My project for NaNoWriMo this year is aptly named, as I’m having to confront my own pride and prejudices amidst the dawning the realization that I am in way over my head. In light of these reflections, I’ve decided to permit myself to “lose” this year, the sixth in which I’ve participated. Some years I’ve just manage to achieve the event objective of 50,000 words in one month. Others, I’ve far surpassed it, but I’ve always received the winner’s badge to proudly displayed on my blog. So I may not hit 50,000 words this year, let alone my personal goal of 150,000. I’m still going to do my best, but with my son now a dauntless ten months old and several rounds of visitors expected over the next month, I feel my priority ought to be enjoying this time with my family, not making myself and everyone else crazy by spending every spare moment on the computer.
Yet on this, the second day of the contest, I really just want to crawl into the world of my book and never emerge until it’s done. This is not a new story but a rewriting of my very first novels, theTales of Less Pride and Prejudice trilogy (First Impressions, Second Glances, and Holidays at Pemberley) and as I revisit this material, I’m struck by how delightful a tale it is. Some readers have found the books problematic because of the lack of angst, but I still think them pure joy to read, as they were to write. My intention with this revamp is only to refine, not radically change, the narrative, making it one continuous chronology. Here’s the first 1877 words, written yesterday:
It is well acknowledged that every author determined to continue, elaborate on, or simply meddle with Jane Austen’s novels must be highly tempted to include a pithy, universal truth, in the manner of the lady herself, that establishes the theme of the story. It is almost like a religious ritual or epic invocation, calling on the great authoress to inspire (and forgive) the games we play with her texts. After all, this is hallowed ground upon which we tread. So I ask you, Miss Austen, to please excuse what I am about to do to your tale of Elizabeth and Darcy. I offer this story in homage to your sense of playfulness, not in some mistaken belief that my pen could ever duplicate yours. You endowed each character with his or her original essence, to which I will endeavor to remain true. I promise to try and not antagonize your sensibilities with the vulgarity of our modern age, though I must assume, in spite my best intentions, that something here will offend. How can it not? The real question is, Jane, do I have your permission to proceed anyway? If only the dead could speak! Perhaps then I would not commit the following atrocity.
Hertfordshire, July 1790
Of all the many modern contrivances of man, though most have their faults, few poser more danger to life and limb than the improvements in conveyance. The faster a curricle bowls along, the greater its risks, but such is the demand for speed and convenience that we think little of such perils until they wreak havoc on our own lives, as they are too often wont to do.
Though only twelve years of age, Thomas Westover had already been master of Glendale for half his short life, and so when his mother’s barouche upended itself, instantly killing not only Mrs. Westover, but also her lady’s maid, faithful coachman, postillion, and two footmen, he was prepared to address the necessities of the moment rather than lose himself in the sort of childish hysterics in which his younger brother, David, was currently engaged. His own highly capable coachman, also orphaned in the accident, had adeptly saved the family coach from meeting the same end as the more stylish vehicle it followed, and having assured himself of both his brother and his sister’s wellbeing (the latter of whom, having just completed her first season, was perfectly capable of administering to the former’s needs), Mr. Westover took command of the situation, ordering mercy for the squealing horses, confirming the status of the departed for himself, and commandeering two of the coach horses to transport himself and a footman to the small town of Meryton which, according to Paterson’s Roads, lay not more than two miles distant. Only an hour had passed since the departure of his mother from this earth when Thomas road into the town, where he was so fortunate to find himself in capable hands. Carts were sent to retrieve the bodies, and the mayor and his wife took it upon themselves to collect Mr. Westover’s siblings and servants, transporting all to their own humble abode to provide whatever solace there was to be had in wholesome food and clean beds.
Miss Westover made some protest upon learning that the Lucas children had sacrificed their own rooms for her family’s comfort, but Mrs. Lucas was insistent and Cordelia, feeling the enormity of her loss, had little strength to resist. Her mother was gone. It was she who must now parent two boys. All the concerns of yesterday – balls, fashion, suitors – were now chimeric in their triviality. Her own shock and grief, too, were rendered inconsequential. Nothing mattered more than the traumatized boy clinging to her neck, inconsolable, and the stoic young man before her, burying his own pain beneath the responsibilities of his position. The care of the kind tradesman’s family was a blessing, and she accepted it as graciously as her distress allowed.
