I spent the past year delving into Jane Austen’s own life and her book Persuasion for my recently released The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen. But now I’m returning to my first love – Pride and Prejudice – for my next novel. Even though I’m only 10 chapter in, I’d like to share a taste of it with you today. For the moment at least, I’m calling the book Miss Darcy of Pemberley. The similarity to one of my previous titles is entirely deliberate because this will be a “variation” of The Darcys of Pemberley, this time told from Georgiana’s perspective.
I’ve always felt that I might have shortchanged Georgiana and her courtship story a little the first time around, focusing more on Darcy and Elizabeth’s relationship in their early married life. This one will be just the reverse – still plenty of Darcy and Elizabeth and even a few “missing scenes” from Pride and Prejudice, but all from Georgiana’s point of view this time. When finished, the two novels will be complimentary – one book filling in the “off-camera” scenes of the other and the thoughts hidden from view. I trust that together they will supply a richer reading experience than either one alone. But let’s see what you think. Here’s chapter 1 in relatively completed form, as told in Georgiana’s own words:
I have fallen victim to love twice in my life, and the outcome has been only heartache. Neither man involved, for vastly dissimilar reasons, has proved a wise choice. Not that one has much conscious power of decision in these matters; the heart, perversely, attaches where it will. Yet I am determined to be more circumspect in future. Everyday I feel the embarrassment of my first attachment and the cruel disappointment of my second. I doubt I could bear a third failure. But, lest I fall into overly gloomy reflections at the very outset of my story, I shall begin with a different man entirely. The others will come along in due course.
It was last autumn when word arrived at Pemberley that Mr. Collins had died. And while I was sorry for it, especially for the pain it unquestionably occasioned his family, I could not feel it deeply myself. I had only met the man once, after all – that being a year earlier and very briefly, at the wedding breakfast for my brother and his new wife Elizabeth. Even she, to whom Mr. Collins was some relation, seemed not too deeply wounded when the news came by post from her family at Longbourn.
“Mr. Collins is dead!” Elizabeth had read out in surprise almost immediately upon opening the letter.
“Dead?” my brother, sitting across from her, repeated, appearing likewise incredulous. “How can that be?”
I interrupted. “Pray, remind me who is – or I suppose I should say ‘was’ – this Mr. Collins of whom you speak?”
“He is my cousin,” Elizabeth explained, looking up, “and married to my dear friend Charlotte. You will remember him as the rector of Hunsford. It seems he choked on a mouthful of mutton! Can you believe it, Darcy? Mama says here that she had the story straight from Lady Lucas.” Returning her attention to the page, she scanned further down. “Oh, poor Charlotte! It happened right in front of her, apparently, without her being able to do anything to about it. Imagine!”
Upon hearing these revelations, I could not help but shudder and do just that.
“What else does your mother have to say?” asked my brother more calmly.
“Oh, she goes on to praise Mr. Collins as if he had been some kind of saint. I understand that one does not like to speak ill of the dead, but why is it that people always feel compelled to improve upon the disposition of even the most ignoble person once he is gone? Mark my words, Darcy. Before many days have elapsed, Mr. Collins’s character will have been wholly remade – his faults will sink into insignificance and his virtues will soar to unprecedented heights. He will be quite unrecognizable, I daresay, described as the kindest person and the finest clergyman who ever lived.”
“Now, really, Lizzy,” my brother scolded mildly, but I thought I saw him stifle a laugh at the same time.
In some confusion, I asked, “And you mean that such a testimony would be completely false?”
My brother exchanged a speaking glance with his wife before answering. “You did not know the man, Georgiana, clearly. And Elizabeth is right that one does not like to speak ill of the dead. Let us just say that such a positive endorsement of Mr. Collins’s character would be a very generous exaggeration of the truth.”
“Very generous, indeed!” agreed Elizabeth. “Nevertheless, I do genuinely sympathize with Charlotte. I wonder how she is bearing the shock of the thing, and what will become of her now. I doubt Mr. Collins has left her a very comfortable income, and I cannot suppose Lady Catherine will allow her to stay on at the parsonage indefinitely. Her entire life will be in upheaval.” Looking at her husband, she appealed, “My love, I think we must go to her and give what comfort we can.”
“Of course. We shall deliver our sincere condolences to Hunsford in person and make certain Mrs. Collins knows she can call on us for anything she may need. We should begin preparations for our departure without delay. There is much to be done.” He stood and extending his hand.
As Elizabeth took it and rose to his side, her eyes shone with love and gratitude.
