Monday, December 8, 2014

Mr. Darcy's Christmas Calendar by Jane Odiwe

After that day, time at Chawton cottage, and the calendar, which had seemed to work so magically together, began to alter. When Lizzy woke the next morning and attempted to open the door she found it was stuck and resisted being opened at first. There was no glow of light behind the perforations of door number eight, as there had been previously, and it simply wouldn't open. She didn't want to force it; the calendar was such a beautiful and precious object that she hadn't the heart to tear it. If she thought about what had happened to her over the last week or so, dwelling too much on trying to reason out exactly what was going on, she concluded that therein lay the road to madness. The only way she could keep her sanity and make sense of the whole experience was to tell herself that she'd fallen into a parallel universe, one that she'd often dreamt of visiting. She was fairly certain that it wasn't just that she was dreaming - never before had she been able to sustain so much action when sleeping, but trying to analyse it all was getting her nowhere. That magic of some kind, the sort she'd believed in as a child, held some enchantment over the whole episode was an unshaken conviction, and she was glad, that even though she was twenty-one and well past childhood days, that such a powerful spell had charmed her. She resolved to think no more on it, and accept it for what it seemed - an extraordinary Christmas gift. It came as almost no surprise that as soon as she'd accepted this, the little door of number eight flew open of its own accord, and Lizzy saw a magician's hat. At least, she thought it might have been, but on reflection she decided it could just as well belong to a gentleman like Mr Bingley, as there wasn't a rabbit in sight.

Tis the eight day of December, and what better way to begin a review of a book entitled Mr. Darcy's Christmas Calendar than with the scene in which the heroine, Lizzy Benson, opens the door of her very special advent calendar, purchased at the gift shop at Chawton. Before I proceed any further, I must confess that until I met my husband, I had no notion what an Advent calendar was. Yes, I grew up watching National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, but I really had no idea those little doors might contain chocolate or other treats inside. Then my mother-in-law presented me with the calendar she made my husband when he was born. This framed piece of embroidery features a large Christmas tree with twenty-five ornaments, each with a corresponding hook, to which scraps of paper are attached. Part of the Christmas magic in my husband's house was waking up each morning in December to see what instructions or treats the elves had left overnight, usually a Christmas story, craft, or game. For ten years now I have been in charge of making sure this bit of Christmas magic keeps happening. From having no notion what one was, an Advent calendar has become one of the most important parts of our holiday.

That being said, when I learned one of my favorite Austenesque authors, Jane Odiwe, was writing a Christmas story about an Advent calendar, I made immediate plans to read the book December first, before a fire, and with a cup of hot cider in hand. Unfortunately, these plans were waylaid when my grandfather died on November 30th. When I finally did get to the book, it proved the perfect balm to my heartache. The opportunity to escape the modern world for a fantastic Regency one, in which Jane Austen lives side by side with her characters from Pride and Prejudice, slowly tweaking the story until it takes the form we all know and love, is, as the heroine notes in the quote above, an extraordinary Christmas gift. I've enjoyed all three of Ms. Odiwe's time-travel tales (be sure to read my reviews of Searching for Captain Wentworth and Project Darcy), but I think this latest is my favorite. I say that taking into to account the brilliantly portrayed romance between Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy in Project Darcy, but I did not find the modern day romance nearly as satisfying. In contrast, the hero of Mr. Darcy's Christmas Calendar, a Mr. Williams, is the perfect Darcy stand-in: even more Darcy than Darcy in this book. Another strength of the novel is how the modern events parallel those of the past, which I greatly enjoyed. Further, Christmas magic totally penetrates the story, and as odd as traveling through time via an advent calendar might seem, I found it a lot more believable than the machinations used int he previous stories, probably due to the holiday atmosphere. Yet I think my favorite thing about this particular book had less to do with a swoon-worthy hero and the joys of the season than the commentary on the writing process the book provides.

