I’m in the last stage of editing and revising my WIP “Mr. Darcy’s Pledge” and as usual there are a lot of last minute decisions to be made. For some reason, the first chapter of all my novels has been something I’ve always agonized over. In “Steampunk Darcy”, I must have re-written the first chapter at least ten times, which is a bad thing, because by the end it’s hard to remember what you left in and what you took out! I even had a prologue all written up that I didn’t end up including! And I have another novel that I’ve been writing for a while (a non Jane Austen) and it’s all finished, but I can’t seem to find the right way to start it. Funnily, in the last two novels I wrote, the story seems to suddenly really come into its own only after I’d written several chapters.
My creative process, it seems, has something against beginnings.
Anyway, I thought this would be a wonderful opportunity to ask you as readers what you think. My novel starts with a scene told from Georgiana’s perspective. The point of view of the novel is mainly Darcy’s, but most of the chapters also have Georgiana’s point of view, and considering how the story goes, it’s important to have her contrasting perspective of things all the way through.
In the first chapter, though, this isn’t quite as essential. So here is my dilemma: should I have the book start with Georgiana’s point of view as I have it now, or would it work better for you as a reader to plunge immediately into Darcy’s thoughts?
Another question I have is, would you expect Darcy to have such strong emotions at the idea of the carriage overturning? Does it make sense?
The third question: Does his perception of Pemberley seem like a logical progression of his thoughts?
Mrs. Annesley spotted the carriage as it took the turning, before it disappeared behind the trees. The window from the upstairs parlor was very well situated to enable its occupants to see across the estate, though it would be some time before the carriage would approach Pemberley House.
“I believe that might have been your brother’s carriage, Georgiana,” said Mrs. Annesley. “I thought I caught a glimpse of maroon, but at this distance it is impossible to be certain.”
Georgiana jumped up and ran to the window, though of course it was useless because the carriage would be hidden by the woods until it was almost at their doorstep. “Do you think so? But why would my brother arrive without informing anyone ahead of time? You know how he doesn’t like to put the staff to any inconvenience by arriving unexpectedly.”
“It may well not be your brother, in which case you should come away from the window before someone catches you staring like a hoyden.”
Georgiana did not want to be robbed of a chance to satisfy her curiosity, but she was too well bred to argue with Mrs. Annesley, who was such a kind and caring companion, quite unlike that horrid Mrs. Younge who had betrayed her so badly. Though chomping at the bit with impatience, she had to be satisfied with plucking up her ears and listening with all her might for the sound of approaching carriage wheels.
“Do you think my brother will approve of my new musical composition?” she asked, as much to break into the long silence as to relieve her anxiety.
“My dear Georgiana, you alone are able to judge whether your composition is good or not. Gentlemen like your brother are not as well versed in music as you are. If you are happy with it – and you are harder on yourself than anyone else would be – then I am sure it will please your brother.”
Georgiana felt a flush of pleasure. Really, Mrs. Annesley was so kind to her, far kinder than she deserved.
She took up her sewing, focusing on producing a neat stitch, in case she needed to show it to her brother for inspection. Of course Darcy rarely criticized her, but she wanted to impress him, to show him that since that debacle with Wickham, she had not wasted her time in idleness. She had worked very hard to prove herself an accomplished and capable young lady. She desperately wanted him to forget about her stupidity and to look at her without remembering what had almost happened. So far she had not succeeded, to judge by the careful manner in which he always greeted her, but she was determined to make him forget, to convince him that, just because she had proved immature once, it did not mean she would always be that way.
It seemed an age before the approaching carriage began to be heard. She was so consumed by curiosity that she gave up any pretense at embroidery, set aside her frame and sat on her hands to prevent herself from jumping up, though why sitting on her hands would make any difference she wasn’t quite sure.
“Can you peek out of the window for me, Mrs. Annesley? Please? Surely it wouldn’t be considered forward if you did it. We so rarely get unexpected visitors, I’m consumed with curiosity.”
Mrs. Annesley rose to her feet, a small smile lifting the corner of her lips. “I was wondering how long you would be able to endure it. You did very well. I do believe you’re beginning to overcome your impulsive character. Your brother will be pleased.”
