Into every story a little research must fall.
Where have you heard that before? 😀 Yes, I am going there again, but this time I am not looking at outside sources, although I could. I did look up information on Christmas in the Regency Era and the titles of a few different pieces of literature for my characters to read as well as some information on shopping while writing my upcoming release, but I don’t want to talk about any of that today. Today, I want to go back to the source — Pride and Prejudice. (Grab a cup of something and settle in, this one’s going to be on the longish side.)
Part of creating a Pride and Prejudice inspired story such as One Winter’s Eve is understanding both where you are going to deviate from canon and who the characters are. Then you must decide what changes or variations you are going to make from the original.
So let’s begin by discussing where in Pride and Prejudice this story stops following Miss Austen’s plot and begins to follow Leenie’s plot.
To answer this, you must know that One Winter’s Eve is the sequel to Two Days Before Christmas, so we must look at that story to find the information we seek.
“Mr. Bingley,” Georgiana said in greeting. “I do apologize that you must once again be satisfied with seeing only me, but my brother has just returned from the country and is washing away the remnants of his travel.” She motioned for him to be seated.
Bingley sat down heavily in a chair, his arms crossed and a scowl on his face. “I know Darcy has returned since my sisters have also returned. What I wish to know is why he has returned.”
Georgiana took a seat near him. “I would also like to know that,” she said as she smoothed her skirts and folded her hands in her lap.
“Did he not say?” Bingley asked in surprise.
Georgiana shook her head. “He seemed determined to avoid giving me any information at all.”
Two Days Before Christmas begins on the day Darcy and friends arrive back in town, which, by the way, does not sit well with Bingley or Georgiana. This information means that events of Two Days Before Christmas and subsequently those of One Winter’s Eve begin to deviate from the original pretty early in Miss Austen’s plot.
So we have a set deviation point…shortly after the Netherfield Ball.
Now, let’s move on to the main characters I used for this story. If you read the title to this post, you know of which two characters I speak — Caroline Bingley and Colonel Fitzwilliam. The character I wish to spend some time talking about in this post is Caroline — the girl that many love to hate. 🙂
For fun, I asked for descriptions, in one sentence or less, of Caroline at the time of her departure from Netherfield from members of the Austen Author’s Facebook Group. I gathered those responses together into a document, deleted some extraneous words (and anything that was longer than one sentence 😉 restrictions are restrictions 🙂 ), and after pasting them into a Google Doc used a Word Cloud builder to create the two different styles of graphics below. You can see that one word was predominate — insecure.
Thank you to everyone who left their thoughts. I have drawn three names from the participants (because there were so many!) and will be sending them a copy of One Winter’s Eve. Look at the end of this post for those names and any instructions for claiming your prize. (There’s also a giveaway attached to this post so be looking for that as well.)
Insecure, the word that dominates both graphics, matches-up well with where I was coming from when I developed Caroline’s character in this book.
But before we get to anything about Caroline in my book, let’s look at a few things Miss Austen told us about Caroline. There is not enough room here to quote everything from the first portion of Pride and Prejudice about Caroline Bingley, so I am going to try to just hit a few of the highlights.
The following is from when we are introduced to the Bingley sisters in a conversation between Jane and Elizabeth after the assembly.
According to Jane, the Bingley sisters are not equal to their brother in manners…
“But they are very pleasing women when you converse with them. Miss Bingley is to live with her brother and keep his house; and I am much mistaken if we shall not find a very charming neighbour in her.”
Elizabeth, on the other hand, is not as accepting of the Bingley sisters and is “very little disposed to approve them.” The text then goes on to say the following (and remember, this is still in Elizabeth’s POV, and she is not inclined to like them. 🙂 )
“They were in fact very fine ladies, not deficient in good humour when they were pleased, nor in the power of being agreeable where they chose it; but proud and conceited. They were rather handsome, had been educated in one of the first private seminaries in town, had a fortune of twenty thousand pounds, were in the habit of spending more than they ought, and of associating with people of rank; and were therefore in every respect entitled to think well of themselves, and meanly of others. They were of a respectable family in the north of England; a circumstance more deeply impressed on their memories than that their brother’s fortune and their own had been acquired by trade.”
