Thursday, August 21, 2014

Theo by Francis Hodgson Burnett

Most of Burnett's romances involve some impediment, usually moral, that prevents the couple from marrying. The stories rarely focus on falling in love, which happens easily, but on love triumphing against all odds. The novella Theo: A Sprightly Love Story is a perfect example of this. Theodora North at first  reminds me of Catherine Morland, whom no one would ever suppose to be a heroine. Here is how Theo's story begins:
A heavy curtain of yellow fog rolled and drifted over the waste of beach, and rolled and drifted over the sea, and beneath the curtain the tide was coming in at Downport, and two pair of eyes were watching it. Both pair of eyes watched it from the same place, namely, from the shabby sitting-room of the shabby residence of David North, Esq., lawyer, and both watched it without any motive, it seemed, unless that the dull gray waves and their dull moaning were not out of accord with the watchers' feelings. One pair of eyes—a youthful, discontented black pair—watched it steadily, never turning away, as their owner stood in the deep, old-fashioned window, with both elbows resting upon the broad sill; but the other pair only glanced up now and then, almost furtively, from the piece of work Miss Pamela North, spinster, held in her slender, needle-worn fingers. 
There had been a long silence in the shabby sitting-room for some time—and there was not often silence there. Three rampant, strong-lunged boys, and as many talkative school-girls, made the house of David North, Esq., rather a questionable paradise. But to-day, being half-holiday, the boys were out on the beach digging miraculous sand-caves, and getting up miraculous piratical battles and excursions with the bare-legged urchins so numerous in the fishermen's huts; and Joanna and Elinor had been absent all day, so the room left to Theo and her elder sister was quiet for once. 
It was Miss Pamela herself who broke the stillness. "Theo," she said, with some elder-sister-like asperity, "it appears to me that you might find something better to do than to stand with your arms folded, as you have been doing for the last half hour. There is a while basketfull of the boys' socks that need mending and —" 
"Pam!" interrupted Theo, desperately, turning over her shoulder a face more like the face of some young Spanish gipsy than that of a poor English solicitor's daughter. "Pam, I should really like to know if life is ever worth having, if eveybody's life is like ours, or if there are really such people as we read of in books." 
"You have been reading some ridiculous novel again," said Pamela, sententiously. "If you would be a little more sensible, and less romantic, Theodora, it would be a great deal better for all of us." 

Theo's lament is answered in the form of a letter from her father's wealthy half-sister, Lady Throckmorton, offering Theo a season in London, as she did Pamela before her. The eldest Miss North shares Cassandra Austen's history: her intended died before they could marry, and she determined on living as a maiden widow. That was several years ago, when the family was better off. Now Mrs. North tell Theo they cannot afford to send her to London, as she has no appropriate attire. It is late that night that the disappointed girl has her dreams granted by dour Pamela, who reveals that she has preserved her entire trousseau from her engagement. A bit of industrious sewing, and Theo is leaving her sad existence behind for life in London.

Two significant things happen immediately upon Theo's arrival. First, it becomes perfectly clear that the girl is a classic Burnett heroine, of regal bearing and exotic flavor:
She stepped before the full-length mirror to look at herself before going down, and as she did so, she was conscious that her waiting-woman was looking at her too in sedate approval. The gray satin was very becoming. Its elaborate richness and length of train changed the undeveloped girl, to whom she had given a farewell glance in the small mirror at Downport, to the stateliest of tall young creatures. Her bare arms and neck were as soft and firm as a baby's; her riant, un-English face seemed all aglow of color and mellow eyes. But for the presence of the maid, she would have uttered a little cry of pleasure, she was so new to herself.
Second, our hero arrives. Mr. Denis Oglethorpe is a talented young writer who has long been engaged to Priscilla Gower, their marriage delayed until he has established himself. Lady Throckmorton, who describes Miss Gower as "a modern Sappho," does not approve of the match, but as Mr. Oglethorpe is now established, a marriage seems imminent. 

