We no longer wonder why Col. Fitzwilliam’s first name is almost always Richard, nor who came up with the idea in the first place. He is Richard to most of us, and that’s the end of it! Also, no matter how quasi-likeable the 2005 P&P adaptation made Mr Collins, we all love to hate him as a slimy nincompoop - and as for Mr. Wickham, the least said of the man, the better!
For my part, I must admit, I feel rather sorry for Mrs. Bennet! Maybe I have softened towards her because I’m moving too fast for comfort towards the lady’s age, but honestly, the poor woman! Not only did she have to put up with idiosyncrasies of an eccentric husband, but she was forced to bear the consequences of his indolent, improvident nature – and see him mocking her in the presence of her own children! Badly done, Mr. Bennet, badly done indeed!
By modern standards, it’s ever so easy to condemn the woman for pushing her daughters towards marriages of convenience, or at least to marry with an eye to the purse. But what were they to do, if the worst came to pass? Unlike Fanny Price, or the Miss Dashwoods, or Jane Austen herself, the Bennet girls had no wealthy relative who might come to their aid if the income suddenly dried up! Not to mention the bitter taste of the cold and reluctant charity all of the above received from their wealthy male relations!
Maybe the reason why we can’t quite forgive her is that she never had the wits to see that, rather than pestering Elizabeth to marry Mr. Collins, she should have tactfully steered him towards Mary instead! Hm! Mrs. Bennet, tactful? Chance would be a fine thing!
Having said that, so many plots hinge of Mrs. Bennet’s tactlessness – and Lydia’s as well! Of all the friends and family, those two are the most likely to let cats out of bags, speak out of turn and thus advance the plot in ways their decorous relations would have never dreamt of doing! Perhaps, just like Wickham or Mr. Collins, Lydia and Mrs. Bennet are as vital to the plot as they are annoying, and as tightly woven into the treasured fabric of fan-fiction as Mr. Darcy and his soaking-wet shirt!
Two copies are offered for this giveaway, and it closes at midnight (BST) on Friday 16 May. Looking forward to hearing from you!
I will leave you now with a short excerpt from ‘The Second Chance’, where we almost wish there was someone to tell Mrs. Bennet that ‘Open mouths, my dear lady, should at all times be very firmly closed!’
“Would you care for some coffee, Mr. Collins?” Mary timely interjected, leaving Elizabeth to wonder how much of her sister’s apparent contentment with the married state derived from real comforts, and how much from constant and attentive management.
“Thank you, my dear, that would be very good. As I was saying, when I had the honour to inform Lady Catherine de Bourgh of my impending nuptials, the great lady could easily ascertain, merely from my descriptions, without even having met my future wife that, to my great advantage, I was able to follow her instructions to the letter. ‘Choose properly,’ her ladyship had urged me, ‘choose a gentlewoman for my sake; and for your own, let her be an active, useful sort of person, not brought up too high, but able to make a small income go a long way.’ Not that our income is small nowadays, but nevertheless… ‘Find such a woman as soon as you can,’ she advised me, ‘bring her to Hunsford and I will visit her.’ And you can rest assured that her ladyship was true to her word, not that a person of her moral standing could be otherwise! Is it not so, my dear? We were greatly honoured by her ladyship’s attentions during the short time you spent in Kent. Of course, we had to relinquish the superior society of Rosings when a certain sad event occurred, of which I shall speak no further. Lady Catherine could not possibly condescend to call upon us here!”
Darcy sipped from the cup of coffee that Kitty had just poured him nearly scalding himself in the process, as he wondered what – if anything! – governed the man’s tongue. Within mere moments he had contrived to put together a speech guaranteed to distress, mortify or offend virtually every person there! Elizabeth’s countenance spoke volumes of the depth of her vexation, and without further ado Darcy put down his cup and walked over to her side.
“Miss Bennet, can I persuade you to take a turn about the room with me?” he said, thankful for the small mercy of no longer having to withhold his attentions.
She nodded, but before she could make her excuses and leave her seat, Mrs. Bennet spoke up.
Truth be told, she never really got to like the vexing, verbose man, nor could she reconcile herself with having to quit her home in his favour – not even when the threat of the entail was removed by Mary’s engagement, followed by the bequest of Farringdon. And now his careless references to Mr. Bennet’s passing and his pining for the superior society in Kent could do nothing but antagonise her further. Her only consolation came from Mr. Darcy, all solicitous attention for her dear Lizzy. What a clever, clever girl to have made such a match! Even dear Bingley was nothing in comparison, nothing at all!
“Perhaps you should have remained at Hunsford then, Mr. Collins!” she said tartly. “No doubt others could have managed Longbourn in your stead. As to the society in Hertfordshire, I daresay not even the great lady herself would find cause to object, when she comes to attend her nephew’s nuptials in Longbourn church!”
“Good Lord!” Darcy muttered, as he briefly met Elizabeth’s eyes.
