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Archive for the ‘Pride and Prejudice’ Category

Jane and her fatherSome years ago, I painted a little picture of how I imagined Jane and her father would look when she was about five years old. I thought about this painting whilst I was writing a little scene in Project Darcy when Ellie goes back into the past and becomes Jane Austen, and tied it in with what seem to be Jane’s own recollections that she wrote about in Northanger Abbey. Although she is writing about Catherine Morland when she says her heroine was ‘noisy and wild, hated confinement and cleanliness, and loved nothing so well in the world as rolling down the green slope at the back of the house’, I have a feeling she was referring to a memory of doing that herself. If you’ve ever been to Steventon to see the site where the rectory stood, the back of the garden has a pronounced slope! Here’s how I imagine Jane and her beloved brother Henry playing at the back of the rectory. I hope you enjoy this little excerpt from my latest novel, Project Darcy.

 

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The slope at Steventon Rectory


The moment she stepped through the hedges and trees that screened the fields, Ellie knew something was different – her world was changed in more ways than she could ever have imagined. Like the little girl in Alice in Wonderland, she’d grown smaller and everything around her had doubled in size. Trees were so tall she could not see the top of them and the grass that tickled her bare legs nearly came up to her knees. Ellie looked back towards the way she had come but she knew it was fruitless. There was only one way to go, and that was to follow the sound that beckoned her. It was as if she saw everything through mist, layers of white vapour that rose to reveal a reality that became sharper with every passing minute. She was no longer Ellie Bentley; that she knew. She was a child, perhaps no more than five years old, and her thoughts intruded until Ellie had none left of her own. Her world was larger, more defined, sounds and smells were fresher, brighter and vivid. More than that, she felt different. Ellie saw life through the eyes of someone else, and when she heard the boy’s voice calling her name she knew him to be her brother.

Site of Steventon Rectory

Site of Steventon Rectory

Henry pulled me up the slope to the top of the field where the elm trees stood like sentinels and whispered over our heads in their hushing, leaf language. The day was hot like the one I’d left behind, and my legs struggled to keep up with him in the heat. He sensed that my small legs were tiring and he turned to wait, looking at me with a grin. Light flickered in his hazel eyes, those that I knew grown-ups said were so like mine, but his were almost golden on this day, like Baltic amber. The grass up at the top of the terrace was so long; it prickled the back of my legs. Beads of dew, like fairy necklaces strung along green blades, felt cold under my feet. When we reached the top, he showed me how to lie down in line with the trees, my toes pointing one way and my arms stretched over my head.‘Come on, Jane, let us go again!’

‘Jane, wait until I count to three,’ I heard him say.

Lying in the sweetly fragrant meadow, I felt so excited I started to giggle, and my body fidgeted in response. And before he’d managed to shout out the number three, I’d started going, rolling down the hill, and gathering momentum until the world was spinning. There was a blur of blue sky; then green fields, and then over I went again like a flyer on Nanny Littleworth’s spinning wheel. I could see Henry overtake me, going faster than ever. He got to the bottom before me but I came to a standstill at last, my heart beating with pure pleasure as I lay in the grass chuckling and laughing. There were grass stains on my dress and daisies in my hair, which Henry picked out, one by one.

Sitting up, I could see a house that I knew was my home and I had a sudden longing to see my father.

 Site of Jane Austen's home, Steventon Rectory


Site of Jane Austen’s home, Steventon Rectory

‘Are you not coming up again, little Jenny?’ Henry asked, calling me by the pet name my family used when they wanted to appeal to my better nature. He had his hands in the pockets of his breeches. His shirt was crumpled and stained like my gown. Brown curls flopped over his eyes, which looked into mine so tenderly that I almost changed my mind. I ran to hug him, stood on my tiptoes and planted a kiss on his cheek. Henry was my protector, and my beloved playmate. I longed to be just like him but my mother scolded me when I behaved too much like a tomboy. I knew I should not run or jump or shout, as my brothers did, but nothing she said would deter me, so when Henry begged me to play with him I did not usually need to be asked twice. But, as much as I wanted to be with him, home was calling.

I shook my head and muttered, ‘I’m going to see Papa.’

 

I have vivid memories of rolling down the slope in the park at the back of my childhood home with my brother and sister, which was a thing we all loved to do. I remember one time when we were recovering from German Measles, and the grass made our rashes flare up again, all very prickly and itchy – but we were all so glad to be outside again. Most of my childhood seemed to be spent outdoors playing, or indoors drawing and writing if the weather was bad – I’d love to know what pastimes you enjoyed as a child!

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Reading Pride and Prejudice at the Jane Austen Festival

I’m at the Jane Austen Festival in Bath this week, and was very honoured to be part of the Pride and Prejudice reading that took place on Sunday.
The opening chapters were read by the wonderful actors, Adrian Lukis, who played Mr Wickham in the 1995 production of Pride and Prejudice, and Caroline Langrishe, the well-known actress of British stage and television.
I love reading aloud – it’s always been a pleasure of mine ever since I was a little girl, but I hadn’t really thought about what a huge challenge this was going to be until I actually sat down on the same row of chairs as these wonderful actors! I’m sure appearing on the same bill as Adrian Lukis, Caroline Langrishe and Maggie Ollerenshaw would be the dream of most would-be actors, and all of a sudden the enormity of the whole event struck hard! Anyone who really knows me will appreciate how nervous I felt – I really have to make myself volunteer for speaking events – I’d much rather hide in a corner, but I decided a while ago that I would try and embrace those things that frighten me. With a bottle of water secreted in my bag as defence against a dry mouth, I tried to tell myself it would all be okay.
Adrian Lukis was fantastic – his rendition of Mr and Mrs Bennet both funny and memorable, and then Caroline Langrishe followed on with equal brilliance. Their ability to capture the characters was spot-on, and the audience reacted accordingly, laughing out loud as they interpreted Jane Austen’s wonderful writing.
Also reading was the lovely Sophie who presented the last readathon at the centre, and an up and coming actor, Jack Collard who I’m sure will be playing Mr Darcy one day!

