In my last blog, posted on May 12 and linked below, I began what I intend to be a series delving into the many secondary characters who inhabit the nine novels and one novella comprising The Darcy Saga. With that many novels, there are obviously a huge number of characters! Some characters merely pass through, offering flavor to a scene or two. Other characters play a pivotal role, even if not quite elevated to the status of a main character, thus becoming important to the entire series. It is the latter category of characters I shall be focusing on, sharing insights into how and why I created them. I hope all of you enjoy this peek into my novels as much as I am enjoying revisiting my inspirations.
For an overview of the vast number of characters within The Darcy Saga, click the image below to be taken to my website for the entire Cast of Characters as well as a large view of the family tree. I also have an extensive PORTRAIT GALLERY for all the characters.
So, last month I literally went back to the beginning and re-introduced Stephen and Amelia Lathrop. If you missed that blog, here is the link: Darcy Saga Characters: Meet the Lathrops
Expanding upon what I wrote in that blog, early into what was then a frivolous fun storytelling for online Austen fan-fiction forums, my vision of normal life for the newly married Darcys necessitated the action taking place in Derbyshire, at least for a while. As was standard for the era, when a woman married a man (unless he lived in the same town) she would be the one leaving her family and friends to enter her husband’s household and world. This would certainly have been the case with Elizabeth Bennet. In Pride and Prejudice we are introduced to most, if not all, of her family members, as well as a great number of her friends in the Meryton area of Hertfordshire. Conversely, we know very little of Mr. Darcy’s family or circle of friends. In fact, Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mr. Bingley, and to a much lesser degree Mr. Wickham, are the only friends spoken of. To me, it was logical that even a taciturn man like Darcy would surely have acquired a few friends along the way, so this seemed like a reasonable place to start in creating new characters. Additionally, presuming his male friends would be roughly the same age, there would naturally be some wives too. Maybe even children! Aside from the characters themselves, it was important and realistic to create an established world for Elizabeth to inhabit as Mrs. Darcy of Pemberley.
Meet the Vernor, Hughes, Sitwell, Fitzherbert, and Drury Families
Early in my research of Derbyshire, I stumbled across the names of several prominent families. One such family is the Vernon family of Sudbury, a town located near the capital city of Derby, which is approximately 30 miles south of Bakewell (the inspiration for Lambton, assuming Chatsworth is the inspiration for Pemberley). The name was appealing, as were photos of Sudbury Hall, but since writing about a real family might be a bit restrictive or annoying on the off-change a living Vernon picked up my novel, I changed the name to VERNOR and their manor house was renamed Sanburl Hall. Additionally, for the sake of establishing a close familial relationship, I rather vaguely placed the Vernor lands further north with the property lines abutting Pemberley estate and the manor house “a mere five miles away.”
The Vernor family had for generations been the closest to the Darcys, both in physical proximity to their lands and in relationship. Gerald Vernor was only months older than Darcy and the two boys were close all through childhood and well into their adult years, only drifting apart somewhat over the past four years since Vernor’s marriage. As often transpires after matrimony, Gerald began passing more time in Derbyshire with his wife and new son while Darcy tended toward Town. Nonetheless, the two often met, hunted and rode together, and Darcy had hosted Gerald and his wife Harriet at Pemberley numerous times.
In Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy: Two Shall Become One, the first neighbor Elizabeth meets is Henry Vernor, the above mentioned Gerald’s father. A week into her marriage, during a shopping trip into Lambton, the couple encounter “a distinguished older gentleman” who approaches them “with a broad grin.”
“Why, Mr. Darcy! How fortunate I am to meet you so unexpectedly. This must be the Mrs. Darcy we are all hearing about.” He bowed deeply to Lizzy. He had a very open face and Lizzy found herself liking him immediately.
“Mr. Vernor,” Darcy replied with a happy smile, “you are correct. This is my wife, Mrs. Darcy. Mrs. Darcy may I introduce you to our closest neighbor, Mr. Henry Vernor of Sanburl Hall.”
