Monday, June 30, 2008

A Redcoat Dressed as a Young Lady-Whatever Next?!!!

One of the aspects of writing a Pride and Prejudice sequel that I enjoyed immensely was taking a small incident and making it my own in Lydia Bennet's Story. Jane Austen mentions the following event in a few sentences, almost as an aside. I thought it would be fun to imagine just what happened when Lydia dressed up one of the officers to pass him off as a lady. Here Jane Austen has Lydia telling her sisters about it in Pride and Prejudice.

"Dear me! we had such a good piece of fun the other day at Colonel Forster’s. Kitty and me were to spend the day there, and Mrs. Forster promised to have a little dance in the evening (by the bye, Mrs. Forster and me are such friends!); and so she asked the two Harringtons to come, but Harriet was ill, and so Pen was forced to come by herself; and then, what do you think we did? We dressed up Chamberlayne in woman’s clothes on purpose to pass for a lady — only think what fun! Not a soul knew of it, but Colonel and Mrs. Forster, and Kitty and me, except my aunt, for we were forced to borrow one of her gowns; and you cannot imagine how well he looked! When Denny, and Wickham, and Pratt, and two or three more of the men came in, they did not know him in the least. Lord! how I laughed! and so did Mrs. Forster. I thought I should have died. And that made the men suspect something, and then they soon found out what was the matter."

The following extract is from Lydia Bennet's Story. The officer Chamberlayne is dressed as a girl by Lydia and her friends with the help of a gown and a wig borrowed from Lydia's Aunt Phillips. Lydia's friends and Colonel Forster are in on the joke-only the other officers haven't a clue as to the young lady's identity.

