon after they concealed themselves behind a convenient boulder, they perceived the sounds of Mrs. Norton’s approach.

Tom rose from his concealment and took aim, firing his shot just in front of Aunt Norton’s nose and missing her by only a hair. The pebble ricocheted off a nearby tree with a loud bang and the lady screamed, promptly turning on her heels and fleeing back in the direction she came, tripping over her skirts as she went. Tom and Mark smothered their laughter as she ran, but George could find no amusement in the sight. She might have been severely injured, even killed, but when pressed by the others, he forced a smile. Tom and Mark were anxious to return to Pemberley and witness the fallout from their prank. George followed them, a sense of foreboding descending upon him with each step.

At Pemberley they found the house in uproar and the air pungent with the scent of the burnt feathers that Mrs. Bingley waved beneath Mrs. Norton’s nose, who was swooning upon an ornamental chair near the entryway. All the children were gathered around, eagerly ignoring the minders who futilely sought to remove them from the scene. A great deal of the staff had also assembled. Only Edmund saw the three stragglers enter. He approach them and said to Tom in an harsh whisper, “Where were you?”


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His brother evaded replying as Mrs. Reynolds arrived and began ordering her underlings to either assist Mrs. Bingley, go fetch a doctor, or return to their duties. Soon Mrs. Norton was being lifted by a footman and carried into the drawing room, followed by a parade of her many nieces and nephews, all of whom suddenly found their dull aunt irresistibly fascinating.
_________________________

 Come back tomorrow to read Part Eight!

 Twisted Austen Giveaway:

Stop by, read the story, and enter to win! Increase your chances of winning by leaving multiple comments (be sure to include you email address in at least one). At the end of the event (giveaway open through November 7th), I will randomly select two grand winners. Each will receive copies of all five Twisted Austen ebooks, including Young Wickham, plus a set (six each) of these adorable decorative clothes pins, purchased at my local grocery here in Switzerland. Two runners up will receive Young Wickham ebooks. What if you already have all the Twisted Austen books? Enter anyway. We'll work something out. This giveaway is open internationally. Extra entries for social media shares, but you must mention them in your comments for credit. Good luck to all who enter, thank you so much for reading, and have a very happy Halloween!