New Year’s Day: a time during which we, as in the Roman God Janus’ namesake month, look backward at what has been and then forward to, hopefully, apprehend what will (or might) be.
#InspiredByAusten authors, in the process of attending to their craft, understand that the relating of interesting stories is only one part of what they do. They must also, if they are thoughtful craftsmen, explore the how and why their characters move through their plot in the manner that they do. They not only need to offer resolutions but also plausible explanations as to why they have taken a reader down this path as opposed to that trail.
Regular accomplices in my literary journeys know that I am a fan of the double entendre. Oddly, though, in this case, the entendre buried in the title of this Blogspot may be, at best, a 1.5 version. Authors, of course, know that resolutions are conclusive points that move their story and characters forward, be they plot points or character traits. And, in many cases, the resolution of one leads to a resolution of the other. However, unlike many television stories, these are not necessarily presented at the end of a segment directly prior to a station break. Readers in the presence of a great author need to look further down the timeline, essentially punctuated cruxes/resolutions that demand some thoughtful consideration, if not detective work, by the reader.
Two brief examples of how Jane Austen, I believe, actively used these two forms of resolution in an intertwined manner: in other words, a 1.5 percent solution.
The resolution of the crux represented by Colonel Fitzwilliam’s elliptical use of Darcy’s separation of a dear friend from an unsuitable lady is not Elizabeth’s refusal of the Hunsford Proposal but rather the delivery (and reading) of Darcy’s explanatory letter.
The resolution of the reading of that letter is not Elizabeth’s disequilibration at the discovery of her errors but rather in the alteration of her understanding of Darcy followed by the heart-wrenching realization of a potential lost love that was forced by that eye-opening experience.
Let me consider the first resolution of a plot crux. Austen needed to have Elizabeth’s dislike of Darcy transform into the coruscating anger that leads to the type of rejection that would force Darcy to unburden himself in writing.
Think of the implications of a world without the stroll with the doughty soldier. Ask yourself these questions.
What if she had offered to Darcy that they would not suit, as she had done with Collins? Even if Darcy became angry or cold, would it not have been more logical for Elizabeth to keep her head? If Elizabeth was less inclined to despise Darcy, to take his accompanying her on her morning walks as a passive form of courtship, might she have offered generalized explanations, probably falling back on the simplest…that she did not love him? Would she have committed the unpardonable sin of throwing Wickham in his face?
Of course, Austen had set this in motion “months” before by presenting the Netherfield departure as she did. We knew that Darcy had connived with the sisters to get Bingley out of Dodge. Elizabeth Bennet did not know, although she certainly did suspect, that something was fishy. Austen uses the loyal Colonel to inadvertently stick a needle in his cousin’s balloon to bring Act Two’s plot development to its final stages.
Yet, the Hunsford Proposal and Rejection is not character resolution. ODC acts thoroughly logically and in keeping with every expectation which we have been prepared to expect up to that point.
That is a plot resolution, the end of the Bingley hijra arc.
As for the character resolution that the letter brought to Elizabeth Bennet (let alone how Darcy rethought his own behavior), we see the stage being set for her realization that first impressions are not necessarily the best. Her heartache at so thoroughly misunderstanding Darcy…clarified by his letter…allows the Wickham/Lydia plot crux to grow. Lizzy knew just how awful Wickham was. OK, she could have learned Wickham’s character without Darcy’s letter but only if she had been inclined to ask.
However, Wickham’s elopement with the ditzy teenager lacks meaning…and cannot be resolved in any way…without the alteration in Lizzy’s feelings for the Master of Pemberley. The later encounter at Pemberley would not have held any meaning to Elizabeth other than, probably, a subtle sense of unease at being at a former suitor’s home.
The rogue’s efforts would have been unremarked upon as Darcy would never have visited Elizabeth immediately after she received Jane’s letters.
In all reality, there would have never been the book we know as Pride and Prejudice because the ending would never have led the readers down an interesting track.
As I noted earlier, all of us who are engaged in writing #Austenesque fiction must necessarily be problem solvers. We have to look for plot cruxes that will lead us to resolutions that move both our characters and plots forward in a world where disbelief is assuredly suspended.
If we simply depend upon the familiar profiles of the characters established over two centuries ago, we cannot provide readers with an authentic expression of the truth that lies within our compositions. Instead, we will be attempting pale, tribute band, paeans to Jane Austen’s work: something which I am convinced is impossible because we are writing rooted in 21st Century contexts.
