So, are you ready for Pride & Prejudice Readers Choice? I’m not! That’s because I’m writing the first scene of this new Austen Authors group writing project, The Bennet Brother, and I’m probably going to need every minute of the next week to get it done. But it’s already proving to be an interesting experience.
The Bennet Brother has made me discover some interesting things I’d never thought about in Pride & Prejudice before. Here’s the eye-opening one: Darcy would never have made his original insulting comment about Elizabeth at the Meryton assembly if she had a brother or father who would defend her. I’ve played it through in all kinds of scenarios with different male characters involved and different social settings in the country and in town, and gentlemen just didn’t insult women publicly if they had a male protector around. Can you imagine Darcy insulting Charlotte Lucas at the assembly? No, because her father was there and involved with her, and likely a brother or two as well. Darcy can say what he likes about Elizabeth because he knows she’s unprotected. That concept made me stop in my tracks, I can tell you!
I’ve also had to rethink my initial assumptions about how things would have changed for the Bennets if they had a son. Before I started working on the backstory, I assumed this would mean that their future would be assured because of the end of the entail, and that there would be less pressure on the daughters to marry since they wouldn’t be losing their home. Unfortunately, that scenario didn’t hold up when I looked at it carefully.
Longbourn barely supports the current seven inhabitants – Mr. & Mrs. Bennet and their five daughters – with no extra income to put aside. Now, suppose Mr. Bennet dies, leaving Longbourn to his son Edward, who then marries and has three children. If none of his sisters marry, the income from Longbourn now has to support eleven people. See the problem? At least some of the sisters need to marry anyway.
It gets even trickier when you think about the expenses of raising a son in the Regency. The Bennets never bothered to get a governess or tutor for their daughters, but a son needs to be educated. Suddenly we’re looking not just at school fees, but the expenses of keeping up a gentleman’s lifestyle while attending university aren’t small. Georgette Heyer, in her utterly delightful Sylvester or The Wicked Uncle, says this about Mr. Orde, the squire whose income is 8000 pounds per year, and his thoughts on his only child attending university:
Had his son shown the least leaning towards academic pursuits, he would have sent him to Oxford upon his leaving Rugby, whatever retrenchments this might have entailed. That they must have been heavy he knew, for it was impossible for such a thoroughgoing sportsman as Tom to maintain a creditable appearance at Oxford on a penny less than six hundred pounds a year, setting aside such debts as the squire thought him bound to incur.
Now, she has her tongue firmly in cheek in saying that the retrenchments would be heavy, since she also says that the sacrifice would include cutting back his stable and selling his cocks, but since she was an amazing researcher, I’ll take the 600 pounds a year, plus debts of honor, as a reasonable figure. Estimates of Mr. Bennet’s income tend to range between 1000-2500 pounds a year, in which case 600 pounds is 1/4 to 1/2 of the income the entire family lives on. Either young Edward Bennet would remain uneducated – hard to believe given Mr. Bennet’s attachment to his books and Mrs. Bennet’s ambitions for her children – or the family would have had to scale back their expenses dramatically to pay his fees and expenses. Instead of being more financially secure, they would be pinching pennies. Wouldn’t Kitty and Lydia love having to wear old dresses so that their brother could attend Oxford?
See how complicated this gets? Well, if you want to see how it turns out, you’ll have to come back on January 30 to read the first installment of The Bennet Brother. In the meantime, you can get in on the fun on Twitter, where you can get hints by chatting with the flirtatious and charming @EdwBennet, or use the hashtag coined by Jakki Leatherberry and friends, #HotBennetBrother.
So, what do you think Mr. Edward Bennet will be like?