After a two year hiatus, Twisted Austen is back in celebration of Halloween, one of my very favorite holidays (I’m a sucker for any excuse to dress up).
The idea behind Twisted Austen has nothing to do with monsters, hauntings, or any other such traditional folderol. Instead, I use this opportunity to explore some slightly darker, “twisted” variations on Jane Austen’s novels. My first inspiration was Emma & Elton: Something Truly Horrid, followed by Jane & Bingley: Something Slightly Unsettling, and most recently Becoming Mrs. Norris. This year I’m offering I am Lady Catherine, a story that begins in the 18th century, shortly after Mr. Darcy’s birth, and follows through the plot of Pride & Prejudice, all told from the perspective of that most reviled grande dame: Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Here is an excerpt:
Mr. Collins was asked to dine at Rosings shortly after his arrival in Hunsford, the honor of which invitation even Lady Catherine thought he felt too keenly. The evening provided the perfect opportunity for her to fully assess his situation and connections, which subjects she showed no hesitancy in forwarding.
“I understand you are the heir to a small estate in Hertfordshire, Mr. Collins. To whom does it currently belong?”
“My revered late father’s cousin. Due to an unfortunate quarrel between them, I have never met Mr. Bennet. It is only by chance that I should be his heir, as I have no doubt he would much prefer that Longbourn remain in the hands of the more immediate family, but it is entailed on descendants male, and it seems most unlikely that such will be forthcoming.”
“Rather unreliable ground to be staking your future, Mr. Collins. What makes you so certain he will not yet marry and produce progeny?”
“Please excuse me, your ladyship, if my confidence seems presumptuous, but the gentleman is married these past twenty years or more. Indeed, I have some reason to suspect that it was his choice in matrimony that was the cause of the familial strife. As I understand it, my father had hoped to solidify the claim to Longbourn by forging a union between Mr. Bennet and my aunt, rest her soul, but his overtures were dismissed most ungallantly, and before anyone could act to counter this rejection, the gentleman married a local lady, the daughter of a tradesman. My poor father felt it most keenly.”
“I should think he would! To have family connections supplanted in such a manner is most mortifying, and I do not blame your father for his ire. Did you aunt find another suitable match?”
“She made a respectable but not advantageous union to the local curate, which she unfortunately did not long survive, departing this mortal realm while in childbirth not much more than a year after her marriage.”
“A tragic tale, Mr. Collins. And how old is this Mr. Bennet now?”
“Middle-aged, I should guess. He was not many years younger than my own esteemed father.”
“More than young enough to remarry, should his wife precede him to the grave. I would not be too assured of your inheritance if I were you.”
“Oh, I do hope I should never take it for granted, but as I understand it, Mrs. Bennet enjoys fine health. Indeed, she is said to have maintained her charms to quite an unusual degree for one who has borne five children.”
“Five children!” Lady Catherine exclaimed with raised brow. “Am I to understand that the entire brood is female?”
“Correct, your ladyship. You penetrate the situation most precisely.”
“It is unusual that such efforts should not be better rewarded.”
“I do believe that there was another child, and male, but he was sadly stillborn.”
“I must feel for the family’s sufferings, though I congratulate you on reaping the benefit of their misfortune.”
“Such sentiments honor your innate nobility, Lady Catherine.”
“What is the value of the Longbourn estate, Mr. Collins?”
“I understand it to be worth 2,000 per annum.”
“Unless Mr. Bennet has been most prudent, or Mrs. Bennet had a larger dowry than most country tradesmen are able to provide, those five daughters are left without very much to see them properly established. A sad business.”
“I am sure they would feel the distinction of your sympathy most keenly, were they privy to it.”
Lady Catherine accepted this assumption as her due and turned the topic to parish matters for the remainder of the meal. Yet when it was concluded and the party withdrew to the drawing room, she reintroduced the subject.
“I have been considering the unreliability of your inheritance, Mr. Collins, and it occurs to me that you ought to bridge this fissure in your family by writing to Mr. Bennet. From what I understand, he is your nearest living relative, and a man ought to have a relationship with his heir.”
Mr. Collins looked uncomfortable. “Unfortunately, I believe the degree of chagrin my own father expressed at the time of the regrettable rupture in relations was of a nature not to be easily forgiven. It was a grudge he carried with him to his grave, and I cannot but feel it might be dishonoring his memory to set such feelings aside.”
“Nonsense! You are a clergyman, and as such, it is your duty to promote and establish the blessings of peace amongst all families within your influence. Extend an olive branch, Mr. Collins. I cannot imagine such an overture should be rejected.”
