When Elizabeth? When Lizzy

This blog post originally appeared at AustenAuthors.net on April 22, 2020. I offer it here because it explores one of the most important aspects of my relationship with Meryton Press. The novel, my first “pure” ODC effort will be published by MP in the next several weeks. 

My most recent novel, In Plain Sight, is in the formatting stage with Meryton Press as I write this. We have moved through the agony…and the joy…of editing. I commented to some of my friends just how excited I was to graduate from self-publishing to having my work brought out by a publisher…and a publisher with the stellar reputation owned by Meryton Press. It was invigorating! It reminded me of the pleasurable experiences I had back in the 1990s when McGraw Hill issued three of my non-fiction books. Good editors make the work better. Great editors are God’s Gift to writers. They find an author’s voice and make changes that are seamless and invisible. Ellen Pickels is in the latter category.

But, the purpose of today’s missive in this time of quarantine comes from the observation of my draft editor, Nicole Clarkston, a remarkable author in her own right. She offered up the point that I tended to use Elizabeth and Lizzy interchangeably. Her note to me was that Miss Austen used Elizabeth almost exclusively. That revelation jarred me as I had not considered that the extensive use of Lizzy might offer a less than authentic experience.  And, off I went back through 121,000 words looking at the times I used either or both.

I had been treating the two appellations as simple labels: Elizabeth or LizzyLizzy or Elizabeth. On the surface, it did not seem to matter.  Then I thought about how Miss Austen and Regency society considered names. Obviously, there was the formality of Mr., Mrs., or Miss. Next, we have all been trained to grab the cue of the unusual nature of the use of Christian names: that only the closest of friends or intimate partners used their first names when addressing each other. That gives rise to all sorts of literary possibilities. Darcy betrays his deepest feelings when he slips and breathes Elizabeth. And Caroline Bingley’s overt familiarity by truncating Miss Elizabeth to Miss Eliza, a privilege only granted to her closest friend, Miss Lucas, is another cue, one that reminds us that Miss Bingley’s seminary manners are only surface. Jane Austen led us gave us fingernails grating on a chalkboard or blossoming ardor through the simple use of a name.

As I looked at In Plain Sight’s manuscript, I wrestled with trying to understand when the second Bennet daughter was an Elizabeth or when she was a Lizzy. Thus, I had to first look at the semantic loading of the two names.

Elizabeth conjures up the great Queen, Elizabeth I. The name is just this side of regal. An Elizabeth is quietly caring but is also a steel fist inside of a velvet glove. An Elizabeth can carry herself with all of the gravitas that Lady Catherine could have only dreamed of. That lady had to depend upon intimidation of glares and a loud voice as opposed to the aura that called out that a woman worthy of great respect was entering the room.

Lizzy, the true diminutive…little Elizabeth…unlike shortenings of Liz or Beth, can only fit a young lady who loves to romp through the fields. Lizzy perfectly describes the character’s underlying nature. However, Lizzy, is a name that can comfortably be used only by close family, particularly a parent. To me, that sort of explained why Charlotte, as she was a number of years older called her friend Eliza while I would imagine Maria mimicked Kitty and Lydia and used Lizzy.

As In Plain Sight grew, a social aspect of name usage became apparent to me. If parents applied diminutives to their children, what did they call their servants in the patriarchal structure of the household. In other words, when did Annie (Reynolds) the maid become Anne Wilson, the under housekeeper of Hedgebrook House? (This is my sneaky way of suggesting there will be a point where Elizabeth becomes Lizzy—and not because Mr. Bennet calls her that.) I found a way to articulate that in this encounter between Elizabeth and the convict William Smith in Chapter 18.

“Mr. Smith—” Elizabeth began, but he turned from his landscape study and interrupted her.

“Just ‘Smith,’ Miss Bennet…just ‘Smith.’ Most of the gentry would deign only to address me as a child,” he added bitterly, “by only my first name…William.”

Elizabeth’s head snapped back at this. He certainly 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 the lower 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 ’twas Mrs. Hill who most often waited upon Mama. Mr. Hill loyally stood by Papa, his childhood playmate, as Longbourn’s butler. Yet, family lore spoke of the fact that, until his father had passed on, this Mr. Hill was known only as George much as the Longbourn’s current man-of-all-work was called James.

She had never considered this to be anything extraordinary, but rather the normal course of events.

Here we have Elizabeth Bennet seeking to engage a man about whom she knows next to nothing. They are together in the parlor of Longbourn’s dower house. She is the master’s daughter.  She could never be Lizzy in this scenario.

Yet, at other points in the book, the playful young lady appears. Here we see Lizzy Bennet coming down from Oakham Mount’s storm-swept summit in Chapter 10. Again, I saw this as a more fitting use of Lizzy because it described the attitude of the character.

As she moved through the forest, though, Lizzy did as she always had when rubbing shoulders with nature. She gave voice to her joy at being free of Mama’s glowering.

Finally, I would like to note that there are points in the book where our heroine is both Elizabeth and Lizzy. This hybrid is my effort to show an evolution of the character where both halves of her personality are present. See this tidbit from Chapter 41. Here we see others identifying her as Elizabeth while she may still see herself as Lizzy.

“I would wish ye to know that I believe I am goin’ to have to release you from your obligation to our family, Miss…”

“Bennet,” came Lizzy’s reply. “Elizabeth Bennet.”

“Miss Bennet,” Mrs. Tomkins said and then looked over at Mary and Edward. “Mrs. Benton, was not your maiden name Bennet?”

Mary blushed and dipped her head. “Yes, it was, Mrs. Tomkins. Elizabeth is my dear sister.”

Over the years that I have been reading Jane Austen’s works, I am continually amazed at the layers and textures this erstwhile genius applied to her works over two centuries ago. She led the way and still illuminates my path as I wonder when Elizabeth and when Lizzy. The answer? It depends.

Please enjoy the following excerpt which offers a degree of humor in the midst of a dire situation.

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This excerpt from In Plain Sight is ©2020 by Donald P. Jacobson. Any reproduction without the expressed written consent of the author is prohibited. Published in the United States of America.

Chapter XIV

Longbourn’s harvested fields swept toward the smaller building’s front door. As the two riders approached, they could see that the front door was hanging open. The scent of wood smoke hung in the morning air. A lone horse of impressive proportions was cropping the sedge that had filled the side lawn.

Bennet ceased his good-natured jests and cursed under his breath. This was Longbourn’s Dower House, and it had been breached. He had no way of knowing by whom or by how many. What he did know was that he had left Longbourn unarmed, a practice he earlier had resolved to avoid until the convict gangs had departed further down toward the Lea. In his haste to escape Mrs. Bennet’s exclamations, he had left his pocket pistol safely locked in his worktable, something he had been in the habit of doing for over twenty years, living as he had been in a house filled with curious little hands and eyes. Although the girls were now old enough to be sensible with firearms, he kept his muskets and fowling pieces chained in the gunroom and his handguns in their well-polished cases buried deep beneath his ledger books.

He doubted the good preacher had anything hidden away in his boot-top beside his lower leg.

Longbourn’s Master stifled his normal inclination to seek out the folly in the situation and considered the problem.

While he had never been on a hunt for large game, he had read about the English colonists’ efforts to reduce the boar and bear populations in the New World. Two rules seemed inviolable: never corner your prey and be extremely careful if the quarry is wounded.

In the case before him, Bennet could not answer to the second. However, he certainly could account for the first.

And he began to sing—loudly—seeking to put good Falstaff’s well-lubricated efforts to shame.

Ye true honest Britons who love your own land,

Whose fires were so brave,

So victorious and free,

Who always beat France when they took her in hand,

Come join honest Britons in chorus with me.

 

Let us sing our own treasures,

Old England’s good chear,

The profits and pleasures of stout British beer;

Your wine-tipling, dram-sipping fellows retreat,

But your beer-drinking Britons can never be beat.[i]

 

Benton took an astonished look at the older man who could be seen swaying in his saddle as if he had broken his fast with a flagon of a foaming harvest. Then Bennet caught his eye and with a meaningful head nod, motioned with a gloved hand for Benton to join in. Edward demurred for a moment, not out of some form of disapprobation of the old gentleman’s behavior, but rather out of confusion.