Penelope’s description of Edward’s dress and toilette diverted them so excessively, that when one of the officers, Mr Chamberlayne, called half an hour later, he was not only kidnapped for the rest of the day but forced into allowing them to dress him likewise. Kitty ran to her Aunt Phillips’s house just around the corner to procure a gown and a wig, whilst the rest of them prepared to get him ready.
Lydia and Harriet trapped young Chamberlayne in Harriet’s dressing room as soon as he could be persuaded to accompany them upstairs.
“We promise we won’t come in until you are ready to have your corset laced,” Lydia called through the door, to the amusement of the other girls who hovered outside, “but do not take too long. We would not wish to take you by surprise. In any case, there is no need to be so shy, Mr Chamberlayne. Harriet has seen it all before. Just say the word if you need any help; we’re awfully good at undoing buttons, you know!”
Harriet, Penelope, and Isabella did all they could to smother their giggles. Lydia was in her element. “I’ll lace his corset so long as you all help to pull,” she commanded as the door opened to admit them. Penelope and Isabella stood on the threshold with their mouths gaping wide open, unsure whether they should join in. “Don’t just stand there, Pen, give me a hand,” Lydia cried, as the young officer was set upon before he knew what was happening. “Isabella, help me pull harder. Quick, before he changes his mind! It will all be over in a minute, Mr Chamberlayne; stand still, I beg you.”
By the time they had done with him, they were all feeling rather jealous of his pretty looks and even he admitted he was a beauty. He was laced and frocked in a muslin gown with a scarlet cloak and a bonnet topped with feathers and flowers. He had eyelashes that any young miss would be proud to possess and they all agreed (even he) that a little rouge and powder went a very long way to improve the complexion! Colonel Forster came in just ten minutes later, after being disturbed by all the noise, and was almost fooled until Lydia could not resist telling him the truth.
A while later some of the other officers arrived, all looking quite as splendid in their regimentals as ever. Lydia thought Mr Wickham looked particularly dashing this morning, his brown curls waving over his head to fall on his stiff, braided collar. His eyes met hers as he entered the room. So brazen was his expression that she caught her breath and felt obliged to turn immediately to Kitty as if she had remembered something of great importance.
“Have you heard any interesting or diverting snippets of gossip lately, Mr Wickham?” quipped Mr Denny as he walked through the door.
“Why, now you come to mention it, dear fellow,” Wickham replied, taking up his stance for all to see him, “I did hear two handsome young ladies in earnest conversation on my way here.”
“How splendid! Pray, Wickham, were these delightful creatures known to you?”
“Why yes, two of the fairest girls in Meryton struck up a most enchanting discourse.” Mr Wickham laughed at his own comic efforts and pitching his voice several octaves higher, with his lips pursed, he played his joke, impersonating Kitty and Lydia by turns.
“Kitty, that fellow over there is vexing me greatly,” he smirked and simpered, looking straight into Lydia’s eyes, with a pat of his curls, before he leapt around on the other side to take up Kitty’s corner. “How can that be, Lydia, when he is not even looking at you?” he trilled next, with one hand on his hip. He paused, as they all started to shout, before delivering his final assault. “That, my dear Kitty, is precisely what’s vexing me!”
The entire company could not, or would not, scold him they were laughing so much. Lydia thought him shameless and had soon told him so, as she did her best to disguise her embarrassment. She felt him watching her, but when she dared to look again, she was disappointed to see that she no longer held his attention. Suddenly, every eye was turned upon the young lady whom the officers had not seen before. Lydia was highly amused to see every soldier smooth his hair and adjust his cuffs, before vying for a position where they could admire her more closely.
Colonel Forster performed the introductions so seriously that it was near impossible for Lydia and the others to keep their countenances. “I am particularly pleased to be able to present our own dear Chamberlayne’s sister, "Miss Lucy", who has come to enjoy Meryton’s society for a few days.”
“Lucy” bobbed a curtsey and fluttered her eyelashes, paying particular attention to Denny, and said, “I have heard so much about you all and much of you, Mr Denny, sir, but indeed no one prepared me for such handsome soldiers nor for such gallantry. I declare I love a redcoat more than I ever knew.”
“She is rather shy,” whispered the Colonel in Denny’s ear, “but I am sure you will put Chamberlayne’s little sister at her ease. Unfortunately, the man himself has had to pop out to see the saddler on business in the town, leaving her to our tender charge. I do not think he will be long, but she has been fretting for him ever since he left.”
Of course “Lucy” was not upset or in the least bit reserved and immediately took to flirting and teasing and making such a play for Mr Denny that his complexion took on the same hue as his scarlet coat. They were all excessively amused to observe how he became increasingly attentive as the morning wore on. How they did not immediately laugh out loud Lydia was unable to account.
“Do tell me all about yourself, Mr Denny,” begged “Lucy,” seating herself next to him in very close proximity on the sofa. “I have heard there is not another soldier so brave as you.”
“I am sure we are all as courageous as one another here, Miss Lucy,” Denny answered, twisting his hat nervously. “May I say what a pleasure it is to be introduced? It is always felicitous to meet with such handsome relations of one’s fellow officers, and indeed, the word handsome does you no credit. I had no idea Chamberlayne had such a beautiful sister. Where has he been hiding you?”
“It is too true, kind sir,” answered “Miss Lucy,” “I have, until recently, been much hidden away at home, but now I have come to Meryton I hope I shall be able to enjoy every society…and your company would be truly beneficial to me I believe, Mr Denny.”
“Do you care to dance?” Denny simpered. “It would be my pleasure to partner you at our party this evening if you would be so kind as to consider a humble soldier’s wishes.”
“Mr Denny!” “Lucy” cried, jumping up excitedly. “I could not wish for anything better; you may engage me for all of my dances,” she declared, forcing all observers to snigger behind hands and into handkerchiefs. They were in stitches holding onto their sides with mirth. Mr Chamberlayne was so convincing, such a talented mimic whose voice was pitched just like a young girl’s.
Mr Wickham, who had not been enjoying the fact that his efforts to attract “Miss Lucy” had been impeded, took over Denny’s part, and it was only when he remarked on the likeness between “Lucy” and her brother that Harriet and Lydia could bear it no longer. They laughed till they thought they should each suffer a seizure, which of course, made the men very suspicious.
“Lucy” broke down and declared that he could not endure such a falsetto modulation any longer but begged he might be allowed to keep the dress on for dancing later, to which there was a vast deal of laughter and jeers of derision.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Calendar for Pride and Prejudice

It is thought that Jane Austen first started writing a version of Pride and Prejudice as early as 1796. After her father's unsuccessful attempt to have it published the following year she put it aside, revising it later and eventually having the joy of seeing it published in 1813. Many people have tried to work out a calendar for the book. The only initial clue to the years in which Jane set her novel comes from a letter from Mr Gardiner:

"Gracechurch Street, Monday,
August 2.

"MY DEAR BROTHER, - At last I am able to send you some tidings of my niece, and such as, upon the whole, I hope will give you satisfaction. Soon after you left me on Saturday, I was fortunate enough to find out in what part of London they were. The particulars I reserve till we meet: it is enough to know they are discovered. I have seen them both - ".......

If Jane Austen had a calendar in mind then there are several possibilities but my own research, along with other factors, led me to decide 1801/1802 would fit my purposes. I think even if Jane used a later calendar for the main action of the book, I am certain she was thinking of an earlier time when she first wrote her plot. Lydia Bennet goes to Brighton with her friend Harriet Forster and her husband who is Colonel of the regiment. Lydia is thrilled at the thought of all the soldiers in the Brighton encampments. My research discovered that the encampments took place at this time between the years of the first one in 1793 until 1803 when they stopped for a while before resuming again in 1860.

