Friday, September 27, 2013

Meet David Westover: A 19th Century Geek

The hero of Holidays at Pemberley, or Third Encounters: A Tale of Less Pride and Prejudice Concludes is partially inspired by my husband. I'm not sure he knew that before.

I have forever been calling John my Mr. Darcy, a moniker made easy by a vague resemblance to Colin Firth, but it is not Mr. Darcy to whom others usually compare him. From the entire spectrum of actors, my darling usually gets compared to Johnny Galecki, better known as Leonard from The Big Band Theory. Dear me. This has followed him through life, for as a child he was called David, when Mr. Galecki played the character of that name on Rosanne. Sigh. I think this bothers me more that it does him. As he said recently replied to my irritation on the subject: "Geeks don't watch The Big Bang Theory. Geeks watch My Little Pony."

To what does this pertain? Mr. David (David, you say? Complete coincidence, I think) Westover, Rector of Kympton and of independent fortune, is a rather geeky hero. Rather than hunt and fence, he is of a scientific bent. Many gentlemen in the 18th and 19th century were enthusiastically engaged in naturalistic pursuits, of all varieties (Benjamin Franklin and Darwin jump to mind), and Mr. Westover is cast in a similar mold.

We first meet Mr. Westover as an adult when he had just the decision to accept the living at Kympton (it also happens to be the first scene with an adult Mrs. Hendley, nee Westover, whom I introduced to you here. Both appear as children in the book's prologue). Here is it for your enjoyment:
An unmarried woman approaching the dreaded age of thirty always requires explanation. If she is most fortunate, a tidy fortune readily provides excuse, or perhaps her betrothed died tragically. Society smiles upon a pledge of maidenly widowhood, and such a lady must always be a subject of interest. The squandering of youth in caring for either a sickly parent or string of orphaned siblings is also tolerable, but be she so truly unfortunate as to simply fail to ever turn anyone’s head, or at least not far enough to result in a proposal of marriage, then she is only one amongst a multitude of homely old-maids, dependent and subject to ridicule. Such a fate must be avoided at all costs.  
Of course a gentleman, though still unmarried at such an age of decrepitude as thirty-nine, requires not the slightest excuse for his state. All he need fear are the attempts of every concerned friend to thrust ladies across his path. How fortunate for David Westover that he was completely oblivious to all such attempts! Upon first entering the neighborhood of Kympton, there had been some scurry amongst its residents to pair him off with one superfluous sister or another, for not only was he in possession of the living at Kympton and that associated with his family’s seat, but perhaps his greatest attraction was a healthy second son’s portion, undiminished though entirely in his own hands since the trying age of eighteen. Such a man was surely the proper property of one or another of the ladies in the parish, a conclusion bolstered by his easy manners and ready flattery, but Mr. Westover proved stubbornly blind to all but the most direct assaults, to which he showed such a degree of embarrassment that few would dare venture similarly. Eventually even the most determined matchmakers gave him up as entirely hopeless, and his bachelorhood appeared safe. Only Cordelia Hendley, his sister, persisted in pushing David towards matrimony. 
For many years it was she more than any other who had defended his right to remain single, but ever since her surprise accession to the title of wife, and at such an unlikely age as thirty-seven, one of her chief concerns became securing him the female companionship (and caretaking) that he required. When her marriage to her brother’s curate, surprising in itself, further astonished the world by proving fruitful, she realized how selfish it had been to convince him, as over the years she had, how very unsuitable he would be as a husband. How often she chided, “Count your blessings, David, that it is a sister you must contend with, rather than a wife, for the latter could never abide such nonsense!” when he forgot his dinner, taken away from time and space by the studies that consumed his life. There was always some “puzzle needing attention,” as he often phrased it, and just when one was solved, a new one inevitably arose. Though he never neglected parish duties, almost everything else was likely to be forgotten once he set his mind to a pursuit. Now that she was married, there was no one but the housekeeper to take care for him, and though Mrs. Herbert had been under Cordelia’s own immediate direction for so many years, each time she visited the parsonage some unaccountable failure of habit and training was always detectable. She counted her blessings that her own perfectly operated curacy was not half a mile distant, or her brother’s entire establishment would surely be subject to rack and ruin. Which is why, upon first learning of David’s intention to remove from Glendale to Kympton, she voiced her opinion most loudly in opposition to any such scheme.   
“David!” she exclaimed, cornering him in the astronomical observatory which the master of Glendale had built for his younger brother’s use many years ago. “What is this Tom tells me of your leaving Glendale? Have you gone mad? You must do nothing of the sort!”  
“Darcy has need of a rector,” he replied with an indulgent smile, “you have need of a bigger house, and I would like to get a closer look at the minerals being mined in Derbyshire. I think it a most eligible situation.”  
“I beg to disagree! Mr. Darcy can find another rector. Surely there are enough in need of a living. I am already secure a bigger house, and you need not relocate just to study rocks. Your fancy is sure to turn in some other directions soon enough.”  