With Adrian Lukis and Caroline Langrishe

Waiting for my turn to read chapter five was agonising, and my knees were knocking together as I stood in front of the large crowd, but it was soon over – thank you, Jane Austen for writing short chapters – and I could return to my seat to wait for my turn again.

In the evening, we were treated to another fantastic performance from Adrian Lukis and Caroline Langrishe who performed a set of duologues – all the wonderful scenes from Jane Austen’s novels. They are both so generous with their time, and so charming – I was lucky enough to have my photo taken with them, and they signed autographs afterwards for all their fans!

 

Jack Collard

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Spring has finally sprung here in England! I was beginning to think winter would never end; we’ve been experiencing very cold weather and lots of snow.
Jane Austen refers often to the seasons in her writing and with spring, it seems, the season often heralds a change or action of some sort. In this first example, Mrs Dashwood is thinking about Barton Cottage and the changes she might make to the building when the weather improves.


From Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility:

With the size and furniture of the house Mrs. Dashwood was upon the whole well satisfied; for though her former style of life rendered many additions to the latter indispensable, yet to add and improve was a delight to her; and she had at this time ready money enough to supply all that was wanted of greater elegance to the apartments. “As for the house itself, to be sure,” said she, “it is too small for our family, but we will make ourselves tolerably comfortable for the present, as it is too late in the year for improvements. Perhaps in the spring, if I have plenty of money, as I dare say I shall, we may think about building. These parlours are both too small for such parties of our friends as I hope to see often collected here; and I have some thoughts of throwing the passage into one of them with perhaps a part of the other, and so leave the remainder of that other for an entrance; this, with a new drawing-room which may be easily added, and a bed-chamber and garret above, will make it a very snug little cottage. I could wish the stairs were handsome. But one must not expect everything; though I suppose it would be no difficult matter to widen them. I shall see how much I am before-hand with the world in the spring, and we will plan our improvements accordingly.”

The next extract is from Northanger Abbey. Isabella Thorpe writes to Catherine Morland from Bath. Jane Austen uses the season to illustrate Isabella’s silly and shallow character. Although she professes one minute to be missing Catherine and expressing her love for Catherine’s brother, in the next second she is talking about fashion and hats. 

Bath, April
My dearest Catherine, I received your two kind letters with the greatest delight, and have a thousand apologies to make for not answering them sooner. I really am quite ashamed of my idleness; but in this horrid place one can find time for nothing. I have had my pen in my hand to begin a letter to you almost every day since you left Bath, but have always been prevented by some silly trifler or other. Pray write to me soon, and direct to my own home. Thank God, we leave this vile place tomorrow. Since you went away, I have had no pleasure in it — the dust is beyond anything; and everybody one cares for is gone. I believe if I could see you I should not mind the rest, for you are dearer to me than anybody can conceive. I am quite uneasy about your dear brother, not having heard from him since he went to Oxford; and am fearful of some misunderstanding. Your kind offices will set all right: he is the only man I ever did or could love, and I trust you will convince him of it. The spring fashions are partly down; and the hats the most frightful you can imagine. I hope you spend your time pleasantly, but am afraid you never think of me.
 
Lastly, from Pride and Prejudice, Jane has become engaged to Mr Bingley and finds out that his sister Caroline had done everything to keep them apart last spring:


Mr Bingley and Jane Bennet

“He has made me so happy,” said she one evening, “by telling me, that he was totally ignorant of my being in town last spring! I had not believed it possible.”


   “I suspected as much,” replied Elizabeth. “But how did he account for it?”
   “It must have been his sister’s doing. They were certainly no friends to his acquaintance with me, which I cannot wonder at, since he might have chosen so much more advantageously in many respects. But when they see, as I trust they will, that their brother is happy with me, they will learn to be contented, and we shall be on good terms again; though we can never be what we once were to each other.”
   “That is the most unforgiving speech,” said Elizabeth, “that I ever heard you utter. Good girl! It would vex me, indeed, to see you again the dupe of Miss Bingley’s pretended regard.”
   “Would you believe it, Lizzy, that when he went to town last November, he really loved me, and nothing but a persuasion of my being indifferent would have prevented his coming down again?”
   “He made a little mistake, to be sure; but it is to the credit of his modesty.”
   This naturally introduced a panegyric from Jane on his diffidence, and the little value he put on his own good qualities.
   Elizabeth was pleased to find that he had not betrayed the interference of his friend; for, though Jane had the most generous and forgiving heart in the world, she knew it was a circumstance which must prejudice her against him.
   “I am certainly the most fortunate creature that ever existed!” cried Jane. “Oh! Lizzy, why am I thus singled from my family, and blessed above them all! If I could but see you as happy! If there were but such another man for you!”
   “If you were to give me forty such men, I never could be so happy as you. Till I have your disposition, your goodness, I never can have your happiness. No, no, let me shift for myself; and perhaps, if I have very good luck, I may meet with another Mr. Collins in time.”