Bear with me for a moment, but this is a book written by an author about another author who is writing a book. And not just any book. When the story begins, Austen is still calling her tale First Impressions, and it bears little resemblance to the final novel, most particularly in that there is no Darcy and Wickham seems set to play the hero. There are not many scenes in which Lizzy gets to speak directly with Jane Austen, but when she does, great truths about the writing process are revealed. I don't know if this aspect of the book would be as fascinating to a reader who does not write fiction, but I found myself laughing again and again over the writing truths Austen shares, making her feel relatable as a fellow writer, not just a distant, mythologized idol. A few examples:

"I've lost my way a little with the plot, and I'm not sure how to get it back."

"My characters are always springing out of nowhere; believe me, I have little control over them, but sometimes they are reticent to show themselves."

In the past, I have often lauded Ms. Odiwe's ability to encapsulate her painter's eye into her writing. While that eye is still definitely on display in Mr. Darcy's Christmas Calendar, I feel like she is showing us her writer-self, as channeled through Austen, in a manner not accessible in her previous work. I throughly enjoyed this book. I will return to it at future Christmases. It was a lovely way to get into the holiday spirit.

And do go check out the online Advent Calendar Ms. Odiwe has available on her blog. Better than chocolate:

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

What this Janeite wants for the holidays ...

This post is actually for the benefit of my relations. If you ask me what I want this year, I'm going to ask for money. If you want to buy me a gift, make it one of these:

1) JT Originals Christmas Kiss Tree Ornament:

Please!!! I really want this. It would please me endlessly to add this to my tree. And while you are buying, artist Janet Taylor's 2015 Pride & Prejudice calendar would be an excellent accompaniment. Just saying.

2) In Her Own Hand Jane Austen Juvenilia Box Set:

The kind of books that I ache to hold. Besides, I am lacking a good copy of the juvenilia.

3) Jane Austen Wall Peel Decal:

I know just where I would put it, too!

Not quite as sure where to put this, but I will find a place. The entire shop is great, but this piece is my favorite. 

I have been longing for this book for a while. I love Jane Odiwe's Austen inspired watercolors. They perfectly accompany her writing. By the way, I'm reading her Mr. Darcy's Christmas Calendar now. Review coming soon!

I love puzzles. 500 pieces s the perfect size for to bang out on an insomnia laden night. 

7) And for those who might feel up to splurging, the Kate Spade Emma clutch:

I think this is pretty self explanatory.

There you have it! I've been exceptionally well-behaved all year. I feel like I've earned some JA swag.

Monday, November 24, 2014

I'm still here! It's just NaNoWriMo. Twisted Austen winners.

No, I haven't fallen off the face of the earth, though it sometimes feels like it. Twisted Austen seems a million years ago already, and I am only getting around to announcing winners now. Rafflecopter seems really glitchy for some reason, and I am sorry if it inconvenienced anyone. With no further ado the winners are:

Day 1: Chiara L.
Day 2: Angela W.
Day 3: Susan M.
Day 4: Ceri T.
Day 5: carmen
Day 6: Jan S.
Day 7: Luthien84

Congratulations to all the winners and thank you so much for celebrating Halloween with me this year! I have no idea what next year will bring. Maybe I'll tackle Northanger.

Two more exciting announcements to make:

There is an amazing review of The Madness of Mr. Darcy posted at Austenesque Reviews! My favorite line: "I highly recommend this exquisitely crafted variation!" Perfect! DO check it out:

There is also an excerpt from The Madness of Mr. Darcy as well as an international giveaway going on at The Calico Critic. Giveaway ends on 12/7:

Regarding Being Mrs. Bennet: the last chapter posted somehow got chopped in half, right when they were at Pemberley, and I lost the rest of it. Disheartened and insanely busy, I have not tried to rewrite what was lost, but I will. Just not sure when. We're almost at the end of the story. I plan to post a second draft at AHA late winter/early spring.

Looking ahead: I am way behind on reviews. Hoping to catch up on some of those before the end of the year. I am also going to be putting together a Christmas vignette, following up on The Madness of Mr. Darcy a few years after the end of the book. This will probably be in lieu of my usual Christmas offering, though I have some aspiration to hurry up and illustrate last year's Twelve Days of Christmas. We'll see how December transpires.