“Shall I go as well, do you think?” I asked, rather hoping to be included in the expedition. “Although I did not really know Mr. Collins, I would be gratified to be of service to you, Elizabeth, in this time of sorrow.”
Elizabeth smiled at me, saying, “Thank you, my dear. Although I very much appreciate your offering, it is quite unnecessary, I assure you. I am in no danger of being overcome by grief on the occasion. And as for attending the funeral for yourself, you mustn’t think of it. No one will expect it of you. Women are still largely excused, and besides, as you say, you barely knew the man.”
“I doubt there will be any social calls of interest on this trip,” added my brother, “and we will not be long away. You had much better stay here at Pemberley and be comfortable.”
“Is there anything I can get for you in town?” Elizabeth asked me. “Books? Music? Something from the drapers or milliners, perhaps?”
I went through a mental checklist. “The only thing I desire is some new music, if you would be so kind. I shall write down for you the names of the pieces I have in mind. Are you sure it won’t be too much trouble?”
“Trouble? Heavens, no!” exclaimed Elizabeth. “When we treat you to new music, we treat ourselves, for we are the clear beneficiaries when you play it.”
So the plan was made. Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy were to travel south for Mr. Collins’s services without me. Inwardly, I repined. Outwardly, I submitted to my brother’s decision without protest, even though I knew that when he and Elizabeth quit Pemberley the next morning, a precious portion of the life of the place would escape out the doors with them, as if the house itself had emitted a deep sigh from which it would not soon recover. The time would pass more slowly for me until they returned, and with less variety. I would miss my brother, yes, but Elizabeth probably more. And Mrs. Reynolds, dear though she was to me, could never be expected to supply what I would thereby lose in the way of close companionship and conversation – generous luxuries I had grown accustomed to over the previous year.
Marrying Elizabeth Bennet was the best thing my brother had ever done, for himself and for his sister. In Elizabeth, we acquired a treasure, one for which I expect our family will be forever the richer.
Fitzwilliam (or William, as I more commonly call him) is happy, as is Elizabeth. No one who sees them together can doubt it or that they are still, all these months later, deeply in love. It is an union that has operated to the advantage of both. Most would undoubtedly presume the former Miss Bennet, of little fortune or status, to have been the winner in the case. While it is true that her new husband’s experience, resources, and place in the world brought her benefits incalculable, he has profited by the match as well, only in less tangible ways. Elizabeth’s ease and liveliness have softened his rough edges and improved his disposition. In general, he is less dogmatic in his opinions now, less rigid in manner, and consequently far less likely to cause offence where he means not to give it.
As for myself, I acquired a longed-for sister when they married – one young enough to enter into my concerns and yet old enough to help and advise. Accordingly, I found in Elizabeth something of a mother as well, to fit alongside the paternal position my brother had been forced to adopt by the loss of our true father a few years before. Together the two of them soon formed the better, brighter part of my limited world. Together they also lived out before me the example of what wedded life should look like.
I often wonder if my parents enjoyed, albeit much too briefly, the same kind of connubial felicity. Although I was far too young when my mother died to have made such observations myself, I have sometimes been able to persuade Mrs. Reynolds, who has served this family for some thirty years, to share her stories with me. She speaks of her former master and mistress in tender terms that seem to imply it was a good marriage. I like to think so.
Although I am eager to carry on that heritage, to follow in the cherished parental footsteps, I fear it may never be, that perhaps I am not destined for that sort of contentment. Early indications certainly are not promising. They tend to support the idea that loving without return may be my lot in life instead – a distressing prospect. It is bad enough to discover one has bestowed one’s affections where they were undeserved. But to bestow them on a person eminently worthy and yet unable to reciprocate is more painful still, I find. How shall I endure it? I feel myself quite unequal to the task.
Yet, apparently, endure it I must. And therefore I will.
I am a Darcy, as my brother is fond of reminding me, by which he means not only that I have an obligation to comport myself with decorum and modest restraint, even in the face of the most difficult circumstances, but also that I inherently possess the fortitude to do so. I may doubt the latter part, since I have on at least one past occasion failed to uphold this high expectation. But I cannot argue with him, for I know he has felt the same kind of pain I experience, coming through it with dignity. And to a brilliant result besides. Who would have guessed from the miserable way he and Elizabeth began that a bright future lay before them? God grant me the same strength and courage to persevere… and, if it pleases Him, to find a similar reward in the end.
I hope you enjoyed this preview excerpt. Now I’d love to hear your comments and questions about it!