Thanks so much for having me Janet. I’m very excited to share a little bit about my new book, Remember the Past. When I write, I like to explore how things might have been for our favorite Jane Austen characters had their circumstances been a bit different—or a lot different. While I try to keep the characters the ones Jane Austen wrote at their core, changes in circumstances do change people. Some more than others. Some for the better, some, not so much. I love exploring those changes and possibilities.
One of the changes in this book was that Mr. Bennet was not the heir to Longbourn, but a second son who went into the navy. His naval experiences changed him from a lackadaisical man to a very active, powerful one, who would become Admiral Thomas Bennet, Rear Admiral of the White.
Why would a young Thomas Bennet have joined the navy? The navy offered greater potential for social mobility than most institutions in Regency era society. Generally only the sons of gentlemen or perhaps wealthy middle-class parents could enter the path to becoming an officer, but the way was not entirely closed to others. Once a lieutenant, a man could rise through his own merit to a high position, even above those with higher origins. Unlike army officers, naval officers did not purchase their commissions, they earned them.
Naval service was dangerous, though, with nearly 100,000 casualties between 1793 and 1815. Battle at sea accounted for less than 10% of naval casualties. Accidents and disease accounted for 80%.
Naval wages, even for Captains were notoriously low. Prize money was the only way to wealth and came in various forms. If an enemy ship was sunk, 'Head and Gun' money (calculated by the numbers of men or guns on the enemy vessel) was awarded. Until1808, a 3/8 share went to the captain and the remainder was divided on a diminishing scale, according to rank, among the other officers, commissioned and non-commissioned, and the ordinary members of the crew. After 1808, a slight change was made to the allocation of these shares.
If they captured an enemy ship, the Admiralty was often prepared to buy it from them and resulted in higher rewards. The best payouts came if the captured ship was carrying a valuable cargo. This kind of prize money was divided up so officers received more than the ordinary crewmen. It was possible for officers to earn substantial wealth in prize money.
In this tale, that is exactly what happens for Thomas Bennet, enabling him to retire to rank, connections and wealth. When he retires, though, things do not go exactly according to plan. Their long-awaited first season in London proves a disaster, and the resulting scandal sends the Bennets fleeing to the wilds of Derbyshire.
Widower Fitzwilliam Darcy, the master of Pemberley, wants for nothing, most especially not a wife. From the moment the Bennets arrive in Derbyshire, Darcy’s neatly ordered life turns upside down. His sons beg to keep company with their new playmates, the young Bennet twins. His mother-in-law sets her cap for Admiral Bennet. Worst of all, Darcy cannot get his mind off a certain bewitching Miss Elizabeth Bennet, but she has sworn never to let another gentleman near her heart.
Darcy’s best efforts to befriend and assist the Bennet family go horribly awry, alienating first Miss Elizabeth, then her father, and finally endangering what both men hold most dear. Can the two men Elizabeth loves most set aside their pride to prevent catastrophe for their families and win the love they seek?
Here’s a brief excerpt of the book:
“Are we almost there?” Francis Bennet clambered over his father’s lap and smashed his nose against the side glass. “You said we would arrive before supper. I’m hungry.”
Elizabeth stretched across the coach to grab his arm, but he squirmed out of her reach. It was high time Francis learned not to speak every thought that crossed his mind.
“No ‘Lisbet! I want to see!” He bounced on his father’s knee.
Admiral Thomas Bennet grimaced and seized him around the ribs, lifting him off his lap.
“Come here.” Jane caught his elbow and pulled him toward her. “You know Papa’s leg pains him.”
He bowed his head and scraped his feet. “I am sorry, Papa.”
Papa lost his officer’s glare and ruffled the boy’s hair.
Francis lurched toward Jane, stumbled and fell into his identical twin’s shoulder. “Oh, oh! I see it, I see it!”
“Look, Papa.” Philip tapped the glass. “See the gables and look—look, there’s the turret, just as you described. Might that room be ours, Papa?”
“We shall see.” He kneaded his thigh.