Denis doesn't pay particular attention to Theo that first evening (though she plays plenty to him), but he is a good friend of her Ladyship's and regularly visits the house, becoming enamored of Theo so casually that he doesn't realize his danger until it is too late:
He had, perhaps, never given the girl a thought before, unless when chance had thrown them together, and even then his thoughts had been common admiring ones. She had pleased him, and he had tried to amuse her in a careless, well-meant fashion, though he had never made fine speeches to her, as nine men out of ten would have done. He had been so used to Priscilla, that it never occurred to him that a girl so young as this one could be a woman. And, after all, his blindness had not been the result of any frivolous lack of thought. A sharp experience had made him as thoroughly a man of the world as a man may be; but it had not made him callous or indifferent to the beauties of life. No one would ever have called him emotional, or prone to enthusiasms of a weak kind, and yet he was by no means hard of heart. He had quiet fancies of his own about people and things, and many of these reticent, rarely-expressed ideas were reverent, chivalrous ones of women. The opposing force of a whole world could never have shaken his faith in Priscilla Gower, or touched his respect for her; but though, perhaps, he had never understood it so, he had never felt very enthusiastically concerning her. Truly, Priscilla Gower and enthusiasm were not in accordance with each other. Chance had thrown them together when both were very young, and propinquity did the rest. Propinquity is the strongest of agents in a love affair, and in Denis Oglethorpe's love affair, propinquity had accomplished what nothing else would have been likely to have done. The desperate young scribbler of twenty years had been the lodger of the elder Miss Gower, and Priscilla, aged seventeen, had brought in his frugal dinners to him, and receipted his modest bills on their weekly payment.
Priscilla at seventeen, silent, practical, grave and handsome, had, perhaps, softened unconsciously at the sight of his often pale face—he worked so hard and so far into the night; when at length they became friends, Priscilla gravely, and without any hesitation, volunteered to help him. She could copy well and clearly, and he could come into her aunt's room—it would save fires. So she helped him calmly and decorously, bending her almost austerely-handsome young head over his papers for hours on the long winter nights. It is easy to guess how the matter terminated. If ever he won success he determined to give it to Priscilla—and so he told her. He had never wavered in his faith for a second since, though he had encountered many beautiful and womanly women. He had worked steadily for her sake, and shielded her from every care that it lay within his power to lighten. He was not old Miss Elizabeth Gower's lodger now—he was her niece's husband in perspective. He was to marry Priscilla Gower in eight months. This was why Theodora North, in glistening rose-pink satin, sent him home confronting a suddenly-raised spirit of pain. Twice, in one night, he had found himself feeling toward Theodora North as he had never felt toward Priscilla Gower in his life. Twice, in one night, he had turned his eyes upon this girl of sixteen, and suffered a sudden shock of enthusiasm, or something like it. He was startled and discomfited. She had no right to win such admiration from him—he had no right to give it.
So you see our dilemma. Denis, being a worthy hero, determines to forget Theo and flees to the continent until the time of his marriage. Theo, beholden to the whims of Lady Throckmorton, is brought to the continent as well. Again they are thrown together, their love is acknowledged, but they are determined to do what is right:
"Listen to me, Theo," he said. "Let me confess to you; let me tell you the truth for once. I am a coward and a villain. I was a villain to ask a woman I did not truly love to be my wife. I am a coward to shrink from the result of my vanity and madness. She is better than I am—this woman who has promised herself to me; she is stronger, truer, purer; she has loved me, she has been faithful to me; and God knows I honor and revere her. I am not worthy to kiss the ground her feet have trodden upon. I was vain fool enough to think I could make her happy by giving to her all she did not ask for—my life, my work, my strength—not remembering that Heaven had given her the sacred right to more. She has held to our bond for years, and now see how it has ended! I stand here before you to-night, loving you, adoring you, worshipping you, and knowing myself a dishonored man, a weak, proved coward, whose truth is lost forever. 
"I do not ask you for a word. I do not say a word further. I will not perjure myself more deeply. I only say this as a farewell confession. It will be farewell; we shall never see each other again on earth perhaps; and if we do, an impassable gulf will lie between us. I shall go back to England and hasten the marriage if I can; and then, if a whole life's strenuous exertions and constant care and tenderness will wipe out the dishonor my weakness has betrayed me into, it shall be wiped out. I do not say one word of love to you, because I dare not. I only say, forgive me, forget me, and good-by." 
She had listened to him with a terrified light growing in her eyes; but when he finished she got up from her seat, shivering from head to foot. 
"Good-by," she said, and let him take her cold, lithe, trembling hands. But the moment he touched them, his suppressed excitement and her own half-comprehended pain seemed to frighten her, and she began to try to draw them from his grasp. 
"Go away, please," she said, with a wild little sob. "I can't bear it. I don't want to be wicked, and perhaps I have been wicked, too. Miss Gower is better than I am—more worth loving. Oh, try to love her, and—and—only go away now, and let me be alone."
Is that not wonderful? Tragic, I know, but marvelously romantic. I wont reveal the rest of the story, but as indicated at the beginning of this post, love is triumphant.

What I find most interesting about this story is not the heroine. She is beautiful and admirable, but like many of Burnett's creations, she's kind of two dimensional. Denis, because of his more mature reflections on their conflict is more dynamic, but the real stars of this tale are not at all who you would imagine: Pamela and Priscilla. The two ladies are rarely the focus of the story, but their presences so dominate the discourse and both are proven such superior creatures in the end that they commend the reader's devotion. I prefer Burnett's strong, capable heroines (and boy does she have some intense ones), and Pamela and Priscilla are beautiful examples, cut from the same molds as Anne Elliot and Elinor Dashwood. I think Austen would have liked both ladies immensely.

Theo is available to read online at http://www.online-literature.com/burnett/theo/

My introductory post on Burnett is available here: http://alexaadams.blogspot.com/2014/05/frances-hodgson-burnett.html

Read my other Burnett reviews here: http://alexaadams.blogspot.com/2014/08/francis-hodgson-burnett-plan-of-attack.html

Monday, August 18, 2014

Being Mrs. Bennet: Chapter Seventeen

Chapter OneChapter TwoChapter ThreeChapter FourChapter FiveChapter SixChapter SevenChapter EightChapter NineChapter TenChapter ElevenChapter TwelveChapter ThirteenChapter FourteenChapter Fifteen, Chapter Sixteen

"Mama! Mama!" a chorus of voices assaulted Alison as she and Elizabeth stepped through the door.

"Enough!" she said forcefully, and both Kitty and Lydia quieted down. "Now please speak one at a time."

"Mrs. Forster has invited me to accompany her to Brighton, and Kitty pretends you already denied me permission to go!" Lydia spoke quickly and with indignation.

"I do not know how I can deny something before it is asked, but Kitty is correct in predicting I would do so." Lydia began to complain of injustice, but Alison quickly stopped her. "If you do not cease at once there will be no visiting or trips to Meryton until after the militia's departure."

Instinct told Lydia to protest, but a look at her mother quelled the impulse. Instead she flounced off to her room to cry.

