Today, I begin posting a 10-chapter story here on Austen Variations titled Lizzy Bennet’s Diary (that’s not the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, of course). This was originally written way back in 2006 – my first ever attempt at writing with a Regency ‘voice’ – and the title came from Bridget Jones’ Diary which, as you may know, is a modern-day retake on Pride & Prejudice.
The story generally follows the screenplay of the 2005 film. Because I love the story of Pride & Prejudice so much, I can find something to like in all adaptations, and though it has its faults, I was swept away by the sheer romance of this film.
However, it did leave me with some small but unanswered questions I was tempted to pick up on. These included: why was Lizzy the only Bennet daughter at the Netherfield Ball without gloves on? Why, when the Bennets left Netherfield after the ball, was Lizzy the only one not in the carriage? Where was she and how did she get home? Where did Lizzy’s coat go when she was at Pemberley, and how and why did she walk home rather than travel in the carriage as she had arrived?
Inconsequential perhaps, but I really enjoyed writing Lizzy’s thoughts and feelings throughout the story, adding a few of my own ‘scenes’, some prompted by the book, some my imagination, to enhance it. It remains, however, a condensed version of the original novel, hence the sub-title of ‘Extracts from the Journals of Miss Elizabeth Bennet’.
The poster from Bridget Jones’ Diary became the inspiration for a ‘cover’ for this story, and Janet Taylor of More Agreeably Engaged has produced the lovely images here, one representing the film and the other the popular 1995 adaptation.
I believe it can be read with any ‘Mr Darcy’ in mind, and I hope all fans of Pride & Prejudice will find something to enjoy in it!
(NB: There are several timelines for P&P in existence, but they all vary slightly on certain dates so I have used the best fit of dates possible for the story)
Lizzy Bennet’s Diary
Extracts from the Journals of Miss Elizabeth Bennet
Longbourn, the 14th day of October
Today opened much as any other and, having broken our fast, I took my book (I had but two chapters remaining) and walked out into the fields to savour the conclusion of it in peace and solitude, with naught but birdsong for accompaniment. It was a beautiful morning, and I lingered for as long as might be tolerated at home.
Yet upon my return to Longbourn, Mama was full of some recently received intelligence: Netherfield Park has finally been let – around Michaelmas, but two weeks ago – and the new tenant is known to be a single gentleman of some fortune from the north of England! Mama’s delight knows no bounds, for she assumes this dandy will take one of us poor Bennet females for his wife, no matter he knows naught of this, or little of us!
Whilst I have, in the main, little sympathy for my mother’s aspirations, I confess my interest piqued! ‘Tis rare enough that we anticipate a new face hereabouts, and thus any alteration to our society must be deemed an enhancement.
Papa does so like to tease Mama, and more than twenty years of married life remain insufficient to teach her what he is about. He maintained throughout he would not be prevailed on to call upon the young man in question, and Mama’s nerves were, as is her wont, troubling her deeply before he owned to the visit having previously been paid.
With little hesitation, her distress became delight, quickly echoed by Kitty and Lydia. Papa then further charmed Mama by confirming Mr Bingley, as this gentleman is known, is expected to attend tomorrow’s assembly.
It truly is most inconsiderate of this gentleman to allow news of his tenure to arrive so close upon the heels of an opportunity to observe him. One could have passed many an hour in the speculation of his height, the way in which he styles his coiffure or prefers most to wear his cravat. As it is, all will be known so soon!
To be certain, the likelihood of him being single, rich and in possession of a tolerable countenance is negligible; thus, I anticipate some amusing reactions from the townsfolk of Meryton at the assembly!
Papa could have relieved us of this suspense, of course, and was attacked on all sides, but resisted being drawn into any physical description of our new neighbour, merely owning he had arms and legs enough and claimed to be fond of dancing. With this we had to be content and, indeed, Mama was more so, for she was frequently heard saying, “to be fond of dancing is only a step away from falling in love”, and she entertained herself with the notion for the remainder of the day.
The urge to point out there was no surety the gentleman would direct his heart in the direction of Longbourn was strong, but I desisted. Mama’s nerves can only sustain so much, and I fear her limit had all too readily been reached.
The afternoon passed in a frenzy typical of any preceding a dance of some kind or other: Kitty and Lydia argued over who would wear which dress, practiced their dance steps endlessly and wore Bessie ragged with their requests for slippers to be brushed and gloves to be pressed.