Lizzy curtseyed. “Mr. Vernor, it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Darcy, however I must insist that the pleasure is entirely mine. I am certain that Mr. Darcy has warned you that the rumors of your grace and beauty have preceded your entry into our little community. Now I shall be able to brag to all that I beheld you first and can glowingly proclaim that the rumors pale in comparison to the reality that was before me.”
Lizzy was a bit shocked at Mr. Vernor’s ebullient charm and assumed Darcy would be miffed, so she was further surprised to hear him laugh boomingly. “It sunders my heart to disappoint you, my old friend, but we have just come from the Carriage Inn and I was honored to introduce my lovely wife to a number of the denizens of Lambton. Tell me, Vernor, how much have you scoundrels wagered on who would espy my wife first?”
Mr. Vernor feigned indignation, “Darcy, you wound me, sir! A true gentleman would never wager on such a thing.” His words, however, were denied by the wink he gave to Lizzy and by Darcy’s continued laughter.
Darcy turned to his wife, who was beginning to find the entire encounter extremely amusing. “You see, my love, Lambton offers little in the ways of diversion so the gentlemen frequently resort to petty indulgences to offset the boredom. I know for a fact that there has been a long standing wager as to when I would enter the esteemed state of matrimony and to which society lady it would be. How did those bets turn out, Vernor? Any luck, my friend?”
Vernor assumed a visage of tremendous mourning. “Mr. Creswell won on the age. There was some debate since you were eight and twenty when you became betrothed, but the wager was for age at marriage, so Creswell edged out Sir Cole. Sadly for us all, although undoubtedly happily and wisely for you and Mrs. Darcy,” he bowed again to Lizzy, “you ventured outside London society, a move none of us anticipated.”
Lizzy laughed, “I do not believe my husband anticipated it either, Mr. Vernor. His chagrin was tremendous, let me assure you.” With a twinkle she glanced at her husband. “He fought valiantly against it, but in the end we ladies usually achieve what we want, is that not true, Mr. Vernor?”
“Most definitely, Mrs. Darcy. When it comes to matters of the heart, the fairer sex has the distinct advantage.”
“My wife is far too generous, Vernor. She led me on a merry chase in which I was all too delighted to engage.” He briefly kissed Elizabeth’s hand, saying, “The prize was well worth the effort.” Darcy was beaming and Vernor could not mistake the looks shared with his wife as anything other than the deepest love. Vernor had been a great friend to Darcy’s father, and his son, Gerald, had been a childhood playmate of Darcy’s and was one of his dearest friends still. The families were close so it warmed Vernor’s heart to see the young man finally so happy.
Darcy turned his attention back to Vernor and clapped him on the shoulder. “It brings joy to my heart to know I have disrupted the gaming. By the way, where are you heading? Will you take a glass of wine with me? Gerald is meeting me and would undoubtedly delight in visiting with you, too.”
Darcy nodded. “I am escorting Mrs. Darcy to Madame du Loire’s. Let’s plan soon for a game of billiards at Pemberley?”
Mr. Vernor winced. “I do not think I have quite recovered my pride from your last thrashing at billiards, Darcy.” He addressed Lizzy, “Your husband is the champion billiard player in all of Derbyshire, Mrs. Darcy. Last summer was the first time anyone had beaten him in a decade, and then it took Mr. Hughes, our next best player, to accomplish the feat.”
Darcy scowled and glanced at his wife. “I was distracted most of last summer with personal matters and Hughes caught me on an off day.”
Vernor smiled, completely misapprehending Darcy’s reference. “Yes, I imagine you were distracted, and we now all comprehend the reason. Mrs. Darcy, my wife and the other ladies of Derbyshire are anxious to meet you. As soon as Mr. Darcy is willing to share, you must dine with us.”
“Thank you, Mr. Vernor. I shall look forward to it.”