Then he smiled as he looked at the Dower House and, encouraged by Bennet’s hand motions, added his tenor to the other man’s baritone. The words came easily as he recollected Oxford’s taverns. Benton had not been inebriated enough recently to throw his preacher’s decorum to the four winds. Yet, as he broke into the chorus, memories tugged at his heartstrings, flickering images that played on the edges of sight, hearkening back to those early days when he still had one foot firmly planted on his father’s estate in the shadows of the New Forest. His smile broadened as he understood that he had broken free from those welcome ties to begin creating new memories with Mary and the rest of the Bennets. This was only the first.

Once the pair had finished regaling the edifice, its Tudor construction’s darkened beams highlighting yellowed plaster, they waited.

Although, not for long.

The door was pulled back and a booted leg led a gentleman’s well-clad form onto the small piazza beneath the front portico. He swept off his slouch black campaign topper and ran his hands through wiry black hair. The intruder was a man of early middle years, and a wary look had reshaped his features. He held his hands away from his sides, palms outwards to show his peaceable intent.

Bennet and Benton urged their horses forward, staying mounted to indicate their right to be on Longbourn’s lands and implicitly demanding an explanation for his violation.

Richard understood the subtext. He was the interloper and, if he was not mistaken, was facing the owner of this house and the larger manor gracing the far side of the sloping acreage tilting toward the Mimram’s watercourse.

Clearing his throat, Fitzwilliam nodded in acknowledgment and said in his normal manner, “Thank you, gentlemen, for your excellent efforts at noisemaking. I have not been a soldier these past five years, but I still find myself reacting violently toward those, despite their antecedents, who catch me unawares. I find I must compliment you on your musical tastes.

“I assume that I am speaking with the proprietor of this estate?”

Mr. Bennet coolly regarded the powerfully-built man before replying, “The land upon which you have trespassed is known hereabouts as Longbourn. You have, it would seem, broken into my Dower House.”

Mr. Bennet reminded him less of his own father, the Earl, and more of his uncle, George Darcy. Hazel eyes regarded him from beneath medium brown hair. An intelligent light illuminated those orbs. Fitzwilliam had seen a similar glint not an hour before gleaming chocolatey rich up at him as he settled Miss Bennet’s convict over Imperator’s withers.

There was not a drop of arrogance or conceit deforming his well-shaped lips. Here was a man, an exemplar of the spine that held England’s country Whig ideology upright. He was of the type who lived for his estate, its people, and the traditions for which he and his family had stood since the Restoration, if not before. The pretensions of the High Tories and their enduring affection for the Stuart succession probably disgusted him. Bennet might tease, but he would never prevaricate. Likewise, he would always act from his fully formed convictions and not mold them to suit those to curry favor.

In short, Mr. Bennet was exactly the person Fitzwilliam needed as an ally if he were to sort out the darkness that shrouded the bucolic Hertfordshire countryside.

Richard knew that he had violated about every commandment the English gentry held dear. He paused to reflect how he would have reacted if he had come across an uninvited guest warming himself in Pemberley’s dower house…or even one of the estate’s ruder tenant cottages.

He closed his eyes and gulped. His charge’s life likely depended on how he got on with this angry gentleman, Miss Bennet’s father if he was not mistaken, over the next few minutes.

He needed to allow the contrition he felt to show in his manner.

As if a mage had waved his wand, Fitzwilliam’s shoulders dropped, and he gripped his hat in both hands, looking every inch the supplicant. He stepped from beneath the overhang and addressed Bennet, “Please allow me to make some amends here, sir. My name is Richard Fitzwilliam of Pemberley in Derbyshire. I also live in Town at Darcy House. I am a guest of your neighbor, Mr. Bingley, who has let Netherfield.

“My presence on your property is not the result of evil intent, I assure you, but rather because of an urgent and unusual situation about which I would seek your advice.”

Having completed half of that which all Britons seemed to undertake for a goodly portion of their lives, Fitzwilliam stopped talking.

Bennet digested the young man’s words and manner. While he had not heard of Pemberley, he was enough of a student of current affairs to know that the name Fitzwilliam rose from beneath the Peak District. He had little doubt that this was a man who never questioned whether he would receive vouchers to Almack’s. However, he acted much more like one of Bennet’s neighbors’ boys, caught in a bit of excusable mischief.

Decision taken, Thomas nodded at Edward and swung his leg over Pompey’s back. Dismounted, Bennet stripped off his gloves and closed on this Mr. Fitzwilliam. Extending his hand, he replied, “You are well met, Mr. Fitzwilliam. I am Thomas Bennet, Master of Longbourn. I do not hold with all the bowing and scraping that smacks of hidebound classism. I prefer an honest handshake like our American cousins.

“This young buck is my middle daughter’s fiancé, the Reverend Edward Benton.”

When Benton also reached out, Fitzwilliam relaxed, which led him to make a mistake for which he would have pinned back the ears of a wet-nosed Ensign. He loosely responded, “I am relieved to learn that at least one of your five daughters is off the marriage…”

Bennet’s eyes snapped, “And, how would you know that Mrs. Bennet and I have been blessed with five girls? I do not recall ever having met you, Mr. Fitzwilliam.”

Richard gulped, recalling his earlier thoughts about Bingley, and immediately thought of Major Hogan when he was sweating a frog officer. Knowing that Bennet had put him on the spot, albeit without intent, he elected that any relationship had to be based upon complete transparency.

“You are most correct, Mr. Bennet. We have never met,” he said with remorse.

“I might have attempted to offer a Banbury Tale about how your domestic life was common knowledge in the neighborhood, and that I had heard it from my friend, Bingley. That would have been untrue…and gossip.

“As someone near and dear to me once said, disguise of every sort is my abhorrence. I would not begin our acquaintance upon a falsehood. There is much I must relate to you that will require a great amount of trust on your part.”

Bennet crossed his arms and gave Richard an I am waiting look.

Fitzwilliam chuckled, “You remind me of my former commander, Major General Wellesley, although now he is styled a Viscount, so I imagine I will have to refrain from calling him Nosey. Every junior officer in the army was terrified when he gave us that look.

“Oh, sorry, Mr. Bennet, I tend to get chatty when I am nervous. And, I am a bit shaky thinking about how you will react to what I say next.”

The words came out in a rush, “I encountered your daughter, Miss Elizabeth, not an hour ago on the road that runs along the river. I had been riding out from Netherfield and went further afield than I imagined. I came upon her as she was going along toward that pretty little market town yonder.

“T’was from her that I learned that you are a man who likely knows more about ribbons and lace than any other in the region.”

Bennet’s arms dropped to his side and a snort bubbled between his lips as he fired back, “You, young man, have no idea.”

Then he became very quiet and measured his words like a bare-knuckle bruiser snapping his opponent’s head backward with jab after jab after jab.

“However, you cannot divert my curiosity and concern. Where is my Lizzy right now? Did you leave her to find her way home alone? Did you abandon her to this weather because you, Mr. Fitzwilliam of Pemberley in Derbyshire, wanted to avoid the appearance of compromise, something for which I would justifiably demand that you and she keep an appointment with young Benton here? Just who do you think you are?” he snapped. Richard was knocked back on his heels by a father’s fury. Then the insane humor of the farce captured his soldier’s sensibilities. He had been trying to protect Miss Elizabeth’s reputation, but not from being alone with him. Why, they were chaperoned, if only by a comatose escapee and a warhorse.

He started to laugh. This did not amuse Bennet, not one jot. He growled.

Fitzwilliam held up his hands in surrender, and gasped, “Really…Mr…Bennet. There was…nothing…improper…in my meeting…with your daughter.

“Oh, come inside and I will explain. If it is not to your satisfaction, I will be happy to meet Mr. Benton out by the woodyard for a conference where I will not raise one hand in my defense.”

Then he dissolved into more laughter when the absurdity of inviting a glowering Thomas Bennet into his own house impressed itself upon his slightly warped sensibilities.

The day which had begun in boredom punctuated by irritation and then near-tragedy had just become considerably more diverting.

[i] https://www.americanrevolution.org/songs/songs-drinking/ds41.php

Posted in Austen Characters, Don Jacobson, Excerpt, Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, Writing | 1 Comment

My Fascination With the Utility of Secondary Characters

Many of you have noted my movement from the term JAFF (Jane Austen Fan Fiction) to Austenesque fiction. Much of that evolution rose from my search for my authentic voice as an author. I frequently felt that I was engaged in some sort of tribute band mentality which limited my creative efforts as a writer. Hence my launching of the term #Austenesque fiction around two years ago. I felt that I—and other authors—could use elements of Jane Austen’s books in their efforts without being constrained by the fear of opprobrium at their deviations from Canon.