If it was her brother. She wished Mrs. Annesley would move more quickly to the window, then chided herself for being impatient. Impatience was akin to impulsiveness, and she was determined to purge herself of both qualities.
Please let it be her brother. She had not seen him since he had left Town to visit Lady Catherine over Easter, which was three months ago.
She took a deep breath and waited. How could it take so long to walk across the small saloon to the window? Really, was Mrs. Annesley trying to torment her?
Finally, the footsteps stopped and Mrs. Annesley twitched back the curtain to look out.
“It’s your brother,” she said, turning to Georgiana, a twinkle in her eye.
Georgiana jumped up and hurried downstairs, too excited to even pretend to be patient.
For a man to conquer himself is the first and noblest of victories.
It was one of the few mottoes from Aristotle (or was it Plato?) that Darcy still remembered from the torment of his Ancient Greek classes, and he had repeated it over and over again in the last few weeks. He would never have thought that learning Greek could possibly have any practical usage, but here he was today, clinging to that phrase like a drowning sailor clings to a rope tossed from his ship.
Conquering himself was his only hope of overcoming the madness that had beset him when he had allowed his passion to dominate his thoughts. Still now, after almost three months of thinking about it, he could hardly believe he had been foolish enough to propose to Miss Elizabeth Bennet. It had been a moment of insanity. Much as he had suffered for it after her refusal, he knew now that she, at least, had taken the wise course by turning him down. Heavens be thanked!
He just wished it didn’t hurt so much.
The thundering of the horses’ hooves echoed the thundering of Fitzwilliam Darcy’s heart, the discomfort of the rattling carriage providing distraction from the turmoil inside him. He had urged the coachman to pick up speed on this last stretch towards Pemberley. The coachman, the young son of Ebenezer Saddler who had recently retired, had brightened up at the challenge and taken him at his word. Darcy found it in himself to pity the horses, who would soon reach an exhaustion matching his own, but he needed to reach his home, to bury himself there, as he had done in the days following his father’s death. Pemberley, he was sure, would soothe his pain and bring him peace.
A red grouse rose up in protest as the carriage passed it, flying up towards the window with startled mutterings and breaking into Darcy’s thoughts. The thick scent of heather filled the carriage, alerting him to the fact that he was reaching the open moor that preceded Pemberley. There was nothing to see here beyond the pale plump forms of grazing sheep that went on for several miles. He waited impatiently for the moor to give way to pink sainfoin and grass fields ready for the harvest.
His chest tightened at the familiar sight. He was home at last. Only, it was not really home, not when there was no one waiting for him. Georgiana was there now, true, but she spent very little time overall in Derbyshire, and in any case she wasn’t expecting him.
Pemberley was a large hollow house full of people who were paid to serve him.
The pace of the carriage slowed. Field hands stopped working when they recognized the Darcy crest on his carriage and lifted their hats or bobbed to him. His father had always taught him to greet the workers properly, so he pulled down the window as far as it would go and moved his hand in greeting as he passed.
The carriage speed picked up again once they had entered Pemberley Woods. The roads were kept in excellent repair here and young Ebenezer gave the team free rein.
They were almost there. They rounded the corner, taking it so dangerously fast that the carriage tilted sideways at an alarming angle. For a moment, Darcy thought they would topple. A fierce gladness gripped him. At least losing consciousness would mean losing the obsessive image of Miss Elizabeth Bennet that haunted his mind.
But the carriage did not topple. It continued on its way, barely checking its speed, and Darcy had to admire the skill of young Ebenezer. He was relieved that they had not toppled after all. What was he thinking? Being injured and immobile would only make matters worse, leaving him with nothing else to occupy his mind. And being dead – he hoped he had not sunk so low yet to wish for that.
No, he had to reach home and he had to keep himself so constantly occupied that he would not have a minute to think. Or at least, to be able to focus on the one thing that gave him a sense of purpose, the one thing he knew with absolute certainty would banish Elizabeth Bennet from his mind forever.
What do you think? Should I keep Georgiana’s perspective at the beginning, or would it be better to start with Darcy and then interrupt his thoughts to show Georgiana in Pemberley? Is the carriage moment going to far? And last but not least, does the way he perceives Pemberley make sense. I’d also love to hear any other ideas about how to make the beginning stronger 🙂