Launch Party for THE COMPANION OF HIS FUTURE LIFE
by Jack Caldwell
It is with a great deal of pride and satisfaction that I announce the official release of my fourth novel, The Companion of His Future Life, my second release through our own imprint, White Soup Press. .
My thanks for this must go to my wonderful team of editors, my own Beta Babes: Amy Robinson and Sarah Hunt for the original on-line version, and Debbie Styne and Ellen Pickles for the published version. Beta Babe #1, my lovely wife, Barbara, oversaw the entire editing process. Ellen Pickles also designed the fantastic cover.
Like Mr. Darcy Came to Dinner, this story had been posted online previously. Have I changed anything? Not really, except I tightened up the dialogue and plot.
The title comes from Mr. Collins’ pompous proposal to Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, as illustrated below. I explore one of the great mysteries of Jane Austen’s masterpiece: What if Mr. Collins had married Mary Bennet instead of Charlotte Lucas? Would that have changed anything in the events of the novel?
Oh, yeah. One of the major changes is that both Elizabeth and Jane visit the Collinses in Hunsford over Easter. Of course, Mr. Darcy will be there, as stiff and sincere as ever, as well as that loud-mouthed-plot-device you know and love, Colonel Fitzwilliam. There are more surprises in store and I won’t ruin them for you. Let’s just say you’ve never met an Anne de Bourgh like this one.
Before reading the excerpt below, allow me to get up on my soapbox for a moment. The otherwise excellent performance by David Bamber in Andrew Davies’ 1995 adaptation of Pride & Prejudice notwithstanding, Mr. Collins is not a short, sniveling, oily cretin. As Austen herself described him:
He was a tall, heavy-looking young man of five and twenty. His air was grave and stately, and his manners were very formal. Mr. Collins was not a sensible man, and this deficiency of nature had been but little assisted by education or society. (…). The subjection under which his father had brought him up had given him great humility of manner at first, but it was now a good deal counteracted by the self-conceit of a weak head and the consequential feelings of early and unexpected prosperity. A fortunate chance had recommended him to Lady Catherine de Bourgh when the living of Hunsford became vacant, and the respect he felt for her high rank and his veneration for her as his patroness, mingling with a very good opinion of himself, made him altogether a mixture of pride and obsequiousness, self-importance and humility.
In other words, a tall, portly windbag. I refer you to Malcolm Rennie’s portrayal in the 1980 BBC version of P&P.
By the way, how about that cover? The painting is In Love (year unknown) by Marcus Stone (1840-1921). I think Ellen did a great job with it.
On with the excerpt. Below is from Chapter 1 – The Proposal:
Now, after his marvelous success at the ball at Netherfield where he had made the acquaintance of the nephew of his most esteemed patroness, Mr. Collins steeled himself to make his declaration. There was no time to waste, for his leave from Rosings Park extended only to the following Saturday. As was his wont, he began to practice his suit.
“My dear Cousin Elizabeth…” Is that too flowery? No. “My dear Cousin Elizabeth, almost as soon as I entered the house, I singled you out as the… companion of my future life.” Yes, yes, that is well. “But before I am… I am”—hmm—“run away with by my feelings”—Yes!—“on this subject, perhaps it will be advisable for me to state my reasons for marrying—and moreover, for coming into Hertfordshire with the design of selecting a wife, as I certainly did.” Yes, I should make clear to her my reasons for marrying as well as how my choice must most agreeably settle the concerns of the Bennet family.
Mr. Collins had no misgivings on the prospect of matrimony—not for himself. He prided himself on the quality of his abode in Hunsford, so improved by the attentions of his most exalted patroness. Surely, no lady could be other than overjoyed at the prospect of such a household! However, Lady Catherine had advised him to choose properly.
Choose a gentlewoman for her sake, she had said, and for his own. “Let her be an active, useful sort of person, not brought up high, but able to make a small income go a good way.”
Mr. Collins was not impressed with the manner in which Mrs. Bennet kept house, though it was a pleasant surprise that they did have servants.
Elizabeth Bennet was a lovely woman with sparkling eyes, an agreeable smile, and quite the lush form. Stop it! Beauty is only skin deep, and I should not be tempted by the ways of the flesh! But her mode of expressing herself was worrisome. Her wit and vivacity would be acceptable to Lady Catherine, he thought, when tempered with the silence and respect her rank would inevitably excite. Yes, Cousin Elizabeth must know that rank is important!
