Writing Unknown Austen Characters by Sharon Lathan
Naturally we who write Austen inspired literature adore taking on the main characters – Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth Bennet, Captain Wentworth, Anne Elliot, to name a few – and in many cases the secondary players – Georgiana Darcy, Mr. Collins, Colonel Fitzwilliam, Mary Bennet, among dozens. Breathing new life into them is a large part of the joy. Along the way we must, of course, create totally unique cast members. Some of them will contribute in huge ways while others become our own secondary or tertiary characters. In the end it is all about the character, whoever they are, and the life we infuse into them.
I am still living in India as often as I am in England during the years spanning 1789 to 1820, so had to share another image to set the mood. This one is a fine looking man wearing a simple dhoti. I thought a departure from the fancier garments I have been sharing here and on my Facebook page might be appreciated.
In my last blog I shared an excerpt from my work in progress that involved a conversation between Fitzwilliam Darcy when he was a youth of 12 and my main character Dr. George Darcy, a man of my creation who is brother to Fitzwilliam’s father. Here is the link if you missed it:
My current novel now has the title The Passions of Dr. Darcy and you will be reading lots about it in the months ahead, trust me! For today I am going to continue the theme of breathing life into lesser or unknown Austen characters. This is something I have done a ton of within the pages of The Darcy Saga, my seven volume sequel to Pride and Prejudice. With Dr. Darcy I was blessed with the opportunity to travel far back into time and resurrect people never mentioned by Austen or only given a cursory mention. What fun!
I am going to share a couple excerpts. Ready? Great! The first involves a conversation between George, his brother James, and father Mr. James Darcy the Elder. For perspective these are Fitzwilliam’s uncle, father, and grandfather respectively. The second excerpt occurs much later in the novel after the death of Lady Anne Darcy, James wife and Fitzwilliam’s mother. Read on, tell me what you think of these passages, and feel free to discuss the Austen characters you are curious about–
The Passions of Dr. Darcy excerpt #1~~
James Darcy the Elder, Master of Pemberley in Derbyshire and Darcy House in London, was imposing in every way imaginable. Physically he stood well over six-feet with shoulders straight and a broad chest that could conceivably contend with that of a gorilla. At seventy-years of age his hair was iron grey and his face creased with lines, yet these signs were the extent of the visible indications of advanced age. James Darcy walked with the sure confidence and vigor of a man half his years, and in many cases of men a third. Power and authority surrounded him as an aura unmistakable and impossible to deny. If one doubted their initial impression, the first sentence spoken in his resonant rumble or focused look from his penetrating gaze clarified the matter. His eyes were a unique color that transformed from indigo to a greenish tint that did not exist on any charts to a brown resembling darkly roasted coffee, yet no matter the color or the mood eliciting the alterations, it was the intensity of his stare that unnerved. Unless one was of the female persuasion. Then the eyes, demeanor, and physique were a magnet.
Yet as far as his sons could ascertain, James Darcy had remained faithful to his wife throughout their long, occasionally difficult marriage. For the record, they were correct in their assumption and since the death of Emily Darcy nearly five years ago not a single one of the ladies who vied for the attention of the robust man with extreme wealth and prestige had gotten anywhere. He ignored them all and went about the business of managing Pemberley with the same drive and intelligence that had served him as Master for over four decades.
He was a man no one trifled with, whether they revered him or feared him or hated him. He was Darcy or Mr. Darcy or Sir, even to his children and his wife. Only his sister Beryl, the widowed Countess of Essenton who was soon to be the Marchioness of Warrow, called him otherwise. To her he was “Jamie” and his children had never been brave enough to ask if this was a childish endearment or meant to annoy him! Knowing their Aunt Beryl, probably the latter.
“George, I apologize for being late. Of all the days for my horse to throw a shoe. The ride from Vernor’s ended up a limping walk. How are you, my boy?”
“Well enough, Sir. James is doing an admirable job of keeping me entertained.”
Mr. Darcy nodded and paused to pat his son on the shoulder. George did not expect to be enfolded into a warm embrace, that sort of demonstrativeness a rare occurrence even when they were children, but he sensed his father’s concern and recognized the grief buried within stern eyes. Losing a son had branded the father’s soul as well.
“As I suspected he would.” Mr. Darcy looked at his oldest son and heir, his lips lifting in a minuscule smile. “Nevertheless, I am sorry for being detained and could benefit from some of that wine, if you do not mind, James?”
