Notes From The Bennet Wardrobe Universe

Notes From The Bennet Wardrobe Universe

The Bennet Wardrobe is an alternative history in the Jane Austen Universe. While the characters are familiar, I have endeavored to provide each of them with an opportunity to grow into three-dimensional personalities, although not necessarily in the Regency period. If they were shaped or stifled by the conventions of the time, the Wardrobe helped solve their problems, make penance and learn lessons by giving them a chance to escape that era.

The Wardrobe underlines my conviction that each of these characters could enjoy fulfilling lives once they had overcome the inner demons holding them back.

Would it have been possible for them to do so staying on the Regency timeline?

Perhaps. However, something tickled my brain—maybe it was the intersection between my youthful fascination with speculative fiction and my mature appreciation of Austen—that suggested that it would be fun to try something different. How about time travel? Not unknown in JAFF…but usually played for farce rather than something more profound. With careful treatment, though, protagonists could be immersed in different futures to learn that which they need in order to overcome the limitations preventing them from realizing their potential as people. In the process, they carry the eternal story of love and life forward even to the 21st Century.

The saga of The Bennet Wardrobe begins with The Keeper: The Extraordinary Journey of Mary Bennet. The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Époque is Volume 2, Part 1. I am currently in the midst of composing Part 2 of the “Kitty Book,” The Exile: The Countess Visits Longbourn. You will find an excerpt of that work below.

Three subsequent novels will complete the story of the Wardrobe’s agenda. Four novellas have been published, the most recent being Lizzy Bennet Meets the Countess. More will be written to enable me to understand the manner in which the Wardrobe and the Bennet family interact as well as the motives of important characters. These will give readers insight into my process.

Characters created by other authors make their way into the Bennet Wardrobe stories. That is because I subscribe to the idea that the act of imagining characters or their foibles brings them into reality. The speculative fiction master Robert A. Heinlein employed this approach in his majestic work The Number of the Beast (1980).

“As in many of his later works, Heinlein refers to the idea of solipsism, but in this book develops it into an idea he called “World as Myth” — the idea that universes are created by the act of imagining them, so that all fictional worlds are in fact real and all real worlds are figments of fictional figures’ fancy…”[i

Thus, you will find persons who were created by Patrick O’Brien, Winston Graham, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Virginia Woolf. These eternal personalities populated the Regency and Victorian/Edwardian worlds envisaged by their originators much as the Bennets, Darcys and Fitzwilliams resided in a universe established by Jane Austen and, later, The Wardrobe. As such, I have concluded that they did exist, but that Ms Austen did not know of them to write about them.

You will note with interest that those who served the Darcys in P&P (and Bingleys, Cecils and Fitzwilliams in The Bennet Wardrobe Series) continue to serve, albeit in different capacities, sometimes quite elevated in the ranks of the Bennet Family Trust. Likewise, character names and places which have been created in my other Bennet Wardrobe novels and Pride & Prejudice Variations have been retasked. So, readers will discover Wilsons, Andertons and Tomkins working in various capacities throughout the Bennet Wardrobe stories. Some have married into the families themselves. As always, there is a Dr. Campbell to save the day.

News from the Bennet Wardrobe Universe

Archive rat that I am, I have recently discovered fragments of an intriguing primary source which will find its way into the second part of The Exile. The document I am citing appears to be thoroughly authentic, if in sorry condition, handwritten as it was on acid-based paper of a ruder quality. I think that the information found on the title page should cause some stir within the community.

The Diary of Capn Sir George Percival Wickham, GCB

The Hero of Hougoumont Woods

Collected, Edited, and Annotated by His Widow

However, I am not prepared to discuss at this point nor am I convinced that the world itself is prepared for revelations into the character of one who has been so widely reviled in spite of his redemptive actions that awful June day in the orchard. His heroism has been sacrificed on the altar of literary expediency. I may only pray that, as a result of my study of this document and other important aspects of his life as they played out in the household of the Countess of Deauville as well as in his quarters in Newcastle, a new picture of the great Captain Wickham may emerge beyond that which we know from the interaction between General Sir Richard Fitzwilliam, KCB, the First Baron St. Jean and Mrs. Lydia Bennet Wickham found in Chapter XXXVII of The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey.

