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 Lizzy…Lizzy 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.
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.
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.