More recently, especially as I was involved in the writing of my next book, In Plain Sight, I have come to understand that I have been exercising my creative juices in pursuit of historical fiction. While I have previously suggested that Austen may be used for historical research, I did put strict limits upon employing her books as resources that explore the full terrain of Regency history. She offers us a narrow view of the bucolic life of the middle gentry. There is so much more to the story of those times that Jane Austen does not relate, mostly, I am convinced because her readers were not particularly interested in contemplating the broader social questions of the times. They left it to William Wilberforce to decry slavery, Charles Fox and Henry Hunt to assail the hidebound suffrage system, and Mary Wollstonecraft to take the part of women.

Over my history as a writer of #Austenesque fiction, I have been fascinated with less distinguished characters in the Austen panoply: lesser characters, soldiers, and servants—folks who moved through the Canonical stories more as props than as plot catalysts. As a result, many of my stories, while grounded in the interaction of the lead characters with the plot, feature much more meaty roles for the three younger Bennet sisters, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, and servants like Mrs. Hill and the Longbourn cook. I fully believe that strong literature builds upon foundation stones made up of secondary characters who reflect not only specific traits but also the society from which they grew. Consider what is arguably the greatest Twentieth Century novel, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. While Clarissa Dalloway is the eponymous reason for the book, Woolf’s sketch of a single day in a post-World War I woman’s life depends upon two other major characters and over a dozen minor ones.

Ignoring minor character development (I have frequently joked that servants appear in Austen only to lug tea trays, fetch smelling salts, and open doors. Well, not quite…I commend the two footmen in Emma’s home for a delicious performance in the 2020 film.) strikes me as unilateral disarmament on an author’s part.

In Austenesque fiction, I consider the constellation of characters through which the protagonists and antagonists move to offer significant texture and context that help the leads become understandable to the audience. Consider this brief excerpt from an early chapter in Volume 1 of the Bennet Wardrobe, The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey. These are the opening lines of Chapter 11, the day after Elizabeth and Jane’s double wedding.

Mary quickly exited the library and grabbed her heaviest wrap.  Shrugging it on, she turned toward the kitchen.  She surprised Mrs. Hill and Cook who were settled over a cup of their morning coffee, a beverage for which Mary had little desire.  Chocolate was her pleasure, rich, dark, and frothy, but a little less sweet than preferred by her mother, Jane, and Kitty. Lizzy was the other coffee drinker besides Papa. 

Both older women regarded Mary with interest, as she was rarely the first Bennet daughter to appear for breakfast, let alone beat the serving dishes to the sideboard in the dining room.

Mrs. Hill greeted her cheerfully, “Why, Miss Mary, good morning to you.  If we had not seen her off yesterday, I could have sworn it was your older sister Miss Eliz…Mrs. Darcy coming to test our morning rolls before she took her walk.”

Of all those living at Longbourn, Mrs. Hill had been the one who had paid attention to first the girl and then the young woman, Mary.  Mama cared little for her once it became clear that she would never come close to Jane’s stunning beauty or even Lizzy’s more exotic looks.

While we do not see any of Mary’s lines in this excerpt, her interaction with Mrs. Hill and Cook reveals much about the third daughter’s inner woman. We are also treated to a new appreciation of Mrs. Hill’s personality. Longbourn’s Housekeeper has long been painted as the sorely tested and sometimes abused foil of Mrs. Bennet’s famous nerves. Now she is humanized and becomes a subtle explanation for why Miss Mary Bennet developed into a better person than she might have without the intervention of Alma Hill.

I carried my interest in the outlook of secondary characters forward by elevating them to the forefront while the main characters rested offstage. My paired novellas—Of Fortune’s Reversal and The Maid and The Footman—carried this forward when read back-to-back in Lessers and Betters. The maid, Annie Reynolds, and the footman, Sergeant Henry Wilson, stood as the bedrock upon which the Regency’s class system rested. Yet, they became important partners in General Sir Richard Fitzwilliam’s efforts to protect the realm for Continental enemies.

I have now expanded and more fully employed those who would otherwise be unseen in my next novel, In Plain Sight, which will be published by Meryton Press during April/May. In this work, I strip away the classist pretensions of ODC to give them the freedom to discover each other without the limitations imposed by incipient pride or blinding prejudice.

In lieu of offering up an excerpt from In Plain Sight, please enjoy these first words from my next book…the eighth and final volume of the Bennet Wardrobe Series…The Grail: The Saving of Elizabeth Darcy. Please enjoy.  Look forward to your comments.

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This excerpt of a Work-In-Progress is (c) 2020 by Donald P. Jacobson. Reproduction in any form is prohibited without the expressed written consent of the author. Published in the United States of America.

Prologue

Pemberley House, Derbyshire, April 30, 1833

Elizabeth watched Mary walk toward the Wardrobe. Her sister, younger by seven-and-ten-years, never faltered and never looked back. To Lizzy’s eye, this Mary Benton, unmarked as of yet by Peterloo, gave a foretaste of the granite-jawed campaigner who even now was in London with her husband petitioning Parliament to regulate the hours children could work in the mills springing up across the country. Always a woman who championed the causes of the least fortunate, Mary had earned the richly deserved sobriquet of Britain’s Social Conscience.[i]

Mrs. Darcy drew the chamber’s richly stained oak door closed to afford the younger Mrs. Benton a modicum of privacy. Then Elizabeth laid both hands flat on the upper panels and rested her forehead on the first mullion in-between and waited for the sound which she knew would surely come.

The faint <pop> as a rush of air filled the woman-shaped void was all that Pemberley’s Mistress heard from the room beyond the closed door.

Standing straight, the great lady calmed herself, erasing the grief brought about by her sister’s departure. She was comforted by the knowledge that, once their agitation and lobbying could bear no more fruit, the Mary from this here/now would be coming North to gather Rory and Bridget—and the Wardrobe. Then she and Edward would take all and sundry back to the Kympton Vicarage.

Mama…and Lydia, too…would have said that that piece of fey furniture had a rather nasty sense of humor. Here it gives me a reminder of my beloved Mary when she was but a newlywed matron, but then sends her back to her where/when three years before she is nearly murdered by that slimy toad whose name I shall never think. The only joy which I have is that I know that Mary rose from Manchester’s dusty field to stand astride society. In that she is little different from Lydia. I imagine Miss Austen, the dour biographer of our family, would have professed surprise that both ladies have become forces in these late years of King William’s reign, each in her own unique way.

Pfagh: I prefer to ignore the musings of that thin-lipped spinster who never condescended to meet those about whom she wrote with such fervor, although I must admit she did have my Fitzwilliam down to a fault.

Elizabeth’s reverie was interrupted by the dinner gong. She spun on her heel and hurried along the richly woven runner leading to the top of the great staircase. Arriving at its top, she paused to regulate her breathing before proceeding downstairs. As she descended, she looked to her right and caught her reflection in the great mirrors cunningly placed to trick the eye into believing the well was twice its already gargantuan size. The glass afforded her a view of a woman of middle years, her rich brown hair yet lustrous and shot with a modicum of wise old hairs, still trim. Unlike so many ladies of her class and age, Elizabeth Darcy boasted a figure, if not girlish, still trim, its middle only slightly thickened and hips broadened in modest testimony to her having birthed her two darlings. Her face bore a few extra laugh lines, more prevalent today than even a few years ago. She refused to refer to them as wrinkles, although a woman of two-and-forty could justifiably claim such marks as honors awarded for a life well-lived.

All-in-all, Mrs. Darcy has managed to evade many of the pitfalls of having been married for more than one-and-twenty years to a man overly fond of lemon shortbreads. However, he has always been more than patient with my predilection, as Mrs. Johnson would have put it all those years ago, to scamper about the countryside. Pemberley’s paths and roads kept my girth under regulation. Thankfully none of my neighborhood friends and acquaintances would ever raise an eyebrow at hems and petticoats six inches deep…

Her indoor slippers touched down on the broad marble checkerboard that stretched from the manor’s front door all the way back into first floor’s shadowy reaches. After nodding at the footman patrolling the foyer against any unexpected arrivals, Elizabeth entered the parlor to cross to the dining chamber’s double doors. The footmen flanking the dining rooms double doors were matched to perfection; their simultaneous movements synchronized with her approach so precisely that she did not have to hesitate. They pulled the doors back to reveal a scene which never ceased to delight: her family at table, tonight one fewer from her brood but augmented by the Benton twins.

[i] Even Queen Victoria saw her as such. See The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey, Ch. XLVIII.