“With that Richard picked up a small bundle, a handkerchief with LBW carefully embroidered on the corner. He stood and placed it in her lap. With shaking fingers, Lydia undid the knot and rifled through the meager remnants of a man’s life.

“This is everything he had in his sabretasche. If I only had this evidence to assess a his character, I would say that he was a man who had come to understand the value of his wife. And, with that assumption, I would imagine his last thoughts were of you.”

Please enjoy this early excerpt of my current work in progress, The Exile: The Countess Visits Longbourn.

This excerpt is ©2017 by Don Jacobson. All rights reserved. No reproduction of this work in progress by any means—mechanical or electronic—is permitted without the express written consent of the owner of this copyright. Published in the United States of America.

Chapter I

The House at Deauville, August 30, 1932

Having reached the last period of the last letter she needed to write, the Dowager…

Lord, how I hate that term…not because I am the present Earl’s widowed mother, but rather as it suggests that I am some doddering old woman with one foot in the grave drooling in her morning porridge.

…snapped the cap of her azure-enameled Waterman onto the pen’s barrel and covered the nib against unfortunate leakage. She laid it on the well-oiled walnut surface of her desk that occupied the center of the modest library. Then she reached over to the hammered bronze ashtray and grasped a black onyx holder imprisoning a smoldering cigarette. She took a deliberate deep draw and sat back in her chair to consider that which she had done and that which she had yet to accomplish. The drug deepened her sense of relaxation and offered up a pleasant buzzing feeling that frayed the edges of her vision. As she exhaled, a nimbus of bluish exhaust wreathed her whitened mane of close-cropped hair. She closed her distinctive china blue eyes and calmed every muscle in her torso, flushing the tension that had suffused her body as she wrote vital messages for shades of Bennets past.

While the news from the rest of Europe, the United States and the Pacific was unremittingly bad, t’was not the immediate timeframe, but rather the past and how it would determine the future that concerned Kitty. And, t’was not the history of Europe and the World, but rather that of her immediate family…past, present and future…which had attracted her critical mind. After two years of reading and analyzing, Lady Fitzwilliam had turned to Mr. Holmes’ most famous dictum. He had said to Henry and her several times before he, too, passed from this plane of existence, “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”

Using that logical razor, she believed that she could see past the obvious facts of the Bennets of the Wardrobe and pierce the veil that hid some of the higher purposes behind that remarkable piece of furniture.

And, here she stood once again, having moved from desk to French doors in the Beach House’s library. How she had transitioned from sitting to standing was outside of her ken. Her ability to utterly concentrate her mind away from the world around her had become legendary in Family circles. Even now, she could sense its presence, hulking behind her in the especially constructed alcove in the wall adjacent to the French doors through which she now looked without seeing.

Still deep in her near-trance, she mulled possibilities that once had seemed so remote, but were now closer to what she believed to be reality.

The Wardrobe has always left the Keepers wondering. T’is as if events and emotions which lead to Bennet travels and those travels themselves have been choreographed. That dance, though, has been designed not only to teach Bennets what we need to learn, but also to educate the Intelligence that resides across whatever dimensions that find themselves present behind those remarkable doors.

This deeper truth—one that Kitty believed may have been the tip of the iceberg of the Wardrobe’s hidden discourse—had driven her to consider and then decide upon a daring and dangerous course.

While the rules of the Wardrobe were designed to protect its users in the immediate sense from embarrassing discontinuities down the timeline, there was little inside those strictures conceived to protect the past from the perceived knowledge of the future. In fact, the only limitation seemed to be the intelligence of travelers and Keepers to avoid using too much of their foreknowledge in their proximate presents to inadvertently alter the future which would then render those insights meaningless and moot.

Wheels within wheels and the ultimate paradox—if you use what you know rests over the horizon you may change that outcome, that reality, and send the Universe down a different, possibly less desirable, path.

Everything that Kitty had concluded while prowling through the Archives was derived from her synthesis of Bennet-reported past events. Yet, every single nugget was bound to rest in the future of at least one Bennet or another. When taken as a whole, some ineluctable truths emerged.