Based on those two extracts, I believe we can say the following about Caroline (I included some of the thoughts that I had when contemplating this information to give you a little peek at a part of my writing process):
She is arrogant. (So were several others in P&P — including Darcy)
She can be pleasant when she chooses to be. (Well, I suppose that could be said of just about anyone, including Darcy and Elizabeth — both of them had a tendency to be pleasant and disagreeable in varying circumstances.)
She is pretty. (There’s no mention there of fashion sense — I think being well-educated in town would have probably helped her be fashionable, although I have used the trope of her being not so good with fashion in at least one story, His Inconvenient Choice, because it helped me give Kitty a reason to offer to help her.)
She is well-educated. (And she would know more about the “real” world than Elizabeth probably did. She knew how a lady of the ton was supposed to act — this made me think about how ladies were often expected to agree with their gentlemen and that put a new perspective on the conversation about accomplished ladies for me. I know I have used it as an “oh, look how dumb” example for Caroline, but what if she was flip-flopping just because she knew it was what was expected of a lady?)
She has a fortune. (The Bingleys were part of the nouveua riche, people who had made their fortune in trade but were now becoming gentry. With her money, she’s not a bad catch for a man who wishes to bolster his estate or a second son who needs funds to pursue the life he wishes. A gentleman would not lose his status by marrying her. She would gain his. Of course, she would want to gain the highest status she could through marriage — not so different from most ladies in that day.)
She liked to spend money and was not so good at watching her budget. (This may have been just a “normal” character flaw or might be due to her desire to “fit in” with the people of rank with whom she kept company.)
She was accustomed to being in company with people of rank, which caused her to think well of herself and poorly of others. (She’s used to being part of the “cool group.” Also note it says people of rank, which is plural, so this means not just Darcy.)
She is a member of a respected family and, in her mind, this respect given to her family overshadows the fact that her family’s fortune comes from trade. She feels she has the right to be arrogant. (Being from a highly respected family in an area led to some issues for a couple of our heroines in Jane Austen’s novels, Emma and Elizabeth, both in different ways show their own pride due to their position in a neighbourhood. Yes, the Bingleys were not landowners, but I still think we can draw some human nature sort of conclusions.)
These descriptions and my thoughts as I considered them are the basis for the Caroline I began to develop. But I didn’t just stop there. I also took into consideration some of her actions up to when she left Netherfield, including —
the fact that she had tried to separate Jane and Bingley
the fact that she wanted to have some sort of married connection to the Darcys either through herself or Georgiana
the fact that she attempted to warn Elizabeth away from Wickham
the fact that she planned a successful ball
Based on all of that, I set out to delve into Caroline’s possible thoughts and feelings and to round her out and make her into a sympathetic character. I had to deal with her imperfections. I did not want to remove them nor did I want to exaggerate them and create a caricature of Caroline. I wanted a flawed heroine in need of improvement — improvements that the hero would (and does) help her make. Is she perfect at the end of the story? No. She’s still as real as she was at the beginning, but she has learned and grown and become a better person.
Now, the title does promise I will tell you why Colonel Fitzwilliam would like Caroline Bingley. Well, I did mention she’s pretty, right? 🙂 The following excerpt might help you understand the colonel in part but not in full — I can’t tell you all, now, can I? There have to be some delicious little tidbits to discover when you read the book. (Besides, the colonel in this excerpt is just as befuddled as to why he likes Caroline as you are. 🙂 )
Richard’s brows furrowed. “What about her?”
“It is unlike you to spend any amount of time with her. In fact, you usually attempt to avoid her at all costs.”
“There have been few others around.”
Darcy’s brow rose. Skepticism suffused his face.
Richard shrugged. “I needed something with which to occupy my time. So, I have been attempting to understand her.”
Skepticism changed to amusement as Darcy shook his head.
“It is not my fault that your betrothed put the notion in my mind.” He folded his arms and leaned back in his chair. “I think I have figured her out — Miss Bingley that is.”
