How well do you think Jane Austen knew her more minor characters? How well do you?
Authors spend most of their time exploring the minds and activities of their main characters – what Elizabeth’s thinking and saying, why Darcy does what he does. They’ve worked out their backstories and motivations – what makes them tick. But some thought must be given to the supporting cast as well.
When Jane Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice, for example, I wonder how much consideration she gave to her un-leading ladies. I’m particularly thinking about Georgiana Darcy and Anne de Bourgh, neither of whom has even a single word of dialogue in the original novel. And yet, with the little we are told, we still have the sense that we know these ladies. Right? My personal opinion is that in her mind Austen had fully developed these minor characters into three dimensional people, and that’s why the little she tells us is enough.
Those minimal character sketches become the leaping-off points for the imagination. I wrote a whole book about Georgiana (Miss Georgiana Darcy of Pemberley) and now I’ve done the same for Anne de Bourgh in the soon-to-be-released The Ladies of Rosings Park. So let me ask you a couple of the most important questions I had to ask myself (and answer) as I wrote this new novel. Do you think Anne was devastated, greatly relieved, or indifferent when she learned that Darcy wanted to marry Elizabeth instead of her? At first, I could see it going any one of these directions. But then what? What do you imagine became of Anne de Bourgh after the end of Pride and Prejudice?
I’d like to know what you think! Maybe I’ll even incorporate one of your brilliant ideas into The Ladies of Rosings Park. (It’s not too late; the book hasn’t gone to print yet!) Share your answers in the comment section below and become eligible to win an e-copy of the book as soon as it debuts. (Update: by random drawing, the winner is Agnes who commented on Jan. 19th!) Then watch for preview chapters to be posted here at Austen Variations beginning January 22nd! In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a clue for how Anne felt about her cousins, the Darcys, in her own words. (You can also read the prologue and more about the book in this previous post. )
Georgiana was like a sister to me. Being a little younger and just as painfully shy as I, she presented no threat. I could be at my ease in her company… My relations with her brother are not quite so simple to characterize. It is a complex thing with which I never entirely came to terms.
With the young Master Darcy being nearly a decade my senior, it is hardly surprising he should have been no playfellow to me when I was a child. He treated me in much the same manner he did Georgiana – benignly indulgent but largely disinterested in a young girl’s concerns. My clearest and happiest memories of him during that period come from time spent out of doors. He was often assigned as guardian, guide, and escort to his sister and myself on our rambles throughout the park, whether on foot or on horseback. He saw we came to no harm, and he did not interfere with our pleasures any more than necessary. Sometimes he even contributed to our enjoyment with little games and other kindnesses.
Looking back, I honor his patience. I can see how irksome such a duty must have been to a boy on the verge of manhood. But he never complained, at least not in my hearing.
He treated me as a sister, and yet sisterly affection does not adequately describe my feelings for him, either then or now. Nor does the idea of friendship tell the whole story. The knowledge that he would be my husband one day made a distinct difference from the beginning, and the importance of that fact only increased as I grew older. How could it be otherwise? Even had he been a very ordinary man – plain and utterly undistinguished – I could hardly have banished our future connection from my mind. But this was William Darcy. With his superior height, maturity, and good looks, was he not exactly the type of romantic hero to inspire a young girl’s imagination?
From the age of eleven or twelve, my daydreams were filled with proposals and wedding scenes. In these imaginings, William was always perfectly handsome, and I was always graceful and completely at ease, no trace of my perpetual timidity evident. As for how this transformation in me was to have taken place… Well, these were dreams, after all. Logic does not enter in…