If what she had seen develop ever so slowly like a photo from one of Mr. Stieglitz’s negatives was not a phantasm of her grief, then she realized that her life’s purpose was destined to become more urgent. As the great letter writer Saul of Tarsus, the Sainted Paul, wrote in his first Letter to the Corinthians…

For now we see through a glass darkly[ii]

In the same manner, with nearly the same freighted meaning, was Kitty barely able to discern what appeared to be a deeper, more profound raison d’être within her universe. What she believed herself to have discovered stretched her mind, forcing it to the very limits of what it could accept as being sanely possible.

She simply could not deliver her suppositions to the earliest point to which she must necessarily travel and drop them in the lap of The Keeper of that day. That could irretrievably change the future for the entire family…and destroy the purpose which she had come to believe was driving the Wardrobe.

What Kitty could deliver, though, was a fistful of breadcrumbs that could be scattered by this one Keeper in front of Bennets who would rise in subsequent decades. This she could do delicately, with discretion, without revealing her stunning conclusion and, thus, avoiding breaking the hollandaise.[iii]

Huffing a breath, she took one last pull on her cigarette. Then she walked back behind her desk, stubbed out the fag in the ashtray and sealed two envelopes against the possibility that she would be lost to this time forever. One was addressed to her son—suggesting only that she had determined to complete her cycle and that she wished him to care for the family as she and his father had done—and the other to Jacques. The latter revealed nothing more than that she had gone to the same place from which Cousin Lizzy[iv] had come. Again, that which she did not reveal presupposed an unspoken awareness of the truth. Both missives were left glowing in their creamy whiteness atop the stained blotter pad gracing the desktop.

Then she slid open the center drawer. Removing a folder, she cast about for something in which to carry it lest the precious pages secured within flutter loosely along the corridors of immeasurable time. Her eyes passed over and then rested upon the leather brief case—Henry’s prized water buffalo satchel, its sturdy leather straps still buckled—that had sat next to the desk…untouched since Alex Cadogan,[v] Henry’s private secretary, had brought it home to Deauville from Geneva. Kitty considered it, and then dismissed it.

Best if Tommy or Ellie keep it to pass along to one of the grandchildren.

Scanning around the room, her eyes returned to the desktop and halted on the morocco leather portfolio with the unusual brass clasp and the embossed

JMR

on the flap.

Ah yes, Mæstro Ravel’s portfolio. The poor man, distracted as he was over his inability to compose after his accident in spite of three weeks alone in Miss Darcy’s studio, left it in his room when he returned to Paris last week. I, myself, have been so focused on my tasks that I utterly forgot to alert him that we found it. Of course, he has not missed it enough to contact me. It will serve.

Moving faster now, Kitty opened the portfolio and slid the folder inside, resting it atop the items still secreted within. She did not bother to look at them. Then she rummaged in her handbag. From it she pulled one of her favorite mementos—a photograph of Tommy, Ellie and Henry on the beach in front of the House. Smiling at the thought of Henry’s cherished Kodak resting in her hands as she preserved this happy scene, she wrote on the back of the photo:

De Gauche à Droit: Thomas (22 ans), Eloise (17 ans), Henry (57 ans) au Plage Deauville, Août, 1919

 That, too, was slid into the portfolio.

One last dive into her black handbag brought forth a small leather pouch. Kitty thoughtfully tapped it against her palm before tipping it to cause a brilliant golden coin—an 1804 gold Sovereign gifted her on her tenth birthday by Uncle Edward and Aunt Maddie and one of her life’s treasures—to tumble out. This was the only bit of currency she possessed from that time before she traveled here. She slipped that into Ravel’s case. She had decided against asking the Trust’s Legend’s boffins for any Regency money for fear they would see through her plot.

Then she snapped the clasp shut.

To keep her hands free, she latched onto a silk scarf that had she had dropped on one of the chairs by the cold fireplace after her walk along the beach this morning. Quickly fashioning it into a sling, the Countess thrust her head and right arm through it. Monsieur Ravel’s portfolio easily fit into the resulting cavity.

If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well: It were done quickly[vi]

She smoothed the front of her Chanel suit, a recent acquisition from CoCo’s Deauville boutique. Squaring her shoulders, Kitty strode to the Wardrobe and, before she lost her courage, planted both hands firmly on the marquetry doors.

A thousand bees buzzed and the pressure built…

[i] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Number_of_the_Beast_(novel) accessed 7/26/16.