“Why, yes! Of course, you are correct in so advising me, Lady Catherine. I had not so considered the matter and am eternally grateful to be the beneficiary of your wise counsel,” he said with a bow.
“I am glad you feel as you ought, Mr. Collins. Write to Mr. Bennet. Furthermore, I propose you request to visit the family. It will do you good to see the estate which may someday be yours, and if the unfortunate daughters of the family prove amiable and well-bred despite their maternal connections, I suggest you seek amongst them a wife.”
“A wife, Lady Catherine?” he asked in astonishment. “I confess I had not planned to wed for some time, wishing to solidify my living prior to taking on the burden of dependents.”
“Yes, a wife, Mr. Collins. You have a living good enough to support one, and a man in your position ought to be wed, as long as you choose with discretion. It both sets a good example and discourages the young ladies of the neighborhood from setting amorous eyes upon you.”
He blushed. “I had not thought myself a candidate for such attentions from my parishioners.”
“You are a respectable gentleman possessed of a good living, and eligible men are scare these days.”
“Certainly, your ladyship. My good fortune is so very recent that I am unaccustomed to considering myself thusly.”
“You must learn to know your own worth, Mr. Collins.”
“And is it not premature to be leaving my flock, when I am so recently arrived?”
“If I can spare you for a se’nnight, Mr. Collins, so can the rest of the parish. Just make sure you find another clergyman to perform your Sunday duties.”
“Your graciousness exceeds expectations, Lady Catherine.”
“That is all very well, but do you play quadrille, Mr. Collins?”
Arrangements were easily made, and not more than two months following this conversation, Mr. Collins was ready to make his way to Hertfordshire, there to survey his future potentiality. He was called upon by Lady Catherine the Sunday prior to his departure to make up her evening pool of quadrille that evening, an opportunity she utilized to reassert the purpose of his journey.
“You must marry. A clergyman like you must marry. Choose properly; choose a gentlewoman for my sake, and for your own, let her be an active, useful sort of person, not brought up high but able to make a small income go a good way. This is my advice. Find such a woman as soon as you can, bring her to Hunsford, and I will visit her.”
And with such exhortations carried close to his heart, Lady Catherine felt quite secure her rector would return to his post with news of an impending marriage to one of the Bennet sisters.
Things did not transpire quite as she planned.
Join me on my blog every day from October 24th through the 31st to read the story in its entirety. On Halloween, the complete ebook will be released on Amazon (available for pre-order now).
To celebrate the new story, I’m giving away a complete set of all four Twisted Austen tales in Kindle format to two lucky winners. This giveaway is open internationally and will run through the I am Lady Catherine kick off date: October 24th. Here are the details on each tale. Leave a comment to enter and good luck!
Few heroines evoke such diverse emotions as Jane Austen’s Emma Woodhouse, for whom readers profess everything from disdain to devotion. In Emma & Elton, Alexa Adams explores what might have befallen the supercilious Miss Woodhouse if she were made aware of Mr. Elton’s affection prior to his proposal. This short story was first published on Adams’ blog in tribute to Halloween, and though you’ll find no ghost or ghouls gracing its pages, tenderhearted Janeites be warned: here lies “something truly horrid”.
In Pride & Prejudice, Mr. Darcy says that Jane Bennet’s “heart was not likely to be easily touched.” What if he was correct? Written in tribute to Halloween and published serially on Alexa Adams’ blog, Jane & Bingley: Something Slightly Unsettling explores the events of the first volume of Austen’s most beloved novel from the perspective of a far from tender Jane. Gentle Janeites, proceed with care, lest you find Mr. Bingley’s “angel” has fallen.
Fanny Price’s Aunt Norris is one of the most despised characters Jane Austen ever created, but how did she become so repulsive? Becoming Mrs. Norris explores the events that occurred before Mansfield Park, when Sir Thomas Bertram was courting Miss Maria Ward. This “Twisted Austen” tale was written in honor of Halloween and was first published serially on the author’s blog, alexaadams.blogspot.com.
Delve into the subconscious of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Jane Austen’s most memorable and reviled grande dame. I am Lady Catherine explores her history as a young woman and mother, continuing through the events of Pride and Prejudice, recalled from her perspective. This is the forth book in the Twisted Austen series of novellas, written in honor of Halloween, in which Austenesque writer Alexa Adams explores Austen’s timeless tales through an unconventional lens.