Have any of you read the book yet? I have, and I really enjoyed it. I love books where Darcy and Elizabeth are either forced to marry or have an arranged marriage. Colin explains this more in our chat below. He has been generous enough to discuss his book with me, and he has answered some of my questions. Before we get to the interview, let's take a look at the blurb.
A Covenant of Marriage—legally binding, even for an unwilling bride!
Defined as a formal, solemn, and binding agreement or compact, a covenant is commonly used with regard to relations among nations or as part of a contract. But it can also apply to a marriage as Elizabeth Bennet learns when her father binds her in marriage to a man she dislikes. Against her protests that she cannot be bound against her will, the lady is informed that she lives under her father’s roof and, consequently, is under his control; she is a mere pawn in the proceedings.
With such an inauspicious beginning, how can two people so joined ever make a life together?
Janet: Today I’m interviewing C. P. (Colin) Odom, the author of his new Pride and Prejudice variation, A Covenant of Marriage. A covenant is a contract, isn’t it?
C. P. Odom: That’s pretty close, Janet. The dictionary defines a compact as a formal, solemn, and binding agreement commonly used with regard to relations among nations or as part of a contract. In my novel, it applies to the marriage agreements that Fitzwilliam Darcy takes to Elizabeth’s father when he seeks to marry her.
Janet: So this is a forced marriage story, right? Those are among my favorite Pride and Prejudice variations.
C. P. Odom: I think of it as an arranged marriage story, and while forced marriage and arranged marriage stories are close, I consider there to be a distinction between the two. In a forced marriage, the parties involved must marry for one of several reasons, usually due to actual or perceived transgressions. These may range from scandal or rumors to breaches of propriety ranging from an incautious embrace to actually being discovered in bed together. So, while the couple may enter into a lifetime union somewhat unwillingly, they accept the necessity of that marriage.
Arranged marriages, however, were somewhat different—marriages arranged between the families involved irrespective of the wishes of the future bride and groom. They had been de rigueur among the nobility for centuries in order to protect bloodlines of, especially, kings and queens. I read of one case during medieval times in which the newly married presumptive heir to the throne and his virginal bride were conducted to their bedchamber and observed by the court while they got into bed. The drapes were then pulled around the bed, providing the privacy of not being seen, but the court could still hear as they sat around and listened as the marriage was consummated. After that, the bed clothing was examined for blood, verifying a virginal female consummation! Yuck!
Janet: I agree! That sounds really weird!
C. P. Odom: I certainly thought so when I read it. I can’t remember if this continued until the bride became pregnant, but the object was to make sure the first-born was actually conceived by the newlyweds, so it might have.
Janet: And it doesn’t sound romantic at all!
C. P. Odom: I agree again. In such arranged marriages, brides and grooms sometimes became “engaged” soon after birth, along with extensive and formalistic documents—compacts, if you will—outlining the parameters of their future marriage. The bride and groom might not even meet until just before the wedding, with all kinds of possible repercussions. It’s no wonder that, once the couple had produced “an heir and a spare,” they often found lovers outside the marital bonds to satisfy their needs. It must be said that this was significantly more hazardous for the wives than for the husbands, since members of the nobility even went so far as to recognized an illegitimate son or daughter and raise them in their own household. But woe unto the wife who became pregnant without having been visited by her husband sometime before her condition became obvious.
Janet: It doesn’t sound anything like what Jane Austen wrote about how men and women met and interacted and decided to marry.
C. P. Odom: By the time of the Regency, arranged marriages had gone out of fashion among the gentry and, of course, had hardly ever occurred among the lower classes. The Royals still used the arrangement for the highest levels, but most matches among the gentry and most of the aristocracy were now considered to be “love matches.” I put quotation marks around that because the Regency definition of a “love match” differed greatly from what we are used to in modern times since the pool of potential spouses was much smaller. The upper classes had to pick from among the upper class and aristocrats married other aristocrats. Naïve and inexperienced young ladies from the gentry and aristocracy often fancied themselves in love with gentlemen they hardly knew, and gentlemen often fixed on ladies based on their appearance only. Since couples were strictly chaperoned, there was seldom an opportunity for any intimacies, so many marriages resulted from the couples being more “In Lust” than “In Love.”
Janet: How did you come up with the central themes for your novel?
C. P. Odom: I certainly didn’t start by saying, “I want to write a forced or arranged marriage story.” As in the case of most of my novels so far, I was thinking over which of the many coincidences in Pride and Prejudice might lend themselves to taking the storyline in a different direction. One of the most unlikely of coincidences was the manner in which Elizabeth Bennet and Darcy met at Pemberley. It was critical to how the plot developed, since it informed Elizabeth that Darcy might still be fond of her, informed Darcy that she did not look on him with the same disdain as at Hunsford, and it allowed her to be informed of Lydia’s catastrophic elopement in time for Darcy to rectify the situation and make a happy ending possible for both Jane and Elizabeth. But even the most minor of variations would have precluded that fortuitous encounter—it really was the most unbelievable of coincidences.