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 I hope you’re all having a lovely Easter! I am absolutely delighted to welcome Shannon Winslow, a fellow Austen Author, to my blog – she’s celebrating the release of her new novel, Return to Longbourn, and she is sharing an exclusive, never-before-seen extract with us today! Over to you, Shannon.
Shannon Winslow
I was delighted when Jane invited me to stop here on my blog tour for my new novel Return to Longbourn. Writing this book was an absolute joy! It was such a treat to have an excuse to spend time with Darcy, Elizabeth, and the rest of the Pride and Prejudice cast again, and to revisit Longbourn, Netherfield, and Pemberley.
I pick up the story again about five years later (after the end of The Darcys of Pemberley), when Mr. Bennet sadly passes away. With Mr. Tristan Collins (the new heir to the Longbourn estate) on his way from America to claim his property, Mrs. Bennet hatches her plan. The man simply must marry one of her daughters. Nothing else will do. But will it be Mary or Kitty singled out for this dubious honor?
Neither of them is too eager at first. Kitty cannot imagine how being married to anybody by the name of Collins could be even tolerably agreeable. And, by this time, Mary is comfortably settled in her chosen life as governess to the family at Netherfield. Well, perhaps I shouldn’t have used the word “comfortably,” for her employer, Mr. Harrison Farnsworth, is not an easy man to get along with. That was apparent from the first moment Mary met him, four years past:

Return to Longbourn – Shannon Winslow

In those former days especially, the atmosphere at Netherfield altered perceptibly with the master’s presence. An air of apprehension crept over the place from top to bottom, as if the house itself held its breath in anticipation of some unknown outburst or accident. Thus, it required nothing more than Mr. Farnsworth’s suddenly coming into a room to start his wife and servants fidgeting and his children forgetting how to behave.
Mary had observed the phenomenon from her earliest days on the premises, and she could not help but feel fiercely sympathetic on Mrs. Farnsworth’s account.
 “So, this is the new governess,” declared the lord and master at his first setting eyes on Mary those years ago.
Mr. Farnsworth was not an especially imposing man to look at, being of no more than average height and build, yet his autocratic tone made even this simple statement of fact sound like a challenge – daring her to deny the charge.
Rising to face him, Mary had only nodded curtly in response.
“Yes, my dear,” his wife, who looked more frayed about the edges than usual, hastened to say. “This is Miss Bennet, Miss Mary Bennet from Longbourn. You will recall that I told you about her. She is a most accomplished and genteel young woman, and I am sure she will do very well by the children.”
I will be the judge of that, if you please, Madam.”
“Naturally,” Mrs. Farnsworth murmured, dropping her eyes to her lap, where her hands were tightly clasped.
A maid, who had come in with the tea tray, cringed as she set it down with more clatter than she intended.
“Must you make such an infernal racket?” Mr. Farnsworth barked, darting an eye in the direction of the offender.
“Sorry, sir,” said the maid as she shrank from the room.
“The rest of you, out as well,” he said, pointing to the door. “Mrs. Farnsworth, kindly take your children and go. I wish to speak to Miss Bennet.”
Mr. Farnsworth had once been a captain in the Navy, so his military bearing did not surprise Mary. Whilst the others scrambled to obey, she studied her new employer, taking his features apart one by one – the bristling dark hair, the deliberately narrowed cobalt eyes, the hard set of his mouth, and the prematurely graying beard. The beard, she told herself with devilish satisfaction, had probably been grown by way of disguising what would ultimately prove to be a weak chin. Yes, that must be the case.
It was a trick she sometimes used to steady herself when confronted with an ominous problem, mentally dissecting it into a collection of smaller, more manageable bits. In the brutish case before her, she perceived one part tyrant and one part diffident boy, both covered over with a quantity of practiced intimidation. The gentleman did not appear so alarming under this analysis. He was formidable, not by true essence, she concluded. It was rather by considerable effort, as if he could only bolster his own confidence by cowering others. Judging from the prodigious scowl he wore, Mr. Farnsworth had next set himself the task of cowering her.
“Well, Miss Bennet,” he commenced, slowly striding across the room with hands clasped behind his back and a cool, sideways gaze leveled at her. “Let us come to a right understanding at once. My wife may have engaged your services, but you shall stay or go according to my verdict. Is that clear?”
I’m proud to report that Mary stood her ground, earning a degree of respect and a wary truce with her employer. Then, when his wife died, much of the fight seemed to drain out of Mr. Farnsworth. The effects of a tormented conscience, perhaps, for treating the woman badly while she lived? These days, his moods are so changeable that Mary never knows what to expect when they meet – the old tyrant or the new man of enlightenment. The only truly safe course is to stay out of his way completely.
So maybe Mary should consider making a play for Mr. Tristan Collins after all. Then she might end by being mistress of Longbourn instead of a governess forever. On the face of things, it shouldn’t be a difficult choice, especially when her returning cousin proves to be surprisingly handsome and excellent company. Still, it wouldn’t be easy to leave Netherfield and the three children she’s become attached to. And now Kitty has taken an interest in Mr. Collins as well, setting herself up as Mary’s rival.
What do youthink? Should Mary open herself up – to the possibility of romance, but also to the risk of emotional ruin? Does she stand a chance with Tristan Collins against her younger, prettier sister? Or is she fated to find her future at Netherfield?
I didn’t know the answers myself when I began, but I’ll tell you this much. The story started pure Jane Austen, and somewhere along the way it took a turn for Jane Eyre.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Shannon Winslow, her two sons now grown, devotes much of her time to her diverse interests in music, literature, and the visual arts – writing claiming the lion’s share of her creative energies in recent years.
Ms. Winslow has published three novels to date. In 2011, she debuted with The Darcys of Pemberley, a popular sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and PrejudiceFor Myself Alone a stand-alone Austenesque story, followed in 2012. And now comes Return to Longbourn, the next chapter of her Pride and Prejudice series.
Shannon lives with her husband in the log home they built in the countryside south of Seattle, where she writes and paints in her studio facing Mt. Rainier.
Learn more at Shannon’s website/blog (www.shannonwinslow.com), and follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Austen Authors.
Thank you for joining me today, Shannon, on your blog tour and for sharing such a fantastic excerpt! What will happen next for Mary Bennet, I wonder?!!! 