Philip flattened himself against his father’s side, making room for Francis near the side glass. “It is just as grand as Papa said. Isn’t it, Jane?”
“Why not sit beside Jane so you can get a better view?” Papa gave Philip a gentle push toward the opposite seat.
Jane settled him beside her and draped her arm around him.
“I think it horrid.” Francis tossed his curls and stamped. “Why did we have to leave Longbourn? I liked it there. You said we would not have to move again.” He stuck out his bottom lip.
“That is enough!” Elizabeth hissed.
Papa’s brows knotted, and he ground his teeth.
One day Francis would learn the meaning of that expression and be far more careful about provoking it.
“We left because my nip farthing, ninnyhammer brother, Collins, insisted on installing his worthless son and his French wife-in-water-colors there.”
“He wanted to bring a painting to Longbourn?” Philip huddled close to Jane. Papa’s ire always upset him, poor boy. “Mightn’t we have stayed and let him hang the painting?”
“It is a little more complicated than that, dear,” Jane said.
“Bloody, rank, white livered …”
Elizabeth caught his eye. Philip would soon ask what all those words meant and she was not about to explain mistresses and other manly things to him. Papa could have that conversation all to himself.
Papa wrinkled his nose. “An honorable man would have given us more than a month to vacate.”
Elizabeth laid her hand on his arm. “Let it go. You always say a man should be captain of his own ship. Now that Alston Hall is yours, you are master. You were never happy at Longbourn with the specter of our uncle looming over you.”
“My voice of reason.” He patted her hand, scowl softening. “Using my own words against me, no less, clever lass.”
“I still think—”
“Francis!” Jane and Elizabeth cried.
The coach slowed as it trundled up the gravel lane. The looming, dark windows in the pale stone elevation dared them to approach.
“Let us see if she floats.” Admiral Bennet pushed the door open before the coach came to a complete stop.
He jumped down, grimaced and clutched his knee. The boys bounded after him. Jane and Elizabeth waited for the coach to come to a proper halt. By that time though, Papa was long gone. After so protracted a journey, one could by no means expect patience from him.
Papa’s man, Piper, shambled over from the other coach and handed them out. Frightening scars puckered the old sailor-come-valet’s face and his eye patch lent him a menacing air, one he cultivated at every opportunity. All the Bennets knew better, though. He had been with Admiral Bennet for as long as the girls could remember. The two men had saved each other’s lives so many times neither kept count.
Mrs. Hill, their longtime housekeeper, and Miss Iola Wexley, the boys’ long-suffering governess, joined them at the front door.
“Permission to come aboard, Cap’n?” Piper saluted and squeezed his good eye shut, drawing his cheek and lip into something resembling a snarl.
The boys saluted. “Permission, Papa?”
“Permission granted.” Papa twisted the key in the lock and wrenched the doorknob. The hinges squealed their protests and the door inched open. He took his sons’ hands and stepped over the threshold. The rest followed.
Elizabeth sniffed the stale air, musty and dusty as a well-traveled sea chest. Jane sneezed. Twice.
“At least they kept the furniture properly covered,” Mrs. Hill muttered. “I best go find the kitchen.” She trundled off.
Elizabeth bit back a giggle. Only Mrs. Hill dared wander away without awaiting the Admiral’s orders. He gave her a wider berth than even Piper. Not even he had cheek enough to raise the sturdy woman’s ire.
“Miss Wexley, survey the servants’ rooms.” He turned to Piper. “Take the boys and reconnoiter the east wing. Perhaps you can find a school room and nursery.”
The twins moaned and sputtered incomplete protests that they dare not give full voice lest Papa find it necessary to correct their attitudes.
“Yes, sir.” Piper saluted.
Francis and Philip mimicked him and followed him upstairs.
Elizabeth cleared her throat.
“Ah, Lizzy, do not say it. Go look through the house first. You and Jane take the west wing whilst I survey downstairs. I am certain you will yet find the manor meets your standards.”
“Yes, Papa.” Elizabeth trudged toward the stairs, Jane at her side.
“It is a lovely house, is it not?” Jane whispered.