NaNoWriMo is going great! Currently in just over 45,000 words, but as I have a personla goal of 60,000 words, there is still a bit to go. I have not been sharing excerpts like I did last year. Not sure why, just haven't felt particularly compelled. The Prodigal Husband is my first straight regency romance, though there is still a lot of JA influence, of course. It is also a great deal more sexy than what I'm used to writing. Maybe that is why I'm keeping it closer this year. I'm sure there will be excerpts to come.

Happy Thanksgiving to the american Janeites out there! I'll catch back up with you all in December.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

I've been Interviewed at My Kids Led Me Back to Pride and Prejudice!

Interrupting this Twisted Austen once more to point your attention towards another blog, My Kids Led Me Back To Austen, where Tamara H has posted an interview she did with me. It had been a while since I had done an interview, and she asked really great questions. Lots of fun. Please check it out and enter to win copies of The Madness of Mr. Darcy!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Lunacy Legislation and The Madness of Mr. Darcy at More Agreeably Engaged

I have a pretty awesome (if I may say so myself) guest post at More Agreeably Engaged (home of Janet T, the wonderful artist responsible for the annual Pride & Prejudice calendars) discussing lunacy legislation in the Georgian period. It's really kind of fascinating and the perfect, gruesome, pre-Halloween distraction form whatever it is you ought to be doing. There are also two ebook copies of The Madness of Mr. Darcy up for grabs. Check it out:

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Being Mrs. Bennet: Chapter Twenty-one

Elizabeth, as they drove along, watched for the first appearance of Pemberley Woods with more than some perturbation; and when at length they turned in at the lodge, her spirits were in a high flutter. How did Alison convince me she was sane again? she wondered in perplexity, suddenly convinced that nothing could be less probable than meeting her fate on this enormous estate.

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

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

On applying to see the place, they were admitted into the hall; The housekeeper, a respectable-looking, elderly woman, led them first into the dining-parlour. It was a large, well-proportioned room, handsomely fitted up. Elizabeth, after slightly surveying it, went to a window to compose herself on pretext of enjoying its prospect. The hill, crowned with wood, from which they had descended, receiving increased abruptness from the distance, was a beautiful object. Every disposition of the ground was good; and yet looked on the whole scene but saw little - the river, the trees scattered on its banks, and the winding of the valley. She was summoned away and led into other rooms, all lofty and handsome, and as they progressed those objects now familiar from the landscape took up different positions, greeting her from every window like supportive friends.

She longed to enquire of the housekeeper whether her master were really absent, but had not courage for it. At length, however, the question was asked by her uncle; and she turned away with alarm, while Mrs. Reynolds replied that he was, adding, "but we expect him tomorrow, with a large party of friends." A wave of relief followed by remorse overwhelmed Elizabeth. Alison must have been mistaken in her calculations. They ought to have come tomorrow. What would happen to the novel, and how was she to ever learn what was to be her fate?

Her aunt now called her to look at a picture. She approached, and saw the likeness of Mr. Wickham suspended, amongst several other miniatures, over the mantlepiece. Her aunt asked her, smilingly, how she liked it. The housekeeper came forward, and told them it was the picture of a young gentleman, the son of her late master's steward, who had been brought up by him at his own expence. -- "He is now gone into the army," she added, "but I am afraid he has turned out very wild."

Mrs. Gardiner looked at her niece with a smile, but Elizabeth could not return it.

"And that," said Mrs. Reynolds, pointing to another of the miniatures, "is my master -- and very like him. It was drawn at the same time as the other -- about eight years ago."

"I have heard much of your master's fine person," said Mrs. Gardiner, looking at the picture; "it is a handsome face. But, Lizzy, you can tell us whether it is like or not."

Mrs. Reynolds's respect for Elizabeth seemed to increase on this intimation of her knowing her master.

"Does that young lady know Mr. Darcy?"

Elizabeth coloured, and said -- "A little."

"And do not you think him a very handsome gentleman, Ma'am?"

"Yes, very handsome."