Mary has bemoaned the need to attend such frivolous, time-wasting activities as balls almost as vocally as Kitty and Lydia have proclaimed their satisfaction.
Dear Jane, who sleeps beside me, has without fuss selected a gown to wear and said little other than expressing a curiosity to meet our new neighbour. She is sure to capture several more hearts, yet no matter how many assemblies we attend, she continues to remain heart-whole and, indeed, almost disinterested in those wishing to acquaint themselves better with her. I do not know why this surprises me. I have yet to see a man in the neighbourhood worthy of her beauty and with sufficient good sense to satisfy my requirements in a brother.
The candle is guttering, the ink runs dry and my eyes grow heavy. My choice of gown shall be made another time; for now, I will follow my sister’s example.
Longbourn, the 16th day of October
I must make amends for making no entry in my journal last night by filling as many pages as possible this morning. It is fortunate I have a plentiful supply of ink, for it will be in much demand.
Lady Lucas called upon Mama yesterday and brought intelligence pleasing to both sides – the deliverer basking in her prior knowledge, the receiver in the substance of the message, for Lady Lucas confirmed Mr Bingley to be both handsome and agreeable. Furthermore, the gentleman’s sister is to live with him and oversee the smooth running of his household. He had assured Sir William of his intention to attend yesterday’s assembly, and this sister, along with a friend of Mr Bingley who is currently making some stay in the country, would accompany him.
My heart sinks as I recall Mama’s raptures upon receiving this intelligence. Two eligible young men was news sufficient to increase her ambitions ten-fold, and I began to dread the coming dance on behalf of these two poor innocents.
Suffice to say, my feelings now vary greatly. For one of the gentlemen I confess I do still feel a certain sympathy and even have a willingness to think well of him, but as for the other… gentleman (a better word escapes me at present)… well, let it be told.
The assembly began like any other, with much familiarity, be it the people, the gowns or the music. I need not record here any detail, for a perusal back through the pages of this journal would show many similar passages where the same names or garments are described as the local populace danced, ate and gossiped their way through this assembly or that… I derive much enjoyment from dancing, but there is a tedium to the local balls; it begins to wear upon me, and I long for change but know not in what guise.
Last night, as ever, the room was noisy, with its usual lack of air and space; yet this did not detract from the enjoyment. The band was lively and most willing and the dance floor never empty; furthermore, there was an added frisson in the room as we all anticipated the arrival of our new neighbour.
Jane’s beauty and calm air were more noticeable than ever in the bustling, giddy atmosphere. As always, I felt rather than knew what she was thinking, and though she talked little enough about it, I knew she looked forward very much to seeing this Mr Bingley. I had teased her earlier how her anticipation must surely have grown since she had heard Lady Lucas’ favourable report of his features, but she had only smiled indulgently at my quips and would not be drawn.
Lydia and Kitty spent the early part of the evening much as they always do – on the dance floor. Mary also followed her accustomed habit and shadowed Mama and Papa closely, engaging little in conversation and never in the dance.
And thus they came – our new neighbour, his elegant sister and his friend entered when the floor was in turmoil, and as expected they brought the dance to a halt and silence all about. It was most amusing to observe the craning of curious necks to see these pampered poodles parade up the room with Sir William. I must record here though, for it will persist, a most strange occurrence though I now laugh at myself for my foolishness.
Shortly before the doors opened upon these fine specimens, Jane and I had been engaged in some small banter about men – not for the first time. Dear Jane thinks so well of everyone, and she does not value my assessment of the male gender at all! However, I began to fear my sister had, unbeknownst to me, become a seer, for no sooner had she cautioned me one day someone would catch my eye and make me watch my tongue than the above party presented themselves in the room.
I will acknowledge here something I would share with no other – for all of ten seconds Mr Bingley’s friend did catch my eye… he possesses a tall, fine figure and, unlike many of his rank, is unfussy and conservative in his attire, and he walks with a masculine grace most pleasing to observe. What is more, as he travelled the length of the room with his companions, he fixed me momentarily with a compelling eye of his own, and I will own it provoked a rather strange sensation within my breast. Oddly, even as I pen the words I feel a return of the same against my bidding.
No matter though; it relieves me to write of it, and then I shall think on it no more. To be sure, much happened later to drive such memory away forever.