Posted in Austen Characters, Don Jacobson, Excerpt, Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, Writing | 1 Comment

In Plain Sight Is In The World

As I am in the middle of the blog tour for In Plain Sight, I just wanted to drop a note to all my loyal followers.

Engaging with all of you every day for the past week-plus has given me new insights into the world of #Austenesque Fiction. Thank you for your kind comments about the book, my process, and my thoughts on how our genre of Austen Variations fits into the broader literary world. By now, you know that IPS is not your regular meat-and-potatoes P&P variation. It was designed to break the mold, and I have to salute the hard work put in by Janet B. Taylor on the cover, Nicole Clarkston on the beta edit and Ellen Pickels on the final edit. The book would have been less without your talents.

I have loaded a few reading of excerpts (my favorite scenes from the book) up on my YouTube Channel. Please feel free to visit and comment there, too.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3IAhjVL4jfJRFUFKoC-uUQ/featured

Otherwise, I am looking to begin wor on the final book in the Bennet Wardrobe Series. This will end my labor of love somewhere around the five year point. Look forward to your thoughts and input on that project.

Until then, please enjoy In Plain Sight and write reviews of Goodreads and Amazon.

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Taking 3 weeks Off!

Another quick update…

The Manuscript for “In Plain Sight” is finished and in editing!

I love using bold type…especially for big news.

IPS took five good months of writing (essentially being started after the blog tour for The Pilgrim: Lydia Bennet and a Soldier’s Portion finished). Now, the little one (about 120,000 words) is off with the editors. Once Nicole and Ellen finish their touchups on my rough and Janet B. Taylor creates what is sure to be a stunning cover, In Plain Sight will wend its way through the pre-pub production process before landing in a Kindle or brick-and-mortar store near you.

There is one little tidbit left to write…Acknowledgments. That caveat noted I would like to take one moment to offer a tip ‘o the hat to all of my followers at fanfiction.net. I posted the book there over the course of about two months. The tale received over 330 reviews and comments…all of them gracious.

What is critical is how helpful many of those comments were. I have never been surrounded by such a wonderful community of #Austenesque fans. Their help cannot be acknowledged enough.

See my February blogpost from Austen Authors:

Our friend Elaine Owen suggested that I consider dipping my toe in the fanfiction board waters. She said that doing so helps readers stay involved with your writing between publications.

What she did not say was just how useful and wonderful the reviews can be.

I have been releasing chapters of my latest WIP In Plain Sight since mid-November. To date, I will have posted about 40 chapters for your reading pleasure. The full book will be published by Meryton Press in the Third Quarter.

The reception for the book has been outstanding. Feedback is positive. Some suggestions are even better. Bouquets tossed my way are gratefully accepted.

From a guest (Confrontation in the St. Margaret’s Vicarage)

I love this level-headed Mary, so sure of herself. In canon she is usually portrayed as a wallflower who has nothing to contribute to any sensible conversation. Here, she holds her own among the men.

I love this Darcy, still capable of self-sacrifice to protect those he loves, but a lot more willing to make room in his way of thinking for the inputs of a real partner. THIS is a man without fault: strong AND flexible, instead of unbending. Intelligent enough to know his own blind spots. Principled, but not uncompromising. No, we cannot laugh at him.

I love this Lizzy, ready to shoulder the burdens and embrace the joys of a future of her own making. She retained her good humor and let go of her stubbornness. She still misjudges, but now gives fair opportunity to those she judges to present their views. She listens and she adapts. THIS is a woman who knows herself.

Early on, a reviewer caught some mistakes I made in the names of Napoleonic-era generals. I had these greats commanding the wrong divisions. Others pointed out some factual inconsistencies.

At this point, I will admit that in the universe within which I write my Pride and Prejudice variations, the sentence of internal transportation exists. I needed to keep my Mr. Smith on Great Britain’s soil so he could meet Elizabeth. That act of creation (although in post-Revolutionary America…and notably the post-Civil War South…sentences to hard labor were the norm) allowed me to set my characters into the mold which I desired.

Other reviewer comments inspired examination of similar, but different notions from the comment. A reviewer noted that the River Ver flows through St. Albans. That was a nice note, however, my Meryton is set on the Mimram River. The river in St. Albans had nothing to do with the story. The reviewer was looking at a phrase in Chapter Four which had the Bennet Coach crossing a bridge above the Mimram-Thames Canal that was under construction near Longbourn. Something niggled in my mind.

I looked at the map…for I had not considered where the Mimram emptied before that moment. I had assumed that, since Meryton was only 24 miles from London, the stream flowed into the Thames. WRONG! The Mimram joins the Lea in Hertford. The Lea is a tributary of the Thames.

That simple pointer forced me to change the name of the Canal Company. It also demanded that Edward and Mary (helping Smith and Lizzy flee Meryton) were “going to Hertford” by the long way…rather than “Ware.”

Often reviewers key on my writing. The following caused a full paragraph of florid writing to vanish. Reader eyes are frequently the best eyes of all.

402Michelle (after the disaster at the ball)

Exciting, if not deplorably gut-wrenching chapter. Of course, following the previous chapter how could it be otherwise.

A bit over the top pedantic in the paragraph regarding Mr. Bennet entering the library and sitting down with Elizabeth. I had to read that awkward two paragraphs a few times…to get it. It could’ve stopped with the first part and cut to the chase. Yes, it was agonizing for Elizabeth to having to wait for the comfort of her father. But that chapter pulled me away from the story. I was waiting for the ax to fall and hoping for the comfort too. The part starting with ‘The closer it came…’ could have been entirely left out. The rest of the chapter fulfilled the purpose of itself; Papa’s support, Mr. Bennet’s plan for their safety.

Of course, this is a love story. Although the couple (Smith and Elizabeth) explore their feelings throughout Book Two, it is not until they are hidden in plain sight as a maid and a farmworker at Hedgebrook House that they declare themselves.

From Nessy22 (Declarations of Love at Hedgebrook)

Wow, this euphoria has swapped over to me! Wonderfully told with much energy, that is felt, while reading. This was an amazingly romantic, poetic, and liberating scene! I’m quite overwhelmed… phew I also am happy, they found to each other again (yes, Lizzy needs her time there, as known :). But now, they are free!

However, sometimes a reviewer finds a huge problem and shakes you by the lapels screaming (without knowledge…until this very moment) What were you thinking? Truth here: I had intended Caroline Bingley to be the catalyst for the plot crux that forced Smith and Lizzy (as well as Mary and Edward) to take flight. Likewise, Caroline’s actions forced the rest of the Bennet family (under Bingley’s protection as Mr. Bennet stayed at Longbourn) to run to Gracechurch Street.

My plan had Miss Bingley then dropping out of the book, only to be referred to as having married our villain, Sir Thaddeus Soames. Soames was to have been the only one “to get his.” Caroline would have “gotten hers” through being chained to this awful man.

At least one (one of my favorite commentators) was having none of that (although unknowingly).

From J.W. Garrett (The catastrophe at the Netherfield Ball)

How can I sleep after reading this? Huh? I mean… I have NEVER disliked anyone as I do Caroline Bingley at this moment. Don’t you DARE let her get off easy… with just a slap on the wrist. I want a damage report. I want her to suffer. I want blood drawn. GRRR! I am so upset I can’t breathe.

And Collins… will he have ANY idea what he has done? Will he even care? Ahh! I want to string him up by his… um… well perhaps I need to go to bed. What will Bennet do to Collins for setting this in motion… anything? Will Bennet get in trouble for having Smith on his property? He is the magistrate. SIR Thaddeus has a bit more clout than he did before. He now outranks Bennet and can cause trouble for him. Dang! This hurt.

Although, I do have to admit… it was like reading poetry. That was beautifully written even if I hated seeing it happen to Elizabeth. I can’t see a way out of this. Aaahhh! I want to yell or scream or something! Soames is like a dog with a bone. Caroline has set something in motion that will not be satisfied until he sees that servant at the dower house with his own eyes. He won’t let it go. I’m dying here.

And that, dear reader, added two chapters to the book. I could not let Caroline off by marrying her to a slime ball. She had to wed the slug and then share his fate after Elizabeth (aided by Lady Eleanor Fitzwilliam, the Countess of Matlock) skins her and hangs her hide on the barndoor.

Enjoy this excerpt from Meryton Press’ upcoming publication!

