“…their lives were linked and interwoven in innumerable and often intimate
Ways and because this…land shaped all who lived along its rivers, by its
Swamps and on its islands and sandy hills, even as those who lived there
Shaped the land itself.”
Erskine Clarke, Dwelling Place
As I have been working my way through the rifts and folds that comprise the great arc of the history of the Bennets in the Universe of the Wardrobe, I have been struck at how clearly and cleverly (although I would wonder if t’was a conscious effort on her part) Jane Austen used the idea of place to define her characters. There are a myriad of places used in the Canon—some to define persons, others to dictate actions.
Consider how Darcy may have been shaped if he had hailed not from cold, forbidding, and wild Derbyshire, but rather from southern Dorset or Hampshire. Would he have so easily assumed his austere Master of Pemberley mein? Or might he have offered a different aspect? And Hertfordshire, located but twenty-odd miles from the great capital, was still seen as rustic by comparison to the glittering metropolis, much as the towns scattered around the Plains outside of Rome must have seemed quaintly backward 2,300 years ago.
My work has led me to look more closely at the places that shape my characters and are, in turn, shaped by those same persons. A sense of place seems to have begun featuring—as much as the various concepts of love—itself within the lives of my characters as they encounter the great mission of the Wardrobe. Consider the pre-eminent places that have grown from the first pages of “The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey.”
The Hertfordshire estate of Longbourn, purchased by Christopher Bennet in the late 1680s offers a central place which sprang from the imagination of Jane Austen. Yet, another, which has shined in many #Austenesque works, is Oakham Mount. This bit of nature serves for Elizabeth Bennet much as the northern shire does for Darcy. Oakham both defines her—being her sanctuary—as it explains her to readers.
How unusual it must have been for Regency readers…those of the ton…to discover a character who ran in the fields, scaled “mountains,” and was generally everything a well-bred lady was not. T’is important for us to recall that Lizzy was not running away, but rather escaping. I draw that fine semantic point because we all can agree that Lydia would run away while her older sister merely sought some quiet in which she could examine her life and reflect upon her status.
That is why, although it is never clearly identified in the Canon as such, I consider Oakham to be part of the Longbourn property. While it is not tillable, the Mount offered early Bennets timber in exchange for their stewardship; that is until young George Bennet, Elizabeth’s Great Uncle, was killed in 1758 in a logging accident on Oakham’s slopes. After that, the Bennets turned their attention to crops of a less primary nature.
There are other places that risen in the universe of the Wardrobe. While Madras House and Oakham House (see The Exile: The Countess Visits Longbourn) are important in a transitory sense…much as the Villa Diodati, Darcy and Matlock Houses, Thornhill, Rosings, Pemberley, and Selkirk are featured in aspects of the stories…none is more important that the Beach House at Deauville, the fieldstone wall surrounding the House, and the dunes which shelter it from the rest of Normandy.
The Beach House truly defines al who inhabit it, visit, and never see it. The Beach House was inspired in the mind of young Georgiana Darcy by the Countess of Deauville/Dowager Countess of Matlock Kitty Fitzwilliam. The Countess, having done her work in early 1812 was whiling away a few hours in Rochet’s Maison au Chocolat in Meryton prior to returning to her own time when she engaged with Georgiana, Maria Lucas, and Mary Bennet. T’was then that she suggested that Deauville would serve as a wonderful and relaxing getaway. That tidbit of advice stuck with the young spinster Darcy who eventually constructed the Beach House to serve as her escape from the rigors of her concert schedule. Things can be a bit circular in the Wardrobe’s Universe.
For “my” Bennets (and Fitzwilliams, Bingleys, Gardiners, and Darcys), the Beach House serves as that central place which helps shape these persons…much as we assume that Longbourn, Oakham, Derbyshire, and Pemberley formed Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam. Place carries so much freight and allows us to more deeply understand the context within which our characters have matured.
Please enjoy this excerpt from my current WIP, “The Avenger: Thomas Bennet and a Father’s Lament.” This excerpt is ©2018 by Donald P. Jacobson. Any reproduction pf this material without the expressed written consent of the author is prohibited. Published in the United States of America.
The Mount for ages had stood sentinel by the plains of the Mimram. The alluvial deposits laid down where the middling-sized creek, although residents of the district had promoted its appellation to the more grandiose “river” as civic pride would not allow otherwise, exited the Chiltern uplift. These remnants of the flanks of the rolling hills which helped keep at bay, and thus moderate Hertfordshire’s climes those Northamptonshire dusters…and their more sharply-edged cousins from Derbyshire. The fertile leavings were spread like a lady’s fan along both banks, narrowest where its downward rush was calmed by the flattened land, lightly tilted toward the Thames, was widest further south as the stream looped through the countryside, puddling at times into fens which were filled with rush that provided shelter for game birds and attracted those who would feast upon them.