With little hesitation, indeed as soon as the dancing resumed, Mama affected our introduction. Charlotte accompanied us, along with Papa and Mary, and Sir William made the presentations liberally and with his usual friendly manner.
I confess a certain relief that Kitty and Lydia were engaged in the dance – I defy any young man, be he in possession of a large fortune or not, not to quail at the onslaught of my dear Mama and all five of us lined up for his inspection.
My cheeks did feel a little warm upon meeting the eye of Mr Bingley’s tall friend again, but whatever had caused him to stare so particularly at me earlier was gone. His air was sullen, his eye holding little animation and no apparent interest.
Mr Bingley has easy, unaffected manners and is most charming in conversation. His sister has an air of decided fashion and seemed best pleased with herself rather than what she saw, a situation clearly affording her much satisfaction. She spoke little, and then only to Mr Bingley or his friend, a Mr Darcy from somewhere called Pemberley in Derbyshire. We can only hope he returns soon to his estate, for all his being rich could not make up for his blatant disapproval of all he saw!
Mr Bingley obligingly fell in with Mama’s hopes by inviting Jane to take to the floor – they danced together twice – and even when partnered with others he seemed unable to stop seeking her place in the line. Her poise and beauty clearly captured his eye, and he showed little interest elsewhere all evening.
And whilst I begrudge allowing Mr Darcy any further tenure in these pages, my honesty forces me to record here one other incident of note – and thankful am I for its occurrence, for it has enabled me to ridicule myself for feeling some interest in the man when I first laid eyes upon him.
One should never become too complacent over one’s appearance, it is true, and I more than anyone I know despise those who primp and preen and strut about like peacocks, too centred upon their own image to pay the world any mind. Yet, my vanity was offended, albeit momentarily, to overhear this Mr Darcy proclaim I am merely tolerable!
How fortunate Charlotte was with me, for whilst the embarrassment was increased by having an audience to this slight, she was there to tease me out of any lasting hurt it may have occasioned. And to return to Jane’s earlier prophesy over the restriction my tongue may face upon encountering a man to rouse my interest… suffice to say, the opposite was true. With what relish did I later fling Mr Darcy’s words back in his face!
But let me be done with the tiresome man. The evening remains one of note for the pleasure it afforded to see Jane so admired.
The only further development came from Lydia, who ascertained the Militia will be spending the winter camped outside Meryton. Predictably, this intelligence was received with voluble excitement by Mama and resignation by Papa.
When we retired to bed, late though it was, Jane shared some of her thoughts with me, saying she finds Mr Bingley to be all she ever hoped for in a man: sensible, good humoured and lively. She generously afforded me the opening to complete the list with his face and his fortune, but all teasing aside, I have never heard her talk of a man in such a way. It was quite obvious she had enchanted Mr Bingley, and though he does not yet fully understand her character, knowing her as I do, he cannot fail to admire her further when he knows her better, and I feel certain the acquaintance will continue.
Jane was flattered by his attentions, this much is clear and, though I have never heard her speak ill of anyone, the approbation she gave Mr Bingley has given me hope that Mama may yet see her dearest wish come to fruition and one of her daughters settled at Netherfield!
Sleep found Jane quickly, and no doubt her slumbers were pleasant. Something kept me from my rest though. I was tempted to light the candle again and read, but did not. I was unsettled, and my mind would persist in dwelling upon part of our conversation from shortly before Jane fell asleep.
Our situation is tenuous, at best. Our duty is to make as good a marriage as we can, as soon as we can, to secure our futures… but I should so like to marry for love. I believe my desire for something so romantic to be just, but reality stares me in the face. How will I react if I am ever tested, if a man I do not hold in deep affection should offer his hand? Will my ideals stand firm against the temptation to save myself and my sisters from possible destitution?
But enough of this – Mama calls us to table. I refuse to speculate further upon such a notion and will instead rely upon Jane to be the saviour of us all by marrying well, thus giving me leave to love and wed whomsoever I choose!
Longbourn, the 12th day of November
Jane is at Netherfield! An invitation came from Mr Bingley’s sister, Caroline, requesting she dine with her. Pleased though I am with this attention to Jane, which no doubt stems more from Mr Bingley’s regard than the sister’s, I am mortified by Mama’s contrivance of sending Jane on horseback when such evident inclement weather threatened.
I am well able to comprehend the hypocrisy of such a thought, when I read back over words I penned recently, but to send Jane thus conveys a message that is far from subtle.
