Good morning, dear readers. Today I am excited to share with you a guest post written by Don Jacobson to introduce his latest books, Of Fortune’s Reversal and The Maid and the Footman, which are written as paired texts, and although they can be read as stand-alone stories, readers will also enjoy reading both books, one right after the other.
I plan to review these books later this month, but before I do, I asked Mr. Jacobson to introduce these stories to my readers. Today he is sharing a bit about the background of these stories and he is also sharing paired excerpts today to introduce these stories to my readers.
I hope you enjoy today’s post. Please help me welcome Mr. Jacobson to Just Jane 1813.
I have thoroughly enjoyed the manner in which authors have sought to retell the timeless relationship between Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy. Many have also worked with the secondary characters, fleshing out their nature and their futures. I fall into that latter category.
That is not to suggest that ODC is not key to every character in the Bennet Wardrobe universe. However, rather than be the center of each story, the couple can become the First Cause. For example, “The Keeper” essentially starts in 1811 the day after the double wedding. Kitty launches herself to 1886 during a session with Mr. Bennet on that same day.
In the case of “Of Fortune’s Reversal” and “The Maid and The Footman,” it is the absence of the Lizzy/Darcy relationship that forces everything into a different path and allows the stories to mature in their own right. That, in its way, makes them the inverse, but none-the-less still, First Cause.
Jane Austen used secondary characters as stereotypes for dramatic purposes (see the bowing and scraping Mr. Collins or the social-climbing Caroline Bingley). I feel that she placed the three younger sisters into that category.
Mary is the prosy moralist, wagging a metaphorical finger at every behavior.
Kitty is unable to make a decision for herself and becomes a nonentity.
Lydia is, frankly, driven by sex. She wants the status of a married woman going into dinner before her unmarried sisters.
The three girls—particularly Lydia—serve an important role in P&P, helping move the story along. That cries out for a deeper look at these ladies. Hence The Bennet Wardrobe Stories—which chronicle the path each takes to find themselves and realize their destiny through the Wardrobe. And OFR and M&F allow Kitty, Lydia and General Fitzwilliam to shine.
As a historian, I find that placing my characters within the context of the time adds an even deeper dimension to the stories. It helps readers comprehend why characters act as they do. It also explains what is going on in that world at that time—and gives meaning to action, circumstance and interaction.
Here’s a particular “for instance” from the Canon itself where context might help a reader understand circumstance which also then explains action and interaction.
Why did the __________shire militia come to Meryton? Ms Austen does not say. For her readers the fact that militia units were stationed around the country was totally normal—and they knew the reason.
In Regency Britain, the militia was used by the aristos kept the general population in line. These units were moved around the country so they did not grow roots—hence the arrival in Meryton and then the subsequent relocation to Brighton. And, the ____________shire militia into which Wickham entered was certainly not the Hertfordshire militia. They were elsewhere. These interesting newcomers (remember with very few exceptions people were born, lived and died within five mile of the same spot) were not locals and could lay waste to the female population without great fear of repercussion. I find this knowledge makes the responses of Mrs. Bennet, Kitty and Lydia more revealing.
In “Of Fortune’s Reversal” and “The Maid and The Footman,” post-Napoleonic European politics is put to work to give logic to the intrigue. The complete demobilization of the British Army after June 1815 gives depth to Henry Wilson’s circumstances as a former sergeant seeking to survive in Regency London.
My character study “Henry Fitzwilliam’s War” used his interaction with Theodore Roosevelt to reveal the search for manhood by those young men born after 1860. The horrible British friendly fire chlorine gas attack at Loos, Belgium in 1915 is the vehicle employed to temporarily blind Henry and enhance his other senses leaving him more vulnerable to love’s effects.
Wickham’s heroism is revealed through his participation in the seminal corner of the Battle of Waterloo. British success turned on the fight at Hougoumont. Lord Uxbridge’s blood when he lost his leg to a French cannonball splattered Wellington not Fitzwilliam.
In “The Keeper,” Mary becomes a crusader for social justice in Industrial Revolution Britain. That she ends up on St. Peter’s Field in Manchester in 1819 for the Peterloo Massacre is eminently reasonable and brings her character into full flower. And, Lydia’s evolution into an advocate for war widows (as personified in the character Martha Smithfield: a lone woman ignored by the government) after her journey in the Wardrobe will be understood when her backstory is revealed in the third book of the series “The Pilgrim.”
At least for me, the wonder of Jane Austen has always been how she offered deep insight into the lives of the agricultural gentry at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. Knowing and appreciating the history of the time in which she wrote has made my reading—and writing—experience that much richer.