Richard nodded. “I have. She wants improvement in a few areas, so I have set myself to the task.”
“And this is that with which you have decided to occupy yourself? Improving Caroline Bingley?”
Richard chuckled. “Whether she wishes it or not.”
“We will go riding tomorrow,” Darcy said decisively. “You should not torment our host’s sister even if that sister is Caroline.”
“I am not tormenting her,” Richard scoffed. “I am acknowledging her proficiencies much to her bemusement.” And he was enjoying it. Caroline’s look of confusion when he complimented her hair this morning was delightful. But the combs she wore did, in fact, match the colour of her eyes. He was not concocting frivolous flattery. He was not the sort to do that. He was only pointing out her worth so that she could see it. At least, that is what he hoped he was doing. “She is not so bad actually.”
“Are you smitten with her?”
“No,” Richard said, turning his eyes away from his cousin and toward the fire. “I am not ready to marry.” If he were, he might allow his appreciation of her figure and his enjoyment in causing her to become flustered to sway his heart in her direction. However, as it was, he was in no position to be smitten with anyone.
“But if you were ready to marry?”
Richard shrugged. “She has a fortune. Not so large as I might like, but not insignificant. And she is tolerable when she is not cross.” And if he were honest, which he would not be with his cousin just yet, at least, not about this, Caroline was rather more than tolerable when she was cross at him. He liked the way she crossed her arm and narrowed her eyes as she glared at him. She also tended to step much closer to him than was entirely proper when she was put out. Even without such an admission, Darcy’s mouth had dropped open. “She is pretty.”
“So, you like her?”
“I do not dislike her, and you may thank your lovely Miss Elizabeth for that.”
Darcy shook his head. “You do not dislike Caroline Bingley?”
“That is what I said.”
Richard shrugged. “I’ll be hanged if I know.” He rose, and Darcy followed suit. “We’ll ride before breakfast?”
Darcy nodded. “I prefer it.”
“As do I.” Richard opened the door for his cousin. “Until the morning,” he said as Darcy exited. Then, he leaned against the door frame watching his cousin shake his head and imagined him muttering as he made his way to his room.
“Ah, Miss Bingley,” Richard said as he turned his head to see who was walking so lightly on the carpet behind him. “Have a pleasant night.” He pushed off of the wall and gave her a nod before turning to close his door. He had his door nearly shut before a thought occurred to him.
“Miss Bingley,” he said as he pulled his door open once again.
“I…you…” he stammered. She had pulled those two combs out of her hair, and it was spilling down her back in soft amber waves. “Your hair,” he said, finally managing to put two words together.
She blushed. “I did not expect to encounter anyone.” She gathered her tempting tresses in her hand and began twisting them.
“No, no. I did not mean to say it was improper.” Somehow he had left the open door of his room behind and was now standing near enough to her that he could touch those flowing locks if she were not winding them up. “It is beautiful,” he whispered. “Magnificent.” He stopped her hands and pulled them away from their work so that her hair would once again tumble down her back.
“Did you want something?” She made no move to pull her hands free from his hold.
Richard’s brows drew together. There had been a reason he had called to her; now what was it? He had just been thinking about Darcy and — ah, that was it! “Do you ride?”
The colonel has been studying Caroline and learning about her. However, he has not quite realized at this moment in the story that he is liking what he is discovering. He just knows he is very drawn to her. I hope you take the same care as the colonel and study Caroline along with him by reading One Winter’s Eve once it is available on January 25, 2018.
Three very lucky readers will have an opportunity to read One Winter’s Eve before its release day because they responded to my plea for help on the Austen Authors’ Facebook Group page. If Allison Peterson, Nancy Tidona, and Elin Eriksen would in the next 72 hours, go to Leenie Brown’s Facebook Page and send me a message, I will reply with a link to where you can download a copy of One Winter’s Eve.
The rest of you who are reading can be entered to win an ebook copy of One Winter’s Eve by commenting on this post.
Contest ends January 21, 2018, at 11:59 PM EST.