My only hope is she arrived before the deluge, though Netherfield is a good three miles away and Jane a very slow rider. I look forward to her return on the morrow and receiving intelligence of how her evening passed and will trust the Bingleys have attributed the scheme to its rightful source, however galling such a thought may be!
Netherfield, the 13th day of November
I write this entry from Netherfield Park! A strange turn of events has unfolded and no doubt Mama is celebrating the family’s good fortune, no matter one of her daughters is taken ill and a second has been detained in order to be of service to her.
The servant sent to Longbourn for my clothes has just returned, and I was relieved to discover Kitty had slipped my writing case inside the package. As Jane now sleeps, albeit restlessly, I can take a moment to recount the singular events of the day…
Shortly after our morning meal, a note arrived from Jane. She had been caught in the downpour and had taken ill, and though she desired us not to be concerned, I was determined to visit her at Netherfield to reassure myself of her condition. As the outcome was precisely what she had hoped for, Mama considers it all a blessing and shows little concern for Jane’s state of health; Papa merely mocks her for her scheming.
Kitty and Lydia displayed little interest in my intentions; they talk non-stop of the Militia, and spend all their time fussing over ribbons and bonnets, and Mama is similarly as giddy. I found myself unable to bear their effusions and preparations with the good will expected of me – a red coat does nothing for me and to leave them behind for a few hours was welcome relief.
I took much pleasure from the walk. The rain had long passed over and a refreshing breeze escorted me across the fields. In no little time, I had reached the boundaries of Mr Bingley’s park – the ground underfoot was somewhat muddy, but as my only concern was to see Jane I could not see it signified.
Upon my arrival I was a little taken aback, when asking for my sister, to be shown into the breakfast parlour. I had not supposed Jane’s condition well enough for the partaking of a meal, as her note implied she was bed-ridden. However, upon entering the room I found only Miss Bingley and the tiresome Mr Darcy at table.
Miss Bingley was as welcoming as one would expect, and Mr Darcy clearly not used to people visiting so early in the day as his air and countenance were a study in bewilderment. I must suppose, therefore, I have committed some crime against convention, rendering my behaviour almost as tolerable as my poor face!
I did apologise for the intrusion and was eventually led to Jane’s chamber by another obliging servant. Mr Bingley was hovering outside the door, most anxious and concerned. His attentions to Jane in her indisposition are pleasing, and he alone of the inmates of this house has made me feel welcome.
As to my still being here at this late hour, Jane was most distressed this afternoon when I suggested I should take my leave. She is too unwell to move at present, and though the apothecary, summoned this afternoon by an anxious Mr Bingley, assures me she is in no danger, it is agreed she must remain at Netherfield for the time being.
Miss Bingley, who happened to be present when I talked of leaving, begrudgingly offered for me to stay with Jane, and I happily accepted. To be able to be of comfort to my dear sister was the main inducement, but I will own inconveniencing Miss Bingley brought further appeal! She makes little attempt at concealing her aversion to my company, thought I know not the cause – her manner towards me since my arrival this morning has been by turn condescending or strangely guarded.
So here I reside in the room next to Jane, in a level of comfort I have formerly only ever imagined. A maid has unpacked my small array of possessions, and I am to dine with the company as soon as I hear the summons. I must trust that the civilities of Mr Bingley will aid my comfort.
Netherfield, the 13th day of November…continued
Surprisingly, I have passed a pleasanter evening than anticipated, due not so much to pleasurable company but the diversion they afforded.
Upon joining them in the drawing room, Miss Bingley made a great display of proclaiming her concern for Jane, and then proceeded to pay her no further mind. Her entire attention was engaged for the remainder of the evening in attempting to captivate Mr Darcy.
By contrast, Mr Bingley’s interest in the state of Jane’s health appears genuine, and he made mention of his concern so frequently I begin to think he is truly smitten.
Miss Bingley seeks Mr Darcy’s attention tirelessly – perchance they should make a match of it, though I remain unsure who would suffer most from such a union. I confess I enjoyed this manner of speculation throughout our meal, but gave up the notion when I realised my sympathies would lie on balance with Mr Darcy. Much as I dislike him, his manner towards Miss Bingley is more honest than hers towards him, and thus I would have to defer to his character being the marginally better of the two.
