Consider any of the Canonical books. Miss Austen does not always offer much data about the social environment present in the Regency. She rarely addresses the great questions of the day: with the exception of offering evidence that Tom Bertram’s time in the West Indies left him scarred and damaged. (I have always chosen to believe that it was the excesses of slavery that did him in.)
The same holds for settings. She does not expend great energy describing the bucolic life around Longbourn or Pemberley. She offers enough description to allow her readers to understand that Longbourn was not the grandest house in the area while Pemberley was considered by many (especially Caroline Bingley) to be one of the greatest in all the land. Beyond that she needn’t go as her readers (after all she was writing for the 10% of the population who could read) intimately knew the world about which she wrote.
Miss Austen, on the other hand, does make particular effort to offer her readers enough data and information to explain why her characters acted as they did. We can recite by rote Darcy’s behavioral construct and what drove him to act in general and in specific. The same would hold for Elizabeth Bennet and Lady Catherine. Consider Elinor Dashwood who, as the eldest daughter, had to act as the serious, sedate helpmate for her much set-upon mother, a woman both grief-stricken and financially prostrate. Would Marianne ever have been allowed to engage in her romantic fantasies if Elinor had not been the rock upon which the family was built?
However, modern Austenesque authors seeking to create work that is not simply another tale told against the same well-understood background are faced with the same problem authors in other genres have had to address (albeit with the advantage of having many personality drivers already in place). They must offer stories driven not only by plot and character, but they also must create entire worlds in which their characters and the actions of the same can logically exist.
The greatest authors (see O’Brien, Woolf, Parker, Clancy, Silva, Asimov, Heinlein to name a few in addition to Austen and Gaskell) not only offer compelling stories populated by interesting characters, they also imbue their plots and the persons moving through them with a lifeforce that rises from (one of my favorite words) a unique weltanschauung—a world view.
One of my favorite articles explorations of the human mind is Sigmund Freud’s 1918 essay entitled ‘Civilization and ‘Die Weltanshaung?’ Herein he explored the various governing worldviews…think of it as the software a human mind uses to process the information coming in from the surrounding world. He was not the first to use the term. He had been predated by Spinoza and Schweitzer, each of whom explored the nature of human thought
Those techniques which humans use to adjust, filter, and construct their worldviews to are, according to Freud, Religion, Philosophy, and Science. Whichever methodology used, the purpose of building such a lens was, according to Freud “[to give] a unified solution of all the problems of our existence in virtue of a comprehensive hypothesis, a construction, therefore, in which no question is left open and in which everything in which we are interested finds a place.” Simply put, a weltanshaung makes the world relevant and, thus, believable.
As should our Austenesque stories.
In my view, each environment with which my characters must interact has to be relatable, even if it is the Regency. How many of #InspiredByAusten readers fully understand the forces driving not only Regency Britain, but also the other players on the world stage at the time…Russia, Prussia, France, and the United States (I will ignore Spain, long under the Napoleonic boot)? Why do those nations matter?
Because what went on even at the county level in Regency Britain was influenced by greater national interests. An example from my work, if you please.
In The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey, there is a cataclysmic fire which began in a textile mile on the Mimram River in Meryton. The mill and half the town are destroyed. Dozens die.
Yet, suddenly two regiments of militia are dispatched to Meryton to assist in the rebuilding. Yet, I also needed to have the “new” Mary skinning a particularly noxious militia officer in order to provide an example for Maria Lucas while showing a new side of her personality to Georgiana Darcy. But, I digress. See the passage from about four weeks after the fire was extinguished:
“True to the promises made to Mr. Darcy, the Government had sent two regiments of militia to provide security and labor as rebuilding began. Mary was astonished to observe that the site of Watson’s factory had been completely cleared and the skeleton of a new facility was already taking shape with an army of red-coated and buff-jerseyed ants manhandling timbers and stone. Textile mills were a vital national resource needed to clothe the Peninsular Army. “
As I build the stories, I have to sit back and understand the motivations not only of the characters, but also the invisible forces acting upon those characters. That means that I need to utilize my own weltanshaung in order to create believable worlds for readers and listeners to employ their own weltanschaungs in order to understand, appreciate, and ultimately enjoy the characters.
I fear that this brief essay may not adequately explain the process through which I go to create my work. Please, I pray, ask questions so that we may engage in a conversation.
And, please enjoy this excerpt from my latest WIP, The Avenger: Thomas Bennet and A Father’s Lament. A note…by this point in the book, readers have already been introduced to the former Special Operations Executive agent, Eileen Nearne (Agent Rose). Now, Mrs. Bennet meets her and arrives at an astonishing realization.
This excerpt from a work in progress is ©2018 by Donald P. Jacobson. Reproduction in any manner will be permitted without the expressed written consent of the author.
Deauville was a study in contrasts.