The housekeeper chatted on, encouraged by Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner and loud in her praise of the Darcys. Soon the picture gallery, and two or three of the principal bedrooms, were all that remained to be shown.
In the gallery there were many family portraits, but they could have little to fix the attention of a stranger. Elizabeth walked on in quest of the only face whose features would be known to her. At last it arrested her -- and she beheld a striking resemblance of Mr. Darcy, with such a smile over the face as she remembered to have sometimes seen, when he looked at her.

When all of the house that was open to general inspection had been seen, they returned down stairs and taking leave of the housekeeper, they were consigned over to the gardener, who met them at the hall door.
As they walked across the lawn towards the river, Elizabeth turned back to look again. Her uncle and aunt stopped also, and while the former was conjecturing as to the date of the building, the owner of it himself suddenly came forward from the road, which led behind it to the stables.

It's true! was her first thought. All Alison said is coming true!

They were within twenty yards of each other. Their eyes instantly met, and the cheeks of each were overspread with the deepest blush. He absolutely started, and for a moment seemed immoveable from surprise; but shortly recovering himself, advanced towards the party, and spoke to Elizabeth, if not in terms of perfect composure, at least of perfect civility.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Madness of Mr. Darcy at Austenesque Reviews

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

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

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

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

Makes a cozy reading nook

Sunday, October 12, 2014

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

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

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Madness of Mr. Darcy on Austenprose!

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

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Madness of Mr. Darcy at Diary of an Eccentric, plus Twisted Austen

There is an excerpt of The Madness of Mr. Darcy post at Diary of an Eccentric and an intentional giveaway of two ebooks to enter. I would have asked Anna Horner, to whom the blog belongs, to review the book, but that might be a bit questionable as she edited the book for me instead! And did a phenomenal job, I might add. One of the biggest and most consistent criticisms I have received of my work regards the lack of professional editing: not any more! Two of the five people who have reviewed the book on Amazon have explicitly commended the editing. Well done, Anna, and thank you so much!

That announcement aside, happy October 1st! That means I am neck deep trying to finish this year's Twisted Austen offering: Becoming Mrs. Norris. What better way to celebrate the Halloween than with Austen's most Mansfield Park geeks climbing out of the woodwork. I wonder if anyone will have the stomach to read this story. We shall see. In the meantime, here's a excerpt from the work in progress:
ghoulish character? And here come all the

Knowing her privileged position within the household, Miss Ward did her best to protect Maria and Francis from their uncle's rage, and over the years she had learned how to minimize his fits of temper. At 21, having survived 11 years in his care, she knew how to best engage his meager supply of sympathy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"The same."

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 29, 2014

Being Mrs. Bennet: Chapter Twenty

Elizabeth was true to her word and kept up a daily correspondence while in Derbyshire. If she did not write to Alison on a given day she wrote to Jane instead, and so her activities were well known to all her family. The beauties of Oxford, Blenheim, Warwick, Kenelworth, and Birmingham were all described in detail, and as the travelers approached the small town of Lambton, Alison's increasing eagerness upon reception of each consecutive missive did not go unremarked.

"it is a wonder how your attachment to Lizzy has increased in recent weeks, my dear," Mr. Bennet remarked.

"My affections are equally divided amongst all my children," she replied. 

"You weren't so egalitarian of old."

"Yes, as we have discussed time and time again, I have changed. Be warned that if you continue to take note of the fact, my nerves might retaliate," she replied with a teasing smile.

He laughed. "Consider the matter entirely forgotten. Now, what has my Lizzy to say?"

Alison read aloud:

My dear Mama,

We arrived in Lambton in time for dinner this  afternoon.  The charms of this small part of Derbyshire are little regarded compared with the more renowned sights nearby, but I admit to anticipating our time here a great deal. How to account for such misplaced enthusiasm? Having pondered the question at some length, I find it is my aunt who is entirely responsible. Were you subject to her joy in returning to this beloved corner of the country after so many years and reuniting with old friends, you would be swept up in her excitement as well. 