“You know you cannot live in the big house with Alicia for however many years the improvements Tom plans take to be fully enacted, not with two children of your own. Such extensive work cannot be accomplished quickly, and the longer it is delayed, the more difficult the task becomes.”  
“It would not be such an ordeal if you would only give up this notion of tearing down the entire house and simply add on a few new rooms, as I originally suggested!” she replied in an indignant tone.  
“I cannot change the realities of the situation, my dear, and the foundation must be relaid. Had I allowed you to advance with your plans unhindered, you would not thank me for it, I assure you.”  
“But surely this plethora of pipes need not be installed! I saw your diagrams, and I do not see at all how the structure will be more secure by leaving a maze of holes underneath it.”  
“My dear Cordelia! Not only will the new curacy be the sturdiest house for miles around, but it will also be the envy of everyone you know. Plumbing is sure to change the way we live, and you will be amongst the first to fully indulge in this tremendous luxury. No one shall ever want to inhabit the rectory again, once they witness the marvel that is the curacy.”  
“Then why not simply switch abodes? Robert and I will move into the rectory, and you may live at the big house until this miracle of modern engineering is accomplished.”  
“Though no miracle, the mechanism really is rather miraculous, Cordelia, and you will think yourself the luckiest lady in the land to have it, believe me.” He looked at her skeptically, “Beside, you believe Robert would ever consent to inhabit the rectory? He is much too concerned with the preservation of rank to agree to such a notion.”  
She sighed, “No. He never would, but there must be some other solution! You cannot go off and live alone at Kympton. Who will take care of you?”  
“The parsonage has been run by the same good lady these may years. I told Darcy we would suit each other just fine, but that you were sure to want to meet her first. I just hope Mrs. Smith’s nerves aren’t too shaken by your inspection.”  
“If you would only marry, I‘d need not concern myself in such matters!”  
“Marriage is not necessary, only a willingness in you to believe I can take care of myself!”  
She smirked, “Had you ever shown the least capacity in that area, I’d be very pleased to see it.”  
For the first time since the conversation began, he frowned. “I have never been allowed to attempt it. Far be it for me to be anything but thankful for the remarkable attention my siblings have showered upon me all my life, but as long as I have the security of Glendale – if I am never to be tried solely on my own merits – how will I ever know that I can survive on my own? This is important to me, Delia.”  
Whenever David invoked his childhood name for her, Mrs. Hendley always become sentimental, but typically tears did not uncontrollably well in her eyes, as they did while she confessed, “I will miss you intolerably. Have you considered how I am to make do without you?”  
His smile returned, a bit crookedly, as it always lilted on the left whenever he was particularly touched or amused. “You have your own children to mother now, and I shall be no further than a morning’s drive away. You will all do so well without me, that I am sure to regret ever having left. I’ll have to return home with great frequency in order to guard my place in your affections, lest you forget all about me. Robert’s inability to fulfill my duties will serve ample excuse.”  
“Indeed!” she scolded him and continued to try and dissuade him, but not long after the easy distance between Leicestershire and Derbyshire was confirmed (a single days visit might be made, though it was a long way to journey for nothing but tea – the only activity for which there would be time), David was begrudgingly suffered to go. The Hendleys moved into the parsonage, which had room for their existing children and any additional miracles Cordelia might still have in her, and over the next three years (all motivation for a swift completion being fairly negated), a very proper gentleman’s abode was erected upon the grounds where the old cottage, having housed the curates of Glendale for who knows how many generations, once stood. 
The house was not grand beyond its station, though rather more commodious than is customary in such domiciles, but it was exceedingly well situated and equipped with modern conveniences the likes of which were barely known to the most illustrious in the land. At Mr. David’s instruction, running water was accessible at two different spouts inside the house: one in the kitchen, and another in a fabulous water closet, equipped with a startling device in which one might bathe standing up, as if in a rain storm. David would not take credit for this miraculous contraption, insisting the idea was not his own. He had only improved on it. 
 The kitchen was fully modern, as were all the fireplaces and chimneys. Though she was suspicious of some of David’s notions at first, it was not long after finally taking up residence in the new parsonage that Cordelia become their biggest advocates. “How we ever lived before, I know not,” she confessed to her friends, each of whom considered sourly that they still were forced to endure poor ventilation, drafts, damp, and smoking chimneys, while Mrs. Hendley could only complain of failures in her refrigeration cabinet!      Despite such distractions, Mrs. Hendley found ample opportunity to hound her youngest brother to return to his native parsonage, though several years passed without David making any indication he might do so. It was the greatest irony that when he finally did turn his thoughts in such a direction, it would be Cordelia who persuaded him otherwise.