I have accepted that I can never seek to imitate the romance writing as constructed by Jane Austen in Napoleonic Regency Britain. The most I can do is use character outlines that use Austen as a starting, not an end, point.
Thus, my resolutions for 2020 are rooted in the past, but looking toward the future.
- To be honest with my readers, to present authentic stories that will transport them to a different understanding of the nature of the eternal story.
- To write my own truth and to deliver well-crafted works that will engage readers and enhance their interaction with the printed words.
- To inspire others to break free from the traditional tropes and elevate their own writing that will leave me gasping “I wish I had written that!”
I am deep in the Second Act of “In Plain Sight,” my first attempt at writing a Darcy/Elizabeth story: where the two are well-aware of each other’s existence and are beginning to experience their feelings, not yet love, for the other.
The following excerpt is a bit out of context. To get that framework, I encourage you to visit fanfiction.net where I have posted previous chapters to this (XVIII). My author handle there is AustenesqueAuthor.
This excerpt from “In Plain Sight” is ©2019 by Donald P. Jacobson. Any unauthorized reproduction of this work is prohibited. Published in the United States of America.
One day bled into the next as the sennight aged. The cycle of dressing changes punctuated by daily debridement continued. The Dower House’s population ebbed and flowed as the sun rose and set.
Campbell remained to supervise Smith’s recovery which had been expanded to include modest exercise. The bluff Scot had become the Dower House elder since Fitzwilliam perforce had to keep company with the Bingleys. He could not suddenly disappear from Netherfield’s precincts for a day or more without arousing Caroline’s suspicions. Edward Benton visited Mary as often as he could but had begun his parish duties by surveying the most distant of his congregants. Mr. Bennet contended with his wife’s excitable nature and kept his distance from the odd Coventry in order to ensure that her curiosity was not provoked. He sent Mrs. Hill to cook, clean, and keep an eye on the girls.
By Thursday, Smith’s condition had improved enough for him to be moved up to one of the bedchambers. Too few bedchambers, too little separation between those rooms, propriety, and Mrs. Hill forced Lizzy and Mary to “return” from being quarantined in the Dower House where they had been sequestered after being exposed to a putrid fever during a Netherfield tenant visit.
Mr. Bennet felt that Tuesday’s Banbury Tale was one that his wife would most easily swallow since she rarely attended to Longbourn’s farmers. Fanny was deathly afraid of any illness, especially one that could take Mr. Bennet and sweep her into the hedgerows. Bennet added spice to his story by ascribing the isolation order to Mr. Fitzwilliam’s London physician who had been called in to tend to the ailing family. Mrs. Bennet may have been one who let her imagination have free rein, but she also was not one to gainsay a Town medico’s considered opinion. If Lizzy and Mary had to stay away, away they would stay!
With the return of the daughters, Mrs. Hill now became the subject of the isolation strictures. For once, Mrs. Bennet was content to suffer Sarah’s more modest efforts as a lady’s maid and tonic-fetcher.
Lizzy found that her need to visit tenants kept her away from Longbourn—and Mr. Collins’ importuning speeches—for the balance of the sennight’s daylight hours. That she spent several hours at the Dower House was a happy circumstance. Inevitably she could be found sitting in company with Smith and Campbell while Mrs. Hill bustled in-and-out of the parlor. Even then, upon her regular-as-clockwork arrival at the Dower House, Smith instantly asked after Miss Mary, leaving unspoken that he was fearful of the impropriety of Miss Bennet alone with two unmarried gentlemen.
Eventually, though, Fitzwilliam spirited from Town to Meryton a Darcy housemaid: a girl who had been brought in from one of the Cecil holdings in the years after the great disgrace. Annie, a niece of Pemberley’s Housekeeper, Mrs. Adelaide Reynolds, was in awe of Richard. That worthy had terrified her with his stern injunctions about the expectations of servants who were privileged to wear the Darcy livery: particularly the need to avoid telling tales. While she had never met the Young Master before he had been sent away, Annie knew that scandals presumed to be long-dead were merely dormant and could blaze anew if the right sort of breeze blew across the cinders. Young Miss Reynolds summoned every ounce of her aunt’s powerful resolve when she reminded Fitzwilliam that she had grown up serving Great Britain’s second family. She was certain that she could uphold the honor of one of the nation’s oldest.