The Westovers continued in Meryton for three nights, and though they were suffered to remove to more suitable lodgings at the local inn, they remained in the custody of the Lucases, to whom the entire town seemed to think they rightfully belonged. Tom and Cordelia shared their concerns about indebtedness to such a family and how it might be repaid, concluding that a dinner hosted by themselves at their lodging, along with a shipment of produce from Glendale upon their return, would serve as sufficient testament to their gratitude. It would not do to maintain the acquaintance, but the family must also not be slighted. Cordelia was particularly determined to honor the eldest daughter of the house, who was about David’s age and had assiduously pursued his acquaintance until finally rewarded with a game of spillikins, breaking through the sensitive boy’s determined depression. Though she had no notion that such diversion would keep his mind from sorrow for long, she was relieved to see his attention to a simple childhood occupation that she purchased a much admired doll from a local shop and presented it to Charlotte. The girl shyly accepted the gift, abundantly pleased with the tribute, and it was her memory that the elder Westovers chose to dwell on when recalling their companions during those first dreadful days of mourning. Far better to remember a child’s pleasure than the hurried business and deplorable duties that seemed to fill their lives in the weeks and months to come, but her image, like that of her family’s, dissipated with time, eventually leaving little behind but a tenderness for the middle class uncommon amongst the gentry,
Hertfordshire, October 1811
Fitzwilliam Darcy found a quiet corner of the overcrowded ballroom and breathed an almost silent sigh of relief. From the safety of this retreat he could watch with some degree of composure as his friend, Charles Bingley, smilingly endured the crush of new neighbors from which Darcy had just escaped. Bingley, always deemed universally charming, had somehow managed to maneuver his rather plain dance partner into introducing him to the blonde beauty whom Darcy believed was the handsomest lady in the room.
He tried to summon a smile in response to his friend’s easy sociability but was far too unnerved to succeed. From the moment the Netherfield party made their entrance, he was assaulted by the familiar buzz of assessment that filled the room as Meryton surveyed the newcomers. Though he strove to be oblivious as rumor of his income spread through the crowd, the astute observer could easily perceive the tinge of discomfiture that disfigured his handsome face. No deep feat of observation was required on his part to be able to discern who amongst the strangers surrounding him was privy to the gossip. Their overly inquisitive demeanors told all. He cursed inside. Nothing put him more out of countenance than fawning sycophants, and he was displeased to note that this neighborhood, in which he unaccountably found himself, had an ample supply. Except in the most elite circles, Darcy almost always felt isolated by his wealth. And when amongst his social equals, he felt equally isolated by his morals and intelligence, traits which are not, unfortunately, required to inherit a fortune. Darcy suffered nearly perpetual discomfort in society, but on the evening in question, amongst those he did not know, geniality was proving a particular trial.
Between the songs of the set, Bingley sought out his visibly distressed friend in the kindhearted, if misguided, hope of admonishing him into ease. “Come, Darcy,” he said jovially, “I must have you dance. I hate to see you standing about by yourself in this stupid manner. You had much better dance.”
“I certainly shall not,” Darcy emphatically replied. “You know how I detest it unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner. At an assembly such as this, it would be insupportable. Your sisters are engaged, and there is not another woman in the room whom it would not be a punishment for me to stand up with.” He suppressed a shudder at the notion.
“I would not be as fastidious as you for a kingdom!” Bingley cried in amusement, both at the irony of his statement, for never was he near as fastidious as Darcy, and at his friend’s predictably taciturn behavior. “Upon my honor, I never saw so many pleasant girls in my life as I have this evening, and there are several of them you see uncommonly pretty.”
“You are dancing with the only handsome girl in the room,” Darcy declared with a glance in her direction. Inwardly, he realized that she was nearly the only woman he could remember noticing at all, so preoccupied was he with his own, awkward predicament.
“Oh, she is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld! But there is one of her sisters sitting down just behind you, who is very pretty and, I dare say, very agreeable. Do let me ask my partner to introduce you.”
“Which do you mean?” and turning around, Darcy saw a dark haired woman, of shorter stature than her sister, just perceptively tapping her foot in time to the music as she watched the dancers. She did not possess the impressive beauty of her sister, yet his quick mind was struck by the cheerful liveliness of her appearance. This lady did not pine over sitting out the set, sulking like so many women he had observed. No, rather than languishing, she displayed an easy pleasure in her surroundings and a generous goodwill towards those enjoying the dance. Darcy wished he could be so content, so able to relish his chosen role of spectator. He knew it to be the safest place for him. Were he to seek an introduction at this juncture it would, undoubtedly, incite unwelcome attention and gossip, while forcing him to indulge in idle conversation with a young lady whose companionship must surely be intolerable. A dance was entirely unthinkable. He moved to turn back round in order to give Bingley a decidedly negative response to his proposal, when the lady’s eyes locked upon his and he realized, with a great deal of horrified mortification, that she had obviously overheard Bingley’s idiotic suggestion!
She gave him a knowing look. He felt he could almost read her thoughts: Well, sir? Would you deem my company insupportable? The was no denying the challenge implied in the raised brow. She was calling him out. Was retreat possible for such a man as he? To not step forward would be ungentlemanly, an insult to an admittedly intriguing young woman. Unthinkable! If there was anything certain to overcome Darcy’s timidity, it was the need to uphold the dictates of etiquette. Why else had he come to this unfortunate assembly in the first place? He was a Darcy of Pemberley, after all, descendant of some of the oldest families in England, nephew to the Earl of ______. He had the honor of his name to uphold. It did not matter if that meant attending an assembly with his host or preventing the infliction of an insult to a lady, he would fulfill his duty.
“Very well, Bingley. If your partner would be so kind, I should be happy to make the acquaintance of her sister.
Wish me luck and look for the new release in late spring 2019!