Friday, September 27, 2013

Meet David Westover: A 19th Century Geek

The hero of Holidays at Pemberley, or Third Encounters: A Tale of Less Pride and Prejudice Concludes is partially inspired by my husband. I'm not sure he knew that before.

I have forever been calling John my Mr. Darcy, a moniker made easy by a vague resemblance to Colin Firth, but it is not Mr. Darcy to whom others usually compare him. From the entire spectrum of actors, my darling usually gets compared to Johnny Galecki, better known as Leonard from The Big Band Theory. Dear me. This has followed him through life, for as a child he was called David, when Mr. Galecki played the character of that name on Rosanne. Sigh. I think this bothers me more that it does him. As he said recently replied to my irritation on the subject: "Geeks don't watch The Big Bang Theory. Geeks watch My Little Pony."

To what does this pertain? Mr. David (David, you say? Complete coincidence, I think) Westover, Rector of Kympton and of independent fortune, is a rather geeky hero. Rather than hunt and fence, he is of a scientific bent. Many gentlemen in the 18th and 19th century were enthusiastically engaged in naturalistic pursuits, of all varieties (Benjamin Franklin and Darwin jump to mind), and Mr. Westover is cast in a similar mold.

We first meet Mr. Westover as an adult when he had just the decision to accept the living at Kympton (it also happens to be the first scene with an adult Mrs. Hendley, nee Westover, whom I introduced to you here. Both appear as children in the book's prologue). Here is it for your enjoyment:
An unmarried woman approaching the dreaded age of thirty always requires explanation. If she is most fortunate, a tidy fortune readily provides excuse, or perhaps her betrothed died tragically. Society smiles upon a pledge of maidenly widowhood, and such a lady must always be a subject of interest. The squandering of youth in caring for either a sickly parent or string of orphaned siblings is also tolerable, but be she so truly unfortunate as to simply fail to ever turn anyone’s head, or at least not far enough to result in a proposal of marriage, then she is only one amongst a multitude of homely old-maids, dependent and subject to ridicule. Such a fate must be avoided at all costs.  
Of course a gentleman, though still unmarried at such an age of decrepitude as thirty-nine, requires not the slightest excuse for his state. All he need fear are the attempts of every concerned friend to thrust ladies across his path. How fortunate for David Westover that he was completely oblivious to all such attempts! Upon first entering the neighborhood of Kympton, there had been some scurry amongst its residents to pair him off with one superfluous sister or another, for not only was he in possession of the living at Kympton and that associated with his family’s seat, but perhaps his greatest attraction was a healthy second son’s portion, undiminished though entirely in his own hands since the trying age of eighteen. Such a man was surely the proper property of one or another of the ladies in the parish, a conclusion bolstered by his easy manners and ready flattery, but Mr. Westover proved stubbornly blind to all but the most direct assaults, to which he showed such a degree of embarrassment that few would dare venture similarly. Eventually even the most determined matchmakers gave him up as entirely hopeless, and his bachelorhood appeared safe. Only Cordelia Hendley, his sister, persisted in pushing David towards matrimony. 
For many years it was she more than any other who had defended his right to remain single, but ever since her surprise accession to the title of wife, and at such an unlikely age as thirty-seven, one of her chief concerns became securing him the female companionship (and caretaking) that he required. When her marriage to her brother’s curate, surprising in itself, further astonished the world by proving fruitful, she realized how selfish it had been to convince him, as over the years she had, how very unsuitable he would be as a husband. How often she chided, “Count your blessings, David, that it is a sister you must contend with, rather than a wife, for the latter could never abide such nonsense!” when he forgot his dinner, taken away from time and space by the studies that consumed his life. There was always some “puzzle needing attention,” as he often phrased it, and just when one was solved, a new one inevitably arose. Though he never neglected parish duties, almost everything else was likely to be forgotten once he set his mind to a pursuit. Now that she was married, there was no one but the housekeeper to take care for him, and though Mrs. Herbert had been under Cordelia’s own immediate direction for so many years, each time she visited the parsonage some unaccountable failure of habit and training was always detectable. She counted her blessings that her own perfectly operated curacy was not half a mile distant, or her brother’s entire establishment would surely be subject to rack and ruin. Which is why, upon first learning of David’s intention to remove from Glendale to Kympton, she voiced her opinion most loudly in opposition to any such scheme.   
“David!” she exclaimed, cornering him in the astronomical observatory which the master of Glendale had built for his younger brother’s use many years ago. “What is this Tom tells me of your leaving Glendale? Have you gone mad? You must do nothing of the sort!”  
“Darcy has need of a rector,” he replied with an indulgent smile, “you have need of a bigger house, and I would like to get a closer look at the minerals being mined in Derbyshire. I think it a most eligible situation.”  
“I beg to disagree! Mr. Darcy can find another rector. Surely there are enough in need of a living. I am already secure a bigger house, and you need not relocate just to study rocks. Your fancy is sure to turn in some other directions soon enough.”  
