I love a good Jane Austen Fan Fiction, whether they are sequels, variations, alternate universe, modern era – I can safely say I adore all the good ones. When I heard about the play Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley appearing on stage a few years ago, I wondered if the people who put it on, or even the audiences realized that it was essentially, Fan Fiction. The play was written on the premise from one line of a letter Elizabeth wrote to her Aunt Gardiner in Chapter 60 of Pride and Prejudice:
Mr. Darcy sends you all the love in the world that he can spare from me. You are all to come to Pemberley at Christmas.
As with many Fan Fictions, the playwrights, Lauren Gunderson, and Margot Melcon took some liberties with the cast and characterizations, granting Mary Bennet a good deal of personal growth in the two years since Elizabeth and Darcy were married and introducing a new character, one Lord Arthur de Bourgh, the true heir of Rosings Park. Mary steps forward from the ranks of supporting characters into the leading role in this comedy with the awkward Lord Arthur sparking a mutual romantic interest neither of them has the native social skills to easily pursue.
The play was well received upon its debut, and so has been seen on stage nationwide, including Salt Lake City, performed by the Pioneer Theatre Company this year. The run of this play ended on December 15. The theater doesn’t allow patrons to take photos, so I’ve linked their photo page here for those who enjoy such things.
Although I spotted a number of “goofs,” but I won’t detail them here. Overall, the play was delightful. I found myself pondering on the utility of presenting such a story on stage as opposed to in the pages of a book. Female readers expect the romantic lead to be something of an alpha-male, or at least alpha-adjacent, such as Mr. Bingley. Lord Arthur de Bourgh was neither, but the story still worked, as I found myself truly rooting for Mary and Arthur to sort out their feelings and figure out how to overcome their mutual trepidation. Anyone who has felt a spark of attraction and had no idea how to proceed would be able to relate to the dilemma these young lovers faced.
If you have seen this play, I would love to hear your thoughts and insights in the comments section below.
Speaking of Fan Fiction, I’ve had a few inquiries recently relating to the status of my next book. Writing has taken a back-seat to family responsibilities these past few months, but I’m eager to get back to writing and finish the book, which is not yet named. I have a working title that I’m not happy with, so I’m still pondering on the name. I thought you might enjoy an excerpt from my work-in-progress as a bit of a teaser.
The time had come. Elizabeth spent the better part of a day pondering and planning her conversation with Mrs Reynolds. She notified the housekeeper through a note delivered by the butler that she wished to meet to discuss household matters at ten o’clock the next morning. With every desire to be fair, she had even included an agenda for their meeting.
At the appointed hour, Mrs Reynolds knocked on the door of Elizabeth’s sunny little office. Elizabeth welcomed her and invited her to sit, noting that the provided agenda was clutched in the housekeeper’s hand.
“Mrs Reynolds,” she began, “it has been a month since we arrived at Pemberley for the summer and you have graciously allowed me a few weeks to settle in, and I thank you for that. It is time, however, that I more fully engage as mistress in my husband’s houses.”
Mrs Reynolds sat at the edge of the seat, her face composed, but Elizabeth detected a trembling in her hands that betrayed some unease. “Of course, Mrs Darcy.”
Elizabeth smiled warmly at the woman. If her plan was to be successful, she had to determine what had caused the housekeeper to develop such an attitude toward her in the first place. “I would like to know more about you,” she began. “When did you come to service in this house?”
Mrs Reynolds adjusted her position in the chair, sitting a bit further back on the cushion, but still with a stiff spine. “It has been above twenty years now, mistress. The master was but four years old when I came to Pemberley.”
“So, you have known him since he was a very young child.”
“Aye, that I have, and what a wonderful child he was. Such a loving, trusting boy. I have never heard a cross word from him in his entire life, and that is a fact.” She adjusted her position again, pushing herself further until she met with the back of the chair.
“Never? That is remarkable,” Elizabeth replied. “I would dearly love to hear more of what he was like in his youth, and contemplate on the temperaments of our future children.”
Mrs Reynolds’ face relaxed into a softer expression as she began to reminisce. As she spoke, Elizabeth recognized that the loyalty that she had detected in her husband for his housekeeper was returned a hundred-fold in her feelings toward Darcy. We have something in common, and that is our love for Fitzwilliam. I can build on that. Elizabeth smiled encouragingly at the housekeeper, allowing the memories to flow for several minutes.
“It sounds to me as if when Lady Anne passed away that you took it upon yourself to be like a second mother to him.”
“Oh no,” Mrs Reynolds replied. “I took nothing on myself at all. It was Lady Anne herself who made me promise to look after him. She worried for him. He wasn’t like the other boys, all wild and rattling away. He was such a tender-hearted lad, so earnest and gentle like his mother. That boy was always conscientious and mindful of all that would fall to him someday. From an early age, he demonstrated a strong will to be as good of a master as his father had been. And he is, Mistress. He is the best brother, the best landlord, the best master there ever was.” Mrs Reynolds’s face shone with unadulterated pride in the man.
“This, I have seen for myself.” Elizabeth nodded and smiled, adding, “And the best husband too.”
At this, the barest hint of a frown crossed Mrs Reynolds lips before she pressed them together and made no reply. An epiphany rained down in Elizabeth’s mind. There it is. I should have perceived this sooner, for it is so apparent now. She has raised him so high in her mind that she does not think I am good enough for him. Oh dear. This is what I must overcome if there is to be harmony between us. I must seek her good opinion. I have never done such for anyone, not even Fitzwilliam.
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