Following the declaration of war against the French in 1793, temporary encampments were set up along the south coast, occupied by regular soldiers and militia volunteers. Prince George, the Prince of Wales, amused himself by playing at being a soldier but the encampments at Brighton were seen by him and his officers as part of the social season. We know that Jane Austen disliked the Prince. She must have read about his extravagant and frivolous lifestyle and knew about his amorous affairs which were more than hinted at in the press.


I based Lydia Bennet's Story on the 1801/1802 calendar because Brighton was in its heyday at this point. Although Lydia is not invited to the Pavilion she becomes a familiar figure to the royal dragoons and is presented to the Prince himself. I wanted to show some of the splendour and gaudiness of the resort and to give a flavour of what it would have been like to visit a fashionable spa with a royal presence. Maria Fitzherbert was openly acknowledged as the Prince's consort and they both attended all the social events from balls to the races up on the Downs. One of the incidents I write about is based on a true account. The military enjoyed sham battles and at one such review the battle got out of hand as a result of using powerful blanks in the field artillery. The audience and armies became embroiled as horses reared and bolted. In Lydia Bennet's Story Mr Wickham thrills all the ladies with his horsemanship and other skills at such a review.

I am certain this is the era that Jane Austen had in mind when she wrote Pride and Prejudice even if she did update it later on.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Lydia Bennet from Pride and Prejudice

In Lydia's imagination, a visit to Brighton comprised every possibility of earthly happiness. She saw, with the creative eye of fancy, the streets of that gay bathing place covered with officers. She saw herself the object of attention to tens and to scores of them at present unknown. She saw all the glories of the camp - its tents stretched forth in beauteous uniformity of lines, crowded with the young and the gay, and dazzling with scarlet; and, to complete the view, she saw herself seated beneath a tent, tenderly flirting with at least six officers at once. From Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.
The reality of life for the officers was most certainly quite different to that of Lydia's imagination. Like Wickham, many of the officers lived well beyond their means and were in debt. The entertainments were very tempting, including gentleman's clubs where fortunes could be lost at the gambling tables. Ragget's was typical of this type of establishment and in Lydia Bennet's Story George Wickham is a frequent visitor. The officers seldom rose before midday and then spent their time drinking, dining, attending the theatre, races and balls. Their horses were of great interest to them in the same way that cars are fascinating today. There were numerous opportunities to strike up liasons with the local girls-I can quite see why Jane Austen sent her most wayward character off to Brighton! What were Mr and Mrs Bennet thinking? I think the answer is that they weren't thinking at all-dreadful parents, the pair of them! Lizzy Bennet tried to warn her father but he did not really pay any attention. Even taking into account her knowledge of Wickham's character, Elizabeth is clearly wiser than both of her parents, don't you think?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Happy Father's Day and a review for Lydia Bennet's Story from Jane Austen in Vermont

Happy Father's Day! It's a beautiful day here in the UK for Father's Day and I hope all fathers everywhere have a lovely day. Jane Austen's father always encouraged her writing, buying her a writing desk and a special notebook in which to write early compositions. He inscribed one of them with the following words - "Effusions of Fancy by a very Young Lady Consisting of Tales in a Style entirely new". Mr Austen admired Pride and Prejudice when Jane first wrote the novel, offering it to Mr Cadell, a publisher, in November 1797, describing the book as a "manuscript novel comprising three volumes, about the length of Miss Burney's 'Evelina'" and asked if Mr Cadell would like to see the work with a view to arranging its publication, "either at the author's risk or otherwise." The novel was declined by return of post and it was another fifteen years before Jane revised the novel and saw its eventual publication. Can you imagine, if Jane had decided to leave her book in her desk we would never know about Elizabeth Bennet, Mr Darcy, Jane, Bingley, Lydia or Wickham !

A review from Jane Austen in Vermont

LYDIA BENNET’S STORY opens strongly, with a giddy Lydia chatting to her journal (and also to the reader, who peers over her shoulder) about the fatigues of dancing - and the officers who make ‘excellent partner[s]’. One is reminded of Lydia’s ‘birth mother’ and Jane Austen’s enthusiasm for balls and assemblies (with which she imbued her favorite heroines, according to her nephew). This also nicely plays alongside the Catherine Morland scenes set at the Bath Assemblies, should the reader be familiar with Northanger Abbey. After all, doesn’t Henry Tilney state that a young lady rushes home to confide to her diary everything an evening offered - from what she wore to the men she danced with!