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I have such a treat in store for you today-I’m delighted to welcome the author Maria Grace to the blog! She’s celebrating the release of her new novel, All the Appearance of Goodness and I’m so glad she’s had time to stop here on her blog tour. Over to you, Maria!

Thanks for hosting me Jane. I’m so excited to be able to share an excerpt from my latest book, All the Appearance of Goodness.  It is the third volume of the Given Good Principles series, the long awaited volume where Darcy and Elizabeth finally meet.
Maria Grace
Though their experiences in the first two books have helped them to overcome their pride and prejudice, all is not smooth sailing for Darcy and Elizabeth. What is a young woman to do? One handsome young man has all the goodness, while the other the appearance of it.  How is she to separate the gentleman from the cad?
When Darcy joins his friend, Bingley on a trip to Meryton, the last thing on his mind is finding a wife. Meeting Elizabeth Bennet changes all that, but a rival for his affections appears from a most unlikely quarter. He must overcome his naturally reticent disposition if he is to have a chance of winning her favor.
Elizabeth’s thoughts turn to love and marriage after her sister, Mary’s, engagement. In a few short weeks she goes from knowing no eligible young men, to being courted by two. Both are handsome gentleman, but one conceals secrets and the other conceals his regard. Will she determine which is which before she commits to the wrong one?
Excerpt from Chapter 2:
Their preparations to go into town attracted much notice. Soon all five sisters donned gloves and bonnets and headed out.
“I am off to the linen draper to find ribbons and lace and new patterns.” Kitty skipped ahead, basket swinging at her side. She turned to face her sisters and walked backwards. “Mama asked me to attend to her gown—”
“What of mine?” Lydia folded her arms across her chest.
“I have done so many of yours already.”
Lydia stomped. “You promised.”
Kitty turned around. “It will be finished in time for the assembly.”
“And the other one?”
“Lydia,” Mary said firmly and wrapped her arm in Lydia’s.
“You will tell me to be patient—but I do not want to be patient. I do not like patience!”
Elizabeth looked away. Lydia was not the only one who disliked patience.
“It is a necessary virtue.” Mary smiled a lopsided smile and shrugged.
Kitty called over her shoulder. “I will sew as quickly as I can.”
Lydia screwed her face into an ugly scowl.
Mary sighed.
“You will come with us to visit Miss Bingley, will you not, Lydia?” Jane asked.
“Oh, yes! I have had no entertainment since the Miss Carvers and Mrs. Forester left.” Lydia pulled away from Mary. “Oh, do not glare at me. I like to have fun, but I learned my lesson. Did you not notice that I did not ask if she has a brother? I do not care, so do not tell me.”
Elizabeth hesitated and stared at Lydia. How had she neglected to note Lydia’s failure to inquire after the possibility of eligible young men? She needed to pay more attention to her youngest sister.
“I think Miss Bingley might appreciate a bit of fun. It is difficult to come into a new place,” Jane said.
“Well then, let us hurry.” Kitty stepped up her pace for the last half block to the Green Swan Inn.
They paused at the base of the stairs to straighten their bonnets and brush the road dust from their skirts.
Jane led them into the parlor. The room was snug and neat, decorated in an older style. The furnishings were worn, but not worn out. Shelves along the far wall were populated with a few books that probably knew little use. Lydia would call it shabby, but Elizabeth found it cozy. Only three patrons occupied the space, two older men playing cards and a fashionably dressed young woman sitting in a sunny corner, focused on her needlework.
“There she is.” Jane approached her. “Miss Bingley.”
Miss Bingley jumped and looked over her shoulder. “Miss Bennet.”
“I brought my sisters with me.” Jane beckoned them nearer. “This is Elizabeth, Mary and Catherine—”
“Kitty if you please,” she interjected with a quick curtsey.
“Certainly, Miss Kitty.” Louisa stood and curtsied.
“And my youngest sister, Lydia.”
“I am pleased to make your acquaintance. Will you not sit with me? The innkeeper will bring tea soon.”
Jane looked over her shoulder. “Were you expecting other company? We do not want to intrude.”
“It would be no trouble for us to return later, or on another day, if you like,” Kitty added.
“No, no, not at all! It is only my brother and his friend. I am certain he would not want you to leave on his account. He is a great lover of company and has wanted to meet you since I first told him of you. Please stay.”
Miss Bingley looked so lonely, only the coldest of hearts could have denied her.
They moved several chairs into a close group as the innkeeper arrived with the tea service.
Jane sat near Miss Bingley. “What do you think of Meryton?”
Miss Bingley handed her a cup. “I find it charming.”
“It is nothing to the diversions of London, I suppose.” Lydia sniffed.
“Oh, I meant no insult at all,” Miss Bingley stammered. “I quite like the quietness of this place. The hurried pace in town is not what I prefer.”
“We take no offense, Miss Bingley.” Elizabeth flashed a brief scowl at Lydia. “Different places accommodate different tastes. I am pleased Meryton will suit you.”
“Do you know when you will take the house?” Mary folded her hands in her lap.
“Not yet, but soon, I think. My brother meets with the landowner this evening to finalize the plans.”
“What fun to keep your own house!” Kitty clapped softly. “Will you be allowed to decorate?”
