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The blog tour for The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Époque, begins on the 15th. He decided it would be good to give a little history beforehand. Since we are doing this here today, I am including this post in the blog tour Rafflecopter giveaway. More info about it at the bottom of the post. Now, please welcome Don Jacobson.
What Is Behind The Bennet Wardrobe?
I am thrilled to be kicking off the blog tour for The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Époque here at Janet’s wonderful blog More Agreeably Engaged.
Through my years of reading Jane Austen’s fiction, I found myself often gravitating toward the side characters—particularly those in Pride & Prejudice…Mary the moralizing sister…Kitty who coughed and wilted in the glare of her younger sister’s boisterousness…Lydia who could only have been charitably described as being ready to throw herself at any redcoat…and Thomas who could have done so much more as a father. Yet, I was left only with the smallest speculation of their futures after the double wedding at the end of the book.
Lydia had virtually vanished from the stage. Austen herself suggested that Mary would wed a clerk in her uncle’s law office. Kitty was relegated, in Austen’s mind, to a backcountry parsonage. Mr. Bennet, with Mrs. Bennet on his arm, is last seen waving from the steps of Longbourn chapel.
Contrast Mary and Kitty’s suggested fates with the brilliant matches made by Jane and Lizzy. And, if Mary and Kitty truly became Darcy’s family, how did they make such financially unsound matches contrary to Mama’s projections after the engagements?
Ms. Austen’s treatment of Lizzy’s younger sisters has bothered me. I do recognize that she used certain characters to embody stereotypical manners and attitudes for dramatic purposes (see the vulgar Mrs. Philips, the wife of a tradesman, or the social-climbing daughter of trade Caroline Bingley). These, though, were often two-dimensional renditions and served to get Regency readers nodding in recognition. Yet, once the reader gets past Lizzy and Jane, the remaining girls exhibit none of their elders’ virtues and embody nearly every vice that is assumed to infect humankind.
I feel that the younger sisters have gotten short shrift. They are, I believe, heroes in waiting.
Mary’s “challenged looks” and emotional mistreatment at the hands of her mother could have led her to become abusive to Longbourn’s servants or the tenants’ children. She could have taken advantage of being a daughter in one of the leading houses in the area to assert unbecoming social airs. Rather, she chose faith.
Mary must have had deep-seated beliefs to spur her to find authorities to help inform her study even though shelacked guidance. Why would she pick a hopelessly outdated circa 1755 religious screed? Fordyce was a staunch Presbyterian of a darkly moralistic bent. Was Austen challenging the Dissenters, in many ways the far-too-serious inheritors of the Puritans, in an “equal opportunity” offsetting of her skewering of the Anglican Collins?
I, however, felt that her faith would have found greater shaping in the teachings of the conservative reformist Clapham Sect[i] which supported abolition, prison reform, and other social causes. The Mary Bennet who emerges in The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey would have been familiar to those in the 19th Century and seen as a worthy successor to Claphamites William Wilberforce (abolition), Henry Thornton (economics), and Hannah More (education).
Many JAFF authors (particularly Don Miller) have fixed upon Kitty’s artistic talent. This may be a process of elimination. Lizzy plays (at whatever level Lady Catherine may believe) and sings, but embroiders only passably. Lydia is the clotheshorse. Jane rests at the side of the family portrait serenely embroidering. Mary attacks the pianoforte with Wagnerian zeal. What is left to Kitty but painting and drawing?
Yet, Kitty, although older, is characterized as always being led around by Lydia. Many argue that she was Lydia’s accomplice. Her coughing suggests a nervous constitution exacerbated both by her mother’s constant nattering as well as a desire to be anywhere but where she is at the moment. There are likely deeper traumas hidden under her compliant nature. These are the underlying framework for Kitty’s story in The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Époque.
Lydia poses the most difficult challenge. She truly is foolish. Her character is laid before us as fully formed even though she is just 16 by the time P&P ends. Can she no longer change? She is presented as someone whose personality was fixed the moment she hit puberty.
In the Austen canon, Lydia got her “just desserts” for her frankly sluttish behavior by being saddled with Wickham. JAFF writers often have tried to rescue her by killing off Wickham in various horrible ways, but rarely does Lydia improve. There have been efforts to have Wickham rehabilitate himself, but usually without Lydia.
In order for her to avoid becoming a pathetic, Becky Sharp-type character, she must avoid growing into a 43-year-old who still acts as if she is 16.
If the core of Pride and Prejudice is Change, then should not Lydia, as well as Kitty and Mary, be given some vehicle which allows them to realize some sort of destiny?
The Bennet Wardrobe is an alternative history in the Jane Austen Universe. While the characters are familiar, I have endeavored to provide each of them with an opportunity to grow into three-dimensional personalities, although not necessarily in the Regency period. If they were shaped or stifled by the conventions of the period, the time-traveling powers of The Wardrobe helped solve their problems, make penance, and learn lessons by giving them a chance to escape that time frame, if only for a brief, life-changing interlude.