Due to the busyness of Christmas activities, and newlywed activities, Elizabeth would not meet the other Vernors until the highpoint of the season’s celebration: Sir Cole’s Masque Ball on Twelfth Night. In fact, the ball would be the new Mrs. Darcy’s formal introduction to all of Derbyshire society.
A mild hush fell over the room as nearly every eye in the place fell on the couple, both of them well aware of the scrutiny. Darcy paused theatrically, delighting in the attention for indubitably the only occasion in memory and probably the last. The caesura spanned mere seconds, but the desired effect was obtained. Within minutes the word raced through the manor that the Darcys had arrived.
Sir Cole welcomed the young couple effusively, Lizzy charming him instantly. Lord and Lady Matlock hovered nearby and greeted Lizzy warmly, further causing a stir. If the redoubtable Matlocks so approved of the new Mrs. Darcy, then the rumors of her inappropriateness that had spread throughout the region surely were ungrounded.
“Elizabeth dear, you are breathtaking,” Lady Matlock pronounced with a kiss to Lizzy’s cheek. “Nephew, allow me the honor of introducing Mrs. Darcy to the Vernors. Mr. Vernor, Mrs. Vernor, my niece Mrs. Darcy.”
“Mrs. Darcy, it is a delight to see you again,” Mr. Vernor bowed. “I do trust your first month at Pemberley has been pleasant?”
“Immensely so, Mr. Vernor, thank you for inquiring. Mrs. Vernor, it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
Darcy had greeted Gerald with enthusiasm and turned to his wife. “My dear, this is Gerald Vernor, an old friend although he did tergiversate and attend Oxford. Mr. Vernor, my wife, Elizabeth Darcy.”
“Mrs. Darcy, it is a joy to meet the woman who captured my wayward friend’s heart.” Lizzy laughed and curtseyed, sensing immediately the same open amiability in the son as in the father. He lightly touched his wife’s elbow, “My wife Harriet Vernor.”
Harriet Vernor was a tall woman, slim but slightly mannish in her build, with an unattractive horsy face but yet startling green eyes. As soon as she spoke, however, her homeliness faded. Her voice was dulcet and rich, and she spoke with an easy humor and pithy wit. Lizzy liked her instantly, and the two fell into an effortless conversation as the group moved into the main hall.
A humorous tidbit added into the Vernor history involves Gerald’s sister Bertha, recounted in these two excerpts from the ball, the second during a dance~
Miss Bertha had fallen in love with her brother’s friend when she was a young girl of sixteen. It was fairly common knowledge to all except for the object of her affection who, not surprisingly, was unbelievably dense about such things and would not have been interested anyway. Still, Miss Bertha pined and hoped, counting on the intimate association between the two families to assist her. Her mother had been devastated by the news of Darcy’s marriage, railing at length to anyone willing to listen, especially her husband and son, both of whom cared too deeply for Darcy to wish for anything but his happiness. If that happiness had been acquired with Bertha, the rejoicing would have been profound, but affairs of the heart could not be controlled.
“I love this dance,” he began.
Lizzy smiled. “Indeed, most invigorating.”
“So many couples.”
“It is an accommodating room.”
“Pemberley’s ballroom is larger, however.”
“Do you intend to talk all through the dance, Mr. Darcy?”
“I have been advised it is proper etiquette to do so … Do you not agree, Mrs. Darcy?”
“Only if one’s partner is worth conversing with.”
“I see … am I classified as worthy or unworthy?”
“I believe I need more evidence to judge … pray continue, Mr. Darcy.”
On and on it went, Darcy never losing his train of inane babble, even when parted for a turn with the next lady in line. Lizzy watched him from the corner of her eye, frequently making contact with his gaze, as they moved through the set. He spoke little to anyone else, except for one young woman approximately Lizzy’s age whom he greeted with a soft smile. She, oddly, was a deep shade of pink and decidedly uncomfortable, puzzling Darcy.
