I recently published a short novella (just over 20,000 words). It is a quick-reading tale of Darcy and Elizabeth finally finding happiness after five years of separation. My normal process of writing is to write, revise, revise some more, put it through a computer grammar/style checker, listen to it being read by a computer program, send it to a cold reader for her opinion on holes or things that do not make sense, fix all of that, and then send it for editing of punctuation, grammar, and typos after which I once again edit and start preparing to publish. It is a process that seems to work well for me. However, this time, there was a little snag.
My cold reader, who also happens to be my sister, was feeling less than stellar. She was worried that her chemo brain fog might affect her ability to catch things and point out errors. Normally, she is very good at finding fault in my stories and telling me about it. She is not the sort of sister that tells me “Oh, that is lovely” and allows me to go on my merry uninformed way. She is an avid reader of classics and a good critic of books. She understands how a story is supposed to be set up and can spot missing pieces. I trust her judgment, and though she tries to give me the criticism in a gentle way, she gives it to me! Many stories have been improved through her comments.
Well, as I said, she was concerned that she might not be as mentally astute this time through. So, I enlisted the help of the lovely readers at darcyandlizzy.com. I posted the story in the form I would have sent to my sister and asked them to comment on things that might not make sense or gaps in the story if they thought there were some. They were awesome! I got some great help from them, and their suggestions really helped to improve the story. (The story did not originally have an epilogue or a prologue…those ideas came from both my sister and the darcyandlizzy readers.)
The things that I enjoy about the posting/commenting process on a site like darcyandlizzy are the comments. I love knowing what a reader is thinking as they go through the book, and unlike reviews that are left after a book is published, I am able to answer questions and explain my choices in a comment thread. I really feel like, over time, my readers and I have become friends…even if we are just usernames to each other.
Some of the things we discussed centered around the book’s theme, which is restoration and reconciliation. Darcy and Elizabeth have been separated for years because of Bingley. Elizabeth has no knowledge of Bingley’s role in Darcy not returning to Netherfield. She only knows that the friendship has been severed, and she attributes it to Lydia’s elopement. Eventually, after a period of mourning Darcy, she ventures into Hertfordshire society and eventually marries a man out of convenience. He is a good man and a great friend to her. Hers is a good marriage. She is content but not as happy as she knows she might have been had she accepted Darcy’s first proposal. When Jack dies about a year or so after their wedding, Elizabeth vows she will not marry again. She has no need to do so. She has enough money to eventually set up her own establishment, or Jack’s guardian and uncle, Gareth Amberley, will happily keep her as a daughter. BUT Uncle Amberley has made a promise to his nephew to see that Elizabeth is happy, and he has no intention of seeing her remain single. He has a sneaky suspicion that there is a man to whom Elizabeth lost her heart years ago, and after some piecing together of clues, he decides that the man must be the still single Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy.
This is where the novella begins. Elizabeth is headed to town for a season with Uncle Amberley, who is excitedly selecting soirees to attend. It is at her first ball that . . .
“Ah, there is someone for you to meet.” Mr. Amberly was once again steering her by the elbow through the crowds of people.
Although she longed to be anywhere but here in a bustling ballroom being introduced to gentlemen, she could not help her small giggle at his excitement. He was a dear man, and she would meet anyone he deemed worthy of the introduction.
“He is older but has never married.” Her uncle, leaned close and, as if not wishing to be heard by his quarry, spoke in hushed tones. “Some say he has been nursing a broken heart for years so I’d not get my hopes up, but one never knows.” He gave her a wink. “And you must start somewhere. You are too young to remain a widow. You need a husband and children. Jack was a good man, but he is not the only good man. In fact, I wondered at times if he really was the man for you.” He patted her arm reassuringly. “Oh, I know you were happy, but — and I probably should not speak so of my own nephew — there was something missing — a glow, a sparkle.” He patted her arm once again. “You were not designed for such a dull existence.”
When Uncle Amberley introduces them to each other, both Elizabeth and Darcy are surprised to be face to face again after so many years. Mr. Darcy agrees to a dance, and he and Elizabeth make it part way through the dance before he pulls her from the floor and out into the garden. What they need to speak of, it seems, is not suited to the broken conversation of a dance, especially when the subject of Lydia’s marriage arises.
“You were right.” He said as they hurried toward to the steps which led to the garden. “The dance floor was not the best place for such a conversation.” He placed her hand on his arm as they descended the steps and began down a path. “My actions toward your sister and Mr. Wickham were to salve my own conscience by guaranteeing you would not be harmed through my lack of openness regarding Mr. Wickham’s lack of character.” He stopped and looked at her. “I believe, I thought only of you.”
She shook her head in disbelief. How could he say such a thing? She had hoped that he had helped Lydia for her sake, but then, when Mr. Bingley had returned to Netherfield alone and said his connection with Mr. Darcy was at an end, her hope had faded. It was as she had first feared, he wanted nothing to do with a family who was so shamefully tied to Mr. Wickham.
“Why?” The question would not go unasked. “Why would you think so highly of me, and yet not…” She turned away. “Why did you not return?” She closed her eyes and attempted to prepare herself for whatever excuse he might give. She did not have a wish to hear his reason. It was something far more demanding. It was a need. She needed to know the truth for good or for ill.
