I once met a girl. Let’s call her Jane, not because that is her name but because she reminded me of Jane Bennet. She was everything that a popular young girl should be. She was beautiful in that you should be a model way. She was friendly in that never seemed to meet a stranger way. She smiled — a lot, nearly always. She was a joy to be around. Her kindness spilled out of her and onto everyone she met. No one was beneath her notice. To look at her, you would think perfection. She just seemed nearly too good to be true. But, I was privileged to see her beyond the first impression. I got to know more of her as a person.
Now, as you may know, I enjoy delving into the secondary characters in Pride and Prejudice. These are the characters that are less developed. They are there to serve a purpose but are not shown to us in detail. We get glimpses of them but nothing in great depth — only what is necessary to the main plot whether that be to create conflict, move the story along, or be a backdrop against which the main character can be contrasted. Recently, I have been considering Jane Bennet because I have a story or two in the works that feature her as more than just the beautiful older sister. In these stories, I hope to bring her out of the shadows and into the spotlight.
In considering Jane Austen’s Jane, I have thought a good deal about the real life Jane Bennet I mentioned above. As I said, I got to know her to some extent. I got to see the angry Jane when after being pushed to her limit of patience — and it took quite some time — she became fiery and demanding. I got to see the sorrow that nearly overwhelmed her heart when people disappointed her. I saw how her heart broke for them because she knew they could be or do so much better than they were. I got to see her love and care for others demonstrated through projects that reached out to the less fortunate. She was not a weak person. She was a positive person, who always tried to shake off the negative. She held strong beliefs but never forced them on others. She treated those who had wronged her with forgiveness but with caution, as well. She was not perfect. She was just as human as any of us.
That is what I hope to accomplish in writing my various versions of Jane Bennet — I hope to make her human, to show her as not perfect, but as a person who strives to be light to other people even when she struggles with keeping that light for herself at times. I may even let her light dim and her smile fade. I will, more than likely, give her a back story — as I did in Two Days in November (a short story in my Teatime Tales collection) — that gives some explanation as to why she is still single or why she does not wish ever to offend. I would love to be able to write her as someone who deals with an immense amount of self-created stress as she strives to fill the role of “perfect” daughter, lady, and sister. It might also be fun (and this one I have already started) to show her as capable of a bit of vengeance against a particular catty sister of a handsome gentleman.
Just talking about the possibilities makes me rather excited. This is what I love so much about writing stories about secondary characters. I get to look behind the facade they present. I get to delve into contemplations of who they might be in private and why they might be who they are. I get to consider what might happen if they are pushed beyond their limits.
Oh! And the secrets that could lie behind that smile! Oh, my! I can’t wait to start writing, but first, I would love to hear if you have any ideas about what secrets are hidden by Jane’s perpetual smile and proper manners.