“Who is the young lady in yellow?” Lizzy asked when again engaged with her husband.
“Miss Bertha Vernor, Gerald’s sister,” he replied softly with an edge of bafflement in his voice.
“You unnerved her, it appeared.”
“I cannot imagine how … I have known her all her life … she is like a sister to me.”
Lizzy laughed, “My love, you are impossibly obtuse!”
“I beg your pardon, Madame!”
“I can almost guarantee she does not see you as a brother.” Darcy’s confusion increased for a full minute before he finally grasped her implication, after which he blushed profusely, covering his discomfiture with the Darcy scowl. The dance ended with Lizzy’s tinkling laugh as she took his arm and steered him to the bowl of wassail.
Have no fear, dear readers. Sweet innocent Bertha Vernor’s heart is soon healed by another! As for the remainder of Sir Cole’s annual ball, Elizabeth would meet a number of significant people, one not so friendly (that one is for another blog) but most were lovely and destined to become lifelong friends, especially, of course, the ladies.
Most of the young women were delightful and, if like Mrs. Samantha Cole they were not overly astute, Lizzy found them genuine and gracious. There were a number who reminded her vividly of Caroline Bingley, but Lizzy had fun with them as well. Three women in particular, Mrs. Alison Fitzherbert, Mrs. Julia Sitwell, and Mrs. Chloe Drury, connected instantly with Lizzy, as had Harriet Vernor. Before the night was over, the four women had arranged a date for tea the following week at Mrs. Fitzherbert’s home, Tillington Hall, near Eyam.
The frozen landscape and cold weather of winter was perfect for indoor activities, such as afternoon teas and dinner gatherings with nearby neighbors. The first dinner was hosted at Pemberley a few days after the ball, before their Christmas guests departed and those who traveled any distance for the Masque returned home. Writing these chapters gave me the opportunity to better flesh out the characters, including decided where they each lived and how the men had met Darcy.
On the evening of the eighth, the day before their guests were to depart, the Darcys hosted the dinner party that Darcy had impulsively arranged during the Masque. Along with the Lathrops and the Gardiners, there were Gerald and Harriet Vernor, George and Alison Fitzherbert, Rory and Julia Sitwell, Clifton and Chloe Drury, and Albert and Marilyn Hughes.
Gerald Vernor and Albert Hughes were the two closest friends, dating from Darcy’s youth. These three, along with Richard Fitzwilliam and George Wickham, had been nearly inseparable when young. Darcy and Hughes were avid billiards players and, by the tender age of seventeen, had so mastered the game that no one in all of Derbyshire could supplant them as the county’s champions. Darcy, Vernor, and the future Col. Fitzwilliam had in common a passion for horses. Wickham was younger than the other boys and had shadowed them more than anything, although they had honestly considered him a friend until he went wild as a young man and at University.
Rory Sitwell had become acquainted with Darcy at Cambridge. Neither man had met the other before, so it was a pleasant coincidence to establish a mutual friendship with someone from home. Sitwell’s personality was similar to Darcy’s and Lathrop’s: reserved, taciturn, serious, dry witted, and aloof. Vernor, Hughes, and Col. Fitzwilliam inclined toward affability, jocularity, and gaiety. They were an odd group by all outward appearances, but like Darcy and Bingley, their opposite natures blended. Among the many traits the men did have in common were moral uprightness and fierce loyalty to their families and community.
George Fitzherbert and Clifton Drury were well into their late thirties and, although Darcy knew them from town, they were not close friends. Normally Darcy would not have been disposed to invite them to dine at Pemberley; however, Lizzy’s positive impression of their wives had pleased Darcy so he had happily included them.
Aside from the apparently confirmed bachelorhood of Col. Fitzwilliam, Darcy was the last to find happiness as a wedded man, an event that may have caused dismay with the young women of Derbyshire but pleased his friends immensely. The natural gulf that had appeared between them at Darcy’s persistent single status while they were married and beginning their families had spawned a faint distress, not that any of them would have acknowledged it.