The Wardrobe underlines my conviction that each of these characters could enjoy fulfilling lives once they had overcome the inner demons holding them back.
Would it have been possible for them to do so staying on the Regency timeline?
Perhaps. However, something tickled my brain—maybe it was one of the many efforts to translate the P&P storyline to the present day—that threw the idea of the Wardrobe up in front of me. Now my protagonists could be immersed in different timeframes beyond the Regency to learn that which they needed to learn in order to realize their potentials and in the process carry the eternal story of love and change forward to even the 21st Century.
The Wardrobe Series is currently projected as six books to realize the grand arc of the Wardrobe’s Plan.
The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey (2016)
The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Époque (2017) (Pt. 1)
The Exile: The Countess Visits Longbourn (proj. 2017) (Pt. 2)
The Avenger: Thomas Bennet and the Father’s Lament (proj. 2018)
The Pilgrim: Lydia Bennet and the Soldier’s Portion (proj. 2018/19)
The Grail: Saving Elizabeth Darcy (proj. 2019)
Please enjoy the following excerpt from The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Époque.
From Chapter IX
In which Kitty attends the ball held in honor of the betrothal of Lord Henry Fitzwilliam and Lady Astrid Winters.
The orchestra had been playing for about an hour when Henry approached Kitty for his dance with her. He had already waltzed with Astrid and his mother and had partnered Ellie in a mazurka. For her part, Kitty had been anticipating the next few minutes of waltzing because she had resolved to clear the air between them.
Henry bestowed a friendly smile upon her as he reached out to lead her onto the floor.
Both felt an undeniable jolt as her sapphire silk wrapped hand grasped his brilliant white glove. Unbidden, both momentarily tensed until the sensation passed.
Strauss’ Du und Du[ii] paced the couple round the crowded floor.
Both were silent for several long moments as Kitty gazed into Henry’s steel grey eyes, the color of clouds over the Channel on a winter’s afternoon. He, levelly, returned the look into her china blue orbs. As they glided around the floor without saying a word, Kitty began to grow frustrated.
Why cannot this Fitzwilliam be more like a Fitzwilliam rather than a Darcy? I am surprised that Lizzy did not throttle Mr. Darcy at the Netherfield Ball. I will not abide the next five minutes without a word passing between us.
“Lord Gladney, Henry, I assume you invited me to dance with you in order to enjoy the pleasure of my company. Yet, I am hard-pressed to understand how you are deriving any gratification by simply spinning around the floor with me in your arms,” she challenged.
Henry lifted his left eyebrow and replied somewhat formally, “I assure you, Miss Bennet, Kitty, that holding you in the dance is enough pleasure for me.”
“That will not do. One must speak a little, you know. It would look odd to be entirely silent.
“I, for one, do have many subjects about which we could comfortably converse as we enjoy Herr Strauss’ fine music…that is if you would drag yourself from the clouds and back into the ballroom,” she reposted.
Up to this point, Henry had been only briefly attending to his partner, allowing muscle memory to lead them through the correct steps. His mind, as Miss Bennet had correctly observed, had been 1,000 miles away…actually only 150…in Deauville.
Fitzwilliam had been deep inside himself as they had danced. Contrary to Kitty’s protestations that he was seemingly ignoring her, he was acutely aware of her presence and the impact it was having on his composure. His carefully constructed defenses of the previous four years had been knocked over like skittles on the lawn. The woman in his arms attracted every fiber of his being and bored deeply into his soul like none other save one—and she was lost to him some twenty-five years from now. He had mourned that for seven years.
I only recall her scent: roses over freshly mowed grass.
As Kierkegaard wrote, “The most painful state of being is remembering the future, particularly the one you will never have.”
Yet, there was something eternal in our communion. If only…
He had overheard Kitty and Ellie speculating about his proposal to Astrid. They were half correct…and half dead wrong.
They were spot-on when they aligned his offer with his daily mindfulness of his father’s impending mortality. Henry knew he needed to set up his nursery for, unlike Pemberley’s title, the Earldom of Matlock demanded a male heir. He was settling. His feelings for Astrid were enough, as far as he was concerned, to allow him to perform his marital duties without distaste or any fear of deeper attachment.
That was where the two girls were wrong. He had always believed that he would marry only for the deepest love. But he knew that was impossible…for he had found true love and it had slipped through his fingers. She existed on another plane, only reached once thanks to the Wardrobe.
If I cannot have Her—the Voice—in my bed…for She is always in my heart…then any well-born lady will do. Once we have sons, we can remain polite companions until the Lord takes me home, I pray, to rest softly in Her cherished arms.
Kitty was threatening his entire scheme of detachment from love…and he could not understand how she was doing it.
Kitty’s animated appeal to him brought his conscious mind into focus.
“Pray, cousin Kitty, forgive me. I was not paying attention. The music and movement reminded me of that first ball you attended when cousin Caroline Anne and Lord John were marrying. You and Ellie were quite excited at the prospects, if I recall,” he offered.