The August sun bore down and beat through the long-sleeved but, light-weight, cotton dress that Fanny had added to her beach wardrobe at the behest of the Countesses…Georgiana and Anne…who wrestled with her Regency reticence to exhibit any skin and expose it to freckle-making daylight. Her husband, though, snorted when she complained, over their evening sherry and port post-prandial game of vingt-et-un, about the immodesty of naked arms and legs. Most likely he was recalling her efforts to reduce the lace bodice trim on both Jane and Lydia’s gowns before the Netherfield Ball. With one she succeeded beyond her wildest dreams, but the other…?
She did concede that the only persons to observe her on this stretch of beach, over 100 yards in length, were the children of the Five Families in attendance at the Beach House. A few of their mothers or governesses kept a watchful eye on their young charges. The children were much more interested in frolicking in the shallow water and finding treasures in the tidal boundary. Nobody paid any her any particular attention: a woman of middle years strolling barefoot in the low surf swooshing across the packed white sand fronting the House.
Yet, the afternoon breeze blowing in from the Channel cooled her enough so that she folded her multi-hued parasol and, settled into a canvas chair strategically placed in about six inches of water, shallow enough to avoid wetting her bottom as the tide withdrew into the Atlantic. She thrilled to feel the ocean around her ankles as it laved her feet with the gentlest of pressures, sucking up and swirling coarse grains of bottom sand, tickling her toes.
This is what Brighton or Ramsgate must be akin to. How I wanted to show our gentility by escaping to the seaside. I would have even accepted Sanditon, although its denizens are a bit too nouveau. T’is a tragi-comedy that we needed to fly over 130 years into the future for my husband to offer me a waterfront vacation!
With these musings matching the sound of the waves making their way to the French shore, Mrs. Bennet closed her eyes: not tightly, but rather just barely so that she could sketch the scrim of delicate vessels traversing the rose petal softness of her eyelids.
How long she rested in this manner, she knew not. Perhaps she dozed.
Was it the increasing warmth of the sun on her arches left exposed as the water inexorably drew away from her half-buried feet that disturbed her repose? Or was it the sudden shadow that darkened her dreamtime as the sun was blotted out? And, then, was it that darkling umbra which cast her into eclipse or the sparkling tingle that played along the edges of her awareness that played a greater role in her awakening?
Her rising into consciousness left her with the sense that her world would tilt and the rivers of her life would flow in different channels when, inevitably, she would open her eyes.
And, so she did.
She peered up past her bonnet’s brim to see a tall and slender figure—a woman—silhouetted against the brilliant orb, still passing through its zenith. Unlike Fanny, this lady eschewed the broad-brimmed headgear that would have disguised the wheat-colored halo of her crowning glory, highlighted as it was from above.
Her face, however, remained obscured, as the matron’s eyes were bedazzled by the rays refracting around the other’s shape.
Then the lady spoke in a pleasant soprano that fractured Fanny’s heart, “Mrs. Bennet? Have I disturbed you?”
“Jane?” was all that the Mistress of Longbourn could utter.
If Fanny’s one-word rejoinder disquieted the lady, she did not betray such emotions. Rather she gently replied, “Oh no, Ma’am. You must have been dreaming of your family. I am Miss Nearne…Eileen Nearne. I arrived this morning with Mr. Fitzwilliam and the Schillers.”
Fanny took a moment to re-orient herself and then spoke, “Miss Nearne, forgive me. Perhaps I was back in the halls of my home. You sound remarkably similar to my eldest daughter, Jane, Mrs. Bingley as she is now known.”
“Bingley?” now is was Miss Nearne’s turn to be the interlocutor.
Before she replied, Mrs. Bennet lifted her hand to the other requesting assistance to stand. Eileen’s grasp was warm and firm as she helped Fanny out of the sling chair.
Once the sun left her eyes, Fanny nearly collapsed back into the seat so great was the shock.
For there before her stood her Jane…or at least a near perfect duplicate for the gentle lady Fanny knew to be living at Thornhill with her two youngsters and a third on the way.
Miss Nearne steadied the older woman and then repeated her query, this time offering more information, “Bingley? I seem to recall my mother mentioning that name many years ago before she died.” Her hand left Fanny’s and moved of its own volition to her neckline there to grasp a locket suspended from a simple gold chain.
Eileen’s voice bore more than a smoky trace of heather and peat, betraying her Glaswegian origins. However, her countenance seemed much like the senior Bennet daughter. However, as Fanny looked past the sheaf of grain-colored tresses and the sky-blue, near to purple, eyes, the more visible the subtle differences became.
Jane’s nose, a delightful aquiline prominence descending from her even brow, was marred by a scar and an uneven jog. This recalled to Fanny the time she had encountered Mr. Hill’s cousin, Ezra, in the Longbourn kitchens. That worthy, as t’was explained to her by Mrs. Hill, was a bare-knuckle bruiser, known as the Hertfordshire Hammer. She had shrunk from his cauliflower ears and battered brows. But, t’was his flattened nose that appeared in her mind’s eye as she assayed Miss Nearne.