"Well done, Mama!" Lizzy complimented.

"It is better to put an end to it all at once. She will overcome the disappointment with time."

"You did say she would not be allowed to go, Mama," Kitty said. "Do you not remember? We were all at breakfast, just after learning of the militia's departure, and Lydia's laments grew so loud you reprimanded her. She took to her room, much as she did just now, and Papa asked you if you thought the decampment a good thing?" She looked expectant.

"I am sorry Kitty that I do not recall the minutia of our daily conversations. Do forgive me, and pray tell: what did I reply?"

"You said that as long as Lydia did not go to Brighton, all would be well."

"Did I?"

Yes, and I must wonder if Mrs. Forster were to invite me instead, if I might be able to go instead?"

"Are you mad, child? No one is going to Brighton."

"I just thought I would ask," Kitty said in slightly sulky tones before bobbing a curtsy, excusing herself, and following Lydia up the stairs.

"You have achieved wonders with them both," Elizabeth commented. "Kitty is a changed creature."

"Children want a firm hand, no matter what they might think of it. It tells them you care enough to bother."

"Yes. I suppose it does," Elizabeth's words were wistful, and Alison gave her an encouraging hug and smile before both retired to the parlor, where they found Mary and Jane at work.

"I suppose you made short work of Lydia's request," Mary commented smugly. "Imagine believing she should be allowed to go!"

"There was no harm in asking," Alison replied, feeling a bit defensive of the youngest Bennet. "I suppose you were all in an uproar all morning?"

"Just the last quarter of an hour since my sisters returned from Meryton," Jane's smile conveyed some amusement at the episode.

"Kitty would insist that you had already determined not to allow Lydia to go, and I kept trying to explain that it did not matter in the least what you said before, as you would surely say no now," Mary provided.

Elizabeth looked thoughtful and glanced at Alison in question. All she received in return was a slightly sheepish smile. The conversation turned, and the militia and Brighton were soon forgotten. Kitty and Lydia, pouty but calm, joined them shortly, and five Bennet ladies spent the hours until dinner in industrious needlework, while Alison Bateman read aloud from Leonora.

After Alison had changed for the evening and was just about to return downstairs for dinner, Lizzy knocked on her door. "May I have a moment?"

"Certainly, my dear! Come in."

"I have been pondering the matter, and I wondered if Jane Austen told you not to allow Lydia to go to Brighton?"

"Yes, I suppose she did."

"I can think of many a reason why such a trip should not be attempted, but it does seem strange that such a specific warning should proceed through the ages, when practical sense ought to have held the day."

Alison sighed. "Well there you have it: practical sense did not always hold the day."

"You mean my mother? I suppose she would have encouraged such an ill-founded scheme, but my father could not countenance it," she said firmly.

"Even if worked upon?"

She contemplated this and asked, "Might he actually allow such a thing?"

"He did."

"Dear me!" she sat down into an arm chair. "And dare I ask what horrific consequences proceeded from such imprudence that it is still talked of two hundred years hence?"

Alison considered the question. She had been wondering what to tell Elizabeth - how much and when - for she suspected she would eventually have to reveal all. Lizzy would not stop questioning the matter until it eventually came out, and as these were fictional characters, real though they might seem, she didn't see how sharing some useful information could harm anyone. "Do you want to know?" she asked.

Elizabeth looked searchingly into this woman who looked like her mother's eyes. "Yes."

"Lydia absconded from Brighton in the company of Mr. Wickham."

"Mr. Wickham!" Elizabeth rose indignantly to her feet and began to pace the room in her fury. "What could he want with a girl like Lydia? She has no money, nor enough sense to be an agreeable companion!"

"I am sorry to inform you that it is not always sense which a man most values in female companionship."

"Did he marry her?"

"Eventually."

"Well, thank God for that! What happened: did my father hunt them down and force a marriage?"

"He tried, but it was not your father who succeeded." Alison studied the inflamed young woman before her carefully before saying, "It was Mr. Darcy."

"Mr. Darcy?" Even as she spoke the words in questioning tones, Elizabeth recalled Kitty and Lydia's strange pronouncements on the subject back at the coaching inn, when Mrs. Bennet's changed personality first came to her attention. "What do you know of Mr. Darcy?"

Alison's courage faded and she evaded the question. "I know he is the best of men."

"But you have never even met the man? Why is his story so wrapped with ours that your Jane Austen knows of him?"

"I am not sure how to tell you this ..."

"Plain language is always best," Elizabeth interjected,

"You sound just like her."

"Like whom?"

"Jane Austen. It is appropriate that you do. Neither she nor I are descendants of yours. She is rather your contemporary, in a way. You see, she created you."

Elizabeth was truly startled. "Created me?"

"Yes. You are a character in a book."

"I am what!"

"A character in a book. I haven't traveled in time, but into a book, or rather a fantady based upon one. I named my daughters after the people in the book: you and your sisters. That is why I know all about you."

"You must be mad!" Elizabeth exclaimed, her face drawn white.

"You know I am not," Alison retorted, but with a hint of fear in her voice. The two women stared at each other: Alison beseechingly, and Elizabeth with mistrust and fear. The former couldn't abide it. "Do not look so appalled! If you believe I am not your mother, then you must believe you are a character in a book. The only other option is that I am your mother and completely mad."