Lydia’s journal entries, interspersed within narrative chapters, are convincing, and nicely propel the storyline forward. It is a device Jane Odiwe uses to her advantage; as well, it provides that bow to Northanger Abbey (written about 1803 and maybe one reason for the timeline move?).

Odiwe displays her strongest writing skills in sections that oh-so-subtly convey a character’s manners or foibles. A delightful for instance, Lydia’s asides concerning her mother. Here Lydia has burned an unwanted gift (a lock of hair enclosed in a sheet of poetry) from a potential lover and she comments, ‘Unfortunately I had not taken into consideration the stench a lock of hair like that can make… It caught the attention of my mother who is generally not so observant but she has a suspicious nature’ (8). When Lydia and her friend Harriet discuss Lydia’s desire to marry before all her sisters and hopefully before she leaves Brighton, Lydia replies, ‘“I would love to tell mama [about a conquest], but you know as well as I, that any hint of a romance will have her down here before I have written the letter.”’ (65) Once married, Lydia mirrors her marriage to the one husband-wife relationship she knows intimately; ‘I have inherited my mother’s ability to disregard a husband’s complaints, for which, I am very grateful!’ (168). Mama Bennet is really only seen through Lydia’s eyes; and this manner of characterization is Odiwe’s asset, especially when dealing with the better known populace of Pride and Prejudice.

Compare these little moments with the presentation of Miss Armstrong (165), whose character is fed to the reader on a plate. ‘Lydia did not like Evelina Armstrong at all. She was … always ready to be vindictive, or spread some malicious falsehood. She enjoyed sniffing out any hint of gossip, and was forever telling tales about errant husbands…’ Expedient shorthand for later deeds, but Miss Armstrong’s personality would pop if her nature were shown from the start; actions speak louder than words.

For Lydia herself, the diary device allows her to reveal her more-secreted traits. ‘What I would really like is a house on the higher slopes of town [Lydia and Wickham have moved to Newcastle, following Darcy’s intervention] where the wealthy are settling, not timbered lodgings in the old part of town.’ (167) Kindred sister Kitty is treated (in a double-entendre?) when a vexed Lydia bemoans that her bonnet was crushed by Kitty sitting upon it: ‘She clearly has no feeling in her nether parts, for the abundantly large cherries adorning it would have alerted a more sensible person…’ (27)

And how rich that Austen’s flighty Lydia becomes Odiwe’s ‘fish out of water’ in the very first sentence of the first narrative chapter (13): ‘The true misfortune, which besets any young lady who believes herself destined for fortune and favour, is to find that she has been born into an unsuitable family.’ A stronger opening has seldom been set down on paper. Lydia’s self-contention of being a child snatched from noble parents at birth nicely sets up the story to come, positioning the reader firmly on Lydia’s side.

At the Brighton dance (52), Lydia comes across as quite the opposite of Catherine Morland, and even possesses a bit of the flash of sister Lizzy Bennet. And a taste of the gothic creeps into the narrative when, as couples walk through wooded grounds, the ladies tease each other about footpads not all being ‘murderers and some are quite handsome.’ (85) The grotto they then come to proves a turning point for Wickham - who is handed marching orders by his own love-of-the-moment.

This is one character I wish had been developed differently. Wickham is never really presented as someone the reader could sympathize with. Unlike Austen’s Wickham, who for a time enjoys the good opinion of Elizabeth Bennet, Odiwe’s George Wickham rarely shows a romantic or ‘heartrending’ side (his laments for the living that went ungifted tugged at Lizzy‘s heartstrings, remember). He is pretty constantly seen as the grasping ne’er-do-well he turns out to be after Darcy’s reveal. If he can’t have this girl; any girl will do. Once he marries Lydia, she seems the only one on their honeymoon; Wickham is already out chasing new conquests. Given such a beginning, readers already surmise the couple will not end up together, but a blissful period of some sort (in courtship or the early weeks of their living together) would have rounded out his character.

Odiwe paints in the Bingleys and Darcys very lightly; no bad thing given the reverence they generate in Austen fans. And this is a bonus Odiwe hands herself: her story can well stand on its own, though she utilizes the action and characters from Pride and Prejudice as needed, usually with a few deft references to goings-on in that other novel. Odiwe’s own inventiveness comes up with a worthy hero in the form of the Rev. Alexander Fitzalan, brother of Lydia’s friend Isabella. Readers realize straightaway that he and Lydia are the lovers at the center of Lydia’s story; but Odiwe sets up the denouement in a most surprising manner. So while the end result is never in question, the ride there is unexpectedly satisfying.

