The Bennet Wardrobe is an alternative history in the Jane Austen Universe. While the characters are familiar, I have endeavored to provide each of them with an opportunity to grow into three-dimensional personalities, although not necessarily in the Regency period. If they were shaped or stifled by the conventions of the time, the Wardrobe helped solve their problems, make penance and learn lessons by giving them a chance to escape that era.
The Wardrobe underlines my conviction that each of these characters could enjoy fulfilling lives once they had overcome the inner demons holding them back.
Would it have been possible for them to do so staying on the Regency timeline?
Perhaps. However, something tickled my brain—maybe it was the intersection between my youthful fascination with speculative fiction and my mature appreciation of Austen—that suggested that it would be fun to try something different. How about time travel? Not unknown in JAFF…but usually played for farce rather than something more profound. With careful treatment, though, protagonists could be immersed in different futures to learn that which they need in order to overcome the limitations preventing them from realizing their potential as people. In the process, they carry the eternal story of love and life forward even to the 21st Century.
The saga of The Bennet Wardrobe begins with The Keeper: The Extraordinary Journey of Mary Bennet. The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Époque is Volume 2, Part 1. I am currently in the midst of composing Part 2 of the “Kitty Book,” The Exile: The Countess Visits Longbourn. You will find an excerpt of that work below.
Three subsequent novels will complete the story of the Wardrobe’s agenda. Four novellas have been published, the most recent being Lizzy Bennet Meets the Countess. More will be written to enable me to understand the manner in which the Wardrobe and the Bennet family interact as well as the motives of important characters. These will give readers insight into my process.
Characters created by other authors make their way into the Bennet Wardrobe stories. That is because I subscribe to the idea that the act of imagining characters or their foibles brings them into reality. The speculative fiction master Robert A. Heinlein employed this approach in his majestic work The Number of the Beast (1980).
“As in many of his later works, Heinlein refers to the idea of solipsism, but in this book develops it into an idea he called “World as Myth” — the idea that universes are created by the act of imagining them, so that all fictional worlds are in fact real and all real worlds are figments of fictional figures’ fancy…”[i
Thus, you will find persons who were created by Patrick O’Brien, Winston Graham, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Virginia Woolf. These eternal personalities populated the Regency and Victorian/Edwardian worlds envisaged by their originators much as the Bennets, Darcys and Fitzwilliams resided in a universe established by Jane Austen and, later, The Wardrobe. As such, I have concluded that they did exist, but that Ms Austen did not know of them to write about them.
You will note with interest that those who served the Darcys in P&P (and Bingleys, Cecils and Fitzwilliams in The Bennet Wardrobe Series) continue to serve, albeit in different capacities, sometimes quite elevated in the ranks of the Bennet Family Trust. Likewise, character names and places which have been created in my other Bennet Wardrobe novels and Pride & Prejudice Variations have been retasked. So, readers will discover Wilsons, Andertons and Tomkins working in various capacities throughout the Bennet Wardrobe stories. Some have married into the families themselves. As always, there is a Dr. Campbell to save the day.
News from the Bennet Wardrobe Universe
Archive rat that I am, I have recently discovered fragments of an intriguing primary source which will find its way into the second part of The Exile. The document I am citing appears to be thoroughly authentic, if in sorry condition, handwritten as it was on acid-based paper of a ruder quality. I think that the information found on the title page should cause some stir within the community.
The Diary of Capn Sir George Percival Wickham, GCB
The Hero of Hougoumont Woods
Collected, Edited, and Annotated by His Widow
However, I am not prepared to discuss at this point nor am I convinced that the world itself is prepared for revelations into the character of one who has been so widely reviled in spite of his redemptive actions that awful June day in the orchard. His heroism has been sacrificed on the altar of literary expediency. I may only pray that, as a result of my study of this document and other important aspects of his life as they played out in the household of the Countess of Deauville as well as in his quarters in Newcastle, a new picture of the great Captain Wickham may emerge beyond that which we know from the interaction between General Sir Richard Fitzwilliam, KCB, the First Baron St. Jean and Mrs. Lydia Bennet Wickham found in Chapter XXXVII of The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey.
“With that Richard picked up a small bundle, a handkerchief with LBW carefully embroidered on the corner. He stood and placed it in her lap. With shaking fingers, Lydia undid the knot and rifled through the meager remnants of a man’s life.