Friday, August 15, 2014

Francis Hodgson Burnett: The Plan of Attack

I've been trying to muddle my way through how to go about organizing my reviews of Francis Hodgson Burnett's complete works. That rather pathetic review I supplied of A Lady of Quality and His Grace of Osmond a few weeks back was almost written in desperation, because I couldn't figure out how to fit those two, rather bizarre historic romances into the context of the rest of her work. She was prolific, and her novels and stories span the globe and a variety of genres, but there are some overlying themes that recur over and over again. So where does one begin? Apparently, by booting out the odd balls and list making.

Here it goes, easiest first: Burnett is best known for her children's stories. I count nine stories unquestionably intended for children:

  1.  The Secret Garden 
  2.  The Little Princess (I'm not counting the short story that was expanded into the novel -  Sara Crewe - separately) (ED)
  3.  Little Lord Fauntleroy (AB)
  4.  The Story of Prince Fairyfoot
  5.  The Proud Little Grain of Wheat
  6.  Behind the White Brick
  7.  Racketty-Packetty House (ED)
  8.  The Lost Prince (ED)
  9.  Barty Crusoe and His Man Saturday
Please note that all mentioned works are available for free at http://www.online-literature.com/burnett/.

There are two more stories that are probably intended for children as well, but I have lumped in a separate category of spiritual works. Spirituality plays a strong role in many of Burnett's stories (she was a Christian Scientist), but the following are explicitly religious texts. Those oriented towards children are marked with a C.
  1. The Dawn of a Tomorrow (ED)
  2. The White People
  3. In the Closed Room
  4. The Land of the Blue Flower (C)
  5. The Little Hunchback Zia (C) 
Also arguably religious in premise are six stories I have labeled cautionary (one is also maybe for children, as indicated. 
  1. In Connection with the DeWilloughby Claim (ED)
  2. Little Saint Elizabeth (C) (ED)
  3. Lodusky (ED)
  4. Seth 
  5. Surly Tim
  6. Mere Giraud's Little Daughter (ED)
Fifteen of her books are romances: two are historical (addressed above and marked with a H below), and three are explicitly about Americans in Britain (marked AB, as is Little Lord Fauntleroy above), I will handle the three latter stories, two of which are amongst my very favorites, as a unit, because the clash and confusion between American and British cultures comes up again and again in Burnett. Much of her best work is based upon the awkwardness between different cultures and the usually wealthy immigrant's attempt to assimilate. 
  1. Emily Fox-Seton (ED)
  2. Vagabondia
  3. Theo 
  4. Esmerelda 
  5. Louisiana
  6. A Fair Barbarian (AB)
  7. Le Monsieur de la Petite Dame
  8. The Pretty Sister of Jose
  9. The Head of the House of Combe
  10. Robin
  11. T. Tembarom (AB) (ED)
  12. That Lass of Lowrie's (ED)
  13. A Lady of Quality (H)
  14. His Grace of Osmond (H)
  15. The Shuttle (AB) (ED)
Another theme in Burnett's books is economic distinctions. I don't just mean stories in which different classes are represented, as in The Secret Garden, but those in which privilege and deprivation are thrown into explicit contrast AND it provides a major theme for the tale. This also plays upon the immigrant experience. Burnett had herself experienced both wealth and poverty. I've marked these book with an ED.

So there you have it. I think I'm going to start with the romances, in no particular order, as it keeps me on the most familiar ground. I'll link the reviews as I do them to this post.  

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Being Mrs. Bennet: Chapter Sixteen

Chapter OneChapter TwoChapter ThreeChapter FourChapter FiveChapter SixChapter SevenChapter EightChapter NineChapter TenChapter ElevenChapter TwelveChapter ThirteenChapter Fourteen, Chapter Fifteen

The first week following Jane and Elizabeth's return was soon gone. The second began. Alison and Elizabeth both strove to behave as if all were normal, and it made the former feel not so isolated in this Pride and Prejudice world as she had. Furthermore, Elizabeth's knowledge of her identity served as a reminder of it. She was no longer at liberty to completely forget her true self, and that was a relief, but the details of the modern world continued to slip away day by day.  She knew details of her children lives, but they were confused, and Tom was starting to disappear all together. The only thing she continued to clearly recall was Austen's novel. It was her whole world.

Mr. Bennet had again come to her room in the evening, this time to express the private sentiment that he thought it an excellent thing that she and Lizzy had come to an understanding. Alison was not nearly so taken aback by the second visit, and she realized that had he been interested in an amorous encounter, she probably would not have had the presence of mind to say no. Then she would have been guilty of cheating on her husband, or would she? The truth was, while Thomas Bennet's face had become more and more familiar, and she could no longer describe what Tom Bateman looked like. Tall and kind of dark, she thought.

She and Lizzy got in the habit of taking long walks alone, where they could confide their concerns, discuss their predicament, indulge in useless speculation, and ask each other dificult questions.

"What is the 21st century like?"

"I feel like I'm hardly an expert anymore. I was born in 1970, I'm pretty certain, but the 20th century is a complete blank, at least visually. I remember my parents faces, but I can't recall their clothing or our house or any detail to create a solid picture. All I can conjure in my mind is the house in Baltimore and my immediate family." Alison was not ready to admit aloud that her memory of her husband was also slipping. "I do know we have a great many conveniences you do not, but even the details of those aren't clear. I know that the world is soon going to start changing, and once it gets going, it will just keep on changing faster and faster. It's hard to explain," she trailed off, looking out from Oakham Mount and contemplating the vast calm of the scenery before her.

"What sort of conveniences?"

