Monday, 28 June 2010

THE MATTERS AT MANSFIELD , OR THE CRAWFORD AFFAIR by CARRIE BEBRIS

 


Read this excerpt from The Matters at Mansfield


“There is not one in a hundred of either sex, who is not taken in when they marry . . . it is, of all transactions, the one in which people expect the most from others, and are least honest themselves.”
—Mary Crawford, Mansfield Park

Chapter One

She was all surprise and embarrassment.Mansfield Park

It is a truth less frequently acknowledged, that a good mother in possession of a single child, must be in want of sleep.
Whatever the habits or inclinations of such a woman might have been prior to her first entering the maternal state, in very short order her feelings and thoughts are so well fixed on her progeny that at any given hour she is considered, at least in the young minds of the principals, as the rightful property of some one or other of her offspring.
Be she a woman of comfortable income, assistants may alleviate many of the demands imposed on her, and
indeed there are ladies quite content to consign their little darlings entirely to the care of nurses and governesses until they reach a more independent age. But in most families, occasions arise when even the most competent, affectionate servant cannot replace a child’s need for Mama, and when said Mama wants no proxy.
And so it was that Elizabeth Darcy, wife of Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, mistress of the great estate of Pemberley, and presently the houseguest of the Earl of Southwell, found herself the only conscious person in all of Riveton Hall during the predawn hours of an early August morning. Or rather, the only conscious adult, her daughter being so awake to the pain of cutting her first tooth that none but her mother’s arms could comfort her.
“Hush now, Lily-Anne. Mama’s here.” Elizabeth offered the crooked knuckle of her forefinger to the child to
gum. Having come to the nursery to check on Lily before retiring, she had found both baby and nurse so
overwrought by hours of ceaseless crying (on the child’s part, not the nurse’s) that she had dismissed Mrs.
Flaherty to capture a few hours’ rest. The stubborn tooth had troubled Lily since their arrival and rendered futile every traditional remedy the veteran nurse had tried. If it did not break through this eve, the morrow would prove an even longer day for Mrs. Flaherty and her charge; Elizabeth herself would be unavailable to soothe her daughter, her time instead commanded by the event that had occasioned her and Darcy’s visit to Riveton.
Darcy’s cousin Roger Fitzwilliam, the earl, was hosting a ball to introduce his new fiancée to his family and
neighbors. The Pemberley party—Elizabeth, Darcy, Lily-Anne, and Darcy’s sister, Georgiana—had traveled to the groom’s Buckinghamshire estate earlier in the week, as had the bride’s family and numerous other guests. Darcy and Roger’s aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, had been the first to arrive, appearing a full fortnight earlier than anticipated to oversee her nephew’s preparations. As the late earl’s sister, her ladyship had grown up at Riveton Hall, and continued to generously dispense opinions regarding its management. That the present earl had little interest in hearing her advice did little to check its flow.
Having herself recently endured an extended visit by Lady Catherine, Elizabeth sympathized with her besieged host.
The earl, however, enjoyed one advantage that Elizabeth, in Derbyshire, had not: Lady Catherine yet maintained a large acquaintance in her former neighborhood, and had absented herself from Riveton for part of each day to call upon them. Her daughter, Miss Anne de Bourgh, joined her on most of these excursions. How Southwell’s neighbors bore Lady Catherine’s company eluded Elizabeth and Darcy, but they were grateful to be subjected to so little of it themselves. Their already-inharmonious relationship with Darcy’s aunt had been further fractured by the events of her prolonged residence at Pemberley, and the present house party at Riveton marked their first meeting since. Her daily absences had enabled them all to settle into a tacit, if tense, truce.
In contrast, Elizabeth had taken great pleasure in renewing her acquaintance with Roger’s younger brother, Colonel James Fitzwilliam, whom she had met two years previous. The colonel’s forthright manners and
intelligent conversation united to make him the most amiable of Darcy’s maternal relations, and she regretted that his military duties prevented more frequent opportunities to enjoy his society.
The only society Elizabeth coveted at the moment, however, were the inhabitants of her dreams. She paced the nursery, murmuring the sort of sibilant nonsense mothers have employed for millennia to calm distressed infants. Despite the stimulus of Lily’s wails, her own eyelids burned with the urge to close. Yet even if she roused Mrs. Flaherty and returned to her own quiet chamber, she knew that maternal anxiety, or at a minimum, maternal guilt, would not allow her to sleep while her daughter suffered.
She sang. She rocked. She paced still more.At last, exhaustion claimed Lily-Anne, and blessed silence settled upon the nursery. It was, however, a fitful slumber. Lily was still in discomfort, unconsciously rubbing her jaw against her mother’s shoulder and squirming each time Elizabeth tried to lower her into the crib. Elizabeth sat with her a while in a chair, but was so tired that she did not trust herself to retain a safe hold on Lily should she, too, succumb to sleep.
She decided to bring Lily back to her own chamber, in hopes that a shared bed would enable them both to rest. Darcy would not mind. There had been a few occasions at Pemberley when Lily, in need of extra comfort, had slept in their bed, and Darcy’s presence often had a calming effect on the baby, awake or asleep.
She moved quietly as she carried Lily down the corridor where the earl’s relations were quartered. The bride and her family occupied the floor above, and several gentleman friends of Roger’s were in another wing altogether. She did not fear disturbing these more distant guests should Lily suddenly waken and complain at full volume, but Lady Catherine’s room she passed with extra caution. Her ladyship’s tenure at Pemberley had proven her a light sleeper, ever alert to everyone else’s affairs.
She rounded a corner and stopped suddenly. Anne de Bourgh appeared equally startled. They had very nearly collided.
“Mrs. Darcy!”
“Miss de Bourgh?”
Both spoke in the lowest of whispers. Anne cast an alarmed glance in the direction of her mother’s chamber. In the weak grey light just beginning to penetrate a nearby window, her face appeared pale as usual, but her features had lost some of their sharpness. The angles of her cheekbones had rounded, dissolving her typically haughty expression and softening her countenance. Instead of pinched, she looked almost pretty.
"I—I did not expect to—that is . . .”
(…)
Would you ever expect to meet Miss Anne De Bourgh suspiciously wandering at night? Not in Pride & Prejudice , but in this lovely mystery story by Carrie Bebris this is exactly what happens to Mrs Darcy. Her strange night meeting with Darcy’s former betrothed opens a sequence of surprising facts which will bring Mr and Mrs Darcy to an engaging investigation.