We traveled leisurely, and it was a day designed for an open carriage. It is a fine country, and the well-maintained roads do their part to add to a traveler's pleasure. The inn keeper's wife set us off this morning with a picnic basket, and we enjoyed it above a fabulous vista of a river nestled in a valley. We had intended to arrive in Lambton much sooner than we did, but so enjoyable was our repast and location that we remained far longer than intended. I explored some of the adjacent paths and climbed to an even high peak with my uncle while Aunt Gardiner organized our removal. The rest of the journey was marked by little of significance but perfect harmony, excellent conversation, and those visual delights which mother nature is so very adept at producing.  

After so many great houses, one might be expected to tire of fine carpets and satin curtains, but I find myself enduring. Pemberley, as we discovered prior to my departure, is but a few miles from Lambton, and we will visit it tomorrow. Dear Mama - you will recall my concern in visiting this home, not knowing if it's master would consider it an intrusion, but the chambermaid has just now informed me that the family is away from home over the summer, and so I may view it without qualm. There is a great deal of relief in this knowledge, but also some disappointment. It would be interesting to confront Mr. Darcy in his own domain. Who knows - perhaps the chambermaid is mistaken?

"I don't know how Lizzy could possibly hope Mr. Darcy would be at home!" Lydia interrupted.

"Can you imagine coming upon him unexpectedly," Kitty giggled nervously. "I wonder if he would acknowledge her?"

"Of course he would!" Alison protested. "Mr. Darcy is a perfect gentleman and extremely hospitable."

"And how would you know that, my dear?"

Alison blushed. "I should say I assume he would be hospitable."

"It is rather amusing," Mr. Bennet chortled. "I find myself in sympathy with Lizzy in hoping for a meeting with Mr. Darcy. The encounter would certainly enliven her next letter, and we would learn who had the best understanding of the man's character, but it is highly unlikely that the chambermaid is wrong."  

"It is my understanding that working in such a position would render the girl a strong source of information. Gossip is sure to circulate in an inn, and the comings and going of a great family nearby are likely to be tracked with interest," Mary contributed.

"Very true, Mary. The obviousness of your observations render them no less astute, I assure you."  

Alison cast a disapproving look on him, under the glare of which he smiled meekly. "Will you not continue your letter, Mrs. Bennet?"

She gave him one more admonishing glance before proceeding:

We dined on very tolerable mutton this evening: the best, according to my uncle, that we have enjoyed since our departure. I confess I grow weary of eating from inn larders. My aunt and uncle send their good wishes to you and everyone else at Longbourn. I will be sure to describe all the wonders of Pemberley for you tomorrow. Much love, etc.

"Lizzy has undertaken a most complete correspondence," her father commented, gazing at his wife meaningfully. "I wonder where her newfound sense of urgency in writing derives?"

"I asked her to write often."
"But daily? What secrets are left for her to relate in letters addressed to you, Jane, when she makes such a complete account to your mother?"

Jane smiled serenely. "It is almost like being with them, her descriptions are so complete." 

"Well maneuvered, my dear, but all the tact in the world will not alter the fact that Lizzy has been especially attentive - perhaps even anxious - to keep your mother abreast of her every action, while we are regaled with  Mrs. Bennet's surprisingly knowing declarations on Mr. Darcy character. This particular letter, furthermore, seemed to be more focused on that gentleman than the scenery."

"I fail to comprehend your point, Mr. Bennet," Alison replied.

"That is because I have not yet come to it. The point, as you phrase it, is that Lizzy next letter ought to be far more interesting than those that have proceeded it, regardless of the precision of chambermaid gossip. Do you not agree, my dear?" he smiled quizzically.

 Alison shifted in her seat. "I do look forward to descriptions of Pemberley's interior and grounds. The house is said to be uncommonly fine."

"Oh, yes," he chuckled. "We are all so interested in the house, never mind the master."

"I for one still don't care a fig for Mr. Darcy or his house," Lydia declared stoutly.

"Of course, you do not. No one ever expected perception from my youngest child." Ignoring the confused looks gracing the bulk of his family's faces and the admonishment on his wife's, Mr. Bennet left the parlor for his library.

Read Chapter Twenty-One