Alison looked into her hand and imagined a rectangular device nestled within it. She moved her thumb about, as she knew one needed to to press the keys, though she couldn't recall the terminology she needed to describe the object. "We're able to speak to each other all over the world. Once Tom traveled to Japan on business, and I remember speaking to a picture of him with the girls. We could see each other and talk as if before one another, half way across the world."

Elizabeth was properly astonished. "How dreadful for him to have to travel so far! How long was he away from you."

Alison replied without hesitation. "Ten days."

"Ten days! To Japan and back!"

"Yes," Alison pondered the matter, when suddenly a huge smile broke upon her face. "He flew!" She announced with great satisfaction.

"Flew? In a balloon?"

"No. It's called an airplane!"

"An airplane?"

"It is really quite marvelous," Alison began to gush a bit. "You can get on an airplane in New York and be in London seven hours later, or something like that."

Elizabeth found this information difficult to fully assimilate. "That is fast!"

"There are so many other marvels, I wish I could share them all with you," she struggled to remember more about the future, while Elizabeth wondered if she still really wished to know anything more about it. "Movies!" she suddenly shouted, startling the already shaken heroine. "We have movies, film, um ... moving pictures! Actors put on a kind of play and they capture it on film, edit it and make a movie."

"Does it hurt the actors?" was the horrified response to this description.

"Not at all!" Alison laughed. "No more so than having your portrait painted. You have been in several yourself."

"I have been in several?! What do you mean?"

Crap! Alison thought. She still often thought in modern american, though she couldn't recall all the vocabulary. You sure stuck your foot in your mouth this time! What's wrong with you? She looked to Lizzy sheepishly. "Not you! My Lizzy. She has a friend who makes movies, art films, they call them, and she has starred in several. That is what I meant."

"Your daughter is an actress?" Elizabeth smiled, apparently both satisfied and amused by Alison's explanation.

"Not a professional one, but you mustn't misunderstand: there is no longer any stigma associated with acting. Actually, it is a highly regarded and powerful profession. Amongst British actors, several are from very old and powerful families. Their ancestors would be appalled to know it."

Elizabeth laughed in agreement, and harmony was restored.

While Alison and she walked and talked, Lydia, unable to account for the sudden bond between her mother and Lizzy, was not slow in using it to her advantage. The matron was not as quick as she had been to forbid voyages into Meryton, and as long as Kitty accompanied her, Lydia was almost as free to goto and come from the small town as formerly. Kitty, however, was no longer the same companion as she was, as illustrated on a day not long before the militia was scheduled to depart.

Confronted by united parental opposition, Lydia had given up her hopes of following the militia to Brighton, until she and Kitty met Mrs. Forster outside the milliner's. The relationship has somewhat cooled, but Lydia was so effusive in her admiration for Mrs. Forster's new bonnet that Mrs. Forster was reminded what a pleasant companion Miss Lydia could be, and before many minutes had passed, she was being invited to accompany her to the watering place as her particular friend.

Lyda was in raptures and only kept from immediate acceptance by her particular friend's reminder that she needed her parent's permission. This somewhat dampened her spirits, but snot so much as a piqued Kitty's next statement. "There is very little chance Mama will let you go. She does not want you running after officers, and following them to Brighton must be construed as doing just that!"

"I would not be running after the officers if I were Mrs. Forster's particular friend!" Lydia indignantly replied.

"No she would not," Mrs. Forster seconded with mock severity, revealed when she concluded with a giggle, "for the officers will be running after her, instead!"

This was uproariously funny to two of the three ladies. Kitty protested instead of laughing. "No they wont, for she shan't be allowed to go."

"You are just jealous that I am Mrs. Forster's particular friend and you are not." Even the particular friend had the sense to blush, and suddenly seeing someone she must speak to across the way, she quickly said goodbye and left the sister's to battle it out alone.

"I suppose you think you ought to have been asked for being older!"

A beet red Kitty turned rapid steps in the direction of home, defending herself as she walked. "I know she will not let you go, because my mother said you should not be!"

"How could she when I have just been invited?" Lydia scrambled slightly to keep up.

"She said it weeks ago, when we first learned of the militia's departure. My father asked her if she was satisfied they were going, and she replied. "As long as Lydia does not go with them, all should be well."
 
"She did not! Why should she single me out so? Why should I be the only one forbidden."

"Perhaps because it is you she least trusts!"

"I won't believe it!"

"Then ask her yourself and find out."

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Being Mrs. Bennet: Chapter Fifteen

Chapter OneChapter TwoChapter ThreeChapter FourChapter FiveChapter SixChapter SevenChapter EightChapter NineChapter TenChapter ElevenChapter TwelveChapter Thirteen, Chapter Fourteen

"Mom, can you hear me?"

I can you hear you, Lizzy!

"Mom. It's me, Lizzy. Can you hear me?"

I can hear you, Lizzy! I'm right here!

"Mama? Mama, can you hear me?" An English voice startled Alison into consciousness. Her eyes slowly registered on Elizabeth Bennet, who was standing by the bedside, dressed to go out. If the sun was on the ascent, the windows did not yet expose the fact. Alison must have been looking at her favorite heroine with befuddlement, for she soon explained, "I was told you've taken a liking to long walks, and I thought you might join me for my morning ramble."

It only took a moment for Alison to become fully awake. A "morning ramble" with Elizabeth Bennet! Her dream was already forgotten when she eagerly responded. "Indeed! Let me just get dressed."

Elizabeth helped her instead of calling for a servant, and Alison only extracting the most serviceable garments from the wardrobe, they were soon out in the dewy spring morning, walking in no direction in particular beneath the dawning sky.