“I hardly expect my brother to be interested in redecorating a place he only leases.” Miss Bingley pressed her lips tightly.
Elizabeth suspected she struggled not to laugh.
“You shall get to do that when you are married, though,” Lydia said.
“I hope to.” Miss Bingley twisted the pearl ring on her left hand. “He is on the continent attending to business matters. I shall be here until he returns.”
“How long you do expect that to be?” Mary’s cheeks colored.
Miss Bingley gripped her hands. “His last letter suggested it might be as much as a year.”
Kitty frowned slightly. “It must be difficult to be away from him for so long. If you do not mind my asking, what is his business?”
Miss Bingley caught her breath and bit her lip. “He inherited his father’s estate—”
“I meant nothing untoward by my question. Please do not be offended!” Kitty stammered. “Our Uncle Gardiner in London is in trade, and I just wondered if Mr. Hurst’s business might be similar.”
The little creases at the corners of Miss Bingley’s eyes disappeared. “I fear I am a bit sensitive. My sister objects to Mr. Hurst’s connections in trade. I am sorry if I have offended.”
“It is forgotten.” Jane smiled.
“You have a sister?” Elizabeth asked. “Will she join you here?”
“No. She stays at my brother’s house in London. Country life holds little appeal for her.”
“What a shame! She shall never know how jolly a country assembly can be.” Kitty traded wide-eyed glances with Lydia.
“What are the assemblies like?”
Lydia giggled. “They are ever so much fun!”
“Well, that is a relief to hear!” A warm voice called from the doorway.
Two gentlemen stood just inside the parlor, and one looked very familiar.
“Charles!” Miss Bingley hurried to his side. “Please, allow me to present my brother, Mr. Bingley, and his friend, Mr. Darcy. May I present my friends? These are the Miss Bennets of Longbourn—Miss Jane Bennet, Miss Elizabeth, Miss Mary, Miss Kitty and Miss Lydia.”
They rose and curtsied as Miss Bingley introduced them.
The men bowed and followed Miss Bingley in.
Mr. Bingley took a seat beside his sister. “How kind of you to call on Louisa!”
Mr. Darcy sat in the lone remaining chair, next to Elizabeth. Miss Bingley poured tea for the men, and soon the conversation resumed with Kitty and Lydia detailing the last assembly to a rapt audience.
Elizabeth felt Mr. Darcy’s gaze on her. He stirred in his seat, hands laced together. Odd that he should have been quite glib in their earlier encounter, yet so aloof here. “Did you enjoy your share of my father’s raspberries, sir?” she asked softly, eyes on her sisters.
“Of what do you accuse me, Miss Elizabeth?” He glanced at her. One corner of his lips drew up.
“The last time I saw you, you sported drops of berry juice on your fingers and on your chin. I fear you are a most ineffective thief.” She arched an eyebrow.
He colored and looked aside. His brows drew together until a deep crease formed between. “I suppose I must practice more. Pray tell, does your father have another garden I may sample from? Preferably one not so far from the main road.” He ran a finger along the edge of his cravat.
“I think not. He prefers to keep them well hidden from the likes of gentlemen such as yourself.”
Mr. Darcy squirmed in his seat.
Guilt nipped at her heel. She should not tease.
Darcy snorted. His cheek twitched with the hint of a smile.
Then again, perhaps he was capable of enjoying a good joke after all.
Bingley regaled them with yet another amusing tale. What a contrast to his reserved, quiet friend.
“We meet tonight to finalize Bingley’s plans for Netherfield. He and his sister will soon be your neighbors,” Darcy whispered.
“And you, sir, now that his business is completed, will you stay on with him or return to your own estate?”
He studied her with piercing eyes.
What did he seek? Only her old music master had scrutinized her so. Mama had dismissed him for it, too. A tiny shudder raced down the back of her neck, though she was not certain why.
“I believe I will stay on for a few weeks at least.”
“I pray you will find it pleasant. Though we cannot boast the sophistication of London, many find Meryton a welcome respite from better society.”
“I am sure I will.” He shuffled his feet and glanced about the room. “Are you acquainted with Mr. Bascombe?”
“A little. Why do you ask?”
“I prefer to know the reputations of those with whom I do business. What sort of man do you find Mr. Bascombe to be? What is his reputation in the community?”
Elizabeth frowned. “I do not wish to be branded a gossip.”
“So, your opinion of him is hardly positive.” His eyebrow rose.
“What have your dealings with him suggested?”
Darcy pressed his lips together. His eyes drifted to the ceiling roses. “Netherfield is clearly in need of repairs. Either he does not keep up his property, or he is short of the capital needed to make them.”
She dipped her head and blinked.
“The condition of the tenant farms, the cottages and outbuildings suggests a man who is neither interested in the details of management, nor in the lives of his tenants.”
“My sisters and I regularly call upon several of his cottagers—”
“He does not attend to their needs, but allows others in the neighborhood to fulfill his responsibilities.” Darcy’s gaze held hers.
His eyes were striking—and expressive—startlingly so. She looked away.
“Would his tenants agree with me?” He leaned in closer.
“I do not believe they would disagree,” she whispered, cheeks uncomfortably hot.
“I have heard his name spoken in several establishments in town, with little fondness.”
“But neither with animosity. He is not a quarrelsome man.”
“Nor is he a generous one.”