His musings were interrupted by a movement in the small bit of wilderness near the house.
Mary Frances Bennet was walking from the bit of wood near Longbourn, reading her copy of Fordyce’s Sermons to Young Women. She was attempting to divert herself from the apparent romantic successes of her two eldest sisters. Mary was no expert in the ways of the heart, but no one with two eyes could mistake the admiration Mr. Bingley held for Jane, and it was becoming a certainty that Mr. Collins would settle on Elizabeth.
It would be an understatement to say that Mary Bennet had conflicted feelings. Her life-long study of matters spiritual had only partly offset that she was Fanny Bennet’s middle daughter. She longed for the attentions of a man—a good, righteous man, of course—as much as any of her sisters did. But who could compete with the beauty of Jane or the wit of Elizabeth? Mary might as well as have been wallpaper, so she lost herself in music and reading, waiting for the day God would reward His servant.
Today was that day, but God works in mysterious ways.
So engrossed was she in her book that Mary never saw the tree root, but her foot did not miss it. The only fortunate result of her subsequent fall into a mud puddle was that her book remained undamaged. Carefully rising from the muck, Mary quickly made her way to the rear of the house, where Mrs. Hill was taking in the laundry.
“Oh, Miss Mary!” the good woman cried. “Look at your dress! You poor dear! And breakfast is just served!”
Mary hated being late for breakfast, as her mother was quietest early in the day. “Oh, Hill, I must quickly go change my—”
The housekeeper stopped her with a smile. “Oh, Miss, that is not necessary. Do I not have a nice clean gown for you here? Come, no one is about. Out of your things.”
Mary was scandalized. “Hill! Outside? Do I dare?”
Mrs. Hill shook her head. “Enough of that! Let me help you.”
Mr. Collins pulled himself back behind the tree, his hands over his eyes. Surely, he would burn in hell for spying on his cousin! He silently berated himself as he waited for the ladies to return to the house. Minutes later, he peeked around the tree to find he was quite alone. A very abashed clergyman made his way into the house. Try as he might, however, he could not clear the image from his mind: his comely Cousin Mary, standing in her shift and waiting for the housekeeper to exchange her dress.
The Bennet family members were their usual, unruly selves during breakfast. Mrs. Bennet expounded at length on Jane’s fitness to be mistress of Netherfield Park. Her eldest lowered her head in embarrassment, and Elizabeth was clearly mortified for her. The two youngest, Kitty and Lydia, were giggling at their latest plans for meeting militia officers. Only Mary seemed to notice that Mr. Collins was out of sorts.
As the toast was passed to Collins, his eyes caught those of his young cousin. Turning red with remembrance—who knew what a fine, full figure she hid under those dresses of hers!—Collins contemplated his intentions. He glanced at Elizabeth.
Yes, she is lovely—almost as beautiful as the eldest—but will she make Lady Catherine happy? He had wished, in his brief time at Longbourn, that Elizabeth had shown the piety exhibited by her younger sister. Collins was a man and, of course, preferred a pretty face to a plain one.
But his misadventure that morning had given him pause. He had to admit that Miss Mary was agreeable—yes, very agreeable indeed. It would not do to declare himself to Miss Elizabeth until he knew Miss Mary better, he decided.
As breakfast ended, Collins turned to the young lady. “Miss Mary, might I enquire whether you would be agreeable to a discussion of some of the views of Mr. Fordyce?”
Mary blinked in confusion, surprised that he was addressing her. “That… that would be delightful, Mr. Collins.”
The next day, Mr. William Collins successfully proposed to Miss Mary Frances Bennet. Thus, our story begins.
The Companion of His Future Life, a hilarious re-imagining of Pride and Prejudice, is now available in print from Amazon, B&N, and other on-line booksellers. An eBook version is available from Kindle, as well.
But what’s a launch party without party prizes? I’m in a generous mood. So TWO (2) lucky commenters of this post will win an autographed print copy of The Companion of His Future Life.
BUT—there’s always a but—you must name your favorite Mr. Collins, and defend your choice, in your comment.
I didn’t say it was gonna be easy.
It takes a real man to write historical fiction, so let me tell you a story.