"This is lovely!" Alison exclaimed, as they paused to look out upon a sloping vista. Not a road dotted the landscape for miles, and only the sounds of birds, sheep, and the occasional cow reached her ears. For a moment she wondered at herself for finding it all so novel, and then the memory of suburban streets intruded upon her vision, reminding her to wonder what would be on this very spot in her own time. Her own time ... somehow, when Elizabeth Bennet was her companion, the concerns of that world seemed to slip away. The thought made her heart race, but not enough as it should, and she vaguely realized the fact, honoring it with more insufficient alarm.

"Shall we rest on this rock a while?" Elizabeth asked, gesturing to a large and flat protrusion along the side of the path they pursued.

"It's Mother Nature's own answer to the park bench!" Alison proclaimed enthusiastically, and sat with alacrity.

Elizabeth descended more wearily, perching herself as far from her mother as she could with grace. They sat in silence for some moments, Alison happily smiling about her, lost to all bit the perfection of the moment, and Elizabeth studying her wearily, her eyebrows pinched together with concentration.  It was she who broke the peace by calmly stating: "There is a spider crawling on your gown."

As the words were spoken, Alison became cognizant of the rather ordinary brown spider climbing up her skirt. Her eyes might have widened at the sight, but she did not start, instead slowly leaning down to the side and picking up a stick which she used to remove the intruder carefully from the fabric. Soon the creature was safely scurrying away from the terrifying encounter, while Alison brushed off her gloves and gown.

"I knew it!" Elizabeth abruptly stood up and proclaimed, pointing a finger at Alison. "It may sound mad, and I know not how it might have happened, but you are not my mother!"

Alison paled at the accusation, and knowing not what to say, responded softly, "Then who do you suppose I am?"

"I don't know!" cried the distraught heroine, dropping the accusing digit and beginning to pace the ground. "It doesn't make any sense, but my mother has a decided aversion for all insects. She would never react as you just did."

"But spiders are such useful creatures, eating mosquitos and other pests, and really not insects at all, but arachnids."

"What are you even speaking about? My mother is not a font of information on scientific classification!" she said exasperatedly.

"I realize that," Alison replied sadly, "but I cannot help knowing the things I know."

Elizabeth looked at her intently. "So you admit to not being who you appear?"

"I cannot explain how it happened," she began to gush, "do not expect me to. One moment I was there, and then I was here, and that is all I know."

Elizabeth, far from relieved, had turned stark white at the words and sat unsteadily back down upon the rock. "So it is true!" she marveled. "I knew but still could not believe." She looked at Alison searchingly. "Who are you? Where is my mother?"

"My name is Alison Bennet," she began.

"No it isn't!" Elizabeth angrily interrupted.

"Alison ... Bateman," she said forcibly, trying to remember all the details. "I'm married to Tom Bateman." It got easier. "We live in Baltimore, Maryland and we have five children: Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Lydia, and Kitty!" She was becoming frantic. Speaking of them out loud for the first time and weeks brought all the poignancy of her predicament bearing back down upon her. It was Alison's turn to lose her color, and Elizabeth placed bracing hands upon hers.

"Maryland? In the Americas? Yet we all have the same names ... how can it be?" she wondered.

"I do not know how it can be, but I can explain the names." She took a deep breath. "You see, I named my children after you."

"And you and your husband's names?"

"Coincidence. Austen never gave your parents' names."

"What? Who is Austen?"

Stop it you fool! Alison derided herself internally as her eyes grew big and her mouth hung open, though not wide enough to comfortably fit the foot she just stuck into it. How do you tell someone they are a fictional character? You don't.

"Austen, Austen, Jane, I mean James. Austen James, my cousin who records the family heritage," she quickly improvised.

"But we have no relations outside of England, nor relations named James! You are not making any sense!"

"It does not make any sense!" Alison cried in desperation. To her surprise, Elizabeth seemed to respond more to this logic than anything else she had said.

"Granted," she nodded once or twice and began to pace once more. Alison watcher her with fascination until she stopped and posed a new question:"What do you remember?"

"Not much, and less all the time! That is what I find most alarming."

Elizabeth looked like she agreed, and her posture softened at the thought. It was very quietly that she asked again: "Where is my mother?"

"I don't know! I'm so sorry," Alison instinctively put her arms around Elizabeth, just as she would have around her own Elizabeth, and held her as she began to tremble and then weep. Her emotion made Alison's own loss all the more poignant, and she felt she could cry and worse if she would only allow herself, but she was a mother, and here was a child in need of comfort, and she was the only one to provide it. She remained calm.

"Please excuse me!" Elizabeth eventually said, wiping her eyes and shaking herself into control. "I shall be myself agin now. Thank you."

"It's not a problem, my dear. I know how you feel."

"Yes. I suppose you do," Elizabeth grew thoughtful once more. "Yet you are forgetting your true life?"

"It's as if it just slipped beyond my hands, and I cannot touch it as I could before, when it seemed so much more real, especially compared to here. I was also so excited to actually be here that I didn't fight it at first as I probably ought to, and now it's all grown so familiar. I fear being trapped forever, but I am also enjoying myself, which is the even more horrifying scenario. When I think of my children ...." She could not continue. Suddenly it was her emotions that were rushing out of control, and she turned away to collect herself. She soon felt a warm hand on her shoulder.

"How did you know us? Through a cousin, Austen James?"