Want to win a copy of the book? Enter my giveaway: It runs through October 4th. Good luck!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Holidays at Pemberley Published! Celebration Giveaway

Holidays at Pemberley: A Tale of Less Pride and Prejudice Concludes is now available! Buy it now ...

... or try to win a copy by entering the following fun giveaway!
Charlotte smiled from across the room at the man’s obvious devotion to her friend. Such attachment was very charming, undoubtedly, and when it came to an end, as it was most certain to do, they would have abundant good fortune to keep the inevitable aggravations with each other to a minimum.
There have been many fine novels written about Charlotte Lucas, and it was a bit of a struggle to come up with a new way to redeem Elizabeth's pragmatic friend. My Charlotte, having already been saved from a fate as Mrs. Collins in First Impressions: A Tale f Less Pride & Prejudice,  journeys to Pemberley for the first time to attend the Darcys' wedding. I can't help but love this exchange upon her arrival:
“It almost is enough to make one wish to be an old maid. As I dwindle into perpetual maidenhood, Eliza, be sure to remind me of what a great blessing it is not to be married to Mr. Wickham.”  
“Oh, let us not rely on him alone. The man is not worthy such undo consideration. Think on my new brother, Mr. Collins, should you ever need a reminder of Artemis’ blessings.”  
“But how shall I fare when all the gentlemen before me are not Mr. Wickhams or Collinses, but Mr. Darcys and Bingleys? If your fiancé weren’t so impressive, my lot might be made easier.”
Charlotte arrives in Derbyshire determined to find a suitable husband, and it is her refusal to allow romance to cloud that pursuit that gets her into trouble. Here is a glimpse into her thoughts:

That impressive spectacle – the confirmation of all she had heard of Mr. Darcy’s wealth and more – brought forward lingering doubts she had fought against ever since the inevitability of Elizabeth’s fate became clear. Charlotte, ever practical, was quick to celebrate the match. Being well acquainted with her friend’s opinions on marriage without attachment, she rejoiced to see Elizabeth find someone who not only suited her ideals, but who also had the means to marry for affection. She was honored when Elizabeth chose to include her in this most important of life’s great rituals, and would happily have born Mrs. Bennet’s exclusive company for four days more, had the distance required it, in order to stand with her closest friend as she took her vows. Nevertheless, Charlotte could quietly acknowledge that her joy was not unalloyed. There were nagging sensations tempering her delight. She would miss Elizabeth’s presence in the neighborhood, certainly, but though the vacuous void left in Charlotte’s life, as she trod ever further down that seemingly inevitable path towards spinsterhood, was sure to be rather horrendous, this was not what most bothered her. Missing a friend was a torment, but the feelings thus invoked where at least honorable. 
Charlotte was bothered by other emotions, of a nature to cause her shame. The vista as she gazed down upon Pemberley’s grandeur that day had forced the most pressing of these to the forefront of her consciousness. From the first, Charlotte struggled with an irrepressible desire to find something in Mr. Darcy that she could despise, his perfections being far too much for a lady like herself to bear. Too long had she schooled herself against unreasonable expectations, debating with Elizabeth the wisdom of seeking affection in marriage at all, and to see such a fairytale unfold before her very eyes undermined some of her most cherished beliefs. Were Mr. Darcy ill-looking, bad tempered, or overly proud, Charlotte could be more equanimous, but to be confronted by a real-life Prince Charming was intolerable. Such beings did not exist, or at least not for a lady of little fortune, average face, and on the wrong side of five and twenty. Something, anything, must be discovered wanting in Mr. Darcy.  
The task was not an easy one, but slowly her doubts began to center upon the disparity between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s circumstances.  Their very different backgrounds would certainly compound the inevitable challenges of such a marriage. Why a seemingly sensible man would connect himself without more advantage she could not fully comprehend, nor could she understand the good fortune that led his relations to bless the engagement, for they could not be blinded by Elizabeth’s ready wit and pretty countenance to the absurdities of the connection. Charlotte found such blatant disregard for his own interest suspect, a conclusion that set her mind at ease without any great diminution to her friend’s triumph. A little stupidity in a husband was not such a bad thing, after all. It might even be considered an asset. Yet to see his capability on such obvious display everywhere one looked at Pemberley, where everything stood proof of Mr. Darcy’s excellent stewardship! Charlotte was left to contend with the possibility that dreams really do come true, at least for others.  
No knight in shinning armor could be expected to lose his caliber over Miss Lucas, but she was not yet completely hopeless of finding someone acceptable. If she might yet attract a husband both respectable and of adequate fortune, she would then think herself nearly as lucky as Elizabeth. As the alternative was playing attendant aunt at Lucas Lodge all her days, Charlotte knew she was willing to endure a great deal for the independence gained through such a marriage. She wondered she could be so discriminating on Elizabeth’s behalf, finding even so excellent a man as Mr. Darcy to come up short, while confronting her own dismal prospects with relative calm. Looking at her circumstances objectively, Charlotte knew she had no better hope of meeting a potential husband in her near future than on this trip to Pemberley. Though Lady Lucas never discussed it with her daughter, the variety of new gowns she had made up for the trip implicitly revealed that she too perceived the invitation to Pemberley as a vital opportunity. Charlotte was determined to do everything in her power not to let it go to waste. 
What do you think might happen to Charlotte? Let me know by entering to win a copy of Holidays at Pemberley! Just leave your email address below. Your prediction regarding Miss Lucas counts as a second entry. Earn another chance to win by sharing this giveaway on the social media venue of your choice, just don't forget to tell me about it! This giveaway is open through October 4th and is open internationally. Good luck!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

My Wickhams


Can I make it plainer? Please do not read further if you do not want to know what will happen in my Tales of Less Pride & Prejudice.

One of the controversies, if I might be so bold as to claim the term, surrounding First Impression: A Tale of Less Pride & Prejudice and Second Glances: A Tale of Less Pride and Prejudice Continues concerns my treatment of Mr. Wickham. Most readers applauded my marrying him off to Caroline Bingley in First Impressions (a just fate for both), but in Second Glances, during which the loathed couple scheme to reinsert themselves into the Darcy's social circle and are actually awarded with some degree of success, a few people called foul. I think Holidays at Pemberley, or Third Encounters: A Tale of Less Pride & Prejudice Concludes goes someway towards rectifying the situation.