She turned to focus on a carriage passing by the window. “He is a proper gentleman.”
“Faint praise, indeed.”
“It is the best praise I can offer. Please do not press me further in this matter.”
“Of course, forgive me. I appreciate your assistance. What would you prefer to speak of?”
She bit her bottom lip and cocked her head. “Pray tell me, do you grow raspberries on your estate?”
He chuckled.
Several hours later, Darcy and Bingley waited in the best room of the public house nearest the Green Swan. The tables around them were filled with loud men, talking, laughing and eating. Smells of food and hard work mingled into something less than appealing. Darcy reached into his pocket and pulled out the leather case containing his silverware. The plates on the other tables appeared none too clean as it was—eating off the forks in this place was not to be borne. The serving girl dropped two pints in front of them.
“Not the service or the victuals to which you are accustomed.” Bingley lifted his pint and took a long draw from the tankard.
“My preferences are not the relevant ones here.” Darcy examined his mug. He pulled out his handkerchief and wiped the lip. “The real question is whether or not you are comfortable in these environs or will you pine for the refinements of London in a few short months? The society here may be too confined and unvarying for you. A lease on a house like this one is a serious commitment.”
Bingley parked his tankard on the table. “Three times you repeated that today. Rest assured; I take your point. I find country manners charming and am never as at home as I am in the country.”
“As long as you are certain. Bascombe has arrived.”
“How did you know? You could not possibly have seen him.” Bingley peered over Darcy’s shoulder.
“His nasal whine.” Darcy did not look up. “Listen, it carries to all points in the room.”
Bingley paused and cocked his head. “So, it does.” He laughed and waved to Bascombe.
“Good evening, gentlemen. I took the liberty to instruct the girl to bring three plates.” Bascombe dropped into the chair with all the grace of a sack of chicken feed. He spilled over the edges of the seat. The wooden joints groaned under him.
“Capital.” Bingley bowed from his shoulders.
Bascombe waved at a passing serving girl and pointed toward the pints already on the table.
She returned a moment later and bounced a third mug in front of him. Bascombe took a long drink and wiped his mouth on his coat sleeve.
Darcy turned his head and shielded his eyes with his hand.
“The neighborhood is to your liking?” Bascombe asked.
“Very much so! Several of the local ladies have already visited my sister to welcome her.”
“I am not surprised. Meryton is renowned for its friendliness.” Bascombe leaned forward on his elbows. “I should warn you, not all the families here may be suitable company for your sister.”
The server appeared, balancing three plates along her food-stained sleeve. She dropped them and utensils on the table with a grunt and turned away before they could comment.
Bascombe crammed his napkin between collar and cravat and plucked a knife and fork from the center of the table.
Darcy unrolled his utensils and polished them with his handkerchief. He carefully slipped a napkin into his collar and watched Bingley do the same.
“Indeed?” Bingley asked.
Bascombe sawed at his meat. “Absolutely, every neighborhood has its families to avoid. We are no different. My advice, keep a wide berth between your sister and the Bennet family.”
Darcy straightened in his seat and drummed his fingers along his leg. “Why?”
“You have not heard? Even they have supporters, I suppose.” He rolled his eyes. “My previous tenant found them unsuitable companions for his young sisters, not that those girls were exactly proper themselves.”
How ironic. Miss Elizabeth refused to speak of the man who so freely voiced his opinions of her. Darcy ground his teeth until they squeaked together.
“The eldest Bennet girl is quite lovely, I grant. Our curate pays the plain middle daughter a great deal of attention, though I cannot make out why. The younger girls,” he flicked his hand, “are nigh unmanageable. The entire town knows that the youngest one attempted an elopement, stopped by the next eldest, no less, not above two months ago. Such a thing taints the whole family—”
Darcy struck the table with the flat of his hand. The tankards rattled. “We are here to discuss the house and the lease, not the neighbors.”
Bingley nodded. “Quite.”
Bascombe pulled back and placed his fork and knife along the plate. He rubbed his palms together. “As you say, sir.” He eyed them narrowly. His brows rose, and he cocked his head. “You already met them and found a bit o’ that sort o’ muslin to your liking?” A lewd smile twisted his mouth.
“Enough!” Darcy growled. “I take umbrage at your vulgar insinuation. If you do not cease, this conversation is at an end.”
“Forgive me, sir. I mistook your meaning. I meant no offense.”
Darcy grunted. If he walked out now, he would be throwing Bingley to that wolf, Bascombe, to be fleeced. He could not permit that. Though it took all his patience, he would stay.
“Yes, to business then.” Bascombe cleared his throat and made a show of turning toward Bingley. “You and your sister toured the house and grounds. What say you of my humble home?”
“The manor is certainly ample for our needs.” Bingley sent a pleading look at Darcy.
“However…” Darcy leaned in on his elbows.
Bingley relaxed into his chair.
Though Bingley might be at home in a ballroom, he was utterly lost in business negotiations. Here, Darcy was at his ease. He suppressed a smile. “Several matters need to be addressed before my friend will consider letting the place.” He removed a folded paper from his coat pocket.