Very few reacted, as knowledge of his family connections was not at all widespread. It was only Bingley, his wife and Elizabeth that looked up in astonishment at Mrs. Bennet’s smug pronouncement. As for Mr. Collins, the snub had gone completely unnoticed. It was just the remark about her ladyship that managed to sink in.
“Lady Catherine’s nephew marrying in Longbourn church? Which nephew is that?”
“Why, Mr. Darcy, of course! How many nephews does her ladyship have?”
‘Five, actually. Three on the Fitzwilliam side’, Darcy privately supplied, quite at a loss how best to end the matter without causing Elizabeth further distress. He noticed Collins turning away from Mrs. Bennet to cast him a look of stupefaction, and for a moment Darcy hoped that the man would not have the gall to question him outright.
He was wrong.
“But Mr. Darcy, why would you marry in Hertfordshire?”
“The details have not been fixed yet, Sir,” Darcy replied evenly, not wishing to be drawn into it.
“I would urge you to try the walnut cake,” Mrs. Bingley tactfully intervened. “Shall I cut you a piece, Ma’am? Mr. Collins?”
But her mother’s effusions were not to be stopped with walnut cake.
“Because, Mr. Collins, in his condescension and I daresay his great affection for his bride, Mr. Darcy thinks that Lizzy might wish to be married in the church where she has attended service ever since she was a little girl!” Mrs. Bennet triumphantly announced.
Darcy’s jaw tightened. How was it possible that a man of his understanding could fail to learn a valuable lesson: under no circumstance talk to Mrs. Bennet of anything but the weather! Still, he could at least note that the look of vexation and distress on Elizabeth’s countenance had temporarily softened into something akin to tenderness, before she remembered to blush for yet another of her mother’s improprieties.
Across from him, Mr. Collins gaped.
“Lizzy? My cousin… er… Lizzy? Mr. Darcy is to marry Lizzy?”
“Yes, Mr. Collins, I am to marry Miss Elizabeth Bennet,” Darcy replied in a tone dangerously reminiscent of the last time they had spoken, almost a year ago, at Longbourn. “Do not make yourself uneasy about not having wished us joy,” he added dryly. “You could not have known. It has not been formally announced yet.”
“Indeed,” Bingley interjected, belatedly coming to his friend’s aid. “The plan was to announce it at the ball.”
“My dear Mr. Bingley, how very, very thoughtful! The ball was meant to be in honour of their engagement! Oh, dear! I fear I have spoken out of turn, then!” Mrs. Bennet remarked, rather flustered, and many were those who valiantly resisted the temptation to roll their eyes.
‘Oh, Madam, surely not!’
Marianne, who caught a little of the discussion from where she sat in conversation with her sister, their future husbands, Kitty and Georgiana, wondered whether now might be a good time to come and offer her formal congratulations – but she thought better of it and turned her attention back to her companions, pretending she heard nothing, as soon as Mr. Collins’s stutter reached her ears:
“But… But… what of the fair Miss de Bourgh?”
“What of the fair Miss de Bourgh, Mr. Collins?” Mrs. Bennet inquired in some irritation, and before anyone could intervene, the unstoppable cleric made public his concern:
“Miss Anne de Bourgh, Lady Catherine’s daughter, has been for many years expected to marry Mr. Darcy! Cousin Elizabeth,” he urged, turning to her, his countenance a picture of solemn horror, “I beg you and your noble admirer to consider and not run hastily into a marriage which defies family obligations and can never be properly sanctioned! There is no doubt that her ladyship would be most seriously displeased!”
At least five people in the room gave the distinct impression that they might consider extreme measures to silence the man, but it was Darcy who spoke first, without any further attempt to disguise his vexation.
“Mr. Collins! Your diligence on my family’s behalf is quite extraordinary but I would thank you, Sir, to desist from addressing matters which are none of your concern!” Then, with his voice and manner instantly softened, he turned to Elizabeth again. “May I have the pleasure of your company, Miss Bennet?” he asked and, as she rose, he perfunctorily presented their excuses and led her through the open door onto the terrace.
Uncomfortable silence followed in their wake, until Bingley suddenly cried:
“Do let us have a little music! Kitty! Miss Marianne! Mrs. Collins! Can we persuade you?”
Judging by the superior execution, Elizabeth gathered it must have been Marianne who had swiftly acceded to the request. With a long sigh, she came to rest her palms on the cool top of the stone banister. She was almost afraid to raise her eyes to the man standing beside her – half wondering how it was possible that he should still be at her side – but nevertheless did so, only to find him observing her with undisguised concern. A muffled sound escaped her – half laughter, half sob – and she voiced the thought that gave her pain.
“I fail to see why you would still wish to marry me…”
His first response was to exhale – a violent, impatient sound.
“Elizabeth, no more, I beg you! You are my life, and we shall marry, because we would not wish it otherwise!”
Her soft little laugh was genuine this time as she briefly leaned her head against his shoulder.
“In that case,” she whispered, her warm breath tickling his ear, “perhaps we should consider Gretna Green!”
~ ** ~
Other excerpts are available here:
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