I’m still mulling over title suggestions from my last post, but my computer has returned nicely refurbished and I’ve been busy with editing my next release, A Sense of Obligation!
While considering which excerpt to choose for this post, I was struck with the idea of how often the stranger is the villain in Jane Austen’s books. (I’m less familiar with Mansfield Park and Persuasion, so I’m skipping those.)
The Dashwood ladies are new to the Barton Cottage neighborhood and soon meet Mr. Willoughby, who is only visiting his aunt. While other characters are acquainted with him, he comes to the area only once a year and only for a few weeks. He has a keen interest in appearing everything honorable and charming so near his aunt and can wear that mask easily enough for a few days. By the time Colonel Brandon learns more of Willoughby’s character, through his ward who was impregnated and abandoned by Willoughby, the man is gone and no one is quite sure if Marianne is engaged to him or not.
When Wickham arrives in Meryton, most of the area is immediately smitten with him. Darcy tells Elizabeth in his letter to her that “detection could not be in your power.” In this scenario, the area welcomes Wickham and the other members of the militia with open arms simply because of their reputation. However, Wickham is new to the Regiment, and only Denny knew him before. By the time Wickham elopes with Lydia, Colonel Forster is saying he no longer thinks well of Wickham, and it is known he left Meryton in debt. While Elizabeth and the Gardiners are in Lambton, they do inquire about Wickham and learn he left the area with debts, paid for by Darcy, as well. If only they had been more cautious to accept someone who was so firmly a stranger to them and even his peers, the story might have been quite different.
Highbury also quickly accepts Frank Churchill, absent son of the long time resident, Mr. Weston. But what do the Westons know about Frank? He was raised by his mother’s relatives, and the beginning of the book includes many times of Frank’s near arrival but sudden change of plans. While Frank didn’t set out to injure anyone, he toyed with Emma’s feelings to mask his own for Jane Fairfax. The potential harm of a stranger is even more clear in this novel as Frank is set up against Mr. Knightley, Emma’s long time friend and neighbor.
Catherine Morland sees no reason to question Isabella Thorpe’s immediate interest in her. She is just as trusting of the Tilneys…until she thinks General Tilney may have murdered his wife. She soon learns he’s not that evil, but she also learns she was right to trust her instinct with him all along- he is heartless. Indeed, Mrs. Morland says this once Catherine returns home: “This has been a strange acquaintance,” observed Mrs. Morland, as the letter was finished; “soon made and soon ended. I am sorry it happens so, for Mrs. Allen thought them very pretty kind of young people; and you were sadly out of luck too in your Isabella. Ah! Poor James! Well, we must live and learn; and the next new friends you make I hope will be better worth keeping.”
From Austen’s frequent use of it and even Mrs. Morland’s general statement, it seems it was not very irregular to find out too late that your new acquaintance lacks character. With that in mind, I give you an excerpt from A Sense of Obligation. Darcy compromised Elizabeth during her stay at Netherfield. They quickly married but are still getting to know one another and in many ways are still strangers to one another. They have not yet established trust. The following scene happens the day after their wedding. Darcy had business to deal with, and Elizabeth decided to look over the household accounts.
Elizabeth was so engrossed in her findings that she hardly noticed her luncheon arrive and barely touched it.
Another two hours passed when her husband’s words interrupted her musings. “Elizabeth, are you well?”
She gasped, alarmed that he would find her looking at these particular accounts. She jumped from her chair and saw him eyeing the tray of food she had not eaten. “Oh, I was distracted.”
His eyes alit on the books she had left opened, noting the colour of their bindings. “I see.”
She saw his jaw begin to tense.
He strode to shut the door. “Can you please explain why you are reviewing my personal accounts?”
He was quite angry. She feared he believed she had only been playing a part and was a fortune hunter desperate for information on his wealth. Her heart squeezed at the thought of losing his affections.
Elizabeth stood still for a minute. Her eyes drifted to the clock, and she realised she was late dressing for dinner. He arrived home later than expected. She looked at him carefully, and despite his angry visage, there was a vulnerable expression of hurt, which it did not surprise her to see as she had some understanding of his feelings for her and given what she found in the books. He appeared exceptionally weary, as a day of business might do to a man, and she wondered if he had taken any nourishment the entire day. She remembered how her Aunt Gardiner handled similar situations with her uncle.
“I will gladly explain my mistake, sir. But can I order tea for you while we talk? In the meantime, allow me to suggest the lemon tarts; I believe you have a preference for them.”
“Elizabeth, now is hardly the time to take tea!”
“Yes, but I believe you have not eaten all day, and as you see, neither have I. We might speak with more civility if our hunger is assuaged.”
“We have dinner in an hour.”
“Just a few restorative bites. It will go to waste otherwise, and I have spent the entire day reviewing the accounts; I know Darcy House is not frivolous.”
“Very well.” He was curt and dubious.
She called for tea, and Darcy obliged her by eating the tarts. She could scarcely say for Darcy, but for herself, she felt better after a few biscuits.
“There, now I believe we are in a position to speak rationally.” Darcy was resolutely silent. “I spent several hours with Mrs. Sparks this morning going over the household accounts since you became the master.”
“You managed it all in one day?”
“Less than one day. You are such a creature of habit; hardly anything ever changed. You certainly do not need a wife to run your house. Mrs. Sparks is exceptionally efficient and organised.
“As she was leaving, I asked where the older ledgers were. I wanted to leaf through those from your mother’s time, to see the differences when the family entertained more. She never told me your personal accounts were on the same shelf. I grabbed several by accident.”
Darcy made a gruff sigh.
“After skimming the years your mother was mistress, I saw you were correct; they did not entertain much. I was curious and sought the years when just you and your father lived here. I noticed that after you were around age fifteen or so, there were some odd entries. It seemed over the course of a few years, several maids were let go of a sudden, and there was a strange notation next to a few of them.” Elizabeth saw Darcy’s jaw tighten further.
“I did not go looking for your personal accounts, sir, but the first page I opened to had the same symbol as in the house accounts and was for a shocking sum of nearly three thousand pounds. You can imagine what it would look like.”
I’m giving away 2 ebook copies of A Sense of Obligation. Please comment below to be entered. Entries must be in by Friday, July 31 11:59 EST.
For more giveaway chances from me and other amazing Austenesque writers check out my book launch party on Facebook on July 25.
Edit: I fixed the link!