“The architecture is beautiful, I fully grant you.” Elizabeth clutched the banister in one hand and her skirts in the other. “Mahogany and paper hangings are lovely, dust and disrepair are not.”
“The roof and the windows appear sound,” Jane offered in her plucky, trying-to-make-the-best-of-it-voice.
“A fine beginning, indeed.” Elizabeth landed her foot on the final step a little harder than strictly necessary. “If you are correct, I am grateful. Still, I hope for more than just roof and windows.”
The hall stretched on and on and disappeared into the horizon. A chill wind whistled and moaned past them.
“My goodness.” Jane rubbed her arms. “This is a grand place, indeed.”
Elizabeth shrugged and yanked the first door. “These look like family quarters.” She pulled the dusty sheets off the press and jerked open a drawer. A moth flew out as she tugged out a crumpled sheet. “Badly folded and musty.” Her nose wrinkled and she fought not to sneeze. “Everything must be washed before it can be used. Much will need mending too.”
Jane jerked back the bed’s dust covers to reveal an elegantly carved frame. “How lovely.” She sat down.
The mattress caved in and swallowed her.
Elizabeth wrestled her away from the hungry featherbed. “That needs work, too.”
“Perhaps we should rig some hammocks from the bed posts.” Jane held the musty sheet between the bedposts.
“No doubt Piper still sleeps in one.” Elizabeth beckoned Jane to the next room.
Half an hour later they met Papa in the foyer.
“I found neither coal nor firewood,” Mrs. Hill screwed her lips into her smile-so-she-did-not-frown expression that Elizabeth assiduously avoided, “and if you be askin’ me, it be far too early in the spring to be without the option of a good fire. Not to mention, I expect you will be demanding proper meals from time to time, and fire be required for that effort, too.”
“No bedroom is fit to sleep in right now.” Elizabeth crossed her arms and leveled a stern gaze at Papa. “We must take Mr. Darcy up on his offer—”
“No, I will arrange rooms at the Bull in Lambton where I stayed when I came to see the place in—”
“What of the fire? Mr. Darcy said repairs to the inn were not complete.” Jane tapped her foot softly on the dusty marble floor.
“I do not like it.”
“You do not have to.” Elizabeth set her jaw.
He harrumphed. “I suppose we have little choice but to impose on our neighbor’s hospitality. I will send Piper to warn them.”
“It is good of you to do so, but I have no doubt we are already expected,” Elizabeth murmured.
Happily, Papa did not appear to have heard.
A quarter hour later, two carriages trundled toward Pemberley.
Buy links for the book:
Paperback will be available soon
Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful. After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate in Educational Psychology. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.
She has one husband, two graduate degrees and two black belts, three sons, four undergraduate majors, five nieces, sown six Regency era costumes, written seven Regency-era fiction projects, and designed eight websites. To round out the list, she cooks for nine in order to accommodate the growing boys and usually makes ten meals at a time so she only cooks twice a month.
Maria can be contacted at:
Random Bits of Fascination (http://RandomBitsofFascination.com)
Austen Variations (http://AustenVariations.com)
English Historical Fiction Authors
White Soup Press (http://whitesouppress.com/)
On Twitter @WriteMariaGrace
Thank you for visiting again, Maria. Last time you were my guest we played the 10 Things Game. It was such fun too. For those of you that may not have seen the post, click on the link above left to read it. It shares 10 things that you may not know about your favorite literary characters. Fitzwilliam Darcy was the first one! Okay, now back to this post...I found the information you revealed about the navy to be very informative and interesting. The excerpt was great and I cannot wait to have a little time to read the book!
Giveaway time!!! Maria Grace is giving away one eBook to a lucky winner and the giveaway is international! YAY! Thank you Maria. We want to hear your share in the conversation so leave a comment to be entered in the giveaway. Be sure to include your email address in the comment. To prevent unwanted spam, put your email address with an (at) instead of @. Winners will be chosen in a random drawing. Giveaway ends at midnight on August 7, 2014. Good luck to all.