Paired Excerpts From “Of Fortune’s Reversal” and “The Maid and The Footman”
Chapter XI from “Of Fortune’s Reversal”
Burghley House, Northamptionshire, January 6, 1816
In the four weeks since transferring from London, Kitty had made miraculous—that was the word Dr. Campbell used—progress.
The incision in her scalp had healed and a short mat of blond hair obscured the remaining scars. She was now breathing without pain as her ribs continued to improve. And, the doctor removed the splints on her left arm on Christmas Eve to discover that the limb was straight, if weakened by disuse.
Her left eye socket had likewise mended itself. Campbell had visited an oculist before they left Town and procured several glass orbs of varying sizes. He did not want the cavity collapsing. He spent one afternoon finding the right one which slipped in perfectly.
Each day saw Miss Bennet and General Fitzwilliam walking through the halls of the great manor house. Early on, Kitty had been able to manage only a few steps before becoming fatigued and asking to be carried back to her rooms. Now, she was even able to navigate the grand staircase, but only with Wilson and Fitzwilliam on either arm, and attend events in the drawing rooms and parlors after dinner. However, Lady Mary watched her like a hawk, sending Kitty to bed if she seemed to tire.
Mrs. Bennet also monitored her daughter, but in this case it was not her physical health, but rather that of her heart. Shortly after Kitty’s carriage had pulled into Meryton’s High Street and Fanny had bid farewell to her brother and sister Philips to journey to Northamptonshire with the Cecil party, she observed the interaction between General Fitzwilliam and her next youngest child. At the first rest stop, she buttonholed the gentleman from Derbyshire.
Sizing him up with a mother’s protective eye, the Widow Bennet wasted no time getting to her point. “What are your intentions, General Fitzwilliam? You may think that your regimentals with all the gold braid will turn my girl’s head. That will not happen. She is levelheaded and serious. I tell you now that if you think to break her heart by toying with her affections, you will answer to me.”
She peered up from her stance some 12 inches shorter than his and continued, “In fact, you will answer to five angry Bennet women. I also imagine Mr. Poldark and his father might also have a few words ready for you.
“We Bennet women are cut from stern stuff. Each one of my daughters may be petite—oh, not Lydia and certainly not Jane—but Kitty, Lizzy and Mary are not going to worry five feet. But, you cross one of us, and you will be very, very sorry.”
As Kitty’s Mama launched into the last sentence, she began poking her stiffened forefinger into Richard’s waistcoat around the third button. The canny soldier knew when he was outmanned and threw his hands up in surrender to the ruffled biddy hen.
“Mrs. Bennet, please. I know just how tough your daughters can be. Recall that I watched Miss Bennet tackle an evil brute three times her size. Then I sat by her side as she successfully struggled to recover from the most desperate surgery conducted in these Isles.
“My fondest hope is to win your daughter’s heart and hand. Miss Bennet and I have talked about our future together. This only happened in the past few days. I have already spoken to your brother, Mr. Gardiner, about courting Miss Bennet. He has sanctioned that. Miss Bennet and I were going to speak with you upon our arrival at Burghley House.
“It is early days yet, but I have my dreams of the day your daughter and I will be married and I could name you Mother Bennet.”
The word “married” went a long way toward easing Mrs. Bennet’s fears. The brilliant grin that Richard bestowed upon her did even more. What sold it was her realization that the second son of an earl would have to be married in Town! And she, Fanny Bennet, would be planning a society wedding!
Still, as the journey continued, each time Richard looked back from the countryside passing by the carriage window, he could not avoid Mrs. Bennet’s gaze. When she subtly tapped her finger next to her right eye and then pointed his way, he read her message clearly.
Chapter XXVI from “The Maid and The Footman”
In Transit to Burghley House, December 4, 1815
The servant’s coach was close quarters after leaving Meryton. As new persons joined the carriage train in Miss Bennet’s hometown, Henry had switched places with Michael Tomkins who now rode atop the box next to the driver. Mr. and Mrs. Hastings had settled on the front-facing seat next to Henry who tried to make himself as small as possible against the window. Sarah and two elderly servants who had accompanied Mrs. Bennet filled out the passenger manifest. Annie rode in the family carriage so she could tend to Miss Bennet as the party shifted from Town to Northamptonshire.
The General had, as promised, reconnoitered the roads from London to the front gates of Burghley House. Satisfied that his dear Kitty would not be unduly jostled, he had quickly returned to Town arguing that he had had a few responsibilities to discharge before he could vanish into the Midlands. He then went to ground and only reappeared as everybody boarded in front of Cecil House.