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Chapter XXVIII

The Harvest Ball unwound as expected. The first two sets passed without any untoward incident. Elizabeth had shaken her sense of foreboding as the Ball progressed. She was pleased to see her father taking Lydia and Kitty in hand, squelching their high spirits by regularly sniffing their glasses of punch and sending withering glares at any scarlet tunic that supposed to take advantage of impressionable young ladies. Even her mother had moderated her behavior and had settled into a low-tone bout of chin-wagging gossip with Mrs. Long and Lady Lucas as they watched the younger crowd circulate through the steps.

William Collins, suitably cowed by a baronet’s presence, had managed to avoid injuring anyone through his clumsiness. He had done the pretty by requesting a set from many of the neighborhood ladies, although at this early stage he had yet to do more than dance with Miss Lucas while Miss Catherine Bennet had assented to accompany him in the second.

Collins’ supper was, sadly in his estimation of his prospects as a suitor, open. He could entice no single female to stand up, and, thus, sit down with him. Hunsford’s vicar, before filling his plate and settling in with the Bennet party, stood on the sidelines to observe the dance. He hummed an off-key, asynchronous, accompaniment to the small orchestra’s efforts. From time-to-time, he sipped the brackish thin lemonade served to cool the revelers after their exertions. Collins had been told that the watery liquid was a faithful replication of the brew served by Almack’s Patronesses. He admired Miss Bingley’s attention to the smallest detail. What impressed him even more was that she followed the example of the arbiters of all that was correct in the ton.

About twenty minutes earlier, one of the red-coated officer guests had offered to “sweeten” the brew with a bit of the hair of the dog. Collins, not wishing to seem above the company, readily agreed. A sizeable dollop was added to his cup. Soon a warm fuzziness flooded the cleric’s sinuses, numbing the tip of his nose, and reddening his ears and cheeks.

William Collins was enjoying himself.

As the set continued, he wandered back to where the refreshments had been laid out. As he approached the table, he heard a lady’s voice berating someone.

“How could you have been so clumsy? Those coupes were imported French crystal and are…or should I say, were… part of a matched set my mother imported before the war!

“Yet you, fumble-fingers, crush one while polishing it? I will see its cost deducted from your wages, and I promise you, it will be dear!”

Collins looked closely as the audience parted to see a tall, red-headed lady in a seafoam-green gown snarling at a cowering footman. After she had dismissed the quivering soul to some darkened dungeon near the kitchens, Mr. Collins approached.

In his most unctuous voice, for he recognized her as his hostess, Miss Bingley, “Allow me to commend you, Madam, for your discernment and fine taste. I may be a humble clergyman, but I would account this evening’s festivities as being near perfect. Why, my patroness, Lady Catherine DeBourgh of Rosings Park, would see little that needed any remediation.

“I would go so far as to say that she would offer only one or two constructive suggestions to assist you in your future efforts.

“In truth, Miss Bingley, whatever Lady Catherine chose to point out would only be apprehended by society’s highest. The fine folk here tonight, their senses dulled by living outside of the first circles, will never understand the nuances a competent hostess will adjust to complete the experience.”

Caroline’s eyes narrowed at the mixed compliments offered by the sweaty, silly man by her side. She was too polite, and too near the doors to the dining area, to allow her earlier ire at the footman’s crime to overtake her best manners. Her response was neutral.

“You are Bennet’s cousin…the clergyman Mr. Collins…are you not?” she asked.

“Indeed, Miss Bingley, I am he. I have the privilege of being the heir to Longbourn as Mrs. Bennet was thoroughly unsuccessful in birthing any sons,” Collins replied.

“I see,” Caroline dryly said, casting her eyes about the room for some excuse to cut short this brief but already tiresome conversation.

Collins forged ahead, “I do hope that you will forgive my presumption in approaching you. I could not help but overhear you correcting that servant who had damaged an heirloom. Lady Catherine is known for her desire to instruct the lower classes in proper deportment, especially when it comes to handling her property. Although you do not know my patroness, I can assure you that you are certainly following in her footsteps.

“And, I am positive…”

Caroline let Collins’ drone recede into the background as she caught sight of Richard Fitzwilliam with Eliza Bennet moving across the parquet floor. His attention to that country chit curdled her insides. Although her sights had shifted in recent days, she refused to concede any suitor to another woman. Miss Bingley’s manner became increasingly brittle, and she ground her teeth behind thinned lips. Collins’ prattle softly buffeted against her subconscious…and continued to do so until he said something which immediately caught her attention.

“…and I am frustrated that Mr. Bennet refuses to heed my counsel. After all, I am to be Longbourn’s master! One would think that he would be more concerned about the behavior of one of his older daughters. I can understand if he chooses to ignore the hoydenish attitudes of the infants…”

Caroline interrupted, “Behavior of one of his older daughters? Of what and who are you speaking, Mr. Collins?”

Collins preened. While the man condemned gossip as uncharitable and skirting the limits of proper Christian manners, he loved being able to inform the world at large about the weaknesses of others.

His voice strengthened as if he were in his Hunsford pulpit, “Why thank you for your interest, Miss Bingley, in knowing which of your neighbors, in this case, your nearest, are acting in ways that are contrary to good social order. As Lady Catherine has said time and again…”

Caroline huffed, “Thank you, Mr. Collins, however, please stick to the facts of the tale about…”

Collins paused, collected himself, and replied, “You are correct. Perhaps you might be able to provide this young lady the sort of guidance her father clearly refuses to give. I am speaking of Miss Elizabeth Bennet.

“I had originally planned to bring her back to Kent as my wife—Lady Catherine insisted that I extend an olive branch of peace to my cousins and marry one of them to heal the rift in our family brought on by the Longbourn entail,” again he paused at Caroline’s growl, “but she proved herself thoroughly unsuitable. I could not countenance a fallen woman as my helpmeet.

“I came upon her at the Longbourn Dower House consorting with a servant!

“She told me all that she had meant to do was chastise him, but her laying of hands upon the man beggared the truth!

“T’was Eve and the serpent all over again!”

Urged on by Caroline’s continued prodding, the story as perceived by William Collins, tumbled out. At some point, she ceased looking at his greasy countenance and again focused upon the dancers.

There was something more to Collins’ dissertation, though; something which gleamed through like a diamond buried in a coal pile. Miss Bingley had seen the posters outside of Meryton’s shops. The description, while rudimentary, seemed remarkably similar to that which she drew from the unsuspecting bumbling fool of a vicar.

She scrutinized Lizzy dancing and laughing with Fitzwilliam. At some point, the germ of an idea that had been held closely since the day of the invitation exploded into malevolent flower. Caroline would ruin her and win her baronet at the same time.

As her resolve hardened, Caroline noticed that Collins had actually wound down. She thanked the man for his care and concern about propriety within his family. Then Miss Bingley excused herself by saying that she needed to attend to the upcoming meal.

She made her way through the crowd searching out her next target: Sir Thaddeus.

Caroline spotted him in a small group just outside the card room. The man was holding court with a few of the minor landowners who hung on his every word. The more senior men like Mr. Bennet and Mr. Goulding were nowhere to be found. The younger masters were still on the dancefloor, although the dinner break was fast approaching.

Bestowing her best smile upon every one of the gentlemen, she reserved its brilliant center for only one man. He responded as all men had done ever since she had discovered her own tigress’ power: his chest puffed out a little fuller, his shoulders squared, and his chin jutted ever-so-much more.

Miss Bingley crossed straight through the group until she stood directly in front of Soames. Then she shifted her gaze to John Lucas who was standing on the baronet’s right. She held that stare until the young man mumbled something about needing to escort his sister into dinner, nervously bowed, and left the group. Caroline floated into the notch ripped in the group’s circumference and waited for Sir Thaddeus to shift so that he was facing her head-on.

After receiving the gentleman’s cordial greetings, Caroline went to work. She widened her emerald orbs and bored deeply into Soames’ eyes. She took a moment to allow him to become mesmerized.

Then in a slightly infantilized, poor-little-me, my-life-is-now-complete voice that never failed to melt even the hardest of men, she began her campaign, “I cannot tell you how happy I was to be led out by you in tonight’s first set. I will own to being surprised that you would find the time for these sorts of social events given the demands on your time, especially now since your elevation to baronet.”

At this, she stopped and waited for Sir Thaddeus to fill in the conversational gap with the appropriate protestations about how he could not have missed such a stellar event and so on. Once the man had accomplished that small feat, Caroline continued.

“I have been, I fear, rather nervous. I nearly asked my brother, Mr. Bingley, you know, to close up Netherfield and return to Town. The entire neighborhood has been in an uproar since that convict escaped into the forest.”