LYDIA BENNET’S STORY: A SEQUEL TO JANE AUSTEN’S PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (to give its full title), will have its readers staying up late in order to finish fairly quickly. It may seem like a Chinese meal - enjoyed while devouring it, yet later you’re hungry again - but you part with pleasant memories of the novel’s inhabitants. And it does leave you wanting some more.

I would like to send lots of love to my own father who I know reads my blog - he gave me my love of books and has always encouraged my own creative efforts. Happy Father's Day!
This painting shows Jane Austen with her father. I think the affection she held for him comes across very strongly in her letters and I hope I've shown this in my watercolour of them.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

My Writing Life

I'm very excited at the moment because my second novel, another Jane Austen sequel is almost finished. I think I've got about another week's work to do on it and it will be completed. I normally work quite slowly, spending a lot of time thinking as much as writing, but when I get to this stage I am like a person possessed. I don't want to leave my computer and I can't type quickly enough to get everything down. I also don't blog as much, you might have noticed. All the threads of the plot are coming together, all problems are starting to be resolved, with the exception of one or two plot twists. I'm sure every writer must feel like this - I can't wait to get to the end but at the same time I do not want to leave the characters I have come to love behind!
I shall put it away when it is finished for a week or two before editing it and worrying over it. Will anyone enjoy reading my book?Will people think I have been faithful to the characters - the agony goes on!
I'll be writing a little more about its subject matter soon.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Jane Austen at the seaside

Summer is almost upon us though perhaps you wouldn't know it by the rainy weather at present! Regency seaside resorts became very popular in the late 1700's/ early 1800's. Jane Austen loved Lyme Regis and even used the town in her book Persuasion. Here are a couple of extracts from a letter she sent to her sister Cassandra on Friday, September 14th 1804. ...I continue quite well; in proof of which I have bathed again this morning. It was absolutely necessary that I should have the little fever and indisposition which I had: it has been all the fashion this week in Lyme...The ball last night was pleasant, but not full for Thursday. My father staid contentedly till half-past nine (we went a little after eight), and then walked home with James and a lanthorn, though I believe the lanthorn was not lit, as the moon was up, but sometimes this lanthorn may be a great convenience to him. My mother and I staid about an hour later. Nobody asked me the two first dances; the next two I danced with Mr. Crawford, and had I chosen to stay longer might have danced with Mr. Granville, Mrs. Granville's son, whom my dear friend Miss A. offered to introduce to me, or with a new odd-looking man who had been eyeing me for some time, and at last, without any introduction, asked me if I meant to dance again. I think he must be Irish by his ease, and because I imagine him to belong to the honbl. B.'s, who are the son, and son's wife of an Irish viscount, bold queer-looking people, just fit to be quality at Lyme. I think the following description from Persuasion sums up Jane's own feelings about the place. She rarely used description of this sort to such an extent. Anne Elliot travels to Lyme with her sister Mary and husband Charles, his sisters, Henrietta and Louisa, and the hero of the book Captain Wentworth.

After securing accommodations, and ordering a dinner at one of the inns, the next thing to be done was unquestionably to walk directly down to the sea. They were come too late in the year for any amusement or variety which Lyme as a public place, might offer. The rooms were shut up, the lodgers almost all gone, scarcely any family but of the residents left; and as there is nothing to admire in the buildings themselves, the remarkable situation of the town, the principal street almost hurrying into the water, the walk to the Cobb, skirting round the pleasant little bay, which in the season is animated with bathing-machines and company; the Cobb itself, its old wonders and new improvements, with the very beautiful line of cliffs stretching out to the east of the town, are what the stranger's eye will seek; and a very strange stranger it must be, who does not see charms in the immediate environs of Lyme, to make him wish to know it better. The scenes in its neighbourhood, Charmouth, with its high grounds and extensive sweeps of country, and still more its sweet, retired bay, backed by dark cliffs, where fragments of low rock among the sands make it the happiest spot for watching the flow of the tide, for sitting in unwearied contemplation; the woody varieties of the cheerful village of Up Lyme; and, above all, Pinny, with its green chasms between romantic rocks, where the scattered forest-trees and orchards of luxuriant growth declare that many a generation must have passed away since the first partial falling of the cliff prepared the ground for such a state, where a scene so wonderful and so lovely is exhibited, as may more than equal any of the resembling scenes of the far-famed Isle of Wight: these places must be visited, and visited again to make the worth of Lyme understood.

If you go to Lyme you will be pleased to see that it has not changed much since Jane Austen's day. Many of the buildings have survived from that time and the little town has a Regency air.