Henry had had little time alone with Annie over the past two days. Neither had spoken of the events in the mews. Preparations for closing the London house were extensive and demanded the attention of every member of the staff. Trunks needed to be removed from the attics and distributed around the residence. Clothing needed to be wrapped in tissue paper before being stowed for travel. Chandeliers needed to be protected under muslin wrappings. Dutch covers were pulled from storage and draped over furniture. Mementoes and heirlooms—those not being shipped back to Larchmont—needed to be packed in cotton wool and stored against the time their decoration was demanded once again.
The few moments he had been able to steal with his beloved were spent in whispered assurances of continued feelings coupled with discrete handholding. The pair understood that there was an understanding waiting to be formalized. However Henry was determined that his relationship with Annie be governed by the rules of propriety. He had not asked permission of her father to court her much less marry her. Thus, even though his heart was fully engaged, he would neither embarrass Miss Reynolds nor the Cecil family. Wilson consoled himself with the knowledge that Northamptonshire was adjacent to Warwickshire. Larchmont was about four hours ride from Burghley House.
Now that they were separated once again, Henry took the opportunity to study the couple that had accompanied Mrs. Bennet. They had introduced themselves as Mrs. Alma Hill and Mr. George Hill. Wilson understood that they had been in service to the Bennet family since their youth—he as footman and then butler, she as maid and then housekeeper.
In their mid-fifties, they had been fortunate to receive a small bequest from the late Mr. Bennet which had allowed them to retire from Longbourn along with Mrs. Bennet. They lived with her at Oakham Cottage, not unusual for a widowed lady. According to the desultory conversation flowing around him, Henry learned that Mrs. Bennet nominally employed them, although with none of the daughters still at home, the Hills’ duties were light, and they spent most of their days making sure that loneliness did not overtake their mistress.
Mr. Hill noticed Henry looking at him and caught his eye. Then the older man addressed the younger, his Hertfordshire colored Rs rolling deeply off the back of his tongue.
“Ah, ye be that footman who wuz with Miss Kitty when she got ‘urt?”
Henry abashed, looked away, but nodded.
Mr. Hill continued, “Son, from the sounds of it, ye did whut ye could. Don’t be ‘shamed, man. None of us is perfect.”
At this Mrs. Hill snorted, “You speak more truth than you know, old man.” She reached across and tapped Henry’s knee saying, “Mr. Hill and I have known Miss Kitty since the day she was born…all of the girls for that matter. Believe me, if either of us had thought you were in any way to blame for what happened, both of us would be up atop the box instead of your friend.”
Mr. Hill smiled lovingly at his wife, perhaps remembering himself without 30 years of worklife in his bones.
He related a story, “I recall me da, who went with Mr. Samuel, that’ ud be Miss Kitty’s Grandpa, off to fight with Gen’ul Braddock in the colonies back in the ‘50s. ‘e beat ‘isself up, ‘e did, ‘cuz Mr. Samuel got ‘urt bad. Felt guilty, ‘e did, that ‘e wuzn’t the one ta take the ball in ‘is leg.
“So ‘e did th’ next best. ‘e took care of Mr. Sam until the day the Good Lord took him ‘ome ta be with Mrs. Martha and Mrs. Lizzie. Then ‘e took care of Mr. Thomas and Mrs. Fanny until ‘eaven needed a butler.”
The old man puffed up and fixed Henry with a piercing glare, “Ye jes need ta take care of Miss Kitty. The Gen’l will be o’ ‘elp there. But if ye make that little girl cry, I will take ye down. Don’t care ‘ow big ye are. Mark me, boy!”
Henry glanced around the carriage and saw Sarah and the Hastings stifling grins with little success.
He could only smile and raise his hands in surrender, “Believe me, sir, aside from the woman I hope to marry, my life will be devoted to caring for your girl.”
Still, as the journey continued, each time he looked back from the countryside passing by the window, he could not avoid the elder retainer’s gaze. When Mr. Hill subtly tapped his finger next to his right eye and then pointed Henry’s way, he read the butler’s message clearly.
We would LOVE to hear from my readers!
Thank you, Don Jacobson, for sharing this wonderful post with my readers! Please feel free to comment below on this post to share your thoughts on this post and to tell us about any JAFF secondary character books that you have enjoyed in your reading time.
Don Jacobson is the author of several Pride & Prejudice Variations including “The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey,” “Of Fortune’s Reversal” and “The Maid and The Footman.”
He is currently working on Volume II of The Bennet Wardrobe Series: “The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Epoque.” He is a Goodreads author.
You can visit Amazon to add both books to your bookshelves.
Both stories are available through KindleUnlimited.
You can also visit Don Jacobson on Goodreads.