Soames’ face darkened that this fine lady was so frightened over something that could not, should not, be. Wadkins had assured him that all was in hand, and the body would not be discovered until Spring if ever. While Soames was displeased at his man’s excesses, what was one convict more or less?

Yet, his heart was sorely taxed to see the quiver in Miss Bingley’s lip and the hint of diamonds upon her lashes. He ached to ease her worries.

The baronet said fervently, “I promise you, dear lady, I have teams of men scouring the entire area. If that convict is still in the vicinity, we will find him. However, he would be a fool to stay around here. Based upon that thought, I have been making inquiries as far south as Portsmouth and off to Liverpool in the west. He is either on one of our frigates heading to the Blockade or on a merchant bringing goods to Cousin Jonathan.”

“Everybody, Sir Thaddeus, is talking about it,” Caroline pushed, “Rumors are rife. Some have seen him at the coaching inn waiting for a seat to the north. Others claim he is hiding out amongst the millworkers down by the river.

“I even spoke with someone who told me,” at this, she raised her voice a notch to include not just the gentlemen who had joined Sir Thaddeus, but also women who were advancing to collect their husbands, “that a man matching the description—tall, dark-haired, a claret-colored birthmark on his left forearm—on the poster was seen consorting with Miss Elizabeth Bennet at the Longbourn Dower House not a fortnight ago!

“Now, I never would have imagined it of a gentlewoman from such a distinguished family. My source says that Miss Eliza claimed t’was only one of Longbourn’s servants.

“However, I have been to that estate several times and have never seen a man of that appearance. Maybe he truly was one of the workingmen on the estate. Maybe he was not someone convicted of Heaven only knows what. What seems obvious is that he was not of her class. If this is the case, how can the gentry shun those of us who have improved ourselves from our family backgrounds in trade when their own daughters do not distinguish between lessers and betters?”

By now, all conversation had ceased in that corner of the ballroom.

Caroline’s first-ever gambit where she implicitly admitted the roots of her family’s fortune struck an emotional chord with Sir Thaddeus. He was, himself, only a half-year removed from the stench of trade. When she saw his face go pale and then become suffused in the crimson rising from beneath his neckcloth, Caroline knew that her bolt had struck home.

Everything Thaddeus had fought for from his days as a child in Liverpool’s gutters was in danger simply because Wadkins had more muscle than brains. That thug could never control his instincts when it came to his lessers. Yet, such a talent was what made him so useful to Soames. The newly minted aristocrat cared little about the chattel he had purchased, only in what they could deliver to his coffers. How far he had come from a man who sold blackamoors for their labor before the Year Nine to one who kept strings of those His Majesty classified as but one step above slaves. Nobody would care if he ended his year with one less in his employ. The man was a convict, utterly beneath anyone’s notice, including his mother’s, whore that she probably was.

This man, this Smith, was lucky not to have been hung outright, although Britain’s punishments had been brought into the 19th Century, especially after the unfortunate events in France during the Terror. Then those who had been kept down rose up and struck at their masters. Soames could understand that hatred. He, himself, had felt it when a rich man’s carriage had splashed him with street grime…or footmen had pushed him into the gutter when a wealthy lady moved along the walk before entering a sweet shop the insides of which the child Soames could only hope to imagine.

Everything was imperiled. He could never hope to win an accomplished woman like Miss Bingley with this sword hanging over his head.

On top of his visceral fear of being tossed back into the dung heap of trade, he knew that he had to see this man at the Dower House if only to confirm that he was just a poor sod working out his days chopping weeds for Bennet.

Soames could not stop himself, though, from plunging ahead without protecting his heart. He was drawn to Miss Bingley, pulled by her beauty and magnetic personality that swirled him in a whirlpool centered upon those unforgettable green eyes.

Impulsively, he reached out for her hand and bowed over it saying, “I can never imagine you, dear lady, as ever being anything less than the nonpareil that you are. You and your family have proven that Englishmen, when given the opportunity, can lift themselves from coarse backgrounds into the highest levels of society. Fear not that any but the most narrow-minded will punish you because your ancestors earned their keep not by exploiting tenants but rather through the dint of their own wits.

“As for your desire to amend a dangerous situation despite the elevated connections of those who may be abetting the malefactor, I can only commend you.”

His delicate speech, belying his rough exterior, caused Caroline to flush that cherry tone which was so becoming on ginger-haired ladies. She snapped open her fan and hide her crimson cheeks behind its fluttering silk. She coyly turned away. She sensed Soames standing just over her left shoulder.

Together, they watched the damage Caroline’s declarations had wrought.

What had begun as a low murmur spread quickly from the epicenter made up by the couple. Plumed turbans bobbed throughout the ballroom in a queer ballet dipping first together and then spinning away to cross with other gaudy ornaments. Rumor and innuendo swept across the room like a brush fire fleeing before an autumn wind. Closer, ever closer, it came to the small grouping of Bennet women celebrating their sister and daughter’s wedding day. Caroline watched in macabre fascination as the object of her envy laughed unaware of the approaching disaster.

Then, like a gigantic comber slamming into the rocks of Enys Dodnan, the flood hit the Bennet party, parting around it in a gigantic splash before subsiding back into the roiled crowd.[i] The ladies could not have appeared more shocked if they had been drenched with icy seawater. Eyes were widened. What did she say was silently mouthed and bewildered looks were cast around the hall.

Eventually, though, as if she had willed it, Elizabeth Bennet’s dark eyes reached out across the great hall to catch upon the satisfied and triumphant glare sent her way by Miss Bingley’s emerald ones. Longbourn’s daughter paled, and she quickly looked away. Caroline could apprehend the moment the young lady began to weep as her shoulders began to spasmodically hike up and down. Then the other five women quickly closed ranks and obscured her.

Caroline, savoring her victory and the annihilation of a rival, even though she had set her own sights elsewhere, elegantly turned to speak to Sir Thaddeus only to discover him gone.

[i] Remarkable formations at Land’s End, Cornwall.

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Sometimes a 5-Star Review

Honesty check: every author loves to get reviews…and the more stars the better. That said, there are some 5-Star reviews that lift you higher than any others.

Just the other day, the wonderful Rita Deodato of “From Pemberley to Milton” posted her 5-Star review of “The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey.

From beginning to end, Rita offered her praise for the work. What moved was that the book occupied an as yet unexplored niche in #Austenesque writing. Please check it out!

The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey by Don Jacobson

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Year-End Recognitions for “Bennet Wardrobe” Stories

Just a quickie here as I am still fighting a God-Awful cold.

I am deep into my review of the #Audible files for the 7th Book in the Bennet Wardrobe series…The Pilgrim: Lydia Bennet and a Soldier’s Portion.

Sophia Rose just named the Audible performance of The Avenger: Thomas Bennet and a Father’s Lament as one of her Top 10 Audio Books of 2019! Look at the list…these are not just #Austenesque performances. They cover a huge range. The Avenger is in some pretty exclusive company.

I am over the moon! And, credit where credit is due…Amanda Berry my performer is superb and a treasure!

Please check out this 6th Book in the Bennet Wardrobe series (Amanda has been the voice of the Wardrobe from The Keeper forward).

And, Rita, the web-mistress at the wonderful site From Pemberley to Milton named the first book in the Series, The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey, one of her best reads of 2019! Truth be told…she also listened to Amanda’s performance.

From Pemberley to Milton’s 2019 Favourite Books

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New Post up at Austen Authors

Just a quick note…my latest post at Austen Authors went live this AM. In this blogspot, I discuss how strenuous exercise helps me with my writing.

Please visit.  Look forward to your thoughts.

Spin and Problem Solving

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Land Forms or Formed by the Land

This post originally appeared on June 27, 2018 at AustenAuthors.net

“…their lives were linked and interwoven in innumerable and often intimate ways and because this…land shaped all who lived along its rivers, by its swamps and on its islands and sandy hills, even as those who lived there shaped the land itself.”

Erskine Clarke, Dwelling Place

Many of you have not yet been introduced to the Bennet Wardrobe. As such, the following may be confusing because of references that are non-Canonical. I beg your forgiveness. I would ask that you would read the excerpt from the article (Jacobson, D.) “A Study of British Magical Transportation Devices:  A Reconsideration,” Proceedings of the Society of Extra-normal Transport, Summer 2013, 36:3, p. 1047-50. This extract appears at the beginning of Book One of “The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey.”