“What news from Sanburl Hall?” James asked while pouring.
“The usual business for the most part. Young Master Gerald is recovering from the croup, news I did tarry to pass on to a servant to deliver to Anne since I know she has been concerned. The boys shall be playing together in no time.”
“That is good news indeed. George’s medicine helped?”
“Well of course it did!” George responded before Mr. Darcy could. “Crushed ma huang and lobelia added to the heated mist in a tent over the boy are far more effective than cold mist alone. Or mercury, which has too many negative effects. Fortunately it was a moderate case and a tracheotomy was not necessary. As you said, Father, he and William will be terrorizing the nursery ere the month is over.”
“I said they would be playing together,” Mr. Darcy corrected while James choked on his wine over the thought of his friend’s baby having a hole drilled into his neck. “Fitzwilliam is a behaved boy and his nurse will not allow the nursery to be disorderly.”
“That is because she is a hun lacking anything remotely soft and feminine. Why you let Lady Catherine recommend a nurse is beyond my comprehension. I shudder to imagine who she hired to care for her daughter.”
“Anne is beginning to think as you, George,” James interjected. “I have never liked Miss Reese but my wife has difficulty where her sister is concerned. Miss Reese does her job, though, so we cannot complain at that.”
“A few more hours with young Gerald and that imp Richard Fitzwilliam will break Miss Reese’s iron rod. William is a gentle, mannerly boy as you say, Father, but not those other two by a long shot. Terror follows in their wake, let me assure you. Lord, I do not envy the lot of you dealing with those hellions once they are out of swaddling clothes!”
Mr. Darcy grunted. “I wish I could argue but I cannot. Praise to God Master Gerald will be with us to raise some terror. No small thanks to you, Son.”
George’s brow lifted at the compliment and proud paternal smile, even as a warm glow spread across his chest. It had taken years for Mr. Darcy to approve of his chosen profession and it remained infrequent that he verbally acknowledged his skill and accomplishment. “Thank you, Sir,” he replied simply.
“I know I do not say it often enough, George, but I am proud of you. I recognize your talent and passion. These are traits I admire and respect as I possess them myself. James does too, I am pleased to proclaim. I know you have your heart set on leaving England, but I do pray you reconsider. Think of the good you could do here, with your people, as you did with Vernor’s boy!”
George did not glance away from his father’s piercing stare, that alone a feat many could not manage, and waited for the tug on his heart to diminish. Never had his father expressed his emotions toward George’s leaving so vehemently and his borderline pleading was affecting him more than he would have imagined. The reasons for his determination to put his country behind him were myriad and only James knew the whole truth. George would not hurt his father, the one person he respected above all others, by telling him that while Pemberley was the only place he truly felt at home it was also the cause of his deepest agony. The memories of sweet-tempered Alex who had been so much more than merely a brother remained alive and vivid as if his ghost stalked the halls, filling the rooms with the high-pitched laughter George remembered as one of the few attributes that differentiated the identical twins. It was more than he could bear.
He needed to forget Alex, at least to a degree, and while pursuing his studies or up to his elbows in blood he did forget. The downside of this, as evidenced by his question to James, was guilt and doubt, neither emotion one George struggled with too often. It was damned annoying! Hearing James’s words of encouragement helped more than he wanted to admit. Hearing his father practically beg him to stay home after praising his accomplishments incited an irritating stinging sensation in his eyes that he flat refused to succumb to!
So instead he reverted to standard George-ism. He lifted his brows, feigned shock, and responded with stage-precision pitched dismay, “What? Stay here and scandalize the good citizens of Derbyshire when I actually touch a patient? Can you imagine what old man Matlock would do if he found out I performed surgeries?” George gasped and shuddered dramatically. “Best I make a hasty retreat before you are disbarred from the Gentleman’s Guild of Obscenely Wealthy and Worthless Landowners, Father.”
James chuckled, and George flashed a cocky grin and wink his direction, but Mr. Darcy remained unsmiling.
“I own the clubhouse so they can’t ban me,” Mr. Darcy responded, the bland tone so convincing that only one who knew him well would distinguish the teasing hint. “As for his lordship, I doubt he would protest too loudly or his daughter might bar him from visiting with his grandson—“
“And that would be a tragedy, why?” James interjected. “That possibility is the best reason I have heard yet for you to stick around, George. Maybe while you are at it you can rob a grave or something so Catherine will refuse to ever visit Pemberley. I would owe you for that.”