But the Mount rose above, unchanged in the ten millennium since the ice sheets left the land. Before there were peoples wandering the plains, the Mount watched over the area. Then the Druids, Picts, Celts, Romans, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Viking, and Norman had all found that this corner of the island to offer a particularly pleasant space in which to exist and thrive.
Now, the Mount shaded a pleasant manor house, populated during the decades surrounding the turn of the century by the latest edition of a family that had called the area home. Yet, even with a full side of young ladies to be wed, the Master and Mistress of the estate knew that there was something unusually eternal about this particular place. The Master had suggested that there was a sort of magic, a distinct connection, between those who inhabited the building, but lived upon the land. The Bennets were bound to Longbourn, and it to them.
Even when those connections where filtered by the energies of the Wardrobe.
On the slopes of Oakham Mount, August 1, 1947
Bennet propped himself up on one elbow and gazed down at the diminutive figure of his lady who dozing, her energies spent after they had wrestled as one.[i] Mrs. Bennet’s cheek was snuggled into the nap of the lamb’s wool throw. Her left arm was casually extended above her head; the hand’s fingers still entwined with the leaves of grass as they had been when she cried out her love for him. Her gown had been put to rights, although the lace on the bodice cried out, in its turn, for urgent repair. But, in its dishevelment, the violated modesty shield revealed the mottled love stain still suffusing Mrs. Bennet’s chest and throat, even after fifteen minutes.
The warm Hertfordshire summer air flowed across his body, finding various patches of exposed skin, cooling his passion only in its aging immediacy, not its recalled fervor. T’was as if they had left twenty years behind them, so intense was their coupling and shared climaxes.
I do wonder if all descendants of the Gardiner line find such heat in their hearts? I have seen that same carmine glow grace Madelyn’s neck after Edward’s apparent attentions. Likewise, both Jane and Lizzy’s cheeks have shined with a fever’s light after a walk afield with their husbands. I wonder…no…no…t’is not fitting for a father to speculate about such matters!
For her part, once her husband had stopped spooning her and had shifted his position, Fanny began to return from her love-fueled lassitude. She felt the Sun dappling across her form as a soft breeze swayed the branches overhead, opening and closing minute portholes through which that closest star’s yellow rays flowed. From time-to-time those beams filtered through the filigreed scrim of her eyelids, imbuing her elevating consciousness with a rose-tinged hue that matched the blush filling her soul.
Softly, quietly, without any other movement to betray her return to Oakham’s slopes, Mrs. Bennet quietly catalogued her husband. Her nose brought his scent rising from her skin, its muskiness empowered by her body’s radiated heat. T’was of antique leather…not that of harness and saddle hide but rather that of soft calf used in binding. Then there was also an acrid backtone taking on a tinge of ink moderated by a bit of linen aged with dust; no, not dust, but rather the fragrance of Longbourn’s loamy soil dried in the Hertford sun.[ii] Even with her wide eyes shut, Fanny knew that his aroma shouted that his estate was not only his patrimony, but also his blood.
As she scanned his form through feathery lashes framing lids barely opened, she could appreciate the many little details that made Tom Bennet the man who had drawn her like filings to a lodestone so long ago. The gentle creases scoring his neck, fully exposed now that he had thrown off his cravat, were broken by an ancient wen rising up to anchor his character. His closely cropped greyish brown hair, recently shortened in response to some unknowable whim, sported a curiously attractive cowlick that had been invisible since his adolescent years. Even the duskiness of his shadowy late afternoon jowls bespoke of his personality: always tending toward a genteel dishevelment rather than a marbled perfection.
Yet, for Mrs. Bennet, t’was Mr. Bennet’s eyes—uniquely shaped and hazel hued—that captivated her. Usually owlishly staring at her from behind wire-rimmed spectacles, they were naked to her world and now slowly sweeping along her relaxed form, so softly were her boneless limbs splayed atop Kitty’s blanket.
The mood was so soft, so close, that Fanny was loath to break it. Neither Bennet had shared such a unique intimacy as that of minutes ago since shortly after Mary’s birth in ’92…now over twenty years past. Oh, her husband had not abandoned her marriage bed entirely; Kitty, Lydia, and the lost babe were evidence of that. Sadly, in Fanny’s eyes, their ardor had been confined to infrequent joinings, usually around an anniversary or birthday when each had had enough, but not too much, wine, sherry, and port. Of all the losses in her life, this counted to her amongst the greatest.