I shared the following snippet, meant to be tantalizing, on Facebook last week:
Mr. Bennet suppressed his mirth as such insincerity. “I was thinking that perhaps an invitation might be overlooked. Your wife was so kind as to invite me to stay here without consulting the owners of this fine house, so why might I not similarly impose upon my daughter?” 
Mr. Wickham looked confused. “I am afraid I do not follow, sir.” 
“What I am suggesting, Mr. Wickham, is that you and your wife take the Darcys by surprise.” 
“You do know, Mr. Bennet, why I am not welcome at Pemberley, do you not?” An affirmative nod served to answer. “Then you must know that Darcy would instantly have us escorted from the grounds.” 
“Not it you are traveling in my company,” he assured him. “I am very fond of descending upon Pemberley unannounced. It is great fun, I assure you!” 
“Why would you be willing to incur the anger you are sure to invoke by such a stunt?” he asked suspiciously. 
“Well, I am not willing to incur it for nothing,” Mr. Bennet confessed. “I am hoping there is something you might do for me.”
Readers of Second Glances know why Mr. Bennet might be willing to ally himself with Wickham in such away, and while my Mr. Bennet is usually successful in his machinations (and yes, he is even willing to interfere in Miss Lucas' love life), this particular plan doesn't work out so well for his co-conspirators:
“You were known to the late Mr. Darcy?” he casually questioned. “Yes, but only in passing.” “I thought so, for I cannot remember ever seeing you at Pemberley.” David granted him a cocked smile. “I heard you grew up on the property,” Charlotte had related the entirety of the scene enacted at dinner the day the Wickhams had arrived to his receptive ears, “and your memory serves you well. I was never here until the living at Kympton became available, when I visited to assess the prospects.”  “I understand you have another living.” “Yes; at Glendale, my brother’s estate, but for a variety of reasons Kympton appealed to me, not least of which is the unique geography of the area. You must be familiar with the local caves?” He was, but Mr. Wickham had no interest in such topics. “Did you know it was to be mine?” “Excuse me?” “The living at Kympton. Old Mr. Darcy intended it for me.” “Then how comes it to me?” Sir James, who with Mr. Brooks opposed Wickham and Westover, and was necessarily privy to this entire exchange, replied to the question: “He accepted a large sum of money in its exchange. Is that not so, Wickham?” “I did not think myself suited for the church at the time,” was the terse reply. “Have you had a change of heart?” “I believe I was hasty in my youth to relinquishing the idea. Had Mr. Darcy lived, and had I still then the benefit of his mentorship, I’m sure I would have acted differently.” David sincerely felt for him, knowing too well the trials of the orphan, but before he could offer any response, Mr. Bennet, who had made himself a part of the billiards party for the first and only time anyone ever could or would recount, left his own game to assert with a glimmering eye, “And how would you have liked making sermons, Mr. Wickham?” “Very much, indeed,” he said comfortably. “Then I have just the solution for you! Let me recommend you to Lady Catherine’s attention. She is sure to have other livings than that at Hunsford in her gift, which someday you might take over for Mr. Collins.” This was not quite what Mr. Wickham had in mind, but he bowed and said, “My dear sir! You have already done far too much on my behalf. I could not so impose.” “Nonsense! You know very well you can.” “I am certain I’m not the sort of clergyman Lady Catherine prefers.” “Come now, Mr. Wickham! Not everyone can be so eloquent as Mr. Collins. Do you have an interest in securing yourself a comfortable living, one that will go someway to freeing you from your relation’s hospitality, or is it only Kympton that interests you?” “Of course I wish for independence beyond my wife’s income, but …” “Very good! I will speak to Lady Catherine at once,” and abandoning Mr. Gardiner to the mercy of Mr. Bingley and Mr. Beaumont (none too hard a fate), he instantly sought out her ladyship and did just that. Lady Catherine, having found the humbled Mrs. Wickham a most accommodating companion, liked the idea very much. She extended an impossible to refuse invitation to be her indefinite guests at Rosings. Mr. Wickham was to spend his days learning from Mr. Collins’ example, and Mrs. Wickham performing all those little services at which Lady Catherine had found her so adept.
I should  be able to announce the book's release any day. You can add it now on Goodreads:

Sunday, September 22, 2013

My Jane Bennet

My head is currently divided between trying to get the word out on Holidays at Pemberley, or Third Encounters: A Tale of Less Pride & Prejudice Concludes and writing Jane & Bingley: Something Truly Horrid, and it occurred to me that between the two, a few readers might feel I am mistreating such a dear, sweet creature as Miss Bennet. I had the same concerns last year regarding Emma & Elton: Something Truly Horrid, but, as I've said before, Janeites usually have a measure of tolerance for Miss Woodhouse falling on misfortune. Not so for Elizabeth's idyllic sister, whose greatest fault lies in being too kind and never thinking poorly of anyone.

SPOILER ALERTS: No misfortune actually befalls the heroine of Jane & Bingley, but that is not true for the Jane Bennet of Second Glances: A Tale of Less Pride & Prejudice Concludes, who has a miscarriage. The reviews for First Impressions: A Tales of Less Pride & Prejudice frequently called for more conflict, and I tried to respond to that need in a variety of ways in Second Glances, but the only person to suffer anything truly tragic in the course of the book is Jane. Why?