I remained with the company for a while after dinner, making a poor attempt at reading a book from Mr Bingley’s rather sparse library, leaving the others to their cards and desultory conversation. The subject of books and reading arose which led to talk of libraries, and eventually to the one at Mr Darcy’s home, Pemberley. It sounds an enviable collection, but as my chances of ever perusing it would mean a continued acquaintance with its owner, I can forego the pleasure all too readily.
Uncanny though it seems, I experienced some awareness this evening of moments when Mr Darcy’s eyes are fixed upon me. As I am fully aware of his opinion on my appearance, I can only assume there is something about me that offends him! I derive a certain pleasure from such a notion, for I have too little interest in him to care for his approbation.
Netherfield, the 16th day of November
Thank goodness for the closure of another evening in such company. I relieved the party of my presence immediately after dinner, my excuse being a return to Jane’s bedside. She is much improved, even having managed an hour below with the company. Mr Bingley made haste to have a fire set before taking his place beside her and engaging her in gentle conversation. Indeed, I do not believe he recalled there were other occupants in the room whilst she was with us!
The evening meal passed with as much tedium as the previous ones… how I long for home tonight, for I am certain I could tolerate Lydia and Kitty’s effusions better than this household’s languor. But Jane does make good progress, and I feel hopeful we may be able to return to Longbourn on the morrow.
Little of interest occurred today. Mr Bingley kindly lent me another book from the library, and it was a pleasant enough diversion until I was distracted by the conversation about me.
I will acknowledge Mr Darcy perplexes me, reluctant though I am to give him space upon the page; but there is little else to write of – life at Netherfield is not half so interesting as life at home – so Mr Darcy will have to suffice as a subject.
Miss Bingley beleaguered him unmercifully this morning as he wrote to his sister. How she did pester him whilst he tried to pen his message! Having observed his brevity of manner in general, I am astounded he was not more blunt with her, but then perhaps as a guest in her brother’s house he felt he could not take such a liberty. I derived much amusement, though, in overhearing their conversation, with his perfect disinterest and her increasing attempts to secure his attention!
I do wonder why he has not wed. He must have several years on Mr Bingley, is in want of neither fortune nor a place in society. An heir would not only be desirable but surely is his duty, though he doubtless seeks some paragon of virtue for his wife.
He must have been presented with every eligible young woman out in society, though I dare say he struggles to find a woman who embodies the full array of accomplishments he expects, which we know to be many, combined with an appearance well-removed from merely tolerable!
I certainly would never marry Mr Darcy, for all his having ten thousand a year and owning half of Derbyshire. (I laugh as I write of so wild a notion even crossing my mind! I am sure he would be mortified if such a thought should enter his!)
It is a great shame he does not use some of his vast fortune to purchase a smile or two – I declare I have yet to see even a hint of one grace his features.
There was talk over dinner of Mr Darcy’s sister, Georgiana. It sounds as though she is much younger than he and, to judge by all I heard, one of the half dozen truly accomplished women of his acquaintance.
The list of attributes required to merit the title of accomplished is so long I begrudge wasting ink upon the subject. Suffice it to say, Miss Bingley seems to consider herself in possession of said designation; she could not help demonstrating her point this morning, when talking of such a woman’s air and manner of walking. I am thankful for her restraint for it was a formidable list of talents, and I do not think my cheeks could take the strain of remaining straight had she gone on to exhibit them all.
Only one other thing occurred, though it is of little importance.
Miss Bingley, inexplicably, invited me to take a turn about the room with her! As she had already paraded past Mr Darcy to no avail, (for all my low opinion of her, I must allow her a graceful walk in her elegant gown), I can only assume she aimed to draw his attention by paying hers in an unexpected quarter.
Whatever her reasons, she had no intention of letting me escape the offer – not only did she link arms with me, she held my hand fast in her grip as if fearing I would bolt! She achieved her purpose however – the next time she addressed Mr Darcy, she was rewarded with both his attention and a lengthier response than her previous attempts had provoked.
The only piece of enlightenment I garnered from the whole exercise was this: Mr Darcy bears a grudge; he owns it himself. He claims he cannot – perhaps he will not – put aside the follies of others in a hurry, nor offences committed against him.
His good opinion, I must not forget, once lost is gone forever! And as I daily invite his ill opinion for my own sport, I shall rest easy our mutual disapproval will prevail.
Weariness has crept upon me; no doubt it is the paucity of subject matter. Mama calls to visit Jane in the morning, and I will entreat her not to leave without us.
To be continued next Friday in Chapter Two