Her proud rejoinder to Pemberley’s Master notwithstanding, Annie moved when Mrs. Hill told her to move and sat when the housekeeper told her to sit. She barely spoke ten words in Smith’s presence. She was usually found in the corner of the parlor, her head bent above a bit of mending, whenever Miss Elizabeth arrived.
There was something familiar about Mr. Smith. However, Annie could not precisely pin down what it might be.
Smith stood staring out of the parlor window, one hand fisted behind his back, the forefinger worrying the thumb. The house’s front prospect faced to the south and east. As a result, the late-afternoon sun did not pour through the modest windows. However, the view was pleasing as the star gilded the yard and shrubbery in a titian glow. Although only half four, the shadows were already long, stretching away from the orb as its lower limb reached for the crest of the rolling hills that split the southern shires from the Midlands. If he listened carefully, Smith could hear the creak of wagon wheels on the small lane that ran near the property’s edge. The slow plodding of dray horse hooves told a tale of full wagons. The breadbasket that was Hertfordshire apparently had enjoyed another bumper crop. Good for the nation and its hungry mouths, especially those toiling above the water frames and looms from which flew the bolts of cloth that clothed the Army and powered the Navy.
The last of the harvest is approaching. I would wager that about half of the grains have already been brought onto the threshing floors. Maize will require another few days of dry and breezy weather to shed the moisture from earlier in the week. Then the farmers will bring in the potatoes, swedes, and turnips.
Of all the relics from his previous life, estate management was one of the few he still held close to his heart: a private space unsullied by his servitude. Wherever he was, whatever he was doing, he could escape to Derbyshire to imagine flocks of sheep flowing over rolling fields like foam upon the combers crashing against the western shores. In his mind, he was always a free man.
Recently he had begun to hope, to believe that once his debt had been paid, he could return to the wellspring that fed him when he recovered his name. No, his old friends would never condescend to be seen in his presence. He would find new ones…perhaps Bennet and Benton. There was always Fitzwilliam, a man of great principle who had cared for Georgiana and her/his home through the troubles. He prayed that Richard’s parents might receive him. Happily, he wryly thought, Lady Catherine de Bourgh would ignore him entirely.
However, lavender-scented dreams saw him strolling arm-in-arm with a pert sprite around the glasslike lake which reflected the rose-colored sandstone mansion that had been the Darcy fastness for generations. That chocolate-haired beauty gently caressed his arm in this happiest of reveries, her flashing eyes drawing him from his stony silences.
The conundrum was that he could not see how to alter his present situation.
He was neither fish nor fowl. Rather he was a prisoner without a prison. His honor reminded him that he had nearly two years remaining on his sentence. While he had thrown gentlemanly behavior into the gutter along with his good name, his integrity would not allow him to serve a day less than the sentence imposed or to violate the terms set by Mr. Justice Hastings. He well remembered that day in the Derby Assizes. And, he had never forgotten the injunctions, the debts of honor, laid upon him by that worthy man.
Smith could not walk away without being declared an outlaw. His body’s labor had been sold to Thaddeus Soames. In his own way, Smith had fulfilled his part of the contract, never complaining, and always seeking to act as his father would have expected despite the depths to which he had fallen.
Yet, had not Soames’ men been the ones who had tried to kill him? This grated because, while they held the whip hand—figuratively and literally—they had violated the implicit contract between the convict Smith and the Crown. They were, after all, the agents of His Majesty’s government. While there had been inherent harshness built into the system of justice, Smith could not believe that the King’s magistrates knew or condoned the type of mayhem visited upon the convicts in Netherfield’s barn—or worse.
Some—the late, unlamented George Wickham among them—might have argued that the attempted murder by the banks of the Mimram voided the terms of the agreement between society and the convicted. Yet, Smith could not accept that he had fully expiated his sins and scrubbed clean his escutcheon. In his mind, he had to serve every minute of the seven years to warrant resuming his identity as Fitzwilliam Darcy, Master of Pemberley.
Thus, he could not return to Pemberley either in his present or ancient guise. The court would justly assert that he had not earned that boon. Besides, someone might tip to his true identity if he tried to live under an alias. That would endanger Georgiana’s future with a reignited scandal, send him halfway around the world, and cut him off from Pemberley forever. And, while William Smith might appear in New York or Charleston to start a new life, he was loath to abandon his heritage, not when its recovery was close at hand.
From his conversations with Miss Bennet and her father, when the elder man had made an appearance, Soames had posted a £15 reward for information leading to his capture. So, he was accounted as having absconded.