As I have been working my way through the rifts and folds that comprise the great arc of the history of the Bennets in the Universe of the Wardrobe, I have been struck at how clearly and cleverly (although I would wonder if t’was a conscious effort on her part) Jane Austen used the idea of place to define her characters. There is a myriad of places used in the Canon—some to define persons, others to dictate actions.

Consider how Darcy may have been shaped if he had hailed not from cold, forbidding, and wild Derbyshire, but rather from southern Dorset or Hampshire. Would he have so easily assumed his austere Master of Pemberley mien? Or might he have offered a different aspect? And Hertfordshire, located but twenty-odd miles from the great capital, was still seen as rustic by comparison to the glittering metropolis, much as the towns scattered around the Plains outside of Rome must have seemed quaintly backward 2,300 years ago.

My work has led me to look more closely at the places that shape my characters and are, in turn, shaped by those same persons. A sense of place seems to have begun featuring—as much as the various concepts of love—itself within the lives of my characters as they encounter the great mission of the Wardrobe. Consider the pre-eminent places that have grown from the first pages of “The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey.”

The Hertfordshire estate of Longbourn, purchased by Christopher Bennet in the late 1680s offers a central place that sprang from the imagination of Jane Austen. Yet, another, which has shined in many #Austenesque works, is Oakham Mount. This bit of nature serves for Elizabeth Bennet much as the northern shire does for Darcy. Oakham both defines her—being her sanctuary—as it explains her to readers.

How unusual it must have been for Regency readers…those of the ton…to discover a character who ran in the fields, scaled “mountains,” and was generally everything a well-bred lady was not. T’is important for us to recall that Lizzy was not running away, but rather escaping. I draw that fine semantic point because we all can agree that Lydia would run away while her older sister merely sought some quiet in which she could examine her life and reflect upon her status.

That is why, although it is never clearly identified in the Canon as such, I consider Oakham to be part of the Longbourn property. While it is not tillable, the Mount offered early Bennets timber in exchange for their stewardship; that is until young George Bennet, Elizabeth’s Great Uncle, was killed in 1758 in a logging accident on Oakham’s slopes. After that, the Bennets turned their attention to crops of a less primary nature.

There are other places that rise in the universe of the Wardrobe. While Madras House and Oakham House (see The Exile: The Countess Visits Longbourn) are important in a transitory sense…much as the Villa Diodati, Darcy and Matlock Houses, Thornhill, Rosings, Pemberley, and Selkirk are featured in aspects of the stories…none is more important than the Beach House at Deauville, the fieldstone wall surrounding the House, and the dunes which shelter it from the rest of Normandy.

The Beach House truly defines al who inhabit it, visit, and never see it. The Beach House was inspired in the mind of young Georgiana Darcy by the Countess of Deauville/Dowager Countess of Matlock Kitty Fitzwilliam. The Countess, having done her work in early 1812 was whiling away a few hours in Rochet’s Maison au Chocolat in Meryton prior to returning to her own time when she engaged with Georgiana, Maria Lucas, and Mary Bennet. T’was then that she suggested that Deauville would serve as a wonderful and relaxing getaway. That tidbit of advice stuck with the young spinster Darcy who eventually constructed the Beach House to serve as her escape from the rigors of her concert schedule. Things can be a bit circular in the Wardrobe’s Universe.

For “my” Bennets (and Fitzwilliams, Bingleys, Gardiners, and Darcys), the Beach House serves as that central place which helps shape these persons…much as we assume that Longbourn, Oakham, Derbyshire, and Pemberley formed Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam. Place carries so much freight and allows us to more deeply understand the context within which our characters have matured.

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Please enjoy this excerpt from my current WIP, “In Plain Sight: A Pride and Prejudice Variation” This excerpt is ©2018 by Donald P. Jacobson. Any reproduction of this material without the expressed written consent of the author is prohibited. Published in the United States of America.

Chapter IX

On Oakham Mount, October 1, 1811

Usually her morning rambles settled her nerves and calmed her mind. The shocking events in front of Netherfield’s barn had left Lizzy confused, anxious, and out-of-spirits. The trek up the rounded hump did little to change her mood. Her stomach was still in knots. The sheer brutality she had witnessed was unlike any human behavior she had ever known. While she objected on principle to gentlemen treating ladies like they were a different sort of rare and fragile porcelain, Elizabeth was thankful that she had been shielded from such images for her first twenty years.

Even after two days, the memory of the blood streaming down the young man’s back curdled Lizzy’s insides. She never would unsee the watery crimson rivulets pulsing out of the weals in time with Wilson’s—they had learned his name when Soames sold his contract to Papa—beating heart. Today was the first time she had been able to undertake her traditional climb up the hill’s gentle slopes. Elizabeth used cross-country jaunts to burn off excess energy and quiet the perturbations rattling her person, something which had been more common as of late. While she never had been one to become overset by the world, her dissatisfaction with her lot in life had left a rising tide that burdened her. Perhaps she was more of her mother’s daughter than she wished to admit.

Lizzy had been forced to mull over Michaelmas’ dreadful visions in the company of her extended family because the heavens had opened late Sunday evening shortly after Mr. Benton had bowed his way out the front door to return to his lodgings. The rumbling of thunder echoing off the Chiltern’s slopes saw Mr. Bennet dashing out to the stable to order the grooms to prepare Cato. Then Bennet had vaulted into Pompey’s saddle to lead Longbourn’s old gelding down Longbourn Lane until reached Benton trudging along.

As Papa wryly related after-the-fact, Mrs. Bennet would be insufferable if I permitted the first man to offer for Mary to succumb to a trifling cold because I was too indolent to offer him a horse.

The first of Hertfordshire’s autumnal downpours had consigned clan Bennet to Longbourn’s warm and dry environs throughout the remainder of Sunday and the entirety of Monday. The tumult besieging her soul, thus, had been unescapable as the estate’s grounds had disappeared into the deluge. Even the most ardent solace-seeker could not have braved the unremitting cloudburst.

On top of that, there always had been safety in numbers which had allowed Lizzy to conceal herself behind her sisters’ and mother’s idiosyncrasies even in a crowded room. She could ignore or condemn their behavior as she desired. Now, however, a preternatural calm descended upon the estate. What had been the norm—a prevailing undercurrent of adolescent female emotions exacerbated by parental behavior—vanished. The continued absence of Jane and Lydia combined with Mary’s and Kitty’s altered conduct. This left Lizzy in an exposed position. No longer could she slide beneath the horizon.

Papa had vanished, as was his usual wont, into his bookroom with the door firmly shut. Mary had undergone a miraculous transformation in a single afternoon and had kept to her chamber after Benton’s departure rather than descend to torture the pianoforte. Before she slipped into the lion’s den once more, Lizzy had peered around the corner of Mary’s door to spy her sitting in front of the window tracing designs in the condensation while humming an unidentifiable tune. Below in the parlor, Kitty had quietly in a corner seat fiddling with her sketchbook. From time-to-time she consoled herself with envious soliloquies centered on the idea that the rains likely had washed out Lydia’s plans.

Mama had prattled on about weddings and lace as she began making lists of what needed to be accomplished before Mary could be successfully launched as Mrs. Benton. As the only available pair of sensible ears, Lizzy affirmed her mother’s queries and exclamations with innocent mumbles and one-word responses. Her father’s well-thumbed copy of Mr. Johnson’s A Journey to the Western Isles of Scotland lay open but unread upon her lap while she contemplated the barnyard’s events.

Time, as measured by the great casement clock, moved at a Biblically-slow pace throughout the public rooms.

Her nerves also were raw because she had spent all of Monday afternoon and evening avoiding the attentions of her cousin, Mr. Collins: he was the extended part of the unhappy familial assembly. Papa had given the four Bennet ladies exactly three hours-notice of his cousin’s expected arrival from his parsonage in Kent. The subtext of the man’s pompous missive advising of his impending visit was that he wished to mend fences by marrying one of the Bennet daughters.

Insufferable man. And, he clearly knows little of proper hygiene! How any woman could bind herself to such a creature is utterly beyond my comprehension.

Collins did not appear overly disappointed that Mary had been betrothed just the afternoon before. In fact, he seemed more upset to learn that Miss Mary had been affianced to a clergyman who had been gifted Longbourn’s living. His contention had been that, despite the newly-established familial connection with a Bennet daughter, Mr. Benton’s commission as Longbourn Chapel’s rector predated the engagement and he, as Longbourn’s heir, should have been consulted.