“You know you cannot live in the big house with Alicia for however many years the improvements Tom plans take to be fully enacted, not with two children of your own. Such extensive work cannot be accomplished quickly, and the longer it is delayed, the more difficult the task becomes.”  
“It would not be such an ordeal if you would only give up this notion of tearing down the entire house and simply add on a few new rooms, as I originally suggested!” she replied in an indignant tone.  
“I cannot change the realities of the situation, my dear, and the foundation must be relaid. Had I allowed you to advance with your plans unhindered, you would not thank me for it, I assure you.”  
“But surely this plethora of pipes need not be installed! I saw your diagrams, and I do not see at all how the structure will be more secure by leaving a maze of holes underneath it.”  
“My dear Cordelia! Not only will the new curacy be the sturdiest house for miles around, but it will also be the envy of everyone you know. Plumbing is sure to change the way we live, and you will be amongst the first to fully indulge in this tremendous luxury. No one shall ever want to inhabit the rectory again, once they witness the marvel that is the curacy.”  
“Then why not simply switch abodes? Robert and I will move into the rectory, and you may live at the big house until this miracle of modern engineering is accomplished.”  
“Though no miracle, the mechanism really is rather miraculous, Cordelia, and you will think yourself the luckiest lady in the land to have it, believe me.” He looked at her skeptically, “Beside, you believe Robert would ever consent to inhabit the rectory? He is much too concerned with the preservation of rank to agree to such a notion.”  
She sighed, “No. He never would, but there must be some other solution! You cannot go off and live alone at Kympton. Who will take care of you?”  
“The parsonage has been run by the same good lady these may years. I told Darcy we would suit each other just fine, but that you were sure to want to meet her first. I just hope Mrs. Smith’s nerves aren’t too shaken by your inspection.”  
“If you would only marry, I‘d need not concern myself in such matters!”  
“Marriage is not necessary, only a willingness in you to believe I can take care of myself!”  
She smirked, “Had you ever shown the least capacity in that area, I’d be very pleased to see it.”  
For the first time since the conversation began, he frowned. “I have never been allowed to attempt it. Far be it for me to be anything but thankful for the remarkable attention my siblings have showered upon me all my life, but as long as I have the security of Glendale – if I am never to be tried solely on my own merits – how will I ever know that I can survive on my own? This is important to me, Delia.”  
Whenever David invoked his childhood name for her, Mrs. Hendley always become sentimental, but typically tears did not uncontrollably well in her eyes, as they did while she confessed, “I will miss you intolerably. Have you considered how I am to make do without you?”  
His smile returned, a bit crookedly, as it always lilted on the left whenever he was particularly touched or amused. “You have your own children to mother now, and I shall be no further than a morning’s drive away. You will all do so well without me, that I am sure to regret ever having left. I’ll have to return home with great frequency in order to guard my place in your affections, lest you forget all about me. Robert’s inability to fulfill my duties will serve ample excuse.”  
“Indeed!” she scolded him and continued to try and dissuade him, but not long after the easy distance between Leicestershire and Derbyshire was confirmed (a single days visit might be made, though it was a long way to journey for nothing but tea – the only activity for which there would be time), David was begrudgingly suffered to go. The Hendleys moved into the parsonage, which had room for their existing children and any additional miracles Cordelia might still have in her, and over the next three years (all motivation for a swift completion being fairly negated), a very proper gentleman’s abode was erected upon the grounds where the old cottage, having housed the curates of Glendale for who knows how many generations, once stood. 
The house was not grand beyond its station, though rather more commodious than is customary in such domiciles, but it was exceedingly well situated and equipped with modern conveniences the likes of which were barely known to the most illustrious in the land. At Mr. David’s instruction, running water was accessible at two different spouts inside the house: one in the kitchen, and another in a fabulous water closet, equipped with a startling device in which one might bathe standing up, as if in a rain storm. David would not take credit for this miraculous contraption, insisting the idea was not his own. He had only improved on it. 
 The kitchen was fully modern, as were all the fireplaces and chimneys. Though she was suspicious of some of David’s notions at first, it was not long after finally taking up residence in the new parsonage that Cordelia become their biggest advocates. “How we ever lived before, I know not,” she confessed to her friends, each of whom considered sourly that they still were forced to endure poor ventilation, drafts, damp, and smoking chimneys, while Mrs. Hendley could only complain of failures in her refrigeration cabinet!      Despite such distractions, Mrs. Hendley found ample opportunity to hound her youngest brother to return to his native parsonage, though several years passed without David making any indication he might do so. It was the greatest irony that when he finally did turn his thoughts in such a direction, it would be Cordelia who persuaded him otherwise.

Want to win a copy of the book? Enter my giveaway: It runs through October 4th. Good luck!

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