She had not considered that Thomas might have been laid low by the same distancing. Yet, his changes in behavior since the Longbourn nest had emptied now led her to reassess the contours of his heart. He had come to her willingly, with a joy in those fine eyes and an ecstasy that could not be disguised, as she signaled her own desire to be loved by him.
Mayhaps Tom was plagued by self-doubt. Did he fear that I would reject him? I will admit that my nerves made me a bit of a cold fish for all those years. Maybe he only needed a signal?
I know that was Darcy’s great fear with Lizzy; as if even that impertinent girl would reject a man bringing 10,000-a-year to the altar! Men are such fragile creatures. And they say that the ladies are too delicate for the public sphere? Pfagh!
Frances Bennet pushed aside thoughts of her second eldest…in fact any of her girls…and focused on the immediate. After all, she and Tom, in their quieter moments when he was attentive and her fears had calmed, had speculated on what their lives would be like without the pitter-patter of slipper-shod feet descending from above stairs that presaged any of a number of girlish complaints or accusations. Would they journey to Bath or Ramsgate or Lyme Regis? Would she finally be able to find entertainment in sea bathing? Would they travel to Brittany once the Beast had been pacified so that Tom could study the megaliths near Carnac?[iii] Perhaps they would ask Lizzy and Darcy if they could stay at Darcy House in Town and enjoy the theater while seeing some of the sights.
Perhaps today was the first day of their shared life after children! If so, she wondered why they had waited so long.
With that pleasant thought still echoing in her mind, she fully opened her eyes and stretched like a languid cat, a deep purr of pleasure rumbling behind her stays. As the ululation continued, it rose in timbre, synchronized with a hyper-extension of her limbs. Wriggling her fingers and pointing her toes, she smiled up at her husband who had shifted into a legs-crossed seated position making him look akin to an Indian fakir. He looked down at her, a bemused expression transforming his face, driving her to begin giggling.
Immediately he Bennet attempted to assay an outraged look. He tried to admonish her, but a chuckle kept interrupting his best efforts.
“I am outraged…outraged, I tell you, madam…that you would find such great humor in my most serious efforts to utterly adore you. T’is unbearable…and I fear that I must admonish you for your uncomely display. You remind me of our youngest who manages to find pleasure in every undertaking,” he grumped through smiling lips.
Fanny was having none of it and shot back, “Tom Bennet…you are as transparent as a piece of wet muslin. If I recall, you seemed to be as involved as I was in our exercise. As for finding pleasure, I would imagine that you would agree that we have not found this sort of happiness for a considerable period.”
Bennet made to preen outrageously using exaggerated movements before saying, “Are you suggesting, Mrs. Bennet, that this old dog can still rouse your excitement? I may become insufferable.”
“Become insufferable?” she riposted back in a playfully mocking voice, “You are the most difficult man I have ever meet. You make Darcy look the model of tolerability. Even good-natured Bingley and sweet Janie have been known to roll their eyes at your awful puns and painful fascination with human foibles.”
“And still I love you. Why I do not know. My mother must have dropped me when I was little. Infuriating man!” she huffed.
Bennet reached down and wiggled his fingers. First she looked askance, as if considering whether to accept his help. She eventually took his hands and allowed him to lift her to a seated position across from him.
“After all these years, Mrs. Bennet, you say that you love me? After all my neglect? All my mocking of your famous nerves?
“Why I cannot imagine. But, if you speak the truth, my dear, then all is not lost. In fact, I will count myself one of the luckiest men alive if you see something hidden underneath this bluff exterior.
“T’is improper for a lady to reveal her affections, but we men need some signal to let us know that the ground has been prepared.
“Thusly, I told you once back in our youth that I loved you. Then those words fell into disuse.
“Now, today, before all of these great trees on our Oakham Mount, I shout into their branches…I Love You, Frances Lorinda Bennet!” the Founder loudly averred.
After another, much briefer exploration of each other’s person, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet silently agreed to abandon all thoughts of climbing to the top of Oakham.
[i] Graham Edge, Late Lament lyrics © T.R.O. Music from Days of Future Past, The Moody Blues, Deram Records, London, 1967.
[ii] “Areas with older housing stock generally have good quality loamy top soil in their gardens. Loams are a mixture of clay, sand, silt and organic matter and are likely to be soils that have been worked for many years already to improve their structure.” https://lawnpartners.co.uk/north-herts/index.php accessed 3/30/18.