Yet, they tried to kill me, so they are not expecting me—nor would I believe that Soames, the penny pincher, would be willing to hand over £15 to anyone—to turn up. To them I am dead, a bloated corpse waiting to bob to the Mimram’s surface once Spring comes.
But they are really banking on the fact that I would have washed all the way into the Thames to become another five-and-twenty stone’s-worth of fish food.
Even if he was “recaptured,” the best he could hope for was instant transportation if the bailiffs turned him over to the courts. At the worst, he would be returned to the barn. He would not survive a sennight if that happened.
In either outcome, he would never see Miss Bennet again.
He snorted and shook his head when that dark thought crossed his mind.
The uncharacteristic outburst from the usually stoic man surprised Elizabeth who undertook to probe his behavior.
“Mr. Smith,” Elizabeth began, but he turned from his landscape study and interrupted her.
“Just Smith, Miss Bennet. In fact, many of the gentry would deign only to address me as a child,” he added bitterly, “by just my first name…William.”
Elizabeth’s head snapped back at this. He clearly had not intended his statement as a reproof, but there it was; his anger bubbled just beneath the surface.
She cast her thoughts back over her life of dealing with those of the lesser classes, the ones who toiled so she did not have to. Only upper servants ever earned the privilege of surnames. Sarah, a maid, tended the five Bennet girls, but t’was Mrs. Hill who most often waited upon Mama. Mr. Hill loyally stood by his childhood playmate as Longbourn’s butler, but Lizzy realized that, until his father had passed on, this Mr. Hill was known only as George much as the hall’s man-of-all-work simply was called James.
She had never considered this to be anything extraordinary, but rather the normal course of events.
Am I becoming a closet Jacobin?
Annie gasped at this man’s temerity, to address the lady she had come to believe to be one of the finest gentlewomen the young maid had ever known. She had been at Larchmont when Lord Tom Cecil brought his Lady Mary home. She had tended to Miss Georgiana at Darcy House. Miss Bennet was akin to them if different in antecedent, much like the ring and forefinger on the same hand were. However, she dared not chastise Smith: why she could not know. It did not feel right as if she would be seen as unaccountably impertinent.
Allow Miss Lizzy to deal with it. I have seen her deal with the Master and even Doctor Campbell. I doubt if this person from the convict classes can hold a candle to either of those doughty gents.
A finely arched eyebrow crept toward Lizzy’s hairline. This was the only indication she offered to say that his rejoinder had left her slightly disequilibrated.
“My apologies, sir,” she replied, “but I fear this is an argument you are unlikely to win with me. You see, while I might refer to one of Longbourn’s footmen by his first name, you are not a man who is being dispatched to fetch a chair or the post.
“Rather, you are a guest…,” she held up a quelling hand, “in my father’s house. I was raised to treat his visitors with respect. That requires me to use the honorific ‘Mister’ unless, of course, another is more appropriate.
“Reverend…although that would be confusing if Mr. Benton was here.
“Doctor? Again, the same problem would arise if your physician attended us.
“Would a military rank be suitable? Captain? Colonel? Marshal?”
By this point, Smith had begun to smile broadly as her gentle gibes broke through a reserve that had been exacerbated by his brown study. He made his way across the room to gently lower himself into a chair opposite Miss Bennet. He perched on the front edge. Leaning back against the cushion was still too risky for his weeping injuries.
Her good nature radiated from her like a midsummer sun’s rays. He watched, utterly entranced as she asked the maid to fetch the tea for, in her words, “Mister Smith must be parched given how he has exercised his vocal cords discussing…oh, what were we speaking of, Mr. Smith?”
She offered him a wide-eyed look of innocence as her shot struck home. Smith could see, though, the slight crinkle at the corners of those near-black pools that betrayed her insouciant pleasure at making him her victim, albeit a willing one.
Throwing his mind back across the intervening years since he had last bandied words with a gentlewoman who was neither his aunt nor cousin, Smith found that he could not recall when he had been confronted with a woman possessing such a firm sense of self.
That astonished him. He realized that he never before had encountered a lady who could so easily defend her own innings. The insipid daughters of the ton had never been able to get past his carefully constructed defenses. Now, this bubbly, vivacious elfin creature was laying waste to his heir of Pemberley hauteur that he had assayed in drawing rooms before 1806. What she was doing to his cleverly-constructed convict persona of the most recent five years was even more devastating.
He was captivated, heart and soul.
And that, as the Bard put it, is the rub.