“Alas, no matter how obnoxious Lady Catherine finds me she keeps coming back. Family and all. I fear you are on your own with that one, James. No, as highly enjoyable as it is to irritate Catherine and Lord Matlock, and as much as I adore stirring up controversy and causing trouble, I don’t relish being clapped in chains or fined half my inheritance by reneging on my East India contract.”
“Indeed the Guild might not take an arrest as lightly as performing surgery,” Mr. Darcy agreed in all seriousness, frowning and scratching his chin as if George’s fictitious “guild” were a real problem. “Then I suppose there is no way around it. This dilemma means we are forced to move forward with plans for your farewell party…”
“A party? For me?”
Mr. Darcy smiled at his son’s enthusiastic interruption, surprise and delight alighting the twenty-two year old’s eyes and erasing the final vestiges of grief. “We planned it as a surprise but decided that it might be difficult to deceive you when carriages begin unloading on the drive.”
The Passions of Dr. Darcy excerpt #2~~
James was far worse than George’s wildest imaginings had envisioned. Aside from his appearance – and it truly was ghastly – he was disconnected from reality. George’s abrupt presence after nearly six years away hadn’t startled James one iota. Instead he was staring at the gravestone as if George were not there. Words were not penetrating the self-installed barrier but maybe action would.
“Remember that time when Anne was seventeen, it was at the Summer Festival, and Millie Hent tried to kiss you? Lord I have never seen a woman so furious! There she was, a diminutive sprite spitting fire, and she charged right up to Millie and punched her in the nose. Remember that? Millie fell flat on her hind end. It was hysterical. But we sure learned not to anger Lady Anne Fitzwilliam after that. She always had a temper, that one, especially about you. If she could see you now it would be you with a bleeding nose and dirt on your ass. Then she would stand over you for an hour delivering a good tongue lashing.”
James had turned and was staring at George with the same vague expression. George stared right back, this time with visible disgust and irritation. “Not sure if Anne can see you from Heaven and while normally I hope for that sort of possibility this time I pray she can’t. Still, on the off chance she can, and since she can’t deliver the slap you deserve, I’ll do it for her.” And without any preamble George balled his fist and slugged James square in the nose. He controlled the blow so that James wasn’t hurt too much – no blood or crunched bones – but enough of an impact that it stung and knocked him off the bench onto the hard-packed gravel.
“What the bloody hell!” James roared.
“About damned time you showed some emotion, Brother,” George roared back. He stood up and loomed over the supine James. “Now get up off your sorry ass so I can do it again. Or is once enough to wake you up from your pathetic bout of self pity?”
“You hit me! I can’t believe you hit me! That’s just… Wait. What are you doing here? When did you get here?”
“We have been sitting here for the past half hour, James. Where the blazes were you?”
“I…” The shock and anger on James’s face was replaced by confusion, and then after a glance toward the gravestone now inches from his eyes the glazed mask of sadness began creeping in.
“Oh no you don’t!” George reached down and grabbed James’s soiled, loosely tied cravat, yanked him to his feet, and raised his other hand in the air.
“Wait! Don’t hit me again, George. I get it.”
“Do you? Because if I hear you sniveling and sinking into your grief like that again, James, I will beat you until you’re bloody.”
“Why all the hostility? And where is the compassion, damn it all! Did you come all this way to harass or commiserate?”
“I have a suspicion you have gotten far too much commiseration.” He let go of James’s cravat and stepped back with a sigh. “Listen James, I have oodles of compassion for your loss. Believe me. I feel it too. I loved Anne and can’t believe she is gone. I also knew your wife pretty well and am sure she would not want you to curl up and die of mourning her. That isn’t the Anne Darcy I knew. She was a fighter who was full of life. She loved Pemberley. She loved her friends and family. And she loved you too much to want you to suffer so.”
“I don’t know how to make the pain stop,” James choked.
“It may never stop. You have to come to grips with that. But it will become tolerable. It will lessen in time. If, that is, you quit ignoring life to come here and stare at a cold grave. Anne isn’t here, James. She is alive inside you and inside your two children. Don’t let her die completely.”
“I’ll try, how’s that for now?”
“I’ll accept it, mainly because I am starving and tired of lecturing you. Come on. Show your guest some hospitality.” George slung his arm over James shoulder and steered away from Anne’s plot, his grip firm enough that James could not look back and had no choice but to walk with him.
I hope you loved it and are anxious for more! The Passions of Dr. Darcy has a tentative release date of April 2013.