“This is everything he had in his sabretasche. If I only had this evidence to assess a his character, I would say that he was a man who had come to understand the value of his wife. And, with that assumption, I would imagine his last thoughts were of you.”
This excerpt is ©2017 by Don Jacobson. All rights reserved. No reproduction of this work in progress by any means—mechanical or electronic—is permitted without the express written consent of the owner of this copyright. Published in the United States of America.
The House at Deauville, August 30, 1932
Having reached the last period of the last letter she needed to write, the Dowager…
Lord, how I hate that term…not because I am the present Earl’s widowed mother, but rather as it suggests that I am some doddering old woman with one foot in the grave drooling in her morning porridge.
…snapped the cap of her azure-enameled Waterman onto the pen’s barrel and covered the nib against unfortunate leakage. She laid it on the well-oiled walnut surface of her desk that occupied the center of the modest library. Then she reached over to the hammered bronze ashtray and grasped a black onyx holder imprisoning a smoldering cigarette. She took a deliberate deep draw and sat back in her chair to consider that which she had done and that which she had yet to accomplish. The drug deepened her sense of relaxation and offered up a pleasant buzzing feeling that frayed the edges of her vision. As she exhaled, a nimbus of bluish exhaust wreathed her whitened mane of close-cropped hair. She closed her distinctive china blue eyes and calmed every muscle in her torso, flushing the tension that had suffused her body as she wrote vital messages for shades of Bennets past.
While the news from the rest of Europe, the United States and the Pacific was unremittingly bad, t’was not the immediate timeframe, but rather the past and how it would determine the future that concerned Kitty. And, t’was not the history of Europe and the World, but rather that of her immediate family…past, present and future…which had attracted her critical mind. After two years of reading and analyzing, Lady Fitzwilliam had turned to Mr. Holmes’ most famous dictum. He had said to Henry and her several times before he, too, passed from this plane of existence, “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”
Using that logical razor, she believed that she could see past the obvious facts of the Bennets of the Wardrobe and pierce the veil that hid some of the higher purposes behind that remarkable piece of furniture.
And, here she stood once again, having moved from desk to French doors in the Beach House’s library. How she had transitioned from sitting to standing was outside of her ken. Her ability to utterly concentrate her mind away from the world around her had become legendary in Family circles. Even now, she could sense its presence, hulking behind her in the especially constructed alcove in the wall adjacent to the French doors through which she now looked without seeing.
Still deep in her near-trance, she mulled possibilities that once had seemed so remote, but were now closer to what she believed to be reality.
The Wardrobe has always left the Keepers wondering. T’is as if events and emotions which lead to Bennet travels and those travels themselves have been choreographed. That dance, though, has been designed not only to teach Bennets what we need to learn, but also to educate the Intelligence that resides across whatever dimensions that find themselves present behind those remarkable doors.
This deeper truth—one that Kitty believed may have been the tip of the iceberg of the Wardrobe’s hidden discourse—had driven her to consider and then decide upon a daring and dangerous course.
While the rules of the Wardrobe were designed to protect its users in the immediate sense from embarrassing discontinuities down the timeline, there was little inside those strictures conceived to protect the past from the perceived knowledge of the future. In fact, the only limitation seemed to be the intelligence of travelers and Keepers to avoid using too much of their foreknowledge in their proximate presents to inadvertently alter the future which would then render those insights meaningless and moot.
Wheels within wheels and the ultimate paradox—if you use what you know rests over the horizon you may change that outcome, that reality, and send the Universe down a different, possibly less desirable, path.
Everything that Kitty had concluded while prowling through the Archives was derived from her synthesis of Bennet-reported past events. Yet, every single nugget was bound to rest in the future of at least one Bennet or another. When taken as a whole, some ineluctable truths emerged.
If what she had seen develop ever so slowly like a photo from one of Mr. Stieglitz’s negatives was not a phantasm of her grief, then she realized that her life’s purpose was destined to become more urgent. As the great letter writer Saul of Tarsus, the Sainted Paul, wrote in his first Letter to the Corinthians…
For now we see through a glass darkly[ii]…
In the same manner, with nearly the same freighted meaning, was Kitty barely able to discern what appeared to be a deeper, more profound raison d’être within her universe. What she believed herself to have discovered stretched her mind, forcing it to the very limits of what it could accept as being sanely possible.