Mr. Bennet had snappily rejoined that he had imagined that Collins would be willing to hire Benton as his curate to maintain the Longbourn tenancy. In his blind avarice, Collins enthusiastically agreed…and seemed aggrieved that Mr. Bennet would not immediately contact the bishop to vacate Benton’s living in his favor.

Bennet slammed the door on Collins’ expectations saying, “I am not gone from this earth yet, Mr. Collins. Longbourn Chapel is in my gift, and I have offered it to my daughter’s fiancé. I will see my girl situated and protected before, God forbid, I do pass on.”

William Collins, disappointed in his pecuniary designs, swiftly launched his matrimonial ones. He laid them broadly before a receptive Mrs. Bennet and a horrified Lizzy. His first candidate, Jane, was protected from the importuner by several intervening shires. Mary had been spoken for and Kitty was accounted as being too too young to meet his patroness’ strict regulations for her rector’s wife. Lydia’s name never crossed his lips.

Lizzy sensed the trap being laid for her the moment her mother began to speak of her accomplishments in a favorable light. Her wide-ranging reading habits were reduced to consulting and annotating the King James Bible. Her cross-country treks now were limited to her calls upon Longbourn and Netherfield tenants. Every sentence seemed another diagonal trench being dug toward her heart’s bastion. She barely made an unscathed getaway by claiming the onset of an intolerable headache. Her allusion to further, albeit unspecified, feminine complaints silenced Collins’ request for a private conference. Elizabeth had feigned restorative sleep when Mama tapped on her door before the family gathered for the evening meal. Later, Lizzy had connived with Sarah, the maid-of-all-work, to spirit a dinner tray from the kitchen up the back stairs.

Tuesday had dawned clear. Heaving a great sigh of relief, Lizzy had made good her escape from the house as the sky pinked above the eastern pasture.

Pacing around the meadow atop the hill, Lizzy’s thoughts were turned entirely inward. She was oblivious to the brightening of the browned fields filled with unharvested grain that stretched out below her feet as dawn began to assert itself. Her hands wound around themselves, a physical manifestation of her disequilibration. Her disquiet was such that her reminiscences came in brief, somewhat disconnected bursts.

How Mary must have felt to see Mr. Benton throw himself into the midst of that violent fray!

What did the young man do to earn a flogging? And, why did Papa insist on bringing him to Longbourn?

What did Papa say to Mr. Soames to win Wilson’s transfer?

Who was the man who leapt in to protect Mr. Benton?

Her perambulations gradually did what the climb itself could not: layer weariness atop her worry. As the Sun’s limb broke the horizon above the dark smudge that was London, Lizzy found herself sitting quietly atop the oak trunk that had served as her bench since the first time she had scaled Oakham Mount. She folded her hands in her lap, closed her eyes, and slowed her breathing, concentrating on her other senses, focusing each to its finest point. The swish of the wind through the grasses, the scent of drying leaves, and the zephyrs kissing her flushed cheeks allowed her self to escape its ties. She became weightless in the brightening day and floated free of ruder claims upon her corporeal being. This profound awareness brought her peace. For the first time since Sunday afternoon, Elizabeth Bennet could pause and reflect upon the events of that day and the changes they had wrought in the Bennet family circle.

Lizzy’s reverie was not dreamlike, but rather a crystalline manifestation as she dropped through the layers of her consciousness to see and understand. She held each memory in invisible hands, turning it to understand its context and how it fit in with everything else.

Cloaked in that glorious freedom of dreamtime, Lizzy envisioned herself flying above the setting that had encompassed the drama in front of the barn. Flashes of reality blended with phantasms to create a compelling and vibrant image, fraught with meaning, much like Mr. Turner’s work.

If only she could untangle the layers of emotion that colored all that she recalled.

Some she could easily dismiss from further assessment as being patently obvious predecessors of what now existed.

Elizabeth saw herself atop the wagon, hands grasping the front edge of the bench seat. She was leaning toward James to secret herself behind his protective shoulder, yet her body was taut and alert, so enthralled was she by the scene stretched out before her. Papa flew toward the mêlée astride Pompey. Reverend Benton was hidden beneath Mary’s muslin skirts and broadcloth pelisse. Wilson hung limp on the crosstrees, pink serum staining his breeches.

Day and nighttime visions of that other man had shaken her and disturbed her reveries as she had stared out onto Longbourn’s rain-soaked lawns or tossed in her bed until she was nearly bound by the bedclothes. Something drew her mind, unbidden, toward his presence like iron filings to a lodestone. Inarticulate, inchoate feelings coursed throughout the primordial clay from which she had sprung, the very foundations that held up the edifice known as Elizabeth Rose Bennet. These wraiths called upon uncounted generations of instinct to rise into her consciousness to demand their due. The invisible cord that stretched from behind her breastbone to deep into her hips’ chalice hummed its tune with each assault made by his likeness upon her core.

Where the other images seemed to be mere impressions of that which had happened, his presence was undeniably crystalline and commanded her attention.

In her minds eye he stood towering above the prostrate bullyboy. A picture of utter male power, he dominated the tableau, his legs spread with fisted hands on sinewy arms vee-ing away from his narrow hips. A claret-colored birthmark glowed on his right forearm where the cuff had parted after the brutal punch which had dropped the enforcer. His breath thrummed deep and regular, tenting his chemise with an undeniable power. A look of disgust reshaped his features, not in an ugly way, but rather akin to that of a man who had come upon a slimy parasite.

In some unaccountable manner, Elizabeth understood that they had communed that afternoon: she on the wagon and he on the ground. Not in words, no, but rather in an exchange of energy that had fired only for a moment when he had glanced toward her. His eyes had widened in shock as the floodwaters unleashed threatened to engulf him.

Only to crumble into the dust, laid low by the brutal ministrations of another warder wielding a musket.

She grieved at that sudden shearing of the umbilical that had blessed her with a glimpse of what could be. No longer was she shackled by puerile visions of novelized romance.

While she could not name what she had sensed in that instant, she knew that she would always seek to win it anew as the benchmark for her own happiness whenever she was tasked to measure it.

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Hello Austenesque Fiction Aficionados!

I am beyond thrilled to have become part of the Meryton Press family. My current Work-In-Progress…In Plain Sight…is heading toward deadline as I write this.

Here is a little taste of what the book is about…

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“Lizzy’s eyes began to drift shut as they passed by the weary men shuffling along the shoulder. She did not see their bowed backs nor the overseers on horseback who were armed with truncheons and whips.” (Ch IV, In Plain Sight)

Fitzwilliam Darcy’s father withered until his son was forced to become Pemberley’s Master. Brandy numbed his pain but allowed Darcy’s worst inclinations to run wild. Then a tragedy demanded he erase his identity until he once again could honor his family name.

Elizabeth Bennet, young gentlewoman from Meryton, had been schooled by her father to observe, but not to see. Her impairment was not willful but rather inbred, a symptom of class divisions between those who served and those who were served.

“In Plain Sight” explores Jane Austen’s greatest love story by flipping social roles on their head. As Darcy must grow past his old prideful nature before he can be worthy of her admiration, so, too, must Elizabeth break through her own prejudices to capture the treasure hidden in plain sight.

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As for me…here is that which you will probably find most interesting:

Don Jacobson

I have written professionally for forty years.  My output has ranged from news and features to advertising, television, and radio.  I have been honored with nominations for Emmys and other awards.  I began my “author” career by publishing five books, all non-fiction.  In 2016, I began publishing The Bennet Wardrobe Series

The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey (2016)

Henry Fitzwilliam’s War (2016)

The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Époque (2017)

Lizzy Bennet Meets the Countess (2017)

The Exile: The Countess Visits Longbourn (2018)

The Avenger: Thomas Bennet and a Father’s Lament (2018)

The Pilgrim: Lydia Bennet and a Soldier’s Portion (2019)

I am also part of the collective effort behind the publication of the North and South anthology, Falling for Mr. Thornton: Tales of North and South, released in 2019.

Other Austenesque Variations include the paired books “Of Fortune’s Reversal” (2016) and “The Maid and The Footman” (2016). Lessers and Betters (2018) offers readers the paired novellas in one volume to allow a better appreciation of the “Upstairs-Downstairs” mentality that drives the stories.

 Jacobson holds an advanced degree in History with a specialty in American Foreign Relations.  As a college instructor, Don teaches United States History, World History, the History of Western Civilization, and Research Writing. He is a member of the Austen Authors Collective and JASNA. He lives in Las Vegas, NV with his wife, Pam.

I look forward to engaging with all of you.

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