Kitty accepted this lengthy speech as partial expiation for his ignoring her. Then she decided to address the elephant in the room.
“T’is odd you should mention the Cecil-Bingley ball, my lord, for that was on my mind as well.
“I have been puzzled by your behavior toward me these past four years…”
Henry swiftly interrupted her with a concerned voice, “Have I acted improperly toward you, Miss Bennet? I have made every effort to be friendly and tolerant of your behavior recognizing that you were placed out of your own time.”
Kitty huffed and fixed him with a steely stare, “No…never improper, to be sure. But your exaggerated propriety and extreme tolerance has been nearly unbearable.
“Am I so deficient in manners and intellect that you must treat me as if I were a small child utterly unaware of the problems I have faced and will continue to address on this timeline?
“Why cannot you treat me as Eddie and Tommy do? They are men of your class and with both greater and lesser responsibilities. Yet, they find it within themselves to be my friend.”
Fitzwilliam knew that he could not truthfully answer her…for he had no response that did not involve him making a fool of himself. He had made his choice—to live in the gray half-life of a loveless marriage with a pleasant woman. Lengthy exposure to Catherine Marie Bennet threatened it all.
Unseen by Kitty, he caught the attention of his future brother-in-law, Lord Junius, and widened his eyes in a silent plea. Winters caught the hint and ambled over to cut in, relieving Henry of the need to reply.
Kitty threw a frustrated look at Henry’s retreating back.
[ii] Du und Du (Thou and Thou) waltz, Opus 367, 1874.
Don, I truly enjoyed reading your thoughts behind The Wardrobe and the Bennets. As I said earlier and have said to you, I find this storyline fascinating. It is a brilliant idea and what I have read to date supports my feelings. Thank you for sharing such good books with us, the readers.
The excerpt that you chose to share is one that I enjoyed reading in the book. I felt for both Kitty and Henry. I look forward to more excerpts and posts when your blog tour begins on Thursday. I wish you the best with it and with The Keeper: Mary Bennet's Extraordiary Journey (V1) and The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Époque, Part 1 (V2). I will add to those of you wondering about the books, I read Volume 2 first and then Volume 1. The books can stand alone and the reader still be able to grasp the storyline, but I do recommend reading them in order. There are things missed and/or questions answered if they are read as they should be.
Don Jacobson has written professionally for forty years. His output has ranged from news and features to advertising, television and radio. His work has been nominated for Emmys and other awards. He has previously published five books, all non-fiction. In 2016, he published the first volume of The Bennet Wardrobe Series—The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey, novel that grew from two earlier novellas. The Exile is the second volume of The Bennet Wardrobe Series. Other JAFF P&P Variations include the paired books “Of Fortune’s Reversal” and “The Maid and The Footman.”
Jacobson holds an advanced degree in History with a specialty in American Foreign Relations. As a college instructor, Don teaches United States History, World History, the History of Western Civilization and Research Writing.
He is a member of JASNA-Puget Sound. Likewise, Don is a member of the Austen Authors collective (see the internet, Facebook and Twitter).
He lives in the Seattle, WA area with his wife and co-author, Pam, a woman Ms. Austen would have been hard-pressed to categorize, and their rather assertive four-and-twenty pound cat, Bear. Besides thoroughly immersing himself in the JAFF world, Don also enjoys cooking; dining out, fine wine and well-aged scotch whiskey.
His other passion is cycling. Most days from April through October will find him “putting in the miles” around the Seattle area (yes there are hills). He has ridden several “centuries” (100 mile days). Don is especially proud that he successfully completed the AIDS Ride—Midwest (500 miles from Minneapolis to Chicago) and the Make-A-Wish Miracle Ride (300 miles from Traverse City, MI to Brooklyn, MI).
The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey
Both books may be purchased on Amazon as a 2 Book Series.
Both books may be purchased on Amazon as a 2 Book Series.
Blog Tour Schedule:
06/15 From Pemberley to Milton Guest Post, GA
06/16 My Jane Austen Book Club Guest Post, Excerpt, GA
06/17 Just Jane 1813 Review, Excerpt, GA
06/18 Free Date
06/19 Diary of an Eccentric Excerpt, GA
06/20 Savvy Verse and Wit Guest Post, GA
06/21 Darcyholic Diversions Author Interview, GA
06/22 My Vices and Weaknesses Review, Excerpt, GA
06/23 Babblings of a Bookworm Character Interview, GA
06/24 A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide to Life Guest Post
06/25 My Love for Jane Austen Vignette, GA
06/26 Interests of a Jane Austen Girl Review, Excerpt, GA
06/27 So little time… Guest Post, GA
06/28 Laughing With Lizzie Guest Post/Vignette, Excerpt, GA
a Rafflecopter giveaway
I hope you will leave a comment and tell us what you think about The Bennet Wardrobe. We would love to hear your thoughts. If you get a chance to read The Keeper, you will learn much more about it and how it came to be. Thanks for stopping by and good luck in the giveaway. It consists of 8 eBooks of The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Époque, and is international. There will be 8 lucky winners!