Carrie Bebris is very good at reproducing the witty language style and the atmospheres we Janeites are well acquainted with. Don’t you agree?
The Matters at Mansfield is the fourth of the Mr & Mrs Darcy’s Mystery series and is the latest translated into Italian as “ L’Enigma di Mansfield Park” - but not the latest publication by Bebris , which is, instead, The Intrigue at Highbury ( my review here) . I got this translation directly from TEA,  Italian publisher of Bebris’s Mysteries.

As I wrote while reviewing The Intrigue at Highbury , it is a delight to be back among our favourite characters and see them act and speak as we remembered, but it is even more delightful to see them interact and intermingle in a new and unexpected way.

Let’s go on with some questions. Would you ever think Anne de Bourgh may elope and secretly marry a fascinating rascal? Moreover, would you imagine four different men desiring to get her as their wife? Incredible? Not if you read The Matters at Mansfield.

Lady Catherine De Bourgh is eager to arrange a lucrative and socially  advantageous match for her daughter, Anne. Of course, her ladyship has not taken into account such frivolous matters as love or romance, let alone the wishes of her daughter.

The male protagonist is Henry Crawford, one of Jane Austen’s fascinating rogues. Do you think him capable of redemption? This is what Carrie Bebris wondered while writing this story. Read what she herself said about her Mr Crawford:


“He is an enigmatic character, Mr. Henry Crawford—so utterly charming, yet so utterly callous. Readers have been debating for two centuries whether this favorite Austen rogue is capable of redemption.
I decided to find out.
If you have read Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, you have met Mr. Crawford, the charismatic cad who embarks on a series of calculated flirtations that leave more than one casualty in his wake. By the end of Austen’s novel, he is a man with numerous enemies: the disgraced Maria Rushworth, her humiliated husband, her scandalized father, her reprehensible Aunt Norris . . . to name a few.
And that was before he crossed Lady Catherine de Bourgh. It seems that while Lady Catherine was busy minding the Darcys’ business at Pemberley in North by Northanger, she should have kept a closer eye on her own affairs. Or at least, on her own daughter.
She now finds herself forced to solicit the Darcys’ assistance in resolving a certain matter requiring the utmost discretion. It is one of many matters that challenge Elizabeth and Darcy as they navigate a web of deception to determine which denizen of Mansfield Park harbors the strongest malice toward Henry Crawford”

If I must find a flaw in this story, I’ll honestly tell you, I didn’t like Mr and Mrs Darcy as a married couple. They seem to have lost all the attraction and tension between them, as it very often happens to  any ordinary long-settled couple. I’d have expected more active interaction , more passionate conversation … even stormy arguments between them. However, on the whole, the plot and the style are lively, the mystery intriguing , the characters engaging and the finale quite surprising .   I’m sure you won’t regret to choose this novel as one of your next summer reads.
 This is my last post for Jane in June. Remember this is also your last chance to enter the double giveaway in the right sidebar. Winners will be announced on June 30th.

5 comments:

Eliza said...

I am so happy to find someone who loved this book like I did. I agree with you that Mr. and Mrs. Darcy seem to lack a bit of passion, but it's so nice to be surrounded by all your favourite characters from Austen books that I overlook such little faults. ;-)

Sometimes I am taken aback and think: "How's that going to work out?"
"Isn't that impossible?"
But in the end everything works out just fine.

jedisakora said...

Interesting. Mansfield park typically doesn't get a lot of attention.

Meredith said...

I am so glad you are enjoying this series! You are becoming quite the fan of Austnesque novels! I bet you can't wait for the next in the series where we will meet characters from Persuasion!

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@Meredith
Got it!
Since Persuasion is my favourite Austen major...I can't wait!

vvb32 reads said...

i really do must read this series. the mansfield title captures my attention because that is my recent fave austen novel.