I began Second Glances right after experiencing two miscarriages myself. Both Jane and Elizabeth become pregnant during the book, and in inflicting this same loss on Mrs. Bingley, I was definitely making her more emotionally accessible to myself. Throughout the course of my third and successful pregnancy, I found myself researching not just modern birthing practices, but 18th and 19th century techniques as well. The horrors of the Regency "birthing chamber" gave me much for which to be thankful, but the knowledge would creep into my writing. There was no possible way for me to incorporate these gruesome details into my polite little stories, but they would assert themselves, nevertheless. In Holidays at Pemberley, Lady Catherine references some ...
“For an infant, William has a remarkable number of verbose fans to declare his perfections,” added Elizabeth. “Lady Catherine seems to take all the credit for his safe arrival upon herself. She writes: ‘The well-being of both mother and babe can be attributed in no small part to the sage advice I provided Mrs. Collins throughout her confinement. Had the matter been left in the hands of Mrs. Bennet, there is no guarantee that the outcome would have been so felicitous. She would have the midwife close off the room and build up the fire ...’ Oh my! The remainder of this paragraph is quite unsuitable!” she blushed, as did Georgiana, who had rather more notion than the other young ladies as to what the topic pertained, while Mrs. Gardiner tried not to laugh.
... and Elizabeth herself suffers from infection (puerperal fever) following delivery, a very common occurrence and often fatal. Mrs. Darcy, of course, recovers, but it is an important moment in the book, as it plays a strong role in changing Charlotte Lucas' opinions on love in marriage, the central theme. It also helps reconcile the two sisters, which I left estranged at the end of Second Glances. I hope I haven't given too much away, but felt the need to offer some sort of justification for my actions. Sympathetic readers should understand that I do not seek to make Jane suffer needlessly, for "pictures of perfection" do not make me "sick and wicked." Here's one last excerpt (one last spoiler) which I hope proves my point:
When a carriage entered the grounds of Pemberley not long after Elizabeth’s recovery, Mrs. Reynolds had only three conjectures as to whom it might be – Lady Catherine, Mrs. Bennet, or someone wishing to tour the house and grounds. She fortified herself against the most difficult of these options, determined no one should be admitted, but she lost all her will when a distressed Mrs. Bingley raced through the door demanding, “Is my sister all right? I heard that she is ill.” “Yes, Mrs. Bingley. Mrs. Darcy is quite on her way to recovery. We no longer have any fears on that score.” “Thank goodness!” she cried, almost collapsing into her husband’s waiting arms. “I am sorry to burst in upon you this way,” he explained, “but rumor reached us that Mrs. Darcy was in decline, and we almost instantly departed for Pemberley. It has all been a bit too much excitement for Mrs. Bingley.” “Of course, sir!” exclaimed Mrs. Reynolds, ushering the couple into the nearest parlor and ordering tea. “I’m sure Mr. and Mrs. Darcy will be delighted to see you. We did have our time of concern, to be sure, but Mrs. Darcy is vastly improved.” She paused before adding, “Young Master Frederick is as hale a little lad as ever I saw.”
Jane looked towards the housekeeper with appeal in her eyes, but she said nothing.

“I will get Mrs. Gardiner.” A few minutes later, that lady entered the parlor with Mr. Darcy, who was holding in his arms his new son. Jane rose with eyes for no one but Frederick, and a broad smile swept away any last vestige of her pain. “My little nephew!” she exclaimed softly. “Lizzy’s little boy! Oh, Mr. Darcy! May I hold him?” He laughed. “You certainly may. It is wonderful to see you, Mrs. Bingley. Now our joy is complete.” She looked up from the babe in her arms for just a moment, casting her brother a pained gaze. “Nothing could keep me away when I heard Lizzy was ill. Is she truly recovered?” “Mr. Stevens assures me he has no further concerns, though she is to keep to her bed for the time being. Would you like to bring Freddy to her?” “I might drop him!” she protested. “He is so small!” “You will do nothing of the sort, my dear,” smiled Mrs. Gardiner, “and he is not small, but rather enormous. I will go with you.”