To be honest, between the creation of these characters happening way back in 2006 and the multitude of events amongst them over the course of The Darcy Saga, I no longer recall every detail of their origins. The surnames, aside from Vernor and Drury (more on the latter below), were picked from lists of common English names. I’d scan down the lists until one popped out at me. Yes, it was just that simple! Similar with the first names, Alison being the only exception as I have a longtime childhood friend named Alison. These homages to people in my real life occur throughout the Darcy Saga.
As the novels unfold, these five couples, along with the Lathrops, appear numerous times. Their involvements vary in importance, but I made every attempt to keep them all vital participants in the lives of Darcy and Elizabeth. All of them would appear in Loving Mr. Darcy when the Darcys and Georgiana traveled to London for the Season. As a part of Lizzy’s 21st birthday extravaganza, Darcy took her on a tour of London, including a drive-by view of their friends’ townhouses.
Within a block of the house Lizzy was hopelessly lost, so initially, she could not comprehend why the driver kept turning right then left then right again. Was Darcy trying purposely to throw her off track? It did not seem logical since he was well aware that the only portion of the vast city she could claim even meager familiarity with was Cheapside. The mystery of the numerous deviations became clear when Darcy pointed to a lovely townhouse across from a lush oasis only slightly smaller than Grosvenor.
“This is Portman Square and that is the London home of the Vernors. I believe Gerald plans to arrive next week. Is that not what Mrs. Vernor told you, love?”
“Yes, as are the Hugheses and the Lathrops. I am sure the Fitzherberts, Sitwells, and Drurys have already arrived. Needless to say, I have been remiss in informing them of our appearance.”
“There is plenty of time for that.”
After further driving, they halted before another finely appointed garden plaza. “This is Cavendish Square,” Darcy declared. “The house with pinkish stones belongs to the Lathrops. Over there you can see the side of the Sitwell townhouse. It is on Princes Street. We will pass it as we continue.”
“Is all this distance we have traveled and all these squares part of Mayfair?”
“Yes. Mayfair proper extends north to Regent Park. We will drive by the park here in a moment. Alas, it is still under construction, so there is not yet much to see. The Fitzherberts and Drurys reside in St. James’s Place, as do the Matlocks if you recall, which lies in the opposite direction from where we are headed. I am certain you will have opportunities to see their homes ere our sojourn is ended. The Fitzherberts, especially, have a remarkable townhouse. Do not tell Aunt Madeline I said this or she will box my ears, but it is actually finer than Matlock House, at least from the outside. I have never been a guest there.”
He pointed out a few other houses of Derbyshire residents not as well known to Lizzy and a handful of others belonging to people she had yet to meet. Lastly, they passed the home of the Hursts, a modest townhouse of tan bricks across from Bedford Square.
During that first Season in London, the couples would attend several events together, such social gatherings an obvious way to have so many characters interact with each line of dialogue a chance to explore personalities. As for the London dwellings of Darcy’s friends, it was easy to plop a townhouse down in the finer districts within Mayfair, dozens of online maps and histories from the era available to make a rational, realistic choice, including real street names.
For the country residences, I looked to several old maps of Derbyshire. One of my favorites is from 1885, which is later than the story is set, but nicely shows to roads and area divisions: Derbyshire 1885. Established as one of Darcy’s childhood playmates, Albert Hughes needed to be close, so I chose the small hamlet of Baslow just a mile or two north of Chatsworth (Pemberley) for the location of Rymas Park. Eventually I placed Brashinharm, the residence of George and Alison Fitzherbert also in Baslow so that Elizabeth could have another lady friend within quick reach.
Again, as I researched Derbyshire very early in my writing, I came across the surname Drury-Lowe, a prominent generational family in the Derby area since the mid-1500s with a gorgeous manor house named Locko Park. Taking a bit of creative license, I dropped the Lowe and changed the ancestral home to Locknell Hall. The location proved fortuitous when later in Loving Mr. Darcy, Darcy took Elizabeth on an adventurous excursion through Derbyshire. Perfect time for an afternoon visit with good friends, and especially for the women to discuss pregnancy and babies!