“I see, sir.” Bascombe pulled at his cravat. “I cannot imagine any impediment to a speedy settlement.”
“As you say.” Darcy unfolded the paper and smoothed it on the table.
“What? No need for such formality—” Bascombe covered the list with his meaty hand.
“Do not trifle with me.” Darcy snatched the notes and glared. “You and I are both well aware of the shortcomings of Netherfield Park.”
“Who are you? Bingley’s solicitor?”
Darcy rolled his eyes.
“You are a candidate for his steward, then? Well, you are not needed. The lease does not include—”
Darcy shoved his chair back. The legs squealed against the floorboards. A man who resorted to insults was not one with whom he wished to deal. “We can discuss the terms I have here and come to an agreement, or we can leave now. The choice is yours.”
“Mr. Bingley! This is highly irregular. I am not accustomed—”
“To treating clients with courtesy and respect?” Bingley pushed back from the table. “I asked my friend’s advice in this matter. If you will not treat him with the consideration due a gentleman of his standing, our conversation is at an end.”
Bingley was a quick study.
“Do not be so hasty, sir. Of course, I would welcome his interfere—ah—assistance.” Bascombe took a deep draw of his pint.
“Let us begin with the matter of the roof…” Darcy tapped the list.
Two hours of heated negotiations followed. Bascombe argued, pounded the table, turned red in the face, and capitulated to Darcy’s requirements. Finally, when only one other table of patrons remained, the papers were signed and Bascombe trundled off, muttering invectives under his breath.
“I must say that was prodigious good fun.” Bingley drew on his gloves and dusted off his hat.
“I am glad you found it so rewarding.” Darcy smirked and led the way outside. “Do you still find country manners charming?”
“Not his.” Bingley sniggered.
The night air held lingering traces of the day’s heat, mingled with reminders of the horse traffic along the main street. A full moon lit the street for the pedestrians.
“I am not sure I would choose him as an example of country manners, though,” Bingley said. “I believe the Miss Bennets a much better standard of comparison.”
“Indeed.”
“What think you of the insinuations he made of their family?”
Darcy deftly avoided Bingley’s gaze. An imprudent younger sister? What a hypocrite he would be to condemn another family for a misbehaved relation! The Bennet sisters’ graciousness toward Miss Bingley—and the fact they did not throw themselves at Bingley and himself—spoke of their character much more than the foolish actions of one. He tugged his sleeves. “I believe Bradley would say it is best to judge them on their own merits, not on the prattle of a man like Bascombe.”
“Sensible advice.” Bingley straightened his cravat.
Bingley liked one of the sisters. Naturally, he found a new angel wherever he went. Which one? Or had he even decided yet? Darcy shook his head. Bingley was free to like any of them he chose, except Miss Elizabeth.
The next morning, Darcy and Bingley left on an early ride. On their return, they found three of the Miss Bennets with Miss Bingley in the inn’s parlor.
“Please come and join us.” Miss Bingley beckoned them in
They removed their hats as the ladies rose.
“Good day.” Bingley bowed.
Darcy did likewise.
“Good day.” The ladies curtsied and returned to their seats.
Bingley settled between his sister and Miss Kitty. Darcy’s cheeks heated as he sat beside Miss Elizabeth.
“I told them everything has been settled for the house.” Miss Bingley beamed.
“We will take possession in a fortnight,” Bingley added.
Miss Elizabeth glanced at her sisters. “If it is agreeable to you, our mother wishes to hold a dinner on your behalf. She thinks it a fitting way to welcome you to the neighborhood and be introduced among us.”
“How very kind! We would be most delighted.” Bingley sat a little straighter in his chair.
Miss Kitty clapped softly. “Mama hosts the most delightful dinners—everyone here will agree. We dine with four and twenty families! You must tell me your favorite dishes. She wants to make sure to serve them at dinner.”
Darcy felt himself smile in spite of his best effort not to. Miss Kitty’s exuberance reminded him comfortably of Georgiana.
“You too, of course, Mr. Darcy, if you will be continuing on here for a while.” Miss Kitty added.
Bingley turned to Darcy, eyebrow lifted. The ladies all looked at him.
A flush crept along Darcy’s neck. “I…that is…yes, I will be staying for some time yet. Thank you.”
“Excellent.” Miss Elizabeth smiled.
Was her smile for him or mere politeness? Hopefully the former.
“Now, we must wait for our father to visit so we may officially begin our acquaintance.” Miss Elizabeth’s eyes twinkled.
Bingley laughed. “Rest assured, I will welcome him when he does.”
After another quarter hour, the Bennet ladies left, and Darcy excused himself to attend to a stack of correspondence just arrived from Pemberley.
Upstairs, seated at an awkward little writing desk shoved in the corner near the sunny window, Darcy leafed through the packet of letters. He responded to several.
“Beastly hot window,” he muttered under his breath and mopped his forehead with his handkerchief. Groaning, he stretched out the cramps in his legs.
If he could only walk in the cool woods now—as he had when Miss Elizabeth first appeared like a fairy-tale creature out of the woods.
He chuckled. Perhaps he had found the mythical creature of which his cousin Fitzwilliam spoke. What would Fitzwilliam think of the Bennets?
He pressed his pen to paper.