Darcy watched her wrap her arms around herself and take one step away from him. “I spoke to Bingley shortly after Miss Lydia married Wickham.” He closed the distance between them. “I attempted to confess all that I had done to separate him from Miss Bennet, but he only heard half before he refused to listen further and stormed from my home.” The dirt on the path crunched lightly as he dug his toe into it.
“It was not because of Lydia?” It was a shocking thought, for she had never considered any other possibility.
“No,” Darcy replied firmly. “It was because of me. Bingley has had no contact with me since, other than to return my letters unopened and request that I not contact him or any of his family. By that time, you were included in that group, since he and your sister were married. So, I stayed away hoping that by doing as he requested, he might, at some point, forgive me. I continue to wait.”
“He speaks of you.” Elizabeth gave a quick glance over her shoulder. “Since Papa died. You may not have much longer to wait.”
“I have waited for an eternity, Elizabeth, and it has cost me dearly.” The depth of the pain in his words pierced her heart.
“When you did not return with Bingley, I thought it was because you did not wish to be associated with a family tied to Mr. Wickham or such foolish girls as Lydia — and who could blame you?” She turned to face him. “It broke my heart. I refused to attend assemblies for nearly a year. Mama thought it was because I missed Jane, but it was you I missed.” She took one of his hands. “Eventually, I could no longer refuse to attend, and I met Jack. He was a pleasant man. He smiled much and spoke well of all he met. I believe he was constitutionally incapable of being disagreeable. He respected me, and I was happy, but he was not you.” She squeezed his hand. “I loved him, but not as I love you.”
“You love me?” Darcy stood perfectly still. His breath caught in his chest as he waited for her reply. The thought that his affections might be returned threatened to make him embarrass himself by either causing him to weep or shout or, heaven forbid, both.
“For these five long years, I have loved you. I have tried not to, but it is impossible. I fear I shall always love you.” A breeze tugged a wisp of hair free, and she brushed it away from her face. “It is why I have told my uncle I do not wish to marry again — not that he will hear of that, but it was not fair to Jack and would not be fair to another to give him only part of me.”
“You love me.” Thankfully, his delight only spread across his face and did not express itself with any more exuberance than that.
“Are you certain you will never marry again?” He stepped closer to her, looked into her eyes and brushed that wayward wisp of hair from her cheek.
“Never.” She drew the hand she held around her waist. “Unless it is you.”
“You will marry me?” Again, the happiness of his heart wished to be released in a cry of victory, but he would not allow it.
“If you will have me.” She smiled up at him as his arms pulled her close.
“You will marry me.” He bent his head to kiss her softly. “My feelings and wishes have never changed. I love you now as I loved you then, most ardently.”
And so, within the first few thousand words of the story, our dear couple are reunited and pledged to each other. So where does the story go from there? Well, Bingley is not pleased when he hears of the betrothal ? especially when it come by way of a note from his wife, who, in anger over his treatment of her dearly loved sister, has taken up temporary residence at her aunt Gardiners.
This is where the theme of the story comes in. Darcy and Elizabeth’s relationship has been restored, but now, in order to fully grasp a happily ever after, there must be reconciliation with Bingley. A breach in the family would always leave a sadness. Therefore, when finally given a chance to speak with Bingley, Darcy does not throw him from his house and tell him to stay away (although it does come close). He chooses instead to forgive him.
“I do not know what to say other than I was wrong. I would beg your forgiveness, but I am certain I do not deserve it.”
“You do not, but is forgiveness ever deserved?” asked Darcy. “Or is it a gift bestowed, and not easily so, by the one wronged?”
Forgiveness, as was discussed in the comments on darcyandlizzy, is more about the peace of the giver than the receiver. Bingley does not move away from this unscathed. He has faced the harm he has caused and will forever live with that knowledge. It will hang about him like a shadow, reminding him to be better, to do better, to reform his ways. And I think we do glimpse a bit of his transformation in the epilogue as he goes out of his way to be a comfort to someone who is feeling the pains of separation from a loved one.
Were there other tangents this story could have taken? Yes. I could have put in more situations showing the happiness of our dear couple. I could have tossed in an unhappy Caroline. I could have shown more of Georgiana and Mr. Murrish. There are many things I could have done but did not. I chose instead to narrowly focus on my theme. I have said this in a few places now since the book’s publication. This book is intended to be a quick, happy read, but I hesitate to label it as fluff (just a feel good story) because the concepts of restoring and reconciling through forgiveness are not light. Peace within our souls is our own to tend. Forgiveness is ours to give and another’s to accept. Though we may sorrow when our forgiveness is refused, as it is sometimes, we can find peace in having given it. Thankfully for Darcy and Elizabeth, their forgiveness was received, and with determination, Bingley works to show that it was not given in vain.
To celebrate the release of this book, I am giving away an ebook copy of Finally Mrs. Darcy. To enter, simply leave a comment below. Contest ends at midnight EST on Friday, August 5, 2016.
A special note:
I love reading your comments, and I promise to read them all. However, I have relatives arriving tomorrow, so my response time might be slow.