It sounded so ridiculous Alison knew it was unsustainable. "No, Jane Austen. I learned f you from Jane Austen. Please do not ask me more than that. I know you want answers, but I really do not have any to provide."

"But how do we undo this?" Elizabeth asked with a hopeless look.

"I do not know. I keep thinking I'll just wake up, and it will be over as quickly as it began," she looked at her hands, trying to remember the difference between Mrs. Bennet's and her own and failing miserably.

Elizabeth had resumed her pacing. "For some reason you wish not to explain, you named all your children the same as my parents." She suddenly stopped, as if absorbing the impact of a new idea. "How old are they?"

"The same ages as your sisters," Alison said meekly replied.

"It is impossible!" She replied, knowing that the entire conversation was, according to all logic, impossible. "Do whate'er thou wilt swift-footed Time,"* she laughed forcedly, and sat rather abruptly back down upon the rock. "Do you belong to my time?"

"No."

"To the future?"

"Yes."

"How far?"

"Two hundred years."

"Two hundred?" she repeated, sitting in marvel for several moment. "Then this Jane Austen must be a descendant? Are you my great-great-great-granddaughter or something?"

"Perhaps ... something."

"Well! This is all far too startling to make any sense out of it all. I sympathize more now with my father for not wanting to know the truth."

"He suspects me?" Alison asked.

"Yes, but he is too enrapt with the improvement to care." She looked sadly at her hands. "My parents marriage has not been a happy one."

"I known."

"How do you know such intimate details of our lives? It's hard to imagine the anecdotes of our daily existence survived for two centuries." She suddenly narrowed her eyes, "And how did you know of Mr. Darcy?"

"Forgive me, but I really do not think I ought to tell you."

"Why not?"

Alison searched for a response. "Because it might disrupt the space-time continuum?"

"What?"

"Never mind. I wish I were able to explain it better, but I really cannot," Alison said, sitting back down on the rock, far closer to Elizabeth than they began. "Besides, you have just absorbed the shock of all this. Let's take this one step at a time."

Elizabeth wore a weary smile and said: "So you will explain it all another time?"

"Perhaps," Alison softly replied. "If I'm still here, and I still remember."

Both ladies fell into a gloomy silence.

*Shakespeare Sonnet 19

Read Chapter Sixteen

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Perfect Match by Lory Lilian

The Perfect Match: A Pride and Prejudice Sequel is a short, satisfying novel providing a glimpse into the Darcy's happily-ever-after-lives a year after their marriage. They are, as the title unequivocally states, the perfect match: often shocking relations, friends, and society with their open devotion. Jane and Bingley have not managed to achieve the same happiness. Much of the conflict of the story centers around the difficulty this couple has bonding due to lack of communication and imposing relations. It is my favorite part of the book. The picture drawn of a timid and demure Jane, anxious for her husbands attentions but not even possessing the language to describe what she yearns for, pitted against a Mr. Bingley so in awe of her beauty that he's scared she could break is very believable. This tensions also sets up some wonderful comeuppance moments for Caroline. The very best set down she receives, astonishingly enough, is from Mrs. Bennet:
"You know, speaking of the ball, I had the pleasure of meeting with Lady Matlock these last few days - what a wonderful person, indeed. She is very fond of Lizzy and so polite and kind - one can easily observe the effect of a proper education. That is my idea of good breeding - and those persons who fancy themselves very important and only open their mouths to give offense, quite mistake the matter."
Go Mrs. Bennet! I love that. As this occasionally lovable matron hints, the crux of the plot rests upon Elizabeth's first ball. Relishing their privacy, she has yet to be properly presented to society, and Lady Matlock is guiding her through the process. Another great moment for Miss Bingley occurs when she is bullying Elizabeth about her preparations, and Jane cooly informs her Lady Jersey is coming. Very satisfying!

I also really enjoyed the devotion the staff shows their new mistress. I don't want to provide any real spoilers but this story does take place a year in to the marriage, Elizabeth is having a hard time sleeping, her appetite is lacking ... draw your own conclusions (mine were set a few pages into the book). Anyway, she has a fainting spell at one point and Darcy's valet, obviously feeling the need to act on behalf of his missing master, swoops the protesting Mrs. Darcy into his arms and deposits her in her bedroom. I laughed pretty hard upon reading that, and even more so when a distraught Mr. Darcy comes home and yells at his excessively devoted servants, who of course understand he is just anxious and have forgiven him long before he apologizes for his transgressions. Silly old Mr. Darcy!

Like most Lory Lilian books (two of which I have reviewed: Rainy Days and His Uncle's Favorite), things can get rather steamy from time to time, but while the more intimately romantic scenes in this tale can be lengthy, they are not terribly graphic, which I greatly appreciate. I happen to have been told by Ms. Lilian herself that her next book, My Husband, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, will be similarly discrete in its sexual depictions. The book should be out soon and explores what would have happened if Darcy and Elizabeth were forced to marry before coming to their own understanding. Can't wait! I really enjoy her books.

The Perfect Match makes a perfect summer read, especially for a distracted mom at a beach, pool, or on an airplane. The story is not so emotional that you can't put it down, yet it provides a thoroughly happy escape into a world of wealth, romance, ton, and it even gives us a little bit of Christmas in July, if you hurry up and read (or reread!) it in the next three days. A very pleasant diversion, indeed!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Being Mrs. Bennet: Chapter Fourteen

Chapter OneChapter TwoChapter ThreeChapter FourChapter FiveChapter SixChapter SevenChapter EightChapter NineChapter TenChapter ElevenChapter TwelveChapter Thirteen

That evening, once most of the family had already retired, Elizabeth sought Mrs. Hill in her office.