So I decided to prevent that meeting by having the Gardiner party journey to the Lake District instead of Derbyshire, and one catastrophe after another devastated the Bennet family. One thing led to another as I developed my plotline, so that I was left trying to find a way to bring Darcy and Elizabeth together after several years of angst and suffering. I considered simply having Darcy slice the Gordian Knot by coming to Longbourn and seeking to court Elizabeth, but that simply didn’t ring true to me. His confidence was too devastated by his rejection, and such a course of action didn’t fit his character as I conceived it. Also, it seemed too modern to me.
And even when I came up with the arranged marriage idea, I couldn’t see that Darcy would take care of everything on his own and go to Elizabeth’s father with a “compact of marriage.” So I enlisted the help of two of my favorite characters—Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, Elizabeth’s aunt and uncle—to assist him.
Janet: Okay. So now you’ve resolved matters between the central couple. But what about Elizabeth’s sister? Did Bingley wait for years also before he finally got together with Jane after Elizabeth and Darcy settled their issues?
C. P. Odom: Ah, you’re trolling for spoilers now, aren’t you? Well, that topic is one I discuss in another stop on this blog tour. For now, I’ll only say that the two of them don’t spend their lives alone and unmarried.
Janet: You’re not being very cooperative, Colin! Very well, then. Do you have any other Austenesque projects on the back burner?
C. P. Odom: For one thing, I’m working on re-writing a story I did as fanfiction called "Determination." One of the main characters in that story is Colonel Fitzwilliam, and I’m about 70% complete with it. One of the interesting things about Fitzwilliam is that he makes a single appearance at Hunsford and then disappears in Pride and Prejudice. It leaves him almost completely undefined—a blank slate for an author, you might say. I’ve worked him into other novels, but he’s central to "Determination."
Janet: That really sounds interesting. When do you think you’ll finish?
C. P. Odom: I really ought to have finished before now! But I’ve been kind of busy, both with writing and with all the minutia of real life. My older daughter graduated from college a few years ago with an engineering degree, and my younger daughter is in college now pursuing a nursing degree. But I’ve also been working with Meryton Press to turn my previously published novels into audiobooks.
Janet: How’s that going?
C. P. Odom: One audiobook, Pride, Prejudice, and Secrets, is finished and is available on Audible.com. Another one, my first novel, A Most Civil Proposal, has been narrated and submitted to Audible. It takes a while for Audible to check it over and make it available. A third audiobook, Consequences, is partway through being narrated. And my fourth novel, Perilous Siege, will start narration after the first of the year. Each one takes a lot of my time in reviewing the narration and checking it against the written word.
Janet: You’ve been a busy little beaver, Colin! Anything else?
C. P. Odom: This is really tentative, but I recently did a vignette for Meryton Press titled “The Haunting of Longbourn” as part of the lead-in to Halloween. A number of people who commented on it asked whether I might extend it and add more detail (there was a limit of 3,000 words on the vignettes, which is really short!). While I could never expand such a vignette into anything like a novel, I thought it might fit as a novella. So, when I finish with other stuff in my schedule, I’m thinking about generating some undeveloped plots into short stories or novellas. But it’s really tenuous at this time, other than the “Haunting” vignette.
Janet: Well, thanks for stopping by, Colin. And good luck with A Covenant of Marriage.
C. P. Odom: Thanks for hosting me, Janet. And thanks for your work in managing your More Agreeably Engaged blog.
By training, I’m a retired engineer, born in Texas, raised in Oklahoma, and graduated from the University of Oklahoma. Sandwiched in there was a stint in the Marines, and I’ve lived in Arizona since 1977, working first for Motorola and then General Dynamics.
I raised two sons with my first wife, Margaret, before her untimely death from cancer, and my second wife, Jeanine, and I adopted two girls from China. The older of my daughters recently graduated with an engineering degree and is working in Phoenix, and the younger girl is heading toward a nursing degree.
I’ve always been a voracious reader and collector of books, and my favorite genres are science fiction, historical fiction, histories, and, in recent years, reading (and later writing) Jane Austen romantic fiction. This late-developing interest was indirectly stimulated when I read my late wife's beloved Jane Austen books after her passing. One thing led to another, and I now have four novels published: A Most Civil Proposal (2013), Consequences (2014), Pride, Prejudice, and Secrets (2015), and Perilous Siege (2019). Two of my books are now audiobooks, A Most Civil Proposal and Pride, Prejudice, and Secrets.
I retired from engineering in 2011, but I still live in Arizona with my family, a pair of dogs (one of which is stubbornly untrainable), and a pair of rather strange cats. My hobbies are reading, woodworking, and watching college football and LPGA golf (the girls are much nicer than the guys, as well as being fiendishly good putters). Lately I’ve reverted back to my younger years and have taken up building plastic model aircraft and ships (when I can find the time).
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11/06 More Agreeably Engaged
11/07 From Pemberley to Milton
11/08 Half Agony, Half Hope
11/09 My Love for Jane Austen
11/11 Diary of an Eccentric
11/12 Darcyholic Diversions
11/14 Margie's Must Reads
11/15 Austenesque Reviews
11/16 My Jane Austen Book Club
11/17 Babblings of a Bookworm
11/18 My Vices and Weaknesses
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