The woman before her, while of Jane’s height, was not of her weight. Not that Miss Nearne was malnourished, but her physique hearkened more alike to that of Miss Bingley although tending more to firmness than the somewhat sticklike redhead whoo, from what Jane had told her, now resided in Bath “for her health.”[i]
Her carriage, however, also was different from the angelic Mrs. B. As Eileen stood before Mrs. Bennet, she seemed slightly twisted as if her shoulders—the left one was held slightly higher to Fanny’s motherly eye, always alert for errors in posture requiring correction—and hips had been rotated in opposite directions. The variance was modest, though, and, to Fanny’s mind, something which a few exercises along the hall stretching between Longbourn’s front portico and rear service areas could cure.
As Fanny’s eyes scanned downward, she realized that the young woman, who towered above the diminutive Bennet biddy, had likewise removed her shoes, all the better to stride through the alabaster grit between the water and the dunes. That, in itself, was not unusual. And, truth be told, a part of Mrs. Bennet embraced the idea of the modern shorter skirts that offered a view of a lady’s leg from below her knee to ankle.
However, the expanse of skin thus exposed on Miss Nearne revealed a livid white scar scorched diagonally across her right calf.
No…she may have begun like my Jane, but life has molded her into someone Janelike. I would imagine that this Miss Nearne has been shaped by similar forces that turned my Kitty into The Countess. I would know this young lady more.
Now on the beach at Deauville, Eileen tightly clasped her mother’s locket, her only remnant of her girlhood, preserved throughout her years in the field and, later, the months in the bunker, by the SOE Housekeeping wallahs. As before, she assumed the latch to be irretrievably frozen, preventing her from opening the jewelry. Yet, in spite of her ignorance about what was inside, Eileen cherished the trinket.
Mrs. Bennet broke through Nearne’s reverie saying, “Please forgive me, Miss Nearne, but you must understand that I was somewhat surprised to discover you standing above me. I did not hear you approach.
“However, my dear, you seemed to be a hundred miles away just now. About what were you thinking, if I may be so bold to ask?”
Eileen ran the fingers of both hands through her short cut blond hair, emitting a large sigh as she did so. The action, perforce, caused her to release the locket which, as it dropped free to hang between her breasts, glinted in the sunlight and caught Mrs. Bennet’s eye.
The lady pounced, instantly quizzing, “Where did you find that locket?”
Puzzled, Eileen replied, somewhat diffidently, “T’was my mother’s. She passed it to me on her deathbed.
“When you mentioned the name ‘Bingley’ earlier, I was confused for I vaguely recollect seeing that name in our family Bible…something about a Frances Bingley deep in my mama’s lineage…sometime over 100 years ago.
“But, the Good Book is long gone, destroyed when the warehouse where all my parent’s goods were stored burned during the war. This is literally the only item I have left of my heritage.
“And, t’is broken. I have never been able to open it. As far as I know neither could my mother.”
In an almost dreamlike voice, Mrs. Bennet said, “On the back: is there an engraved J-H-B?”
Stunned, Eileen replied, “Indeed! But, how could you know that?”
Under her breath, Fanny whispered, “Because her name was Jane Hadley Bennet, later Bingley.”
And then louder, “Hand me your locket, child. I would wish to show you something.”
The old Eileen would not have easily relinquished her treasure. However, the new iteration had learned to trust once again. She reached behind her neck and released the clasp. She lowered the piece into Mrs. Bennet’s outstretched palm.
The elder lady began talking almost as soon as her fingers closed around the item.
“How remarkable this all is. I thought that traveling forward to go on vacation was unusual. How much more so is it that a strange woman owns my dear Jane’s coming of age memento.”
As she spoke she gripped the chain loop at the top of the locket and the stem that protruded from the bottom.
“The craftsman was so clever. He created a special mechanism that would prevent the locket from falling open, especially when more conventional closures would eventually break or wear out.”
Saying that, she gently pulled the two posts apart with an opposing rotation. A slight snick indicated that the lids were released. Fanny gently separated them, taking care not to stress the delicate hinge, stiff after decades or longer of disuse.
She gazed down at the opened ornament and smiled. Then she handed it back to Eileen who looked at the two portraits—one of a gentleman and one of a lady, clearly his wife—somberly gazing up at her.
“I imagine you might like to see your grandparents of I am not sure how many ‘greats,’ Miss Nearne. And then I would hope you would give one of them an embrace.”
Eileen did not waste a moment clasping her lost family to her chest as tears of joy freely flowed down her freckled cheeks.
[i] Please see Chapter IX of The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey. See also Chapter XXIII.