Fitzwilliam,
Come quickly. She has four sisters.

FD
_________________________________
Author bio
Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful.
She has one husband, two graduate degrees and two black belts, three sons, four undergraduate majors, five nieces, six cats, seven Regency-era fiction projects and notes for eight more writing projects in progress. To round out the list, she cooks for nine in order to accommodate the growing boys and usually makes ten meals at a time so she only cooks twice a month.
She can be contacted at:
Visit her website Random Bits of Fascination (AuthorMariaGrace.com)
On Twitter @WriteMariaGrace
English HistoricalFiction Authors (EnglshHistoryAuthors.blogspot.com)
Austen Authors(AustenAuthors.net)
Thank you so much for joining me today on my blog, Maria, and for sharing such a fabulous excerpt from your book! 

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Happily Ever After is Susannah Fullerton’s new book which celebrates Pride and Prejudice. It is a beautiful book and one I am enjoying enormously. I am very pleased and proud because one of my illustrations features in it on page 126 in a section about Mr Wickham!

Lydia, Wickham and Kitty

This is the illustration – as you can see, Lydia, Wickham and Kitty are stepping out in Meryton. No doubt they are shopping and will be perusing all the latest ribbons and muslins to be had along the way.
I was very surprised to see mentions of my two Pride and Prejudice sequels, Mr Darcy’s Secret and Lydia Bennet’s Story also included in Susannah’s book – you can imagine, I was thrilled!

Here’s a little blurb about the book:

In 2013 Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice turns 200. Again and again in polls conducted around the world, it is regularly chosen as the favourite novel of all time. Read and studied from Cheltenham to China, there are Jane Austen Societies from Boston to Buenos Aires, dedicated to sharing the delights of Jane Austen’s masterpiece.
Here is the tale of how Pride and Prejudice came to be written, its first reception in a world that didn’t take much notice of it and then its growing popularity. As well as discussing the famous characters – sex-symbol Mr Darcy, charming heroine Elizabeth Bennet, and the superb range of comic characters who make readers laugh again and again – Susannah Fullerton looks at the style of the novel – its wicked irony, its brilliant structuring, its revolutionary use of the technique known as ‘free indirect speech’.
Readers through the years have both loved the book and hated it – the reactions of writers, politicians, artists and explorers can tell us as much about the reader as they do about the book itself. Pride and Prejudice has morphed into many strange and interesting forms – screen adaptations, sequels, prequels and updates. Happily Ever After explores these, and the wilder shores of zombies, porn, dating manuals, T-shirts, tourism and therapy.

Congratulations, Susannah! 

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As my blog tour for Mr. Darcy’s Secret comes to a close, I’d just like to thank everyone who has been so kind in welcoming me onto their blogs, and for the many wonderful reviews I’ve received. 
Last on the tour, but by no means least, is a review from the lovely Laurel Ann at Austenprose Look out too for a guest post on the blog here with a fantastic giveaway. Here’s the review.
Everyone has a secret or two in their past that they would rather forget. In Regency times, where a breach in propriety could ruin a reputation with a withering look, people had many secrets to hide. Are we surprised to learn that the residents of Pemberley, the palatial estate of the Darcy family in Jane Austen’sPride and Prejudice, have a few of their own tucked away in the library or residing at a local cottage? Author Jane Odiwe wants us to explore that possibility in her new novel Mr. Darcy’s Secret. Will the happily ever after really happen for the newly married Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, or will a family secret ruin the fairy tale?
At the conclusion of the original novel Austen left riffs running and a few positive connections for the couple. As Elizabeth arrives in Derbyshire and settles into to her new duties as mistress of the great estate of Pemberley, she attempts to reconcile her husband with his aunt Lady Catherine de Bourgh and build up fragile Georgiana Darcy after the emotional upheaval of the failed elopement with Mr. Wickham. Elizabeth resists the innuendo of local gossip Mrs. Eaton to a Darcy connection of a secret affair and illegitimate children until she discovers a cache of love letters hidden in the library. Her doubts about the man she married deepens further when Darcy insists that Georgiana marry quickly, and for title and fortune, and not for love.
Elizabeth stared at Mr. Darcy in disbelief. Not for the first time in the last few days did she stare at the man she had married to consider how little she really knew him. She had been so sure of his character in Hertfordshire and now, for the moment, she could not reconcile any of her former beliefs. Looking at him, his countenance flushed from his passionate speech, his face solemn and sober, she realized it was useless to debate the matter. Without further ado, she excused herself…page 114
No, life at Pemberley is not all sunshine and syllabub. Georgiana is torn between her family duty to marry the man of her brother’s choice or the man she truly loves, Thomas Butler, a young and aspiring landscape gardener designing a new garden on the estate. They have everything in common that true lovers should possess, which Elizabeth recognizes, and her husband does not. How could he be so calculating with his sisters happiness and not with his own? These inconsistencies in his character, the love letters and the familiar resemblance of a young boy in the village threaten Elizabeth’s trust in her new husband and Georgiana’s happiness.
With two plots churning, Jane Odiwe has crafted an intriguing and unique continuation of Austen’s classic that will charm and delight Janeites and historical romance readers. As we travel from Hertfordshire to Derbyshire to the Lake District of Cumberland, we enjoy the awe inspiring picturesque scenery and equally jaw dropping characterizations. Be prepared to see romantic icon Mr. Darcy knocked off his pedestal and conceitedly independent Elizabeth Bennet passively submit to her doubts. Is that a bad thing? Only, if you are determined that these characters should not change, grow and evolve beyond the last page of Pride and Prejudice.

I laughed at the creativity of giving Caroline Bingley a crush on a bohemian artist who she so wishes to impress that she embraces the peasant lifestyle and rents a rustic cottage near him while he is on holiday in the Lake District. He happens to be a wealthy and titled bohemian artist so we know she has not strayed too far from her aspirations of social grandeur. Georgiana plays out to be a bit of the rebel that we always knew she was by falling in love with one man while engaged to another, and thoughtless Lydia Wickham makes a cameo appearance to discover a secret that could ruin a Darcy’s happiness. Oh yes. Mr. Darcy is not the only one harboring secrets in this tale. Hiding or disclosing them is the mettle of true character. Who fesses up? Only one with the true Darcy spirit will tell.

 Last week also concluded with a gorgeous interview with Jessica Hastings at Suite 101, a guest appearance on  Sia McKye’s thoughts over coffee, and A Moment with Mystee Interview
Thank you lovely ladies; I thoroughly enjoyed myself!

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