Whenever you set off on a new adventure – be it a trip to a foreign land, a business enterprise, or even a marriage – there’s always a little anxiety mingled with the thrill of anticipation. Will it turn out to be everything you’d hoped and planned? Will you get along well with your traveling companions/coworkers/spouse, forging strong bonds by working toward shared goals? If it’s a Jane Austen story, you know you can count on a happy ending, but the rest of the world doesn’t always operate that way.
When we started Austen Variations a year ago (headed by our intrepid leaders Abigail Reynolds, Maria Grace, and Susan Mason-Milks), none of us really knew if we’d turn out to be a huge success or not. But here we are, twelve months later, stronger than ever and still growing. It’s our first anniversary, and we’re in the mood to celebrate! We’ve got some fun stuff cooked up to mark the occasion. First, however, I hope you won’t mind if I take a minute to toot our own collective horn.
Austen Variations launched on January 27, 2014, to an audience of 2630 viewers. Since then we’ve published about 350 posts for your reading pleasure – posts on regency customs, serialized installments and excerpts from works-in-progress, book launches, group writing projects like The Darcy Brothers and Persuasion200, etc. – inspiring over 11,500 comments and nearly 340,000 total views. Of course, we couldn’t have done any of it without our loyal readers. THANK YOU! We truly appreciate your sharing this journey with us.
So now we’re celebrating the success of our first year with a cool update to the look of our site and our Facebook page (as you may have already noticed) and by writing a special series of posts for you. We thought it would be fun to commemorate our first anniversary by bringing to life anniversaries of some of our favorite (or intriguing) Austen couples. We’ll be posting two of these Anniversary Celebration segments per week throughout the month of February – some romantic, some humorous, some even rather suggestive – so be sure to watch for them.
I’m leading off today with the Bingleys’ and the Darcys’ first anniversary. Then we’ll feature Harriet and Robert Martin, the Eltons, the Sense and Sensibility couples (Marianne/Colonel Brandon with Elinor/Edward) combined, Charlotte and Mr. Collins, Fanny and Edmund Bertram, Mary and Charles Musgrove, and lastly Emma and Mr. Knightly. What a fun lineup!
Now, a little setup for today’s story. As you know, Jane married Mr. Bingley the same day Elizabeth married Mr. Darcy, so it seemed only fitting that they should celebrate their shared anniversary together. You may also recall we’re told in the book that the Bingleys stayed at Netherfield (which they rented) only “a twelvemonth” before purchasing an estate of their own in a county neighboring Derbyshire. So these two events (their shared anniversary and the Bingleys finding a new place to live) closely coincide. Using Pemberley as their home base, the Bingleys have ventured out with the Darcys to tour suitable estates in the area, and now they have chosen one. That’s where we pick up the action.
“Heatheridge is exactly right for us,” declared Mr. Bingley, eager to share the news with Georgiana upon their return. “Not nearly so grand as Pemberley, of course, but I declare it presents a very stately and dignified appearance. I believe even my sisters would be satisfied!”
“More importantly,” added Darcy, “the place seems sound from a business point of view. And the steward appears to have a good head on his shoulders. I believe you can rely on him to steer the course, Charles, at least until you learn to manage things yourself.”
“There is the sweetest little music room, Georgiana,” said Elizabeth, “and the grounds are lovely. The original owners flooded an old, retired slate pit – one within sight of the house – to form a lake. So instead of being a blight on the landscape, it becomes rather an embellishment.”
“What did you think,” Georgiana asked Jane, who looked as if she could hardly contain herself. “Did you like the place as well?”
“Oh, yes!” Jane enthused with eyes shining. “I wish you had seen it.”
“And you shall before long, if we have our way!” added Mr. Bingley. “Jane and I have already settled it between ourselves to lay claim to Heatheridge as soon as may be. In fact, I have an appointment with the solicitor tomorrow.”
“It is simply delightful,” Jane went on. “I can think of no other word that suits the place so well. I knew almost from the first minute that it was to be our home. I could picture us there – our family – now and years into the future. It is exactly right.”
The Bingleys’ purchase of Heatheridge went through without a hitch, and plans for their relocation commenced immediately. To avoid the strain of travel, Jane, who was in a family way, was to stay at Pemberley whilst Mr. Bingley returned to Netherfield to make all the arrangements. The night prior to his departure was set aside for celebration – of the Bingleys’ new home but also to commemorate their shared wedding anniversary with the Darcys. Georgiana joined them, all partaking in a delectable late supper and a particularly fine wine selected to accompany it.
During a brief pause in the conversation, Georgiana proposed a toast. “To the happy couples,” she said, raising her glass. “May every blessing of marriage be yours now and in the years to come. May you in turn be a blessing to your children and to many others, as indeed you all are to me.”
Mr. Darcy thanked his sister and they all drank to her fine sentiment. Elizabeth was especially touched. She knew making such a speech, even amongst friends, had not been easy for the shy Georgiana. Indeed, the girl did look uncomfortable afterward, perhaps suddenly feeling herself the odd one out, and she shortly excused herself. The other four presently retired to the drawing room.
“What a night this is,” exclaimed Bingley as they settled themselves two by two, “and what a year! Can you believe all that has happened in twelve short months? It seems more like an age ago that we four stood up in church together. So much has changed since.” Here he looked intently at his wife. “I was such a foolish young man when we met. What could have ever persuaded you to fall in love with me?”
Jane blushed and dropped her eyes.
Darcy then spoke to break the brief silence. “You and I are both very fortunate, I think, Charles, that our wives were generous enough to look past our early errors.”
“Really, you men are far too eager at claiming all the blame for yourselves!” Elizabeth protested with mock indignation. “It is most ungenerous of you. I know for a fact that I made my share of errors, and yet I would much prefer not to be reminded of them. Let us think of the past only as it gives us pleasure.”
Smiling, Mr. Darcy squeezed his wife’s hand. “A very wise philosophy, my dear. Very wise indeed.”
After the Bingleys had gone up to bed, Darcy and Elizabeth lingered, side by side, in front of the fire, each lost in their own thoughts.
“Bingley was quite right about one thing,” Elizabeth at last mused aloud.
“Hmm? What is that?”
“How distant I feel from my former life. I begin to remember my years at Longbourn more as if someone else lived them… almost like a story I read in a book. Being here with you, Darcy – that is all that seems real and true to me now.”
Pulling her closer, he kissed the top of her head. “This is where we belong – together, at Pemberley.” They fell silent again, staring into the dancing flames a while longer. “Well, shall we go up?” Darcy asked at length. Not waiting for a reply, he stood, swept Elizabeth into his arms, and turned to carry her upstairs.
“Why, Mr. Darcy!” she cried in surprise. “What will the servants say?”
“Nothing at all, I should imagine. I have given them the night off in honor of our anniversary. So they have discreetly disappeared and left us to ourselves.”
“You always manage everything so capably, my dear.”
“Even you?” he asked, elevating one eyebrow.
“Especially me,” Elizabeth said, allowing herself to be taken off to bed in her husband’s very capable arms.
I hope you enjoyed this peek behind the doors of Pemberley (as adapted from similar events in my novel The Darcys of Pemberley and my current work-in-progress). Is this the way you pictured the Bingleys and Darcys first anniversary? Why or why not?