Speaking of fortuitous locations, in the next chapters of Loving Mr. Darcy, the home of Rory and Julia Sitwell proved to be a god-send. Continuing their trip around Derbyshire, a traumatic attack by bandits after touring famed Bolsover Castle left both Darcy and Lizzy in desperate need of a homey place to rest and recuperate. The location of Reniswahl Hall in Stavely, just a bit outside of Chesterfield (the second largest city in Derbyshire after Derby) and a stone’s throw from the castle worked perfectly. Rory and Julia were already anticipating a visit from their friends, so it wasn’t even an inconvenience!
This post has only covered the first two novels in The Darcy Saga. For the sake of time I shall not cover any more of the numerous occasions where some or all of these characters joined Darcy and Elizabeth. Suffice to say, by the end of The Trouble With Mr. Darcy, my readers are very familiar with them, including the ever-increasing number of children. This final excerpt (for today) is from that novel, this small snippet taking place at Hyde Park in London on a gorgeous summer day.
“Darcy! Thank you for inviting us. It is a fine day for a leisurely hour in the park.”
“You are most welcome, Sitwell. I knew Elizabeth would appreciate visiting with her friends. How are you, Gerald?”
“Excellent. Could not be better.”
“I know why you are wearing that grin, Mr. Vernor,” George said with a smile. “Mrs. Vernor will be soon presenting you a third child by the looks of things. Congratulations.”
Gerald Vernor bowed, his face beaming. “Thank you, Doctor. It could be any day now so we are anxious. We waited so long after Spencer that we were beginning to think that was the end of Vernor children. But God has blessed us, and we are humbled and deeply appreciative. The boys are even more excited to greet what they are convinced will be a little brother.”
“Marilyn can barely contain her glee,” Albert Hughes said with a chuckle. “The fact that your child will be mere months younger than ours was not lost on her, I can assure you. And Michael is close in age as well. Our gatherings will surely be lively affairs for the next dozen years or so.”
Darcy smiled, remaining mum on the possibility of yet another Derbyshire baby to join the mix. The symptoms Lizzy experienced were ambiguous at best, neither of them yet credibly trusting the notion so keeping it a hopeful jest for now. Even the eagle-eyed, intuitive diagnostic skills of Dr. George Darcy were not adequate to confirm the inconspicuous signs.
Mr. Hughes continued. “Darcy, as soon as we return home for the summer I need to bring Christopher to Pemberley. He is anxious to transition from pony to stallion, and I will have him ride none but your thoroughbreds. Marilyn would prefer a colt, but I think I can sway her to accept a smaller stallion.”
George laughed. “Sway her, you say. I am not married, mind you, but that does not seem like an enviable proposition. I wish you well in that endeavor, Mr. Hughes.”
Mr. Sitwell spoke in his quiet voice. “Mrs. Darcy appears well, Darcy. Julia was extremely distressed at the horrible truth. She wanted to rush over to Darcy House yesterday afternoon immediately, but I urged her to wait until today.”
Darcy nodded, his gaze on his wife, who was currently being embraced by a tearful Julia Sitwell. Lizzy, Jane, and Simone had joined Chloe, Julia, Marilyn, Harriet, Alison, and Amelia, who had arrived earlier to set up the blankets and picnic essentials. The gentlemen stood at the edge of the pathway, near enough to hear the murmur of excited voices if not individual words. Lizzy turned to catch Darcy’s eye. She was smiling broadly, her face shining and filled with happiness. She mouthed thank you, Darcy inclining his head slightly in response.
I hope y’all enjoyed meeting the longtime friends of Mr. Darcy.
Comments are very welcome!
Come back next month for a closer look at more Darcy Saga supporting characters.