She simply could not deliver her suppositions to the earliest point to which she must necessarily travel and drop them in the lap of The Keeper of that day. That could irretrievably change the future for the entire family…and destroy the purpose which she had come to believe was driving the Wardrobe.
What Kitty could deliver, though, was a fistful of breadcrumbs that could be scattered by this one Keeper in front of Bennets who would rise in subsequent decades. This she could do delicately, with discretion, without revealing her stunning conclusion and, thus, avoiding breaking the hollandaise.[iii]
Huffing a breath, she took one last pull on her cigarette. Then she walked back behind her desk, stubbed out the fag in the ashtray and sealed two envelopes against the possibility that she would be lost to this time forever. One was addressed to her son—suggesting only that she had determined to complete her cycle and that she wished him to care for the family as she and his father had done—and the other to Jacques. The latter revealed nothing more than that she had gone to the same place from which Cousin Lizzy[iv] had come. Again, that which she did not reveal presupposed an unspoken awareness of the truth. Both missives were left glowing in their creamy whiteness atop the stained blotter pad gracing the desktop.
Then she slid open the center drawer. Removing a folder, she cast about for something in which to carry it lest the precious pages secured within flutter loosely along the corridors of immeasurable time. Her eyes passed over and then rested upon the leather brief case—Henry’s prized water buffalo satchel, its sturdy leather straps still buckled—that had sat next to the desk…untouched since Alex Cadogan,[v] Henry’s private secretary, had brought it home to Deauville from Geneva. Kitty considered it, and then dismissed it.
Best if Tommy or Ellie keep it to pass along to one of the grandchildren.
Scanning around the room, her eyes returned to the desktop and halted on the morocco leather portfolio with the unusual brass clasp and the embossed
on the flap.
Ah yes, Mæstro Ravel’s portfolio. The poor man, distracted as he was over his inability to compose after his accident in spite of three weeks alone in Miss Darcy’s studio, left it in his room when he returned to Paris last week. I, myself, have been so focused on my tasks that I utterly forgot to alert him that we found it. Of course, he has not missed it enough to contact me. It will serve.
Moving faster now, Kitty opened the portfolio and slid the folder inside, resting it atop the items still secreted within. She did not bother to look at them. Then she rummaged in her handbag. From it she pulled one of her favorite mementos—a photograph of Tommy, Ellie and Henry on the beach in front of the House. Smiling at the thought of Henry’s cherished Kodak resting in her hands as she preserved this happy scene, she wrote on the back of the photo:
De Gauche à Droit: Thomas (22 ans), Eloise (17 ans), Henry (57 ans) au Plage Deauville, Août, 1919
One last dive into her black handbag brought forth a small leather pouch. Kitty thoughtfully tapped it against her palm before tipping it to cause a brilliant golden coin—an 1804 gold Sovereign gifted her on her tenth birthday by Uncle Edward and Aunt Maddie and one of her life’s treasures—to tumble out. This was the only bit of currency she possessed from that time before she traveled here. She slipped that into Ravel’s case. She had decided against asking the Trust’s Legend’s boffins for any Regency money for fear they would see through her plot.
Then she snapped the clasp shut.
To keep her hands free, she latched onto a silk scarf that had she had dropped on one of the chairs by the cold fireplace after her walk along the beach this morning. Quickly fashioning it into a sling, the Countess thrust her head and right arm through it. Monsieur Ravel’s portfolio easily fit into the resulting cavity.
If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well: It were done quickly[vi]
She smoothed the front of her Chanel suit, a recent acquisition from CoCo’s Deauville boutique. Squaring her shoulders, Kitty strode to the Wardrobe and, before she lost her courage, planted both hands firmly on the marquetry doors.
A thousand bees buzzed and the pressure built…
[i] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Number_of_the_Beast_(novel) accessed 7/26/16.
[ii] 1 Corinthians 13:12 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1_Corinthians_13#.22Through_a_glass.2C_darkly.22 accessed 10/14/17.
[iii] Refers to a kitchen disaster…the separation of a sauce which is overheated as it is made.
[iv] Please see Lizzy Bennet Meets the Countess.
[v] Sir Alexander Montagu George Cadogan OM GCMG KCB (25 November 1884 – 9 July 1968) was a British diplomat and civil servant. He was Permanent Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs from 1938 to 1946. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Cadogan accessed 10/10/17.
[vi] William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act 1 Scene VII.