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.
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.
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.