"My dear Miss Lizzy! Come in, come in! How nice to have you home again."

Elizabeth accepted a proffered seat. "It is nice to be home, Mrs. Hill." She glanced around at at the small room's familiar walls, in which most of her childhood scrapes and falls had been tended.

"What can I do for you?"

 "I was hoping you might tell me more about my mother's health since the carriage accident."

A thoughtful look overspread the good woman's brow. "What is it you want to know?"

"Her behavior is markedly ... different."

"That it is," Mrs. Hill agreed.

Elizabeth sighed. "Do you know what might have happened to cause such a change in personality?"

"No more than anyone. The mistress has been as she is ever since the day of the accident."

"What was she like when she first came home that day?"

Mrs. Hill pondered her words before proceeding. "She was confused, not knowing where things were and the like."

"For example?" Elizabeth pressed, sitting forward attentively in her chair.

"Well she couldn't remember how to work the bell, for one thing."

"That could just be disorientation due to the accident."

"That's just what Mr. Jones said," Mrs. Hill confirmed.

Elizabeth felt she was probing in the wrong direction. "Today my mother declared her intention to buy a riding habit. I thought the one thing my mother and I shared in common was a fear of horses, and now she wants to ride my father's stallion!"

Mrs. Hill shook her head worriedly. "Many of her tastes seemed changed. She wont take any laudanum any more, not since that first night, and bathes at every opportunity."

"Long walks, coffee, reading aloud, dropping stitches," Elizabeth checked each item off on her fingers. "She shares amusements and intimacies with my father, and rebukes Lydia for too high spirits. Can this be the same woman?"

Mrs. Hill looked startled. "Who else can it be, miss?'

"I don't know," Elizabeth confessed guiltily, "nor do I wish to alarm you, but it boggles the mind. Can a bump on the head do so much?"

"If it makes you feel better, Miss Lizzy, she has been ever so pleasant these weeks! Always thanking me, and hesitating most charmingly whenever she requests a service. That last dose of laudanum she took made her mighty sick, and my heart nearly broke when she apologized for all the trouble she was causing."

Elizabeth felt as if she could never cease to wonder at her mother's recent marvels. "You sound like my father and Jane, content with what they see as an improvement and unwilling to ask how it came about, lest it prove a fantasy."

"It's not my place to question the behavior of the family, Miss Lizzy, but if you are worried for Mrs. Bennet, maybe you should talk to her about it. She's the best one to answer your questions, I should think."

Elizabeth pondered this a moment then smiled. "You are right. I do not know why I did not consider it an option myself. Thank you, Mrs. Hill."

"It's my pleasure, Miss Lizzy. Reminds me of the days you used to run to me with all your little troubles, and we'd sit over a cup of tea and work out why Mary tore your book or some such thing."

"I always felt better for your counsel."

On the other side of the house, Alison was lying in her bed watching a candle flicker on the nightstand. If she squinted her eyes, it almost had the same pulsing look as the off-air snow the television channels of her youth would default to late in the night. She forced herself to recall familiar themes songs - The Brady Bunch, The Jeffersons, and Scooby-Doo. These memories were vital tethers to her real world, and it felt vital to hold on to them.

These meditations were interrupted by a knock on the door, followed by Mr. Bennet's head in a night cap sticking through the door. Alison bolted upright in alarm. "Mr. Bennet!" she exclaimed.

"Good evening, my dear." He stepped into the room and shut the door behind him. Alison dug herself deeper beneath the covers. "I though we might ... talk," he said cautiously.

"Can it not wait until morning?"

He looked hurt. "I suppose it could, but I'd like to speak now." He picked up the chair from the vanity and placed it beside the bed. "You need not fear me pressing my affections upon you, if that's what has you worried."

Alison hoped she didn't look as relieved as she felt. "I did not mean to offend you ..."

"No matter," he interrupted. "We have more important matters to discuss, Alison."

See started and blurted, "How do you know my name?"

He looked truly flabbergasted, "And why should I not know my own wife's name? As I recall, I did have to speak it in church at least the once!"

All the color drained from her face. "And is your name is Thomas?" she asked desperately.

"Are you in earnest?" he asked in astonishment. "I'd like to know what else you think it ought to be! Perhaps Lizzy was right to be so concerned."

"Lizzy was concerned about me?"

"We all are, my dear," he sighed and stood from his chair. "I do not know what happened to addled that brain of yours in the carriage accident, but ever since I've seen the first glimmer of the woman I married that I've had in years!" He bent down and grasped her hand in both of his. "I know the years have not been what we once imagined them, but that does not mean the future must be the same as the past."

"You are in earnest?" She was floored.

"Completely. Think of what' I've said, Alison. I will see you in the morning," and he leaned over the bed and kissed her forehead, just as Tom used to do when he tucked her and one of their infant daughters in for a nap together. "Good night, my dear," and he left.

Mrs. Bennet's name is Alison! she wanted to scream at the closed door in alarm, shock, and confusion. Instead, tears overwhelmed her, making the world look like an Impressionist painting. Alison and Thomas, but Austen never gave either character a first name! She didn't think her name sounded remotely Regency. Was this just some wild turn in her fantasy? Or was her modern world the fantasy, and she was just batty old Mrs. Bennet? She couldn't tell what was real anymore, and that terrifying thought kept her awake all through the night.

Read Chapter Fifteen