[ii] 1 Corinthians 13:12 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1_Corinthians_13#.22Through_a_glass.2C_darkly.22 accessed 10/14/17.

[iii] Refers to a kitchen disaster…the separation of a sauce which is overheated as it is made.

[iv] Please see Lizzy Bennet Meets the Countess.

[v] Sir Alexander Montagu George Cadogan OM GCMG KCB (25 November 1884 – 9 July 1968) was a British diplomat and civil servant. He was Permanent Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs from 1938 to 1946. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Cadogan accessed 10/10/17.

[vi] William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act 1 Scene VII.

16 Responses to Notes From The Bennet Wardrobe Universe

  1. I have found that I now wish I had waited to read all of these together as there are so many characters and events and my mind struggles to sort them all out…even with the lovely diagram and family tree you provided. It is a challenge to a senior mind.

  2. If I said what I’d like to say, then I would show myself as one of those fans who Doyle and Heinlein came to dread and resent. But….only….three….more….novels…..unhhhh. Regarding this excerpt, ‘Oh my.’ So looking forward to the Dowager’s next adventure, although I’m sad for her living on after Henry. She has more to accomplish, though.

    And I’m sure, due to the wonderful writing talent you have, you have more to accomplish after ‘The Wardrobe’ too. I just don’t want it to end.

    • Hi Michelle,

      I have to salute you for your spirit and acceptance of my Bennet Wardrobe conceits. There are, of course the FOUR remaining books in the main novel arc…but there are several other stories I have yet to write. My pattern has been to release a novel and the spring and one by the end of the year. In the middle, I release a novella. Within the “Mary” Sequence I have sketches for a story about Edward’s time in Boston (Pride and Presidents?); a very specific idea on the reveal for Caroline Johnson…”The Education of Caroline Bingley;” and a lighter item exploring the relationship between Thomas Johnson and Madelyn Anne Darcy–“A Thornhill Christmas.”

      There is more work to be done in the “Lessers and Betters” stories. I am hoping to weave the separate novellas “Of Fortune’s Reversal” and “The Maid and the Footman” into one larger novel. Likewise, I have had requests for extended stories dealing with the Baron and Baroness St. Jean and Mr. and Mrs. Wilson as they fight Britain’s enemies in a secret war that spans continents and decades after Napoleon is defeated.

      So more to do…god willing I have the time.

      DJ

  3. Oh, the intrigue this first chapter delivers. I’m deep in thought of the purpose of the Wardrobe and Kitty’s conclusions and suppositions. Looking forward to more, Don. This is quite a series!

  4. Love her opening thought regarding ‘Dowager’. Lead on Macduff! (I know, a misquote but still has been around for at least 160 years!) Looking forward to more of Kitty’s adventures as a mature thinking woman.

  5. What a wonderful excerpt. This is such an intricate series. I look forward to this latest release and the rest that are planned for the future.

  6. What a great dramatic ending to the excerpt! That’s one of my favorite Shakespeare quotes. I also really like your underlying belief: “…each of these characters could enjoy fulfilling lives once they had overcome the inner demons holding them back.” Maybe that’s true for a lot of people, not just novel characters? 🙂

    • Thank you Summer…the canvas of Mary, Kitty, Thomas, and Lydia left for us is limited. We need to consider why they became as they did. For Ms Austen, t’was not necessary to understand the “why” of any of them…just that they were that way. I believe that the Wardrobe sees their pasts and futures as critical to a greater design.

      • That’s an interesting question: How much did Jane Austen have any of her Pride and Prejudice characters change, aside from Darcy and Elizabeth? We could then expand the discussion to other novels. It might help unravel why Elizabeth and Darcy are generally considered her greatest stars.

  7. This whole series has kept me so interested as to what is going to happen next. I normally don’t read time travel novels but you sure have made me curious but maybe it is because I love the characters of Jane Austen’s writings. I really haven’t had trouble keeping the characters from each era correctly in my mind.
    Thank you for a great adventure in time travel and look forward to seeing what happens when the Countess goes back in time!

    • I do have some fun things up my sleeve, but I am loath to rush into them. We do need to have a deeper understanding of back stories as they are essential in explaining future actions and plots.

Your thoughts are precious!