What better way to start the year than to focus on one of Jane Austen’s most beloved characters. Join Austen Variations as we spend January looking into the lovely Jane Bennet.
When the theme for this month was announced, I thought the perfect piece for me to share would be this scene from my most recent novel, Miss Georgiana Darcy of Pemberley, which is in turn an expansion on a passage you may have read in my earlier, parallel work The Darcys of Pemberley. It takes place at Pemberley about a year after the close of P&P, and it’s told from Georgiana’s point of view. I hope you enjoy it!
With Mr. Bingley away to supervise the move, Jane became Elizabeth’s constant companion. I knew they had been the closest of sisters all their lives. And now, with these few weeks again under the same roof… Well, I could see it was a special treat for them both. I did not wish to interfere, so I was sure to make excuses for allowing them plenty of time to themselves.
I do not mean to say that my company was ever shunned by them. On the contrary, the sisters made me feel very welcome in their intimate society, and I am convinced they were entirely sincere in their desire to include me at these times. Perhaps they both missed the presence of their younger siblings and I thereby helped to fill a void for them. They certainly did for me. Elizabeth was already become the sister I never had, and in Jane I found another.
Since they were both older and had gone ahead of me in many of life’s important steps, they were in the position to tell me much of interest – the sort of information my mother would undoubtedly have supplied me, had she lived. I wanted to know a woman’s place in marriage. What were her duties, responsibilities, her pleasures and vexations? What was necessary to keep a husband happy and a home running smoothly? Jane and Elizabeth had experience in these matters whereas I had none.
However, between my shyness in asking straightforward questions and Jane’s particular modesty in speaking on delicate topics, my progress toward discovering these secret mysteries was slow. Enlightenment came bit by bit, more by my diligently gleaning what was incidentally dropped than by a calculated harvest of information all at once.
So I accumulated knowledge over time, primarily just by keeping my ears and eyes open. But one day, when the three of us were sitting quietly together over our needlework, I did find courage enough to ask Jane to tell me how she and Mr. Bingley fell in love.
“Oh, my,” she said in answer, demurely laying a hand to the side of her face. “Can you really be interested?”
“Very much so, but perhaps you had rather not.”
“No. Although I would not care to talk about it to just anybody, it is the kind of thing sisters share, is it not?”
Elizabeth nodded. “Exactly, and it is a story well worth telling, Jane, especially in light of the happy way it has turned out.”
“As you wish, then,” Jane agreed. “Yet, as for falling in love, it will be a very short story on my side, for I believe I was fairly smitten the first night I saw Mr. Bingley, at that ball in Meryton.”
“It was the same for him, Jane, and you know it,” Elizabeth added. Then she turned to me. “Mr. Bingley thought Jane the most beautiful, most angelic creature he had ever come across. He has told me so himself. And of course, I quite agree with him.”
“Now, Lizzy, you mustn’t say such things,” returned Jane. “Sometimes I think you take delight in embarrassing me.”
“I speak only the truth, but I will let you tell it your own way.”
“Yes, please,” I said to further encourage her.
“Very well, Georgiana. As I was saying, I liked Mr. Bingley at once. He was exactly my idea of what a young gentleman should be – not only handsome, but also very good, amiable, and well mannered. He sets everybody at their ease from the first moment. We danced four dances together that night, and he paid me the further compliment of introducing me to his sisters. Then, for as long as he remained at Netherfield, we saw each other frequently and spent as much time in each other’s company as possible. Our familiarity naturally increased and, from his continued attentions, I began to hope – and other people began to expect – that he would soon make me an offer. Instead, he and all his party, which included your brother, went away to London. I was told he had no definite plan of ever returning to Hertfordshire.
“All seemed at an end, and although I endeavored to overcome my low spirits at the likelihood of never seeing Mr. Bingley again, I’m afraid I really was quite miserable. As it turns out, he was as well. Nevertheless, we were kept apart for months by…” Here Jane glanced at Lizzy. “Well, that hardly matters now. In any case, looking back, I see it as a time of testing. No matter how painful the separation, it served to prove the strength of our devotion. Neither of us could forget the other, you see. So, when we next met, there could no longer be any doubt of our mutual attachment. Mr. Bingley quickly came to the point, and we were married shortly thereafter. Now here we are as you see us these many months later.”
I sighed. “Beautiful,” I said, thoroughly captured by Jane’s story and the embellishments added by my own imagination. “If I could but marry for love, as you did, and live always near Pemberley, I believe I should be truly happy.”
“That sounds lovely, dear,” said Elizabeth. “Do you have anyone in mind to play the role of your husband in this charming picture of connubial bliss? Your brother has taken great pains to see to it that you are introduced to suitable young men. Has one of them caught your fancy?”
“Oh, no! Well… not really,” I stammered. None of the ‘suitable young men’ I had been introduced to interested me in the least. I had in mind a less suitable, somewhat older man instead when I continued. “That is to say, there is someone I admire very much, but it would be impossible.”
“Do not despair, Georgiana. The most surprising things do occur,” Jane encouraged. “Elizabeth and I are examples of that. You know our histories; what seemed out of the question once, ultimately came to pass.”
“Yes, and in the meantime, try to keep open to other possibilities,” Elizabeth advised, pressing my hand. “Your future happiness may not lie where you think.”
Share your thoughts. Did Jane’s temporary separation from Mr. Bingley, though painful, serve to strengthen their attachment in the end? I’ve always seen a similarity between Jane’s and Georgiana’s temperaments. Do you agree that they are much alike? Wouldn’t you like to have been one of this group of dear sisters?