Novellas are part of the way I write. Sure, I fill notepads, notebooks, and even post-it-notes with ideas, phrases, and sentences. But, in the end, I need to sketch and contemplate what drives my individual characters. The novella fits that bill. Consider that we know that Lizzy has a miscarriage in 1815 (see The Keeper). What we do not know is how it affects her. And, does it have a broader meaning within the Wardrobe Universe?
The roots to my latest novella Lizzy Bennet Meets the Countess can be found in Elizabeth’s letter to her sister Mary found in Chapter 42 of The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey. This was a transitional chapter that explores Mary’s own insecurity about her future. Yes, she loved being a mother to Rory and Bridget. Yes, she loved being Edward’s wife. Yes, she loved being the Mistress of Kympton Parish. To steal from Peggy Lee: Is that all there is?
Elizabeth’s letter was designed as a trigger. But, Lizzy would not send Mary a letter if she were in residence at Pemberley. She and Darcy had to be away. The Darcys, of course, could not have embarked on a Continental wedding trip after the ceremony in 1811…the Beast of Corsica. Same for 1812, 13, 14. June 1815 was Waterloo, but the Continent was not settled, shall we say. And, Wickham’s burial. And the Miscarriage. That brings us to 1816. Elizabeth has recovered her health, if not her mental equilibrium.
And, what could be more interesting…more revelatory…than having them run into Byron, Shelley, Godwin, Polidori (Vampyre), and Claremont? But how could an (albeit amazingly wealthy) average couple have an impact upon this constellation of literary luminaries? The Wardrobe!
Even if an adult Elizabeth had taken a trip to the future, she would have been describing fairly fresh visions of reality to Mary Godwin. Godwin may have judged her hysterical (in the original sense of the word, especially considering the miscarriage). But, if Godwin had absorbed those fresh images, she would not, could not, have transformed them into the impressionistic, almost Dadaeseque, visions that became Frankenstein. She likely would have written (Jules Verne’s) The Time Machine.
No, I had to have Elizabeth delivering dreams, distorted pictures conjured up by her mind from a reality that it could no longer grasp with daylight fingers. Those fantasies would be found in her childhood.
I sat back and considered my own memories as a child. There are some that are crystalline. But, there are so many more that appear to me only as nighttime fables, more symbolic than “real.”
While a novelist certainly needs reality to which readers can anchor their own imaginations, dreams—be they metaphors or allegories—are the stuff that drives fiction! The blend of some actual features with the sub- and un-conscious minds’ processing of fears and needs creates those fantastical images so necessary to elevate flights of fancy.
Consider that most critics agree that Frankenstein is a merging of Godwin/Shelley’s anguish at the loss of her first and second children steeped in images of the early Industrial Revolution. The first half of the 19th Century saw researchers examining the very forces that moved the universe…and life.
Even in the Wardrobe Universe, Mary Godwin could have been driven by those same items that motivated her in ours. However, Might it not be more interesting to have a troubled Elizabeth Darcy hone the knife-edge on the young Miss Godwin’s imagination?
Thus, Lizzy Bennet Meets the Countess was born.
A special note here: Lizzy Bennet Meets the Countess serves as a bridge novella between The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Époque (publ. 6/17) and The Exile: The Countess Visits Longbourn (Exp. Publ. 12/17).
Please enjoy this excerpt from Lizzy Bennet Meets the Countess. And please be sure to enter the drawing for a copy of the e-book by leaving a comment below. The giveaway will end at midnight EDST, Wednesday, 10/4/17.
This Excerpt from Lizzy Bennet Meets the Countess is © 2017 by Donald P. Jacobson. All rights reserved. No portion of this work may be reproduced by any means electronic or mechanical without the expressed written consent of the holder of this copyright with the exception of brief excerpts for review purposes. Published in the United States of America.
Villa Diodati, Cologny on the shore of Lake Geneva, June 20, 1816[i]
Elizabeth Darcy sat on the bench overlooking the windswept surface of Lake Geneva. Weeks of perpetually cool weather had plagued Europe. Reports from the Americas pointed to similar conditions bedeviling the farms of New York and New England. Here in mountainous Switzerland, never a haven for travelers seeking balmy weather, it was a foolish visitor indeed who did not pull on thick woolens even at this height of the summer season.[ii]
The grey surface of the giant lake was tossed by a chill southerly blast that roared off the Alps rising at her back. The winds, not having ceased in the fortnight she and William had resided in their rooms at the Villa, were so unremittingly from the south that sailors dared not brave Geneva’s waters for fear of being forced to the north lee shore, unable to return home for days on end. On top of the unending gale rising from the glaciers which shrouded Mount Blanc was the rain often bordering on sleet…handfuls of ice crystals destined to sting and scourge exposed skin. Only the hardiest of souls chose to venture out in such capricious weather, let alone rest in it to reflect upon the past and consider the future.
Yet, being out-of-doors was Mrs. Darcy’s preferred state. In the more than four years since her departure from her father’s house, her blood had thickened…had become used to the colder climes of her new home.
T’is more like November in Derbyshire than June a mere hundred miles north of the Mediterranean. And, from what we have heard, France’s southern shore is unseasonably cool as well. Those who have escaped there to warm themselves are probably quite disappointed in their vacation.
Better to face the elements than to endure the quiet, truly loving, sympathy showered upon her by her husband as they sat in the genteel precincts of Diodati’s elegant parlor. For Elizabeth Darcy was empty still. She looked at the watery scape stretching out before her…but saw nothing. She was lost in a world that pulsed in her mind’s eye, that space where dreams and reality merged and separated; becoming shadows of both a world she desired and needed for her happiness or the one she had forgotten and fought to recall.
By now she should have been a mother for the third time over. George William would have finally graduated to a child’s cot in one of the nursery bedchambers to make space for the new arrival.
By now baby Tommy or young Annie would have irretrievably spoiled William and have been spoiled by him, too. Boy or girl baby would have been blessed with two great protectors in Aunt Lydia and Aunt Georgiana.
By now the wee one would have been of an age to begin experimenting with turning from back to front. George William had waited until he had turned five months, but little Maddie was precocious. When she was just days short of four months, she had started surprising Nurse Gorman who would settle her into her crib safely on her back only to return and find the baby surveying her world through curious rich chocolate orbs, her oversize infant’s head lifted while resting on her round stomach. Little Madelyn took another month to defeat the rolled linens that subsequently were tucked around her as protective bumpers.
Lizzy absently rubbed her hand on the timeworn surface of the carved stone bench, its whitish limestone stained to tan. This day was one of those when she felt disconnected from reality. The unceasing wind had truly disequilibrated her, dredging up old feelings and memories that she had hoped had been securely left locked in the cupboard of her mind.
Rather, she expected, hoped, prayed, that the next great gust would pick her up, tossing her like a dried oak leaf on its currents to throw her body into the depths that frothed against quay leading perpendicularly from the shore. Would the release after her first breath beneath the waves be worth it? Would she see her babe, growing and whole as her vision narrowed down to a pinprick of brilliant white light?
The void that was found in the chalice of her pelvis cried out its loss, bereft of the life it had promised the Pemberley family. All she could do was cry, to lament, and to curse her body that betrayed her, the medicine that did not help her, and the ineffable loss that never released its talon-like grip upon her. And so she did, her tear-streaked cheeks hidden from watchers behind the French doors leading out to the villa’s terrace.
So deep was she in her grief that she never noticed the arrival of another. But when she gulped another great sob, a dark-haired sylph, bundled herself inside of a subdued green tartan man’s greatcoat made of thick fine Austrian loden,[iii] hurried around the bench to gather the poor woman into the protective cradle of her arms. The garment swamped Mary Godwin’s diminutive frame. She had added a knit wool uhlan to protect her head from the bitter winds of June. None of this, of course, mattered to Lizzy as she wept.
In the days since the Darcys’ rented conveyance had been added to Byron’s cavalcade of carriages trekking next to and above the Rhône as it tumbled through and down from the heights that held back the Lake, Godwin had worked to explore the complicated personality that was Elizabeth Darcy. The gentlewoman was now five-and-twenty, seven years Godwin’s senior. However, the gap in age was no gulf as Mary had been educated in a manner nearly identical to Elizabeth—by a parent convinced that her gender was no limitation for her mind’s capabilities. They were, Miss Godwin was convinced, kindred spirits.
Elizabeth’s sadness had immediately impressed itself upon Godwin. Over the course of the days they shared carriages—for Godwin often abandoned Shelley to Byron to accompany the Darcys—she had become closer to Mrs. Darcy, finally arriving at a communion where Lizzy and “the other Mary” (as both of the Darcys referred to Godwin and then, after her 1816 marriage to the widower Shelley, Mrs. Shelley throughout Lizzy’s remaining time at Pemberley) shared confidences about life, the world, and their men. Young Claire, even though she was of an age with her stepsister, determined the futility of any effort to break into that almost-sisterly bond. She chose to bask, instead, in the attention of Byron.
Lizzy gasped into the lapels of Godwin’s coat, “Oh, Mary, I cannot bear it. Sometimes it hurts so much. Fitzwilliam cannot comprehend a mother’s loss. He tries, but his own pain overwhelms him. Where will I find the strength to rise above this?
“Is it this terrible weather that churns up old memories, ancient pains? I thought I was getting better. Certainly springtime at home seemed to lift my spirits, and I felt strong enough to live again without my sisters supporting me every step of the way. But now, all seems so bleak.”
Godwin’s gloved hand soothingly stroked her friend’s hair. Elizabeth’s agony was palpable with the poor woman trembling beneath her friend’s touch. Even had her distress not been so obvious, Mary had learned to study the human condition by immersing herself in her mother’s notebooks and other monographic sketches that her father had lovingly preserved. For the gifted child and adolescent, this was the closest she would be able to come to knowing her mother’s voice.[iv] As such she had the tools to assay Mrs. Darcy’s desolation.
“Lizzy…Elizabeth…you and every woman who has lost a babe feels the event most immediately. You are convinced that you might have changed the outcome.
“Yet, every medical text I have read, every doctor I have heard expound on this, and even the midwife who attended my stepmother seem to agree that a miscarriage is, sadly, a very natural event. While there are women who have difficulty in carrying a child to term, you are not one of those as is evidenced by two very healthy children awaiting you in Derbyshire!
“Barring this exception, a miscarriage is understood to be a clear indication that there was something amiss with the pregnancy.
“As you know, I am loath to argue that ‘it is God’s will’ that one woman carries all nine months and another loses her child. What I do know is that there was nothing you could have done to prevent it. I would not doubt that you followed medical orders, ate the same, and lived your life the same in this instance as you did the first two times you increased.”
Lizzy raised her brown eyes up from Mary’s shoulder and gave her a watery smile. “Now I know why my husband insists on calling you “the other Mary.” You are so like my next younger sister with the exception that she is ideally suited to be a parson’s wife.”
Godwin snorted, “And, like my mother, I imagine, I am more likely to be condemned to Perdition for no less than 25,000 years!”
Lizzy straightened and buffed her gloved hand to clear her eyes before taking that same hand and playfully swatting Godwin’s upper arm, “No, Miss Godwin, my sister Mary may be a devout woman, but I assure you, she has not a judgmental bone in her body. She would no more suggest that you were fit to be received only in an outhouse[v] than she would criticize you for being a Deist.
“I would dearly love to be a fly on the wall observing your first meeting with Mrs. Benton and her dear friend Father Newman. Her husband, poor Edward, would probably have to keep time lest the three of you outpace Lord Liverpool in debate!”
Godwin’s efforts to lift Elizabeth’s spirits had succeeded, and the two women spent the next several minutes watching the patterns of the wind race across the surface of the lake. They spoke not a word.
[i] The timeline for the Byron party’s visit to Villa Diodati (6/10-11/1/1816) has been adjusted to fit the necessities of this work of fiction.
[ii] 1816 is referred to as “The Year With No Summer.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Year_Without_a_Summer accessed 9/3/17.
[iii] (Gr) Thick heavy waterproof woolen cloth used in traditional Austrian clothing, particularly coats and cloaks.
[iv] Mary Wollstonecraft died in 1797, ten days after giving birth to her namesake, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin.
[v] John Adams’ Marginalia comment in his copy of Mary Wollstonecraft’s History